Ed Buller
On Producing Suede
December 2010
Interview: Steve Bateman

“Seven years after winding down, Suede’s wound-up performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the Teenage Cancer Trust astonished even the hardcore, who felt the legendary tension between band and fan hadn’t in any way waned. The show was a celebration but also an acknowledgement of the intensity that Suede went about their music as if their life depended on it, and in doing so, changed people’s lives.”

– Suede The Best Of, Sleevenotes Extract

With the recent release of a Suede Best Of (an officially sanctioned and remastered 2CD compilation featuring one disc of singles and another disc of album tracks and b-sides), coupled with the band’s rapturously-received comeback shows, all of which have been lavished with praise. It would seem that Suede’s body of work and the importance of the impact they had – who, like a supernova, ushered in a new generation of guitar music in the early ‘90s that people could ‘buy in to’ – is at last being reappraised and getting the recognition it so rightfully deserves! First helping the group take their music from the margins to the mainstream, was producer Ed Buller, who between the years 1992 to 1996, recorded Suede’s self-titled debut long player, standalone single Stay Together, Dog Man Star, Coming Up and almost every b-side from these eras as well, many of which can be found on Sci-Fi Lullabies. And as a testament to the quality of the songs Suede made with Ed, on 2010’s Best Of, out of 35 tracks, a whopping 30 were all produced by him, proving that everyone involved at the time was at the top of their game! Believing that the most crucial role of a producer is to instil “a sense of trust and to help a band achieve their dreams,” if you would like to find out more about Ed and his career, please visit his profile page on his Management’s official website at http://www.140db.co.uk/?page_id=279

Although Suede’s breakthrough line-up of Brett Anderson, Bernard Butler, Mat Osman and Simon Gilbert, would see the sad departure of Butler before work on their dark and dramatic masterpiece, Dog Man Star, had even be completed. With the addition of Richard Oakes and Neil Codling on Coming Up, the group continued to write vivid music that was still aimed at the head and body (yet now a lot poppier and glam sounding), had emotional shading, was laden with imagery and was utterly addictive and consuming! Also led by one of the most charismatic, Byronic, coquetry, mesmerising and flamboyant frontmen ever – who has star quality, an immense voice and a unique lexicon / lyrical bent – these are yet more reasons why Suede should be considered as nothing less than a truly great British band! And after their London O2 Arena gig on December 7, with no fixed plans in place, fans will be eagerly awaiting news on the group’s future with baited breath. But in the meantime, I felt this would be an opportune time to talk to Ed, who looks back fondly on his involvement with Suede, sharing lots of fascinating stories about producing songs and records that mean so much to so many…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.To begin with, when and how did you first come to work with Suede – can you remember your first impressions of meeting the band and did you ever imagine that they would go on to achieve everything that they have?
“The first time that I met Suede, was in Hackney, in a little rehearsal studio right at the top of a house – this must have been about ’92 I think it was, yeah, about March ’92. Basically, I knew Saul Galpern from my Island days – although I didn’t know him very well at Island, but I had bumped into him a few times. He rang me up and asked me to come down and see him in his new offices, because he was starting a new label (Nude). His offices were in the West End and I went down to see him and he played me the demo of The Drowners, and a few other tracks including To The Birds, and I just thought they were amazing! So I went and met with the band in Hackney and they were very young and very polite, quite quiet, but obviously Brett was a star you know (laughing), he was already Brett! But I could tell pretty much on that first meeting, that musically, Bernard was the one with very fixed ideas. I liked them a lot and they seemed like really nice guys – I think we spent about 2 or 3 hours going through the songs and we just talked about production, what they liked and what they didn’t like, and I didn’t see them again until we started work about a week later at our first session. In all honestly, I thought they would be massive, I mean, I thought they were bigger than they were in my own little way you know (laughing)? You see a band like that and you just think, “This is the next massive band!””

2.As you produced all three of Suede’s classic albums, Stay Together and lots of b-sides, how does it make you feel when people describe you as an ‘unofficial member’ of the group, due to your influence in helping them to shape their sound in the studio?
“Well, it’s very nice to get that, obviously, and it’s a real achievement when people sort of make those conclusions, because a lot of people don’t know what a producer does. I’m obviously very happy if they think that, but I don’t necessarily think it’s true, because if you take one of the things that I always really liked about Suede, it’s the fact that they had such strong opinions themselves. Every band that I work with – most bands anyway – I basically work with them because they’re nice people (pausing), I used to be in a band and even though I’m now 2 years shy of 50, I always imagine when I’m making the record, that I’m in the band, because that’s the easiest way if you sort of talk to them on their level. With Suede, it was much easier, because I was only 28 and they were all 20, so I was 8-years-older, but we still had a lot in common. I think the thing I really liked about them, was that I had never worked with a band that were that professional. Suede seemed so focused on every aspect of being a band. They wanted it all perfect! I was really surprised by the fact that they would (pausing), when I was working on the first few songs, which was The Drowners, To The Birds and My Insatiable One, if I was doing something that didn’t require the band, they’d all go next door in the live room and just rehearse. Then, once they’d run through their set, they would start playing covers – they just liked playing so much! I’d never worked with a band like that before, or since actually.”

3.Of all the arrangements and sounds that you helped bring to life over the years, which are you most proud of?

“That’s like picking which are your favourite children! Each record – I did three records with the band – and they’re kind of like chapters in a book really, that’s how I look at them. Obviously, in many ways, I regret enormously that I didn’t do more chapters with them, but I didn’t really want to do anymore work with them after Coming Up, because I was moving to America and I felt they needed a change. In fact, I wasn’t the first person they picked to do Coming Up, they wanted to work with somebody else, but they came back to me (laughing)! I’m really glad that happened, because a good friend of mine, Chris Kimsey, they went to see him about doing a record – I’d done a record with Chris when I was in the Psychedelic Furs – but he said to them, “You’re crazy, you’ve got a fantastic relationship with Ed, why would you change it?” That had quite an effect on them I think, so that was very sweet of him.”

4.What are some of your favourite Suede guitar, bass, drum and piano / keyboard parts + vocal takes that you ‘captured’ on tape?

