Interviewed by
Natalie Finnigan
Wednesday 1st May, 2013 8:58AM

After a ten year hiatus, the oft-forgotten pioneers of the Brit-Pop movement, Suede, are back with a new album, Bloodsports. Over 20 years have passed since they made their debut on the London music scene and after "going out with a whimper, rather than a bang" when they broke up in 2003, bassist Mat Osman says they all felt as though they had unfinished business as a band. Natalie Finnigan spoke to Mat about Suede's past, and posed the all important question: have you made a brief return to the stage for the purpose of reliving Suede's glory years, or is this the new Suede and the beginning of a new era...

Hi Natalie, how are you?

I'm good thanks Mat, how are you?

I'm great thanks!

Where are you at the moment?

I've been based in West London for ever and ever and ever. Funnily enough me and Brett (Anderson, lead singer) used to live together about a mile from here, 25 years ago, so I've lived her most of my life - very unadventurous.

But have you been out touring the new album?

We've been doing a bit but not much actually. We did a big London show up at the Alexandra Palace and we're off to Norway on Friday for a festival, but we don't really go for that massive 'living on a bus for six months' kind of tour. There just comes a point in your life where you don't want to live on a bus with 20 guys. That point has well and truly come for me.

This intrigues me, and takes me all the way down my question list to a risky one. Without pissing you off by asking that cliche, 'how is the music industry different now from when you started?' question, I do want to know whether you've had to change your approach. Most bands now rely on touring to make money, so how do you get away without touring extensively?

Young bands today work so hard - they really do. It's the biggest change. When we do festivals we meet a lot of younger bands, and a lot of these guys have grown up in the internet age, and they've spent their lives on a bus or a plane.

It's quite rough really isn't it?

Well I think it's a shame. For a band like us it's been amazing, because in the 90's we sold a lot of records and that's what you did to get by. Now, we do a lot of festivals and that's fine, so I can live with what has happened to the music industry because it's been okay for us, but I think if I was 20, and like so many of these bands I was working in a bar during the day to make a record that millions of people hear and about 400 people pay for, I don't know whether I'd be so keen to be honest. The thing in Britain, and I don't know if it's the same in your part of the world, but being in a band is something that the rich kids sort of do. It's kind of gone the way acting used to be, when we used to have only posh actors, because to dabble in something that didn't really pay, you had to have money.

Well in New Zealand, it doesn't really matter if you're the number one selling artist, you're probably still not going to make that much money... unless you're Tim or Neil Finn maybe...

Haha, yeah that's true... but what about those Flight of the Conchords guys, they're from New Zealand aren't they?

Yeah but they went Hollywood so it's a bit different... nah but I guess you're right - they would have made some serious money.

Well the thing is, you either play festivals or you work with the muppets - that's all that's left.

I know some bands have started focusing on commercials and advertising...

I find that really sad. I'm not blaming them or anything, because if the choice is between making music for commercials or not making music, then fine, but I think if you're writing music focused on whether or not Budweiser are going to like it... I don't know, it becomes a very different life.

It's particularly weird when some of these bands are actually known for their 'down with the corporation-yay for anarchy' type sentiment...

Yes but it's surprising how quickly stuff gets sold back to you. Anything that's anti-corporate, it's weird but the corporates seem to want it all the more.

Maybe some of these older bands mellowed out with age and figured they could compromise?

The funny thing is, I think it works the other way around. I think a lot of the older bands still have that 'no adverts - no messing with these people' policy, but that's because they do get paid good money to play festivals. I find it very hard to be tough on any of the people who are starting now, because I don't know how they get paid. I've met bands, who if they started making records 20 years ago, could've been spending all day working on record number two, but instead they're working in bars and shops...

I guess if they really love it they'll do it - they'll be the supporting act and sleep on hotel room floors for fifteen years in the hope that one day they wont have to...

Yeah, but it shouldn't just be a hobby...

Hmmmm. I've got no idea what will happen to the industry...

No, neither.

So have you been working with other bands or on other projects since Suede broke up in 2003?

Little bits and pieces, I did TV work over here, but I've spent most of the time working as a writer and journalist. When the band broke up I had that epiphany that I really didn't want to have anything to do with music industry. I thought that it was an almost evil, depraved, money-obsessed place. It took time working in other industries to realised that it's exactly the same with everything else. It's no different from working as a journalist or being in the oil industry - once money has its grubby little hooks into something, then it's not that different. There's 85% of people who are there to get paid and don't really care about it, and there's 15% who absolutely love what they do and make the whole thing worth it.

