Interview with Grant Nicholas, guitarist, vocalist and song writer with Feeder.
With the imminent release of the bands’ 8th studio album, I wondered if the pressure of releasing an album to an expectant fan base was harder than when they were a new band trying to build one.
‘Yeah I always feel a big pressure when an album comes out, it never gets any easier!’ he laughs slightly nervously, ‘Hoping that people like the record… the fans and the press. It is always difficult, especially with the press side of things’ pausing briefly Grant clarifies ‘Often journalists will get a pile of albums to listen to and will only give it a play, if that, and they have to make a decision on that. I think that often it is based on what the band’s about and previous works. So that is always a scary time for any artist, waiting for reviews and what people think of it’.
Expanding further on this he continues ‘There are so many acts out there and the competition gets harder and harder. We do have a really loyal fan base and it is growing all the time, of all different ages, but that gets bigger and bigger if you get more radio play’. I do tell him we have played the new single on Voice 103.9fm but I’m not sure this is what he had in mind.
Feeder have always had very loyal fans and unlike so many bands from the 90s, they have managed to maintain and grow this fan base so I wanted to know whether this kind of dedication helped ease the nerves for the new album.
‘I think a fan base does obviously help, I mean you can be all over the radio and flavour of the month but you can’t always pull a big audience. I think it takes time to build an audience, sometimes it can go on hype but often that doesn’t last for long. If you look at bands with any history it is on continual work and touring which pay off in the long run!’
‘Well basically I was doing the basic backing tracks, in a small residential studio about an hour and half outside of London. I was doing some lyrics about 4 in the morning and it was the day all the student riots were kicking off and I was writing this rock song, almost like an early Feeder guitar riff, and I came up with the line ‘generation freakshow’ and was really a line inspired by seeing all the footage on the news and seeing the student protests and mayhem’. Grant pauses for a moment as he considers this further ‘It really just fuelled the song and I wrote a song about that and just felt it was a really poignant album title and then sometime after that we had the London riots that spread all over the country so after finishing the album it felt like the perfect title. It is quite a risky title in some ways as I think you need to understand what inspired it’.
I confess that the first thing it made me think of was X-Factor… ‘Oh really?’ he muses ‘well it was kind of a take on everything really… I love the word ‘generation’ as it reminds me of punk bands like Generation X and youth and rebellion at that time. I have kids so makes me think of what is in store for them and the whole Freakshow thing was the state of the world’. He then adds wryly ‘I was worried at one point people might think we have made a Marilyn Manson goth album or something!’.
Moving on we start to talk about the song writing process and we discuss how his song writing differs now from when he was younger.
‘Not that much too be honest, (I just start) playing in my little studio or sat at home. That fuels the idea and that is how most Feeder tracks start’.
‘Sometimes I have some lyrics or a really good line that gives me an idea to finish a song. I don’t really feel I need to change that. Sometimes I will try to write something on a different instrument, so I feel I am trying to push myself a little bit more, sometimes things I can barely even play’ he chuckles before adding ‘it does inspire you. (for the) Pushing the senses album I wrote three songs on a piano and that is the first time I had ever done that’.
Invariably as a band progresses they develop ‘their sound’ but I was curious as to whether this then became restricting as deviating from this blueprint can be a dangerous move with fans.
‘(It is) difficult being a band with history and sound as you don’t want to lose that and lose your identity but you also don’t want to do the same thing all the time. It can be a tough place to be sometimes, to push things forward and do new things but keeping your sound, but at the end of the day I think it is about the songs, that is the key’.
Delving deeper into this issue Grant explains further ‘We haven’t gone and done every album in the same way and work with the same people all the time, but then it is good to keep your identity. There are not many UK bands that do what we do and we have been doing it a long time, there are a lot of great rock bands but it is hard to label what we do. In some ways it has made it harder for us but it has also given us more longevity as a band because sometimes when you are part of trend there are only a few bands that get longevity out of it’.
