Brett Anderson - A slow walk to freedom

Brett Anderson will release his third post-Suede solo album next week. He tells Elisa Bray what inspired it

You only have to look to the shift in the sound of Brett Anderson's music for a sense of how he has moved on from his past as the wayward front man of Suede. His last collection, Wilderness, featured just piano and cello, and his new release, Slow Attack, is a beautiful space-filled album with elements of film soundtracks and folk.

"It would have been a lot easier to stay in the same band and make rock records for the rest of my life," Anderson contemplates. "I've chosen a harder route, but to be honest I couldn't do anything else. I couldn't have trodden that path for the rest of my life, I wouldn't feel creative. I feel like I've been reborn."

Though he is dressed in a sharp-cut black coat and scarf – even indoors – Anderson, now 42, doesn't have a glimmer of the pale, gaunt look of his past days which were fuelled by crack cocaine and heroin. Perhaps his healthy look is also partly to do with the fact that he's been spending time in his cottage in a rural part of Ibiza – reading and walking in the countryside – where his wife used to live. It certainly provided the inspiration for the bucolic imagery of his latest two albums. Not that the imagery is of simple serenity; the lyrics are more in keeping with the violent nature of Ted Hughes' poetry, which Anderson has been reading. "With Hughes' poems, it's not a beautiful pastoral thing, it's a bleak brutal vision of the countryside. He and Seamus Heaney have that twisted vision of the countryside that I like. I wanted to write about a different take on the world." It is also a determination to steer away from the urban depictions that so characterised Suede in their Nineties heyday. "I'm quite conscious of territory I've trodden in Suede. With that band I created a lyrical landscape which I've possibly overused at points and, when it didn't quite work, it became a self parody – this Suede world of twisted sexuality and a low-rent kind of life. If I'm completely honest, a lot of the way this album and Wilderness have a bucolic setting is inspired by the fact I don't want to go back to the urban clichés. I'm very much aware of that."

Perhaps Anderson has less of a need to bare his tortured soul. he says: "The last two albums were very deep and personal where I was seeing myself in an almost Frida Kahlo-ish way, seeing myself and my personal pain as the art and trying to express that in an open and raw sense. With this one I didn't want to lay my soul open in such an obvious way. I wanted to have the lyrics more married to the mood of the music. Lots of fans listen to the lyrics and for them the lyrics dominate the music and I wanted to redress that balance. I wanted to take it somewhere else."

Having reached a point where he could focus on the music, for Slow Attack Anderson collaborated with Leo Abrahams, a guitarist who has recorded with Brian Eno and Ed Harcourt, and who suggested introducing the woodwind instruments which lend the songs their strangeness and other-worldly beauty. It is more in the musical mould of the Argentinian film soundtrack composer Gustavo Santaolalla, who wrote the score to Babel, and atmospheric rock bands such as Talk Talk and Sigur Ros, while incorporating elements of English folk and Bert Jansch, especially the song "Wheatfields" ("but if you say that people get scared and imagine people in jumpers"). It's not music that is likely to take Anderson back to his chart-topping days with Suede. Not a track of his recent music has even made it onto the radio. "I feel completely happy with that. It was an important artistic statement for me to make rather than trying to rewrite "Animal Nitrate" again and again. It was a huge step for me to make a record so completely unconventional," he says of his last release. "My first solo album is deeply flawed. I didn't know where I was going. I still wanted to make guitar-based pop music like I did with The Tears, and Suede. And it wasn't until Wilderness that I had the confidence to decide that I was going to do something completely different and throw all those instruments and ideas out the window and reinvent myself as an artist."

Anderson is the first to admit he has lived a gifted life as a musician – first in a successful pop band as a young man ("it was almost the pinnacle – it's ridiculous the amount of fun you can have being in a band") and now in his new-found tranquil existence. Does he miss those heady days? "I'm completely happy to turn my back on rock excess and all of those things in order to pursue something else, and this record is the next step on this twisted path I'm travelling on. It's strange, people who still want to be chasing the same thing. I suppose it becomes like an addiction. They need that buzz of going on stage, but I don't need that. I need the buzz of going somewhere else."

Life sounds pretty charmed now. When he's not in Ibiza, Anderson is at his main base in London. He spends time immersing himself in music, and looking for inspiration at art galleries. "Sometimes I'll just go to the shops and look for inspiration for new records, or wander round the library looking at titles of books. Just to get your brain working – an extra injection, as it were." You can't help noticing the drug-related metaphors he applies throughout our meeting. His "new addiction", he says, is reading.

For six months of the year, in the winter months, you would find Anderson at the top of his house in his "creative space", writing songs at his grand piano, surrounded by a mess of posters and music. The grand piano had to be craned up to the fifth floor. The writing months begin in January. "I do find winter quite inspiring because London is so extreme, so bleak and potentially depressing that you need to have a mental space to throw yourself into your work."

The other half of the year he claims to do little other than lie on the couch reading. But it works in terms of the sheer output – his prolific songwriting has seen an album a year since his debut solo set in 2007. "I'm not spending my whole life touring the world like I used to. At the moment I live a very different lifestyle and it's my schedule to put out a new record every year. I don't think I'll even get to where I want to be until my fifth album."

As for this next step in the journey, he is excited – though bar a spark in his eyes you'd never know, such is his cool, guarded demeanour. "It's really exciting when I release an album. It feels like life has a purpose. When you look back and notch up what you have and haven't done, it's a good thing to have written songs and made people happy."

Free Brett Anderson tracks in tomorrow's Independent

The Independent is offering readers eight free Brett Anderson songs to download, including four tracks from the new album, 'Slow Attack', ("Hymn", "The Hunted", "Ashes of Us", "Frozen Roads"). Buy tomorrow's Independent for the link to the download.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there