“I’m just trying to think of a guitar part really, to start with, because I don’t want to say something that’s my favourite and it’s not… it’s very hard! I mean, obviously with guitar – and no disrespect to Richard – but for me, Suede are really two bands. There’s a Suede with Bernard and there’s a Suede without Bernard. The one without Bernard is a great band, a fantastic band and I’m very proud of Coming Up (pausing), it will be interesting to see if they decide to make another record, but the Suede with Bernard was just something completely different. Bernard’s the only person I’ve ever worked with in my entire career who I would call a virtuoso! A virtuoso is where the human-being and the instrument basically become one, and he’s the only person I’ve ever worked with who fits that bill. I’ve worked with some very, very talented musicians, but when Bernard picked up a guitar and started playing, it was just extraordinary! So that personality, is one of the things that I think a lot of people didn’t realise made Suede as good as they were, because maybe they don’t understand how hard it is to play the guitar in that way. I think Jonny Greenwood is probably of that calibre as well. But it’s difficult to pick a song where (pausing), you know, basically when you’re looking at Suede, you think, “Ok, what are the songs where the guitar is playing such an important role?” There’s a lot on the first record, but on the second album, Bernard deliberately sort of took the guitar back a bit so he could do other things, and I think one of the reasons why that album is still my favourite, is because it’s the point where Bernard really grew as an artist. So did Brett, they both grew enormously on that album and their ambitions were vast on that record! I think my frustration with Dog Man Star, other than the fact that it did bring about the end of their relationship (pausing), to be honest and no matter what people have said, it did not end as the result of that record, that record had nothing to do with it. It ended because there were two people heading towards each other at top-speed and they were going to have a massive crash, and unfortunately, the crash happened at the same time that that record was made. But, I think the record is brilliant! So, if I had to go through that for guitar parts, for instance, a song like The Wild Ones, you listen to that song and you walk away from that song and the most powerful thing is the melody and the lyrics. But when you look at it carefully, you can see how much excitement and beauty the guitar part brings to it, especially in the verse – I mean, that’s one of the best guitar parts I’ve ever heard on a record! It was very similar to what Bernard was doing in Animal Nitrate, because his standard approach to Suede songs at the time, was to play these very flowery, lyrical guitar parts, that kind of fought against the vocal. But it worked, because it was so good! With most other guitar players, you tend to say to them, “Can you not solo during the verse and wait until we get to the guitar solo point?” But with Bernard, you just let him do it, because he was so good! I think that’s the big frustration I have on Coming Up, is that there’s nothing on Coming Up like that really, perhaps with the exception of Beautiful Ones, which is a great riff and I think Richard should be very proud of that riff. So, it would probably be either Animal Nitrate or The Wild Ones.

Bass and drums, it’s difficult, because I think my favourite recording from a sound and technical point-of-view – from everything that I’ve ever done with Suede – is My Insatiable One. It was done in the tape-machine room because they had a dedicated drum room at the studio, but I didn’t like it, because it was like this big stone room and it was just a bit over-the-top. Simon’s a very kind of English drummer – he’s actually a very, very good drummer and he plays in this really solid, almost bluesy way really. He’s very good at slower tempos, and with My Insatiable One, I remember setting him up by the tape-machine room and him grumbling, “Why I am sitting out here?” It was very cold if I remember rightly, but I think it’s the best drum sound we ever got! Everything about that take, the snare sounds fantastic, the bass drum sounds great and the bass – Simon and Mat played the song 3 or 4 times, but I think it was the first take that I liked the best. This was long before editing, so we didn’t use Pro Tools or anything like that. I think that’s just a very, very solid bit of playing from the pair of them, they just slotted together perfectly! Piano, I guess it would have to be The Next Life, it still makes me cry because it’s such a moving song, it’s just an amazing song and obviously, I now know – I didn’t know at the time – but I now know that it’s about Brett’s Mum. I just think there’s something about that song that’s just so fantastic (pausing), in a way, Bernard – and again because he’s such a clever musician – normally when guitar players start to play piano, you think, “Oh God, this is going to be corny and naff, semi-classical” you know? But Bernard just completely avoided doing that and did the reverse, it’s almost like minimalism really and it’s got a lot in common with Harold Budd. The chord progressions, and he did the same thing on High Rising which I think is a very underrated track, but the chords themselves aren’t particularly complicated chords, it’s just that the harmony keeps shifting. With Brett’s vocals, there are just so many – so many (laughing)! It’s impossible, although I do love Daddy’s Speeding, because it’s so different!”

5.Did Brett want a different vocal approach and a different vocal sound for every track on individual albums?

“The thing that Brett was doing on the second album that was really interesting, and again, this is one of the reasons why he’s such a class act, is that he knows that vocals are (pausing), some singers get behind the mic and they just sing. With Brett, everything’s like an act to him, he gets into character. He doesn’t wander around the control room trying to get into character, he just does it slowly, but then he talks to you about the lyric and he puts the lyric down in front of you and goes, “I want this word to sound like this.” He gets quite obsessive and on Dog Man Star, the one that bugged him the most, was The 2 Of Us, which I don’t like – it’s the only vocal he’s ever done that I just don’t like, it’s plumby and weird. Whereas on Daddy’s Speeding, he just got this weird thing in his head where he wanted the word speeding to sound like schhhpeeding (laughing), so it sounded like a car. He kept saying, “Does it sound like a car Ed?” And I was like (laughing), “Yes, it sounds like a car Brett – a big silver car going very, very fast!” I just remember doing that vocal and I love that bit of singing! I also think The Wild Ones is a great bit of singing! But then again, even with the first album, he was getting away from this character that he’d created before the band made a record. You can hear on things like Pantomime Horse and Painted People, which is one of my least favourite tracks, again because his character’s a bit over-the-top – it’s a bit Tommy Steele (impersonating Tommy Steele singing Painted People, then laughing). So, he tried to sort of rein that in. There’s a couple of spots on Animal Nitrate where he came up with this really cool sounding voice, which I really liked.”
*I ask Ed about Brett’s almost synthetic voice on Trash*
“Trash is the only thing in the entire history of working with Brett, I think (pausing), I don’t know, you’d have to ask him. But I would say that Trash is the only thing that he’s still cross with me about. Everything else, if it didn’t turn out right, he forgave me, because enough turned out well that he was really happy with. If you listen to Trash on the 2003 Singles compilation, he actually re-recorded the vocals!”
*I say that I much prefer the original Coming Up version, which thankfully, is the version included on 2010’s Best Of*

