Casting your eye over the past winners of NME’s Godlike Genius Award is like looking at a who’s who of music’s best and biggest artists. Last year it was Blondie; the year before, it was Johnny Marr. And Noel Gallagher, Dave Grohl, Paul Weller, Ian Brown, The Cure, Primal Scream and The Clash have all taken home the accolade, too.
This year’s Godlike Geniuses, the mighty Suede, deserve it just as much as any of those names. They’re the band who helped give birth to Britpop; a group who, by singing about their own tawdry lives and injecting glitz and filthy glam into the music scene, paved the way for a breed of popstar. With ‘Suede’ and ‘Dog Man Star’, they released two of the finest albums of the 90s. And while there have been lows to rival the highs – the departure of guitarist Bernard Butler in the mid-90s, the flop of 2002’s ‘A New Morning’ and their subsequent split – they’ve spent the last several years restoring their legacy to its rightful place. 2013’s ‘Bloodsports’, their first album in 10 years, reminded everyone of what a special band they were, all over again.
Suede will be at the NME Awards 2015 with Austin, Texas on February 18 at London’s O2 Academy Brixton. NME spoke to frontman Brett Anderson to find out exactly what this year’s deities have planned…
How does it feel to be given NME’s Godlike Genius Award?
“Well, it’s an honour, of course. It’s a slightly outrageous thing to be called, but it’s slightly tongue-in-cheek, isn’t it? But it’s wonderful to be recognised, and it’s great for us having been through lots of ups and downs in our career. It’s been a real rollercoaster ride of extreme highs and lows, so to be talking to you 25 years after we got together is lovely, really.
Do you think that reforming changed your legacy?
“I felt, before we reformed, that we’d gone off the radar a bit. And when we got back together we reminded people of what we did really well. I think there was a real re-evaulation of Suede as an artistic force. And with ‘Bloodsports’, we tried to make it compete with our best ever work. It’s very hard doing a comeback album when you haven’t made an LP for 10 years, because you can’t reinvent yourself – you have to look at what you’ve done best and solidify that. But it sent out a statement that we can still make great music.”
I think both those gigs and ‘Bloodsports’ tapped into what makes Suede so special.
“I agree. I’m still very proud of that record. I think it’s a fantastic record.”
Was the Godlike Genius award something you’d pined after?
“Well, I think we’re in good company. There’s a lot of really good people in there – Mark E Smith won it a few years ago, didn’t he? I’m a huge Fall fan, so I think that’s fantastic. And I think Bobby won it a few years ago as well [Gillespie, with Primal Scream].”
It seems to me – and I know you don’t like being associated with Britpop as a whole – but when people talk about that era of music, sometimes it’s reduced to that chart war between Blur and Oasis, and their spat. So I think Suede getting this award it’s important – to acknowledge the other great bands of that era.
“Yeah. It’s always easy to turn everything into a cartoon, isn’t it? A two-dimensional version of the past. But the reality is much more complex than that. I think people are still really fascinated in Britpop, because you look at it culturally, and it was still the last big movement in guitar music. It was the last time guitar music was a real force. Obviously there’s been individual bands that have come through since Britpop, and they’ve been fantastic, and they’ve caused their own little storms in their own worlds – or big storms, perhaps – but Britpop was the last big movement. And who knows when there’ll be another movement? There hasn’t been one for a while. It’s strength was that a lot of people decided to sing about their lives, rather than singing about other people’s lives. To me, that’s the biggest value that Britpop had. That’s it big legacy – people deciding to document their own lives. That’s what I was trying to do, anyway.”
I think when you compare it to today’s music scene, too, there’s so many different personalities there – the difference in ideas and background between I Suede, the Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Pulp.
“Possibly. To be honest, I don’t really follow all the little spats and fights anymore. That was very much part of the 90s when I was kind of involved in it, and you can’t help but follow it when you’re involved in it. Nowadays the music filters through to me. I’m not really very aware of what’s going on between the bands nowadays; I don’t know if they hate each other or love each other or what the score is. The 90s was definitely characterised by a lot of spats and it turned it into a bit of a soap opera, didn’t it? It was a lot of fun and games. But it’s all kind of irrelevant, really: if the music’s rubbish, then who cares? It’s all about that at the end of the day. I think that it can spur you on; I think it’s an interesting dynamic of what one uses as a creative spark, and I think the backfighting and the spats and the rivalry, you can use that as an impetus. It can either crush you or you can use it as a creative force. And I think the good artists were able to do that.”
How much do you feel like a God?
“Well, my day-to-day life is quite ungodlike, I have to reluctantly admit. I don’t wear laurel wreaths or ride around on a chariot that often. Onstage is the only time: the magical feeling of power and omnipotence that one gets when one performs is the closest you ever get.”
Do you have any plans for your performance at the awards?
“We haven’t decided yet. We’re just going to turn up and have fun: no huge plans, no dance routines, no guest appearances. We’ve always been like that, though. People always ask that question – ‘what can we expect?’ – and I never know what to say. ‘You can expect Suede onstage playing Suede songs. If that’s not good enough, then you’re in the wrong place.’ I’ve always hated the idea of collaborations and gimmicks. That’s stuff for managers. It’s a load of fluff.”
If you had to pick a Godlike Genius, who would you choose?
“I always think Echo And The Bunnymen never really get the recognition they deserve. So I’m going to go for them: they were an amazing band and they made some amazing records, and wrote some beautiful, beautiful songs. You listen to the records… I was listening to ‘Ocean Rain’ the other day and it’s a beautiful record. It’s got such a quality and a warmth. They haven’t had the critical reevaluation yet, and I can’t work out why. I think quite a lot about them; they slightly fascinate me.”
Now you’re Gods, what’s next for Suede?
“We’re working on a new album, but it’s not finished yet and we’re still not quite sure what it is. All I can say is that I don’t want it to be like that last album: I’m very proud of ‘Bloodsports’ but you’ve got to keep changing your goals. We’re deliberately not making an album that’s just song, song, song, song – we’re trying to make an album that’s more of a journey with songs that link into each other. ‘Bloodsports’ was almost like a debut, again, and so this is going to be all about what you do on the second album…”
Suede will perform at the NME Awards 2015 with Austin, Texas at O2 Academy Brixton on February 18 alongside Royal Blood, The Vaccines, Run The Jewels, Charlie XCX and more – get your tickets here.