You'd probably want to be Caligula, wouldn't you," announces Brett Anderson through a mouthful of almonds.

I've just asked him a naff question suggested by the title of one of his new solo songs, We Can Be Anyone, and he's giving the matter far more attention than expected.

"Well you'd definitely want to be someone that experienced the pinnacle of human sensation", he reasons. "Let's face it, if you can be anyone in history, let's be a Roman emperor, and if you're gonna be a Roman emperor, let's be Caligula. He basically spent his life having orgies."

For a kid from Sussex who was once runner-up in a writing competition held by The Society For The Preservation Of Lindfield, Anderson has had wilder experiences than most. As frontman with Suede, the band who jump-started Brit Pop, he was arguably the first pop star to encounter the modern-day hype machine.

In 1992 Melody Maker hailed Suede as "the best new band in Britain" before they'd released a single song and Anderson found himself on the cover of almost every magazine in the land. Tabloid journalists even laid siege to The Argus, hoping to get their hands on old school reports or photos of the singer dressed as a Roman (a lifelong interest, apparently) aged six.

Meanwhile Anderson was having his charity shop blouses ripped off nightly by young girls besotted with his androgynous good looks. He was becoming addicted to heroin, and later cocaine and crack. He was penning songs about the sexual rivalry between himself and Blur's Damon Albarn - a battle over former Suede guitarist Justine Frischman which they waged on her body in lovebites. He was rhyming council home with "jumped on your bones", and sex with caravanettes.

He was, he now admits, "Carefully, but subconsciously, trying to construct an image.

But don't let anyone in a band fool you into thinking that they don't. Nirvana are supposed to be the anti-image band but that was their image. It's about creating the myth."

A welcome antidote to grunge's emphasis on inarticulate, masculine rage, Suede hung their street urchin poetry from meaty guitar hooks and offset melodramatic arrangements with tragic-comic humour. In March 1993, their eponymous first album became the fastest-selling debut since Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Welcome to the Pleasuredome.

At the height of the hysteria, Anderson returned to his hometown.

"There was a documentary crew filming us on tour", he recalls. "They specifically wanted to film me at my old school, Oathall.

As soon as the tour bus pulled into the car park I saw Mr Horn the maths teacher. All of a sudden I'm 12 again. I just s*** myself and said, No, we've gotta go, I don't want to get into trouble with Mr Horn'. I had to tap myself on the shoulder and say, Listen, you're 26 years old, get a f****** grip'."

Now on the cusp of 40, Anderson is well practiced in the art of getting a f****** grip.

Having driven Suede through a series of red lights, the singer finally ditched his band in 2002 following an underwhelming fifth album.

In 2005 he and Suede's original guitarist Bernard Butler ended one of pop's most famous feuds and answered nine years' worth of what-ifs when they made an album together as The Tears - now on indefinite hiatus.

After years of addiction, during which he felt he was "pursuing some sort of romantic vision of what that side of life was", Anderson is finally drug free.

"When you're sitting in your frontroom with a crack pipe you know you've got a problem," he says. "For a few years, I wasn't very human, I was a bit of a shell to be honest. But I've always had quite a strong belief in my ability to heal myself and mend my own brain."

Having spent the years in Suede "being pampered like some 16th Century French king," he is "facing up to reality, taking control of my life." He has even learned to drive.

There is, of course, one compulsion Anderson has never tried to kick.

"Being a pop star is addictive. I can't say I'm now above that," he says. "There's a simplistic need for attention and childish gratification you think you grow out of when you're five, but unfortunately don't."

On Monday, Anderson launches his first album as a solo artist. His three comeback dates in London sold out in five minutes, while the single, Love Is Dead, with its chic strings and coldly confessional lyrics, became more than one critic's Single Of The Week.

"I've rediscovered my sexual writing," says Anderson of his solo work in general.

"I ignored it for a while. The first Suede album is pretty much about sex and depression in equal measure. I want to get to the point," he jokes, "where I'm basically just writing pornography."

Anderson was born just after the Summer Of Love, in the upstairs room of a council house in Lindfield.

He spent his teenage years hanging around neighbouring Haywards Heath, which he describes as "a pretty uninspiring place, not extreme, just in-between. I guess in a strange sort of way that was inspiring because it gave me something to kick against. I had an almost physical urge to get away."

Anderson's mother, who died of cancer when he was in his teens, was an artist from Staplefield whose paintings of the South Downs still line his walls. His sister, Blandine, is also an artist, who now makes curious ceramics in her remote hill-top house in Devon. Their father, Peter Edwards, was a child of the Empire and a classical music fanatic, who flew a Union Jack from the roof and blasted Mahler and Wagner from his taxi cab outside Haywards Heath station.