“Well tell him, because so do I! What happened on that song was, is that we did it and the history of that record, as I said, is that I wasn’t supposed to do it. Saul kept coming round to my house and saying, “Who are we going to get to do the Suede album?” And I was like, “Dude, I don’t know (laughing), you’re on your own there!” But because I like Saul a lot and I like the band, I tried to give as much advice as possible and he said, “Do you mind talking to Brett about it?” and I said, “No, I don’t mind.” So I got in a cab and drove over to Brett’s which was about 10 miles from my house, he lived in Notting Hill and I lived in Belsize Park. I had a chat with him and Richard and I just said, “Look, you know, I think this is the kind of record that you should do and you should find someone who can help you to do that.” Then, at the end of the conversation they said, “Well, do you fancy doing it?” and I was like, “Yeah, of course I’ll do it if you want me to!” So we started off the record with a blueprint, which is that it was basically going to be their pop record. So all of the things that we did on Dog Man Star, we were not going to do on this record and basically, the record would consist of two types of songs, either big smashes or album tracks – nothing in-between. The record was designed that way, so it was recorded very specifically – we did a month on the drums – and I said, “Look, if we’re going to make a dance record, we’ve got to start using computers, because we’ve got to make sure that our sound is as fat and as chunky and as dancey as possible.” So we did a month in the Townhouse just doing drums, and basically, the way the album started, the blueprint was Tanx by T.Rex – I actually thought The Slider was a better choice, but Brett always had a different take on things. I always looked at The Slider as being the ultimate T.Rex album, but he’s right, Tanx is actually a better record, because it’s more interesting. Basically, what we did, is that every track started with acoustic guitar, bongos, tambourine and Brett, so it all started life pretty much the same way that Marc Bolan recorded all of his stuff originally. He started with an acoustic guitar song and then he’d build it up with guitar and drums and electronics. So the foundation of the songs on Coming Up, is a groove made-up out of kongas, tambourine and acoustic guitar. On most of the tracks on the album, all of that has been removed – you can hear a lot of it on Beautiful Ones, you can still hear the kongas and the acoustic guitar in the verse. But on Trash and all the other tracks, all of that got removed. It was there to start with, it was our click-track, so instead of having a normal click-track, we had a Marc Bolan ‘60s click-track (laughing), that was the vibe on the record! When we started to do vocals, one of the agreements was that we wouldn’t use so many reverbs, we’d just use little delays. That obviously just started to go out of the window, because Brett can’t stand his voice being dry – he can’t stand it! He has to have lots of effects. So by the time we got to Trash, one of my problems was that Brett was smoking quite a lot during those days and when we got a tempo, I said, “Ok, let’s do the song,” and he’d say, “That’s far too fast!” Then I said, “Well hang on Brett, it’s not far too fast, you want it to be a dance record.” But he’d say, “No, slow it down, slow it down.” We had a good enough relationship where we could boss each other about and he’d be like, “Alright, alright, not as much on that, more on that, now slower,” so I’d just keep slowing it down until we got to a tempo that he was happy with. Then he’d come in and say, “That’s a dirge, that’s not a dance song, it’s a ballad for fuck’s sake – it’s too fast!” I was like, “Just try it!” So every song we had this argument on – every single song! It was ok, it wasn’t an unpleasant argument, it was a funny argument!

There was one song where I completely lost and he was dead right, and that was a track called She. I came in one day with the big concern that the record was lacking singles, so I said, “I don’t think She is the right speed, I think it could be massive if you sped it up, it’s such a great song!” So we tried to speed it up, but everybody just said, “You’re out of your mind, part of its appeal is that it’s slow.” And they were right, they were dead right, She was much better slow. So on that one, I was wrong. But Trash was always too slow, so we recorded it and we got to the mixing stage (pausing), again, one of the things that makes that album so much better than the other two in terms of sound, is that we had Dave Bascombe come in and mix it. I’d always mixed the Suede records, but I quite often enjoy having somebody else mix my records. Because when you’ve recorded and produced the record, by the time you get to the mixing stage, you kind of do need somebody to come in with fresh ears and without any attachment, to say, “Look, it could sound like this.” So this was the first time that I had a proper mixer, like a big budget mixer and he was just brilliant! A huge part of the sound of that record is his input, he did a really, really good job on that album. To this day, I think he deserves more credit than he got – I think we shared the mixing credit, because there’s some tracks that I mixed. He even did a recall, so I think it’s only two tracks that are just my mixing, so he had a massive input onto that record and it just would not have sold or sounded anything like as good as it did, without him. One of the things that he did when he heard Trash, was that he said it was too slow (laughing)! I said, “You’re right” and he said, “Right, let’s speed it up a bit,” and he sped it up – without me! Brett was there and there was some Moog filtering on the vocals we did live, I had a big modular system by then, so we put all of the backing vocals through the Moog filters. So, Brett was there when it was being done and he was happy with it, then eventually and I can’t remember who, but some journalist said, “I really like that song, you sound like you’re on helium.” That was about 2 years later – I think that’s what happened – but that just pissed him off! I was going to do the last album (A New Morning), but I’m very glad I didn’t, because I didn’t think they had the songs actually. I remember discussing it at the time, we had quite a few phone calls and on one of the phone calls he said, “I’m worried if you do this record, you’re going to screw it up like you did Trash.” I said, “What did I do (surprised)?” and he said, “You sped up my vocals.” So I said, “Well A. I didn’t, that was Dave Bascombe and B. It sounds fine.” He said, “Don’t be stupid, I sound like fucking Pinky and Perky.” So, he’s got a very strong opinion about the track, but I think it’s brilliant! The blueprint for that song, was New Generation, which I completely fucked up! The trouble with New Generation, is that it’s in the wrong key – I tried to get Bernard to change the key but he wouldn’t have it, because one of the problems you’ve got with guitar players, especially people with the skill of Bernard, is that they use a lot of open strings, so it had to be in a certain key for it to work. But the problem with Brett, is that when you get to the chorus (singing “Here in my head”), that note just doesn’t hit. He was always right on the edge of not sounding his best, so the vocal wasn’t great, and the second problem was the mix, which is probably the worst mix I’ve ever done in my life! I was so self-conscious about the vocal, that I just drenched it in the wrong kind of reverb and the drums are appalling – it’s just a really, really bad mix! If someone puts it on, I have to leave the room, it sounds so bad! So Trash was basically my attempt to redo New Generation (laughing).”
*I ask Ed how many vocal takes Brett allows himself when recording*

