“Spite And Revenge Are Fantastic Drivers!” Suede’s Mat Osman Interviewed

"I think this album just gave us a kick up the arse, to be honest!"

It’s worth remembering that for over a decade Suede were lost to us. It’s a gap that scarcely makes sense now – the band’s second chapter has resulted in some of their finest music to date, a run of breathless ambition, fuelled by a sense of true majesty.

2018’s ‘The Blue Hour’ was a deeply complex return, its narrative streak mirrored by broad, widescreen songwriting. Ever the contrarians, Suede then opted to switch it up once more, planning a follow-up that tapped into the exultant communion of their live shows.

But then came the pandemic, and then came lockdown. The path to new album ‘Autofiction’ may not have been smooth, but the results are certainly worth it – a virile, infectious experience, it allows the needle to bleed into the red, its backs-against-the-wall feel echoing everything from Magazine and ‘Raw Power’ through to Suede’s own debut album.

Bass player Mat Osman has been an ever-present in the group, his calm presence providing a rock-solid centre for the band’s performances. Chatting to Clash over Zoom from his home, he’s a genial conversationalist, waxing lyrical about his incoming novel (a fantastical Elizabethan adventure called the Ghost Theatre), and the band’s emphatic return.

Fresh from a No. 2 chart placing, ‘Autofiction’ is the work of a band on peerless form, outstripping their rivals and pushing themselves to the limit.

We caught you at the Moth Club in London a few weeks back, which was astounding! It really did have that feel of a new band onstage.

It really did! I mean, it was fantastic. We’ve done a couple of shows since we came back, but nothing quite like that. We’ve had this idea forever. It started when we were making the record, and we thought: we could invite people in while we record, like a live band. It would be a different way of doing it. But then the pandemic came, and that crushed that idea. In a weird way, we’ve waited four years for the songs to be heard where they’re meant to be, in a sweaty room.

And it was a very sweaty room! The new record feels like a debut, in many ways.

That was deliberate. I mean, we’ve kind of had a few disasters with the band, where we’ve had to start again. ‘Coming Up’ was like a second debut, in a lot of ways. And ‘Bloodsports’ became the third debut. It’s always been good for us! I think it benefits you, in a creative way. Every so often it’s good to go back to the source and say, what drives us? Why did I start doing this? This time round, there was no disaster, it’s just that we’d made two very cerebral albums and I think we all wanted to make a noisy racket for a bit. 

But also… when Richard joined he got given his homework to listen to, all the albums that are in Suede’s DNA: the Pistols, Roxy Music, Robert Wyatt… all these records. In a weird way, this feels like the first record to come out of Richard’s teenage years, rather than ours. So it’s more Public Image Limited than the Pistols, and you can hear things like Magazine. He drove this record, and it took us into places that we haven’t really been before.

In Brett’s memoirs some of the most intoxicating passages are from the band’s rise. Is there something inherent in Suede that thrives on that backs-against-the-wall mentality?

Well, I would say that spite and revenge are fantastic drivers! Something has to be niggling at us. We have to feel like we’re pushing through this thicket in order to make it all work. Suede is always presented as this overnight thing, but really, we had three years of playing to virtually no one. And I think that’s always driven us to believe we’re outside the mainstream – there’s this desire to be heard, and recognised by people. Alongside that, we feel like we’ve never quite gotten it right. It keeps us moving forwards. This sense of, well, maybe on the next record… and I don’t think we’ll ever get there!

‘What Am I Without You’ on the new record is aimed at the fans, and your relationship with them. Did that separation over lockdown, and not being able to tour, hurt you?

I was so surprised. At first, I thought I’d be fine with it. We tour a lot, play a lot, and it’s good to have a break from the madness. I love the freedom you get from a gig where it’s all organised. People turn up to the show with sandwiches in their bag, we’re backstage doing stretches, and then you go onstage and everything goes fucking nuts! It’s like we’re all teenagers again, y’know? It’s an incredibly powerful, freeing thing. And that’s really why we do it. It’s like this communion – there’s 5000 people singing every word, and you’re at the centre of it. It’s only a brilliant gig if the audience are feeling it. The band can be playing really well, but if the audience aren’t feeling it then it, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing more pointless than a band just doing it for themselves. That’s the old cliché, isn’t it? We only do it for ourselves. Well if that’s the case, just keep it as a little hobby in your shed or something! It’s not a hobby, it’s a fucking calling, or a cause.

You mentioned that Richard led this album, was it a thrilling thing for you to listen to what he was bringing in to the studio, and chasing those guitar parts?

Oh, totally. He wrote so much for this. We wrote 50 songs, and threw away 40. Everything is on this seesaw of feeling new, but also feeling recognisable as Suede. It has to have that DNA in it. And as time goes on, it becomes harder to find a space where you haven’t already done something. You have to keep space to do something new.

The album is incredibly finessed – it’s a succinct record.

Well, it was originally very different. We worked on it right to the end. And right at the end, out popped ‘Turn Off Your Brain And Yell’ and we immediately knew that should close the record. And it took the album in a totally different direction. It added this sense of focus to the whole thing.

The record was done. Like, literally done. We had sleeves made up and everything. When Brett came in, and said: I’ve got this strange thing, I’m not sure it’ll work. Simon had already travelled to Thailand, where he lives. And it became this Frankenstein’s monster, all pieced together in different places. But it feels like a summation of what’s been before – it’s got this thuggishness, and repetition, and darkness.

And you’re already writing a follow-up, I believe?

Yes, we are. But it won’t be anything like this one! There was something about doing ‘Autofiction’ that was quite energising… just the simplicity and power of it all. But the next record won’t be anything like that. I think this album just gave us a kick up the arse, to be honest!

To finish on a note of re-connection, you must be looking forward to getting back out on the road…

Oh yeah, we are. We tend to only tour in short bursts anyway – a maximum of about 16 shows – because it’s important to us that it never becomes ordinary. That’s one of the reasons why we split up the first-time round, because it became routine. It should be a magical thing.

And you’ll be touring alongside Manic Street Preachers shortly – fellow members of the awkward squad!

I know, it’s fantastic. I love them! I mean, I remember the last tour we did, in ’93 or ’94 or whenever it was. It’s funny, an American journalist spoke to me recently, and said he couldn’t think of a band he more expected to crash and burn than us and the Manics! If you look at it, we were up against Jesus Jones, Carter USM, and all those bands. And now 25 years later, we’re still here and touring! There was something about both groups which was flashy and pretentious, and rubbed people up the wrong way. People thought it wasn’t real music… and in the end, we were! 

‘Autofiction’ is out now. For all Suede tour news, visit their official site.

Photo Credit: Dean Chalkley

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