As a band born in the late mid 90s Feeder found themselves caught up in the whole Britpop movement, regardless of the fact they were not actually a ‘Britpop’ style band. ‘You go back to Britpop and you had bands like Blur, they were probably the most successful that came out of that era really, and Oasis although Blur were a completely different kind of band. We weren’t a Britpop band but we ended up doing lots of shows with Britpop bands as there weren’t many bands doing what we were doing we could play with. I think it worked in our favour in the end as we signed our first deal (back) then’.
Discussing the ‘sound’ did then make me then enquire whether Feeder had ever scrapped songs for sounding too Feeder…
‘There have been tracks I think sound too much like something else or just not very ‘vibey’ but not very often. There have been some tracks we have got to a certain point in the studio and not finished, but not that often. They usually end up as B-sides or something. But I have loads of stuff I haven’t finished that I can go back to if I get any writers block in the future!’.
This then flows seamlessly into my next question, almost as if I actually have a clue what I’m doing. As a band of the 90s and the ‘physical’ age, Feeder have historically always released tangible singles, vinyl, cassettes, CDs, places where these tracks could find a home as a B-side. So was this a time that Grant actually missed?
‘I do miss it, I really miss it. I grew up with old school vinyl, my older brothers had record collections, I love the physical and think I will always feel that way. But I think the physical market compared to download is tiny now, it’s frightening’ like two grumpy old men we both grumble and agree that the state of the physical market versus the download is shocking but getting back on point Grant reveals more ‘what I like about physical is it is something you can hold in your hand, read the credits, the artwork… we spend months doing that and is quite sad that some people just aren’t interested anymore, it is a real shame’. Getting nostalgic he continues ‘ I love looking through my old albums be it The Beatles or Neil Young or Led Zeppelin.. That is all part of the legacy and history of band and I think it is a real shame if that goes away and you need to have a physical for that. Of course online is important too and you can do so many things but it is almost like you can have too much access to things on line, it is like a double edged sword it can work for you or against you’.
‘That is a big reason why we decided on the Borders single to do the old formats, there was even a cassette tape which was quite a wacky idea but they all sold out really quickly. I was quite surprised, it did really well for us… it was probably an old school Feeder fan that bought them (Surprise surprise, I bought a 7”!) but I think it was a bit of a novelty thing to it. We’re not going to be doing that kind of thing for a while again but I think it was a nice thing to do for the first single, it was a bit more special and back to the way we used to work when we first started’.
Time is rapidly running out, whilst Grant is perfectly amicable and in no rush, I know I am one in a long line of writers waiting for their pound of flesh, I therefore decide to wrap things up before we overrun too much. I had been given a question to ask Grant by a friend (this one is for you Richard Harris) so I take the chance to get this in before wrapping things up.
So, excluding the new album (as this goes without saying it is the best album yet), what is your favourite Feeder album and then track from that record.
‘It is hard to pick one, that is a tough question. I like our second album Yesterday Went Too Soon, I think I should have been a bit more disciplined…’ Grant tails off and with more time I would pursue exactly what he means but before I have a chance he changes tact slightly and carries on ‘(The one for me) that for me made the most statement would have to be Comfort In Sound, that was an album that was made at a very difficult time (*) and was kind of like a stepping stone for us in some ways. If I had to pick a song that as a songwriter I was most proud of on that album Forget About Tomorrow, I like the string arrangement sound and there was a lot of work to make it right, I think it was one of my proudest moments, it wasn’t like our biggest hit or anything like that but it is one that really came together and came out as close as I can imagine it sounds to the idea that I had in my head’.
Getting the chance to speak to Grant was actually quite a thrill, the first Feeder single I bought was ‘Crash’ in 1997 and then in true geek fashion, ever subsequent release on the Monday of release, from thereon in. New single ‘Children Of The Sun’ is out on download and vinyl 7” on the 30th April and is preceded by the album ‘Generation Freakshow’ the week before on the 23rd April
(*) Feeder drummer Jon Lee committed suicide in 2002, Comfort In Sound was the first album to be written and released after his tragic death.
As told to Jules