“Of all the singers I’ve worked with, Brett’s the most aware of what he did. There’s a great story a friend of mine told me, which is quite an unbelievable story, Gary Stout, the guy who engineered all of the Suede records with me, he was an assistant in LA – his job was to basically make tea and tidy things up, being a run-around. But the studio he was working at, Barbra Streisand turned up to do a vocal and she had a trailer in the parking lot, and she basically stayed in her trailer until they were ready, then they would go and knock on her door and she would come out, walk straight through the studio into the live room, stand by the microphone and say, “Off you go.” They would roll the tape and she did about 20 takes, then she would walk into the control room and say, “I’d like to hear take 4, take 7 and take 19.” When they played take 18 by mistake, she said, “No, that’s take 18, can we hear take 19!” She was that aware of what she was doing. Brett wasn’t to that extent, but he was pretty fucking close! In the studio, he’d do 3 or 4 takes and then he’d come back into the control room and say, “Can I hear take 4? I really like take 4.” So, I’d play him take 4 and then he’d go, “Ok, listen to the second line of the first chorus in take 1, that’s great!” Then we’d listen back to it and I’d say, “Yeah, that is really good!” But he’d say, “I can do that better” and I was like, “But Brett, that’s brilliant!” Then he’d go, “No, no, I can do it better” and he’d go in and do it better! He’s probably the only singer I’ve worked with, who’s that much in control of his voice. He’s got this thing and again, if you’re in the control room with him and you’re talking about an idea and you go, “I can synch that melody there in the chorus,” he’ll say, “Hang on, play it” and he’ll pick up the guitar and then he’ll open his mouth and then he’ll belt it at full volume as if he’s live onstage! Every other singer I’ve worked with – other than Liam actually from The Courteeners, he’s a bit like that – but every other singer I’ve worked with, sort of mumbles it and half sings it. Whereas Brett, bang, just goes into character, rock ‘n’ roll God and sings it full-flow!”

6.Sonically and structurally, were there any songs that drastically changed or grew out of others, which could almost be thought of as companions?
“Um, I’m trying to think… no, not really. I suppose By The Sea was always a bit tricky, because it took a long time to get that right – the piano parts – Neil spent all day playing them and it drove him nuts poor lad. That morphed into something a bit more psychedelic, because it started out a bit more basic. It was more the b-sides, because they were the things where we allowed ourselves a bit more freedom, but generally (pausing and exhaling a deep breath), I don’t know… Still Life is the only track that I really think fails, because it’s too over-the-top! It was a nice idea, but it is so pretentious. Sometimes I listen to it and I think we pulled it off, but other times I listen to it and I think, “Ok, that was a step too far.” It’s difficult, because on Dog Man Star, a lot of it was experimental, like a lot of Daddy’s Speeding started off with (pausing), see, I didn’t know what a lot of these songs sounded like, because on the first album, they could play them as a band, but on the second album, they really couldn’t play anything as a band. In fact, half of it was recorded with everybody separately, partly because of the difficult relationship Bernard was having with people at the time. So, it’s difficult and I can’t think of a Suede track that we really radically altered in production, no. I think they all pretty much turned out the way we intended.”

7.Which track caused the most discussion and debate amongst you all, and did you have many ‘happy accidents’ in the studio in terms of musical ideas / directions?
“As for which track caused the most discussion and debate amongst us, I think Trash is probably the only song where Brett was disappointed, but you’d have to ask him. I think pretty much every other song (pausing), I know everybody – because it’s obvious – talks about the sonics on Dog Man Star, but it’s not really the sonics, it’s the mixing. But I don’t think there’s other contentious songs really. I mean, sometimes Brett’s vision of what a song should be was different to Bernard’s, which is where a lot of the tension came from. Probably the worst, was The Asphalt World, because in rehearsals it had a 20-minute guitar solo. It took a long time and I tackled it in 8 bar segments – every week I’d say to Bernard, “Can we get rid of these 8 bars?” I’d slowly wear him down (pausing), I felt sorry for him, but it was just difficult, because what he wanted to do was so different to what Brett wanted to do by that point. That’s a really good song and I think it turned out really well, and again, most of that (pausing), Bernard was in such a weird place making that record, but he was coming up with some of the most inventive music that I’d ever heard, but he was obviously a bit of an emotional wreck. His Dad had died and I don’t think he enjoyed being in the band, so all he enjoyed was the music. We built this little living room for him in the live room, because he just didn’t like being in the control room, he felt it was a bit too restrictive. So we built him this little lounge, like something from a post-war living room movie – it had two couches, carpet, a standard mic, two massive speakers and a television… you can hear him tuning the TV in the intro for The Asphalt World, he was just sitting there, playing with the TV. So that was a ‘happy accident’, because it was all accidental and we left the tape rolling – I was trying to talk to him about something and the TV was on. He came and listened to it and smiled – it was one of the rare days where he smiled (laughing). It’s a bit difficult really, because I’m now friends with Bernard, I saw him a couple of weeks ago and we went out for a drink, but someone had a massive fight with him during the recording of Dog Man Star and he stormed out and sat on the bonnet of his car. He was so pissed off with everybody and he didn’t want to speak to us, but he started playing this Dobro, which is like a metal acoustic guitar with a resonator on. And so me and Gary, just to sort of break the ice really, we dragged a couple of microphones out into the street and mic’d him up and that’s the beginning of The Wild Ones. If you listen to it very carefully, you can hear the buses and you can hear at one point Gary shout. So, if you put headphones on, you can hear Bernard quite clearly sitting on the top of a car, playing an acoustic guitar with all of the noises that were going on in the background!”