"He was proud of me," says Anderson, "but I'm not sure he really got what I was doing. He always thought pop music was a lower art form. Strangely enough, he really liked the last Suede album - the one everyone else hated."

When Edwards died in 2005 (the last song on the new album is dedicated to him), Anderson came to clear the Norton Road house and found his childhood diaries. "1978 to 1983", he says. "I've just been reading them. Basically I was this self-absorbed kid whose only interests in life were football and electronics sets. I was actually incredibly dull. It's amazing how dull I was."

When your correspondent was also at Oathall Community College, 15 years after Anderson, an authoritarian art teacher named Mr Jarvis remembered him turning up to a school disco with bleached-blonde hair and an ill-fitting yellow suit. I tell Anderson this.

Anderson confirms the story, and tells me he managed to flout Mr Jarvis's no-jewelry policy by painting his ear-studs a fleshy pink.

A favourite pastime for the averagely rebellious teen and his mates was to play pitch 'n' putt at Beech Hurst Gardens while tripping on magic mushrooms. But they also spent a lot of time in bands.

Anderson's first, Suave And Elegant, reformed last summer for the wedding of an old schoolfriend in Brighton: "We played Lou Reed's Perfect Day to a bunch of drunken uncles." Geoff, formed at the Sixth Form College, were apparently the subject of an article in The Argus entitled "Bedroom Rock! It's Sweeping The Nation".

On bass was Matt Osman, who still accompanies Anderson today.

"It's nice that we've played together all these years," he says. "I think basically people don't really change. In the heyday of Suede, Matt would impersonate me in phone interviews. This character, which was half me and half him, we'd call Brat. The problem was, Matt'd always try and get me into trouble by starting fights with other bands. I remember turning up in Toronto and finding the Bare Naked Ladies were after my blood."

So perhaps it was Brat who was responsible for Brett's most infamous interview faux pas: "I see myself as a bisexual man who's never had a homosexual experience"?

"No, I can't blame Matt for that," Anderson laughs. "That was me, unfortunately. I was talking about how I try to adopt different personas in my songwriting. It was a lesson in media politics, really - you just don't ever say anything that's got nuances, because all they'll use is the soundbite."

One of few pop stars to be honored with his own Spitting Image puppet, for a time in the mid Nineties Anderson was as loathed as he was adored. Many journalists took against what they saw as naïve posturing in interviews, while a hate campaign saw his street in Ladbroke Grove covered with threatening graffiti.

"We had to get the council to come and sandblast the pavement" he recalls, "and my girlfriend at the time used to regularly throw pans of water on people when they rang the bell."

Friends tell him they still see his number scrawled on the underground with instructions to "give this guy a call and tell him he's a c***".

"It was either love or hate with Suede, and there's nothing in between," Anderson concludes. "I was writing about the fringes of Nineties Britain and people on the outskirts of society. People ran with the wrong ball and Brit Pop turned into a beery cartoon about some mythical working-class life, a Carry On film. I always loved songs that crept something in through the back door.

"Even in 2007, when I would've thought people might've mellowed a bit, I still seem to inspire extreme reactions. That's probably good though, isn't it? In a funny sort of way I'm quite proud of that.

I never wanted to be this boring old fart that everyone liked - and I'm not!

Job done. I never wanted to make dumb pop music, I'll leave that to other people."

Brett Anderson, the album, is not the best record you'll hear this year. His acoustic guitar strikes a pedestrian pace, while lyrics such as "I'm the needle, you're the vein" will do nothing to win those who dismissed Anderson as a one-trick lyricist.

But as his MySpace fans will tell you ("Mr Brett!!

Please come to Malaysia...

I beg u...arghh!!"), Brett Anderson, the artist, is still best enjoyed live.

Watching him leap and wiggle and crack the mic lead like a whip, you wonder what he's been doing with all that surplus energy.

"I just masturbated furiously, like, 24 hours a day," he says, before recalling his own advice about media soundbites and opting for an alternative explanation involving crop rotation. "I've been through the fallow phase, and now I'm in the animalistic phase," he elaborates. "I'm a bit of a werewolf me." There's a cheeky laugh, then a pause while Anderson helps himself to another handful of nuts. "So hang on," he chomps, "what else did Mr Jarvis say about me?"

  • The album, Brett Anderson, is released on Monday via Drowned in Sound Recordings.

Anderson plays Shepherds Bush Empire on May 9 (0905 020 3999).