Feeder: Musical therapy

Feeder frontman Grant Nicholas talks exclusively about their new album to Emer Sugrue as well as singing her some Madness.

Feeder are the sort of band that you know without even realising it. They had that song that goes: “It’s got a CD player player player player player.” Remember that song? That came out ten years ago, how old are you? But that’s the amazing thing about Feeder – they’re still here. Matt Cardle has probably descended into obscurity and heroin abuse by now, yet Feeder are approaching their 20th anniversary. Lead singer Grant Nicholas tries to explain: “God I don’t know really.”

“I think we just do what we feel we want to do musically, we never tried to follow the next cool thing or what’s cool at that moment,” he says. “We’re quite eclectic – we write heavy stuff that appeals to the indie rock kids, but we also have songs that are anthemic or acoustic. I think we have songs that appeal to a big audience. We’re very much a song-based band and at the end of the day, the bands that have the tunes are the bands that last.”

The band formed in 1991 when Grant Nicholas became friends with Jon Lee, at that time a drummer for another local band in their hometown of Newport, Wales. A third member was later recruited when they contacted bassist Taka Hirose through an advert.

Feeder didn’t reach mainstream success for another decade however, with their third album Echo Park in 2001. It featured cult hit ‘Buck Rogers’ (player player player player… bloody hell that’s catchy) that became their first top ten single. It is slightly at odds with the band’s usual dark indie style and it is said to be their least favourite to play. Nicholas refutes this claim however; “It’s probably one of the best pop songs I’ve ever written. It was meant to be incredibly simple, sort of like a Madness song.”

He starts singing ‘Driving In My Car’, to o-two’s delight. “It’s so stupidly simple and catchy that people could relate to it. The whole thing was kind of an accident really, the way the song came about it was just a bunch of lyrics I threw down and wasn’t even planning on keeping.

“When the label heard this rough demo of it which was the original lyrics which ended up on there, they sort of said ‘wow’. They smelled a hit. I was quite terrified of it at the time because I didn’t want to be buried by it, thinking that that’s who we are, but hopefully anyone who knows the history of the band will know there was enough substance before that, that song was just a pop song.

“It put us on the map from a mainstream point of view because it introduced Feeder to a lot more people and on that point of view, I owe the song a lot. I’m just saying on a purely personal level, as a writer, there are songs I’m more proud of, but as a pop song it did the job,” he says, before adding: “It’s simple and it’s catchy. It’s meant to be a fun song; you don’t have to think about it, you just go with it.”

What exactly is the secret to making a hit song like Buck Rogers? Nicholas laughs: “If I knew that I’d be a multi millionaire.” Fair enough, back to the day job then.

Tragically, just a year after finding mainstream success, Jon Lee committed suicide. The band withdrew somewhat from the public eye for most of the year, before releasing their fourth album, showing a mellow and mature sound covering themes of loss, depression and growth. o-two asked if it was meant as a tribute to their lost friend:

“I don’t know about a tribute, but it was really born from what happened in its own way,” he explains. “I think lyrically, obviously experiencing a bit more of life and losing Jon still affects me now, it still fuels me to get ideas for songs, but it inspired me. It was a case of when I was writing those songs, we didn’t quite know what the future held for us, we didn’t even know if we could carry on.

“I know it’s a cliché to say music therapy, but if I hadn’t had the music… I’m so lucky that I was inspired because sometimes you go the other way and just can’t do anything,” he says. “I went the opposite way, I just had all these ideas and all these emotions and thoughts. I think that album would have been a good album anyway; because we had the makings of it, but lyrically I went places I hadn’t gone before. It’s a very simple album, but people just seemed to relate to it really well.”

In 2009 and with two more fairly well-received albums under their belt, the band took a step back from the limelight to try a new direction. Along with session drummer Karl Brazil, Nicholas and Hirose started playing under the name Renegades. “I wanted to be able to go to a little club like when we started and just play new material in a really stripped back way.” Nicholas adds: “As you get bigger, you do bigger stages and get looked after more, but I was really missing that.”

“It was just a great way of doing it, and we hadn’t done that since we started. Of course, you do little secret gigs here and there, but it’s not quite the same, because people always expect to hear all the Feeder stuff. So, what we did was we advertised it on our website, because we felt that if we didn’t, it would be so underground that it might slightly alienate the fans.

“We didn’t make it very clear, so it caused a bit of confusion, but it got people talking. In a weird kind of way it seemed very planned, but it wasn’t that thought about. We basically wanted to just get out there and do something and not have the usual Feeder title, because we didn’t want have to play all the usual stuff people expect to hear.”

Soon Renegades’ increasing popularity lead to demands for more dates with bigger venues and the project was abandoned. After a second tour, the album titled Renegades was released under Feeder’s name. “At one point, we were thinking that maybe we should do a completely separate album for a while and then come back, but it was basically the same guys – it didn’t really seem there was a point, he says. “There’s only two of us officially in the band, so it just seemed a little bit silly to do that.”

Feeder’s current plans include a new tour scheduled for the end of January. Is Nicholas excited to get back on the road? “Yeah!” he exclaims. “It’s sort a continuation of the tour we started last year, so it’s going to be a similar show to that, but we’ll probably do a new song or two. I’m actually hectic at the moment, because we’re trying to finish our next album.”

Oooh! New album you say? An eighth album has been in the works, but so far the band has been keeping very quiet about the details. You can imagine, therefore, how we at o-two nearly collectively weed ourselves when Nicholas reveals: “I haven’t talked to anyone about this new record yet, so you’re the first.” He adds, “it’s almost done; they’re sending me off to New York next week to finish some vocals. It’s eclectic, much more eclectic than the Renegades album. We wanted the Renegades album to be really just a good rock record; we weren’t thinking about the obvious two-minute single, we just wanted it to be an album we really liked. We just wanted to rock out, you know? And it was great fun; I really love that album for that reason, because it really rocked up our set. It just gave the set a lot more power and we’ve got more back catalogue now to choose from.

“It’s probably going to be commercial suicide now that I’ve said this, but it’s definitely a more commercial record. I think if you liked Comfort in Sound and you liked Yesterday Went Too Soon, then I think you’ll like this album.

“There are some real tunes on this and some