8.Which LP was the quickest to record and which one took the longest + what’s the simplest recording and the most complex multi-tracked recording the band has ever committed to tape?
“The longest LP to finish, was definitely Coming Up, it took 9 months! My memory of Coming Up, was that it was one of the funnest records I’ve ever made – and again, not to knock Bernard – but the mood of the band was completely different. By the time Bernard left the band, it really was 3 people and 1 person, they had nothing in common, they hardly spoke to each other and it was just nothing but tense. So making Dog Man Star was the most unpleasant record I’ve ever made, in terms of atmosphere and vibe, and even though I love listening to it, it’s painful for me, because I can remember how difficult it was for everybody to make it. It was not a nice experience and it was like being caught in the middle of a family row for 3 or 4 months! But Coming Up was the reverse, and Brett was completely in charge on that record – it was the first record he was completely in charge of. Which to some people, would have meant that they got carried away, but not Brett, because he was so disciplined and that was one of the things that I really liked about him. Which is why I was so surprised to see him sink into drug oblivion, because when I knew him, he wasn’t like that, he was very, very disciplined and he was great on that record! He was so much fun to be with – they all were! So my experience, even though it took forever – we started in December ’95 and we didn’t finish until June ’96, and we went to loads and loads of different studios – it was a very pleasant record to make. There wasn’t any tension or fights, and we all got on really, really well! Richard and Neil did very well you know, being new members of the band – there was just a great feeling and it was a really enjoyable record! The first album was great, because it was the first album I’d ever done, where I felt like I was working with what could be one of the biggest bands in the world! We had to stop so they could go and do the Brits and they debuted their new single live on the Brits – I was there for that and I had to go and sit in the soundcheck and help, so that was amazing! I thought, “These guys are kids really” and they played Animal Nitrate to millions of people live! I mean, God, how scary is that? That was a very, very exciting record, because you really felt like everybody was waiting for it! So, three very different records (laughing)! My favourite is probably Dog Man Star, but it’s very hard, because they are literally like 3 kids. In terms of the simplest recording and the most complex multi-tracked recording the band has ever committed to tape, the simplest and easiest would be The Living Dead, without a shadow of a doubt. It was just a live vocal, with a live acoustic guitar and I think we overdubbed a little bit of synth to sound like an oboe. The most complicated, oh Christ, it’s difficult to say, because in terms of complexity, with Still Life, there’s an orchestra and that’s quite complicated and there’s a lot on that song. But, there are other songs that are fiddly, Introducing The Band was fiddly, because there’s lots of parts. Trash (pausing), the thing about Trash, which again is one of the reasons why I love Dave Bascombe, everytime we’d pull that song up and we’d do a rough mix – because back in those days we weren’t using computers – when you put the tape on the tape-machine, you had to physically push all of the faders up. I’d say, “Give me half-an-hour and I’ll make it sound good,” but I always found that track very hard to make sound good, but then Bascombe did one of the best mixes on the record! So for some reason, and I don’t know why, that was quite a fiddly track to get right.”

9.Do you know if there are a lot of unreleased songs in the band’s archives?
“No (without any hesitation), generally there’s not – there’s about 5 tracks that I’ve got, that don’t have vocals on them. They were great, but unfortunately, Bernard and Brett couldn’t see eye-to-eye, so they didn’t get finished and they never should be finished, because they couldn’t agree (pausing), that Beatles track that came out on Anthology, Free As A Bird, I know for a fact that Lennon would have been appalled at that. So, I’m pleased that there’s stuff in the archives that won’t see the light of day to be honest with you. The thing that I love about Suede, up until the point that I stopped working with them, I think everything they did was great! After I stopped working with them, and again, it’s got nothing to do with me, but I think the quality of their output dropped and certainly by the last album, it had dropped a lot. I think one of the things they’re proud of, is that the quality of their output is generally very, very high! And certainly, Sci-Fi Lullabies is a testament to how good they were even on b-sides. I think Electricity from Head Music is a great song though (pausing), the thing about Suede with electronics, it was always very difficult to get right and I always had to have a reference point, because if I’d have done what I like with electronics, it would have stuck out too much. Bernard didn’t really know anything about synthesisers until the second album – he went out and bought a synth and because he’s such a brilliant musician, he took to it very naturally. On Daddy’s Speeding for instance, he’s playing a synthesiser, but when there’s a noise at the end, like a turbine, which is supposed to be the engine blowing-up, we did that on my Moog.”