Who have you been writing for?

I've done loads of stuff - lots of writing for British newspapers and magazines, a guide book to London... pretty much anything other than writing about music, which I still think is the most impossible thing. Either it's something that I love, which I can't put into words, or it's something I hate and I think 'Why am I writing about this?'

I don't typically like reviews for that reason...

I totally understand that - you need to be a special kind of person to be able to sit there and say 'Yes, Yes, Yes - No, No, No' to records and stuff - I couldn't do it.

I almost feel like it's a redundant activity anyway in the way that it's typically done, because when you're listening to something, you either like it or you don't, and that has no impact whatsoever on anyone other than yourself...

Yes, but at the same time the music press is King, because without them you just can't hear a lot of these records. Most of the records in my collection that I love I found through the music press because they didn't get radio play in the UK.

That's true - I could talk about this all day but I better ask you about your album eh?

Yes, probably.

You had a reunion show or two during 2010, 2011, and that went really well and you enjoyed it - what was it that made you get back together? You had a pretty tumultuous period before you broke up - what changed over the ten years you were apart that meant working together again was an appealing prospect?

Well, a couple of things happened. We came back together to do a show for a teenage cancer trust. Roger Daltrey from The Who organises these shows every year, and he asked us, and we said 'we're not together anymore' and he said 'Well would you get back together?'. It was a charity we'd worked with before and it was at the Royal Albert Hall, which we absolutely loved, and I think there was a feeling with all of us that Suede had ended with a bit of a whimper, rather than a bang, and it didn't seem to fit with the dramatic nature of the band.

I think we all thought we should do this, because it will either be great, and a fantastic ending to all that we've done, or it will be awful, but at least it was awful for a good cause, and it raised $50k or whatever and we haven't inflicted ourselves on the world just for our own vanity! It was so great. The reaction was unexpected because there was obviously a reservoir of affection for the band and it felt very fresh and natural and so we decided that night to go and play some places that we'd love to play.

The minute you do that you get offers, and so we tried not get caught up in all of that, but instead we said 'why don't we just go and play the places that we've always loved playing or the places that we've always wanted to play'. That's pretty much what we did for a year and a half to two years. We played all of our favourite cities, and normally when you do this you have to play all the stuff from your last record and your greatest hits, but when we did the set list we picked all of the songs we thought would work and make the best show. I loved that tour. It was a lovely mix of people who hadn't seen us in ten years, and people who had never seen the band but had discovered through YouTube or whatever.

So when did you decide you needed to make a record?

There comes a point when you do that, where it is dangerous, in that it becomes normal, and pretty soon it becomes like, you have to do another record for this to make sense, and it just nags at you. The last record we did I didn't really like, and there's this sense that the last thing you've done is what you'll be judged on, so we wanted to do something better.

We started writing, and it proved to be much harder than just playing together again. You kind of forget that when you're playing together you've got the best songs from over 20 years, but when you're writing again it's hard to live up to that. We wrote about 30 or 40 songs, and we had a whole album kind of done, and then we went and played them live and they just didn't stand up with the rest of the material. These songs had to be able to be played between 'So Young' and 'The 2 of Us', so it took a long time. We discarded a lot of stuff. We got Ed Buller in and he was even harder on it because he had a clear vision. We spent the best part of year writing and then just suddenly last summer, we wrote 'Barriers' and 'For The Strangers' in the same week, and it was like 'Ah, I get it now, I get how Suede needs to sound in 2013' and after that it was very natural.

I'd love to say that it was like riding a bike, and we got back in the room and the five of us created magic from nothing, but it wasn't at all. It was a lot of hard work and probably all the more satisfying for that.

I am really proud of the record and I feel the new material fits well with the old.

I guess it sounds like a great... well do you see this as a conclusion?

Well at the moment I'm trying to see everything as a conclusion. The first time around - it's ridiculous when it becomes and every day thing to do - being in a band and touring the world - it should never be ordinary. It should always be fantastical and feel temporary and feel fragile.

That's the magic isn't it?

Yeah exactly. And literally, the day I hear anyone mention their career, I know something is dead in it. When you start out you don't expect anyone is going to be listening. So basically the philosophy at the moment is to see everything as the last one - the last tour, the last show, the last song. I think that's a pretty good step.