10.Do you have a favourite opening and closing album track + a favourite song intro, middle-section and outro?
“Introducing The Band is the best introduction to a record that I’ve ever heard I think, it’s such a perfect track! When Brett told me what he was doing, I just laughed, but he was so ambitious on that record, he was like, “This is going to be our first attempt at blowing everybody away!” How many bands do that on their second album? The thing that was so (pausing), again, there’s not enough credit, but Saul Galpern – their A&R guy – if you’re talking about a fifth member of Suede, Saul’s as good a candidate as I am, because he was very supportive of them being themselves. I really can’t think of another A&R man who I’ve ever worked with, who halfway through a record like Dog Man Star, will come down to the studio, listen to it and not go, “What the fuck are you doing?” Everytime Saul came down, he was just blown away, he said, “This is fantastic, I don’t hear any singles, but I don’t care, this is monumental!” He was absolutely brilliant and the band were very, very fond of Saul, but (laughing), they were quite off-hand with him. He would come down and go, “Can I hear something?” and they were like, “No, you can buy it in the shops like everybody else!” You know, they were only half-joking, especially Bernard. He’d say, “I don’t want you to listen to it yet, it’s not ready.” Which you can understand, but he was just great, a total supportive influence, whereas most A&R people are worried about radio and singles. A favourite closing album track would definitely be The Next Life, it’s the ultimate end to a record – it doesn’t get any better than that! I don’t know if I have a favourite song intro, middle-section and outro, because they’re all so different… I suppose I like the beginning of So Young, because it’s quite gritty and with Brett yelling, it’s just very exciting! See, that’s the thing that a lot of bands don’t really know how to capture, that feeling that something happened in the studio, where with all of Suede’s songs, you didn’t really have to put that feeling into it, because it was already there. Pantomime Horse, I love the way that begins, it’s got a ridiculous amount of effects on it, but that’s what they liked and so I said alright – it’s almost electronic at the beginning, there’s a big thick bed of noise which I really like. Beautiful Ones, what a great guitar part (singing riff), it’s absolutely brilliant and that’s Richard’s tour-de-force that song, it’s an absolutely stunning riff and a brilliant bit of playing! As I said, there are two Suede’s – the Bernard Suede and the Richard Suede – and that’s the peak of the Richard Suede I think. For an outro, I do like The Wild Ones, the way it ends – we came up with that in the studio. Bernard’s outro never worked, so as soon as he’d left the band, we got rid of that. It was a cool bit of music actually, but it just didn’t work and I actually came up with the ending of The Wild Ones, where Brett keeps singing, “Oh, if you stay…” I kept repeating it – I did it as an edit on the tape-machine and played it to Brett, and he said, “Yeah, I love that!” So, I kind of like the way that ends, because it feels like it stepped up. I like Animal Lover, I think there’s some really cool guitar playing on it, I mean, there’s about 5 guitar parts but it works! But, there all so different you see, because a lot of bands try to basically write the same song over and over again, like The Rolling Stones, who’ve spent all of their life writing the same songs. There are variations, but you know what you’re getting. Whereas if you look at Suede, they’re much more like Bowie, which is an obvious thing to say because he was a massive influence, but the thing about Bowie is, if you listen to Aladdin Sane and Low, they’re two very, very different records – it’s almost like different artists. That’s what’s great about Suede, they kept that sort of feeling alive throughout those three records. You know, Coming Up is probably the most consistent, because we reined it in a bit basically and made a more straightforward record. But even on that album, there are still unusual songs like Picnic By The Motorway.”

11.Were the group ever conscious of writing singles, or was the focus more on creating albums to be listened to as a whole, along with being packaged in iconic artwork – and of Suede’s b-sides, are there any that you think should have been album tracks?
“Brett was a very ambitious character and so was Bernard, especially in the beginning, Bernard really wanted to be on Top Of The Pops and to have a # 1 record, but on his terms! He had no interest in doing anything that was obvious, and if somebody said, “Well look, if you do this, then you’re likely to get on Top Of The Pops,” he would do the reverse – in a good way, because musically, he wanted to push himself! Which was one of the things that I really enjoyed about him. Brett was the same, but he wanted things to be a ‘hit’ (pausing), perhaps the only problem we had on Coming Up I suppose, is that there was a nasty day, where we had to sort of sit him down and say, “You haven’t got enough songs.” I felt really bad about that, because the meeting was set-up with me, Saul and Charlie, Suede’s Manager, at Saul’s office. Brett came in one Sunday and he was obviously annoyed, because it was almost like he was pulled into the office for a talking to and he didn’t deserve it, he really didn’t. I regret that. But that was an occasion where we sat him down and said, “We haven’t got enough singles.” We did, they just weren’t there yet. He looked us in the eye and said, “I can’t believe you’re doing this, you’re a bunch of pussies,” and he was dead right, he really was! As I said, those three albums are all so different, but they could write singles accordingly. With b-sides, there are loads that could have been album tracks and I wouldn’t know where to begin. That’s the thing about Sci-Fi Lullabies – which is one of the best names for an album ever – it’s a good record on its own. I can think of so many bands who would be proud to have that as an album, let alone as a collection of b-sides! Up until Coming Up, when the b-sides started to get a little weaker, certainly on the first album and Dog Man Star, I mean what’s a bad b-side?”
*Ed pulls up Suede’s back catalogue on his computer*
“The Living Dead, My Dark Star – which is brilliant, absolutely brilliant – My Insatiable One, To The Birds (laughing), it doesn’t get any better and all of these are good quality album tracks! I think High Rising was a much better track than a b-side warranted. What else have we got… Eno’s Introducing The Band, God, what a waste of time that was! Killing Of A Flashboy, that’s a great song and should have been on an album (pausing), there was another one that we did, Together, I think it was called (singing) “We should get together.” I mean, I thought that was a single, I really did and we were going to re-record that for Coming Up – I don’t know why we didn’t, but I thought that was a great song! We did that in Wessex over Christmas and I remember that my daughter had just been born, and I remember going into the studio – I think it was the week after Christmas – and just thinking, “This is amazing, what a great song!" I wished we’d released it as a single, but it’s too late now.”

12.There are a number of different stories about Bernard’s dissatisfaction with your production techniques on Dog Man Star, so is there anything that you would like to say on this matter?
“You’ve got to bear in mind that I was 30 or 31, it was a long time ago and I can barely remember some of the things that happened. I can’t speak for Bernard, and as I said, I’ve seen him since, we don’t hang out or anything (laughing), but the last time I saw him we went for a drink and I really enjoyed his company! It was very good to see him, and I’m very pleased that he’s now regarded as a successful producer in his own right, because he deserves to be! Looking back on it, I think there were things that he wanted to get right on the record that I was not capable of doing, because I really wasn’t a skilful enough manipulator of the sounds that he was throwing at me, to do what he wanted me to do, I just wasn’t. Which is great, because it’s nice to be in a situation where you’re being challenged by your artists, but I think the things he wanted, either I didn’t understand, or in some cases, I didn’t agree with. But for the most part, we got on very, very well on that record – he didn’t get on with anybody else (pausing), in fact, I don’t think the band and Bernard were in the studio together once during the making of Dog Man Star. I don’t think so – for the bulk of it – and if they were, it was only for a matter of hours. So in the 3 months we made the record, they were kept away, so Bernard would be there on his own, or Brett, Mat and Simon would be there, and Bernard would go home. Because the feelings between them were really bad, they really didn’t like each other and I was caught in the middle, and then when things erupted, finally he quit. The only way that they could tempt him back, was if he was basically put in charge of making the record on his own without me, and they didn’t want that, so that’s why he ended up leaving. But I think in terms of what I did, the trouble with that record was that if you gave it to somebody like Brendan O’Brien, or Flood, or Alan Moulder, or Andy Wallace and said, “Can you mix this?” I think that album would be amazing, because I think that everything that’s on tape, is really good! The biggest problem with that album, is the mixes. I mean, some tracks turned out alright, I think The Wild Ones doesn’t sound too bad, The Asphalt World sounds kind of cool – it’s trashy, but I think it works. But other songs like New Generation are appalling, and the songs that Bernard didn’t finish, suffered terribly, because he didn’t finish them! On The Power, we had to get a guitar player in to play Bernard’s parts and it always sounded terrible. This guy was a brilliant guitar player, but even he (pausing), we were playing Bernard’s demos on a 4-track – now with a computer we would have been alright, but we never used them in those days. But this guy just couldn’t get it right, and it’s a real shame you know, but looking back on it, I’m proud of what I did and I think this new Best Of release proves that I sort of did a good job. I think Bernard will also probably be proud of what he did and with what I did, to a degree. I mean, the hardest artist I ever worked for, was my Dad you know? I couldn’t keep him happy, but that’s what proper, full-on musicians are like! It had to be perfect and it never was. The big difference between Bernard and Brett – and this isn’t a dig – because they’re just different people, but if you did something that Bernard liked, you’d know it because he wouldn’t be critical and he wouldn’t ask you to change it, that would be it, he’d be happy. But if there was something that Brett liked, you’d get a phone call at 4 in the morning from him going, “This is brilliant, this is absolutely brilliant!” He would be so happy, like a kid at Christmas! I remember doing Saturday Night, he forced me to stay up all night to finish that song. I was about to go home and he said, “Can we do a little rough mix of Saturday Night?” and I was like, “Oh, Brett,” because I wanted to go home (laughing) and I couldn’t stay up all night like he could. I said, “I want to go home, it’s 10 o’clock at night,” and he said, “Oh come on, just a quick one?”

He was so charming (laughing), so we went upstairs to another control room, set the tape-machine up and we were there until 5 in the morning, and that became the mix on the record! We’d only been making the record for about 2 months I think, and that was the first thing to get finished. He was so happy, I mean, he literally went home that day and played it all day long and I think there’s a story of a funeral going on next door, and they were banging on the walls trying to get him to stop playing the music. He literally listened to it in a loop for 24 hours! So you’d know when Brett was happy and you’d know when Bernard was happy! In a weird way, out of all the people I’ve worked with, even though it was tough working with Bernard sometimes, not because he was unsociable, because he really wasn’t unsociable – he was a really nice bloke. Literally, until the day he went home, I didn’t even know he was mad with me, he just left. I got a phone call from Charlie saying, “Brett’s just told me that Bernard’s quit.” Then about 4 days later, it was like, “He’ll only come back if he can produce the record without you,” and I was like (surprised), “What? Why?” I had no idea that he was that cross with me, but after working with him during those years, I just now look back on it and think I was so lucky to have worked with him! We’re now friends again, but it wasn’t that big of a deal to be honest, it was nothing to get that upset about. I don’t want to speak out of turn about Bernard, but I think the big difference between Brett and Bernard, and it was a massive, massive, massive difference, which was always going to cause a problem sooner or later. With Brett, he loved music and was a totally committed musician, but also loved the idea of being a pop star. Bernard hated the idea of being a pop star – absolutely hated it! I actually told him when I was working with him (laughing), that he really reminded me of one of my heroes when I was a kid, who was Mike Oldfield. I always thought that Mike Oldfield was a very similar character to Bernard, because he was emotionally quite tightly wound-up, which Bernard was as well. He came from a fairly strict Catholic (pausing), he had a firm upbringing, not in a messed-up way, because Bernard had a very clear sense of right and wrong – he didn’t think the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle was a good thing at all, he thought it was all a bit deviant and disrespectful, which definitely caused him problems. Then, when his Dad died, it was so unexpected, because his Dad had a back-ache one week and he died of cancer a month later. It was so appallingly quick, it was awful! He already had a bit of a bad relationship with his brothers, so I think he was under an incredible amount of pressure that we had no idea about (pausing), the best thing that happened to him really I think, was his wife, who was his girlfriend at the time – she was wonderful and looked after him. So unfortunately, he went through a really rough patch and he went through it in public, with all of these people applying an awful lot of pressure on him to come up with the next great record. It’s not fair to say he snapped, because he didn’t snap in a conventional way, because that would make it sound like he didn’t handle the pressure well. He handled it the way he handled it, but I think all he really cared about, was the music. He was absolutely obsessed with getting everything right, to a degree that I’ve never seen in another person, other than my father – my father was like that! I think the others enjoyed being in a band (laughing), they wanted to get it right, but they were also a lot more laid back and enjoyed being in a band!”

13.Are you pleased that Suede’s comeback has been so successful, and if they do decide to carry on after their London O2 Arena show / make another record, would you like to work with them again?
“I am pleased that Suede’s comeback has been so successful (pausing), I had a real problem when I moved to America in ’97, because you know, I thought I’d worked with one of the best bands ever and people were like (adopting a ‘who are they?’ tone), “Suede.” Even when I came back to England in 2005, I had a lot of meetings and it was always Pulp we went on about, never Suede. But now, I’m starting to realise that there are a lot of people out there who do really love Suede. As to whether or not I would like to work with them again, it’s always down to the quality of the material, but, I would leap at the opportunity to work with Suede again, if we all agreed that we were making a record that had to be as good as their best work. I think it’s right for a band to be cautious, because I think the worst thing that you could do is to weaken the back catalogue by coming out with a bad record. Brett said in an interview once, and it was really funny (laughing), he said, “Every band makes a bad record, they should be allowed to make a bad record.” I think he’s right, but the trouble is, we live in a different world now and when you come back after a long absence, you’ve just got to make sure that you don’t pick-up where you left off, that you take it to the next level! I totally think they’re all capable of doing that, I think they’re great musicians and I think Brett’s one of the best frontmen we’ve ever had, but I would like to see them do something very ambitious. I think if they went back into the studio and just tried to do a basic Suede album with a couple of singles, then no, I wouldn’t be interested. But if they said, “We want to make this amazing record that people will talk about for the next 50 years,” I’d be like, “Yeah!””
*I ask Ed how he feels that out of the 35 songs on Suede’s Best Of, 30 of them were produced by him, and also, if there are any tracks he feels should have been included*
“Well, great and it’s quite a collection! I would have liked to have seen Daddy’s Speeding on there, that’s one of my favourite tracks, but it’s a very good compilation, especially when you think that the band have only made 5 albums and the Best Of is a double collection, yet there’s still great songs which have been left off! I like the cover painting as well and artwork was always vital to Brett – I really like the sleeve for Head Music too, I think that’s a wonderful cover! I was living in America when Head Music came out and it really felt a bit like Coming Up part 2, the booklet and the sound, it just felt like it was a very similar record.”

14.Some final quickfire Suede questions, do you have a treasured recording session, memory, gig, melody, chorus and lyric?

“I don’t have a treasured recording session, because there are so many! We recorded in San Francisco, we recorded in LA, we recorded everywhere – there are loads of memorable sessions, so I don’t remember any particular (pausing), I’m obviously very fond of the first session, that’s a magical memory, doing The Drowners. I remember going home and lying in bed, playing it for about 4 hours – I just kept rewinding it and playing it again, because I thought, “That’s a ‘hit’, I’ve recorded my first ‘hit’!” A memory would be (pausing), I had a mad idea about recording The Living Dead in the bathroom, so we spent about an hour setting up the mics in the bathroom – it was a little toilet and Bernard had to sit on the loo with an acoustic guitar, and Brett stood by the door. They played it and then they came in and listened and we all fell about laughing, because it sounded so bad! It was so awful, it literally sounded like two people in a toilet (laughing)! Brett was like, “Is that the sound you’re after?” Then I had another disaster, because most of my ideas were very wacky and off-the-wall (pausing), well, sometimes, not all of the time. Like on The Big Time, I had this weird idea, I said, “The trouble with this song is that it has no sort of space and it would be nice to locate it somewhere.” I just felt like that at the time, so I said, “What I’m going to do, is to try and make it sound like you’re in an art gallery.” So I recorded all of the people walking round the library in high-heels, because I wanted to give it the feel of being in a train station or something massive, so that was fun, and Brett was quite impressed by that. Then I felt a bit over-confident and I thought, “I reckon I can take it up to the next level.” The next level was that I got in all of this sand and I got in a tap-dancer to dance on it, but that was a disaster, and Brett looked at me and said, “So we’re going to chalk this one down as a massive failure then?” and I was like, “Yes, yes, yes!” I was after this effect that was in the movie Top Hat, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, there’s a wonderful scene where Fred Astaire has woken her up by tap-dancing upstairs, but then he spreads sand on the floor of his hotel room to quieten the sound. So, I wanted to put all of this sand on the floor, as it’s really soft and it has a fantastic sound, a bit like a snare drum – I just wanted to get that effect in a song, but it was abysmal. I don’t think the tap-dancer understood what I was trying to do (laughing)! For a gig, I’ve seen them so many times, but I went with my wife to see them in America on their first tour over there – I knew they were nervous, so I thought it would be nice to surprise them and show my support. So we went straight to the airport, got on a plane and got to New York, flew down to Washington – none of the band knew we were there – and we went to the 9:30 Club in the afternoon for the soundcheck. Their sound guy came out and said, “Oh, hi Ed, blimey, what are you doing here?” But Brett being Brett, when we walked into their dressing room after flying thousands of miles to see them, he said, “Alright Ed, pass me that water will you?” I was like, “Hello Brett,” and felt like a pranny (laughing)! But the gig was fantastic and Bernard’s jeans were literally slipping down his arse as he was playing guitar – he was definitely trying to keep it all together, but he was really, really fucking amazing! He did not stop playing guitar, but at the same time, he was slowly moving his body down to keep his trousers up! I’ve seen them play live more than any other band and I think I lost count after 30 or 40 times. I’m going to see them on Tuesday at the O2 Arena, I’ve just texted Brett and the last time I saw him was in Australia, although we talked about doing A New Morning around 2000 and I’ve got two sets of demos which were sent to me then. I don’t think I could choose a favourite melody or chorus, and with a lyric, you’ve got to be joking! The thing about Brett is, is that he can be clever, Elvis Costello clever, “Nothing here works but your works,” that’s a classic Brett lyric and then he can be poignant you know? By The Sea is very poignant, The 2 Of Us is very poignant, The Next Life is very poignant. He’s a fantastic lyricist, one of the best I’ve ever heard! After working with Brett, that’s when I really first fell in love with lyrics, because I didn’t really listen to them, I liked lyrics in pop music, but I didn’t really get how good lyrics could be. He really opened my eyes to how important good lyrics were! Obviously, I’ve worked with Pulp and Jarvis’ lyrics are equally as good, but they’re very different.”
*As Suede’s lyrics mean so much to their fans, I ask Ed what he thinks about the band’s devoted fanbase*

“It’s funny, because when I got back to England, I had a meeting with my Manager – who was also my Manager when I worked with Suede and is now my Manager again – and we were just talking about what I’d done and she said, “The trouble with Suede, is that they’re Marmite aren’t they?” And that’s really interesting from a Managerial perspective and a business perspective, you look at them and think, that successful bands do really elicit that response and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You know, Coldplay’s fans are die-hard, but people who don’t like Coldplay think they’re awful. I think all bands that really have something (pausing), it’s the bands that don’t really elicit a response, where people think, “They’re alright.” Those bands can have careers, but they don’t generally get written about 40 years later, whereas I think Suede (pausing), I was very in with Suede and I was very close to them as people, I was very, very fond of them and being in a room with Suede was a lot of fun – it was like being in A Hard Day’s Night! Mat, Simon and Brett were hysterical and although Bernard could be very funny, he was quite a serious person. I think that’s one of the reasons why their fanbase is as loyal as it is, because they know they’re real characters as well, they’re not bland people.”

15.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

“I’d have chips!”

A very special thanks to Ed, and to Vicky @ 140dB, for all of their time and help.



“I’m a fan of creative tension,
Because if an idea’s worth being on a record,
It’s worth fighting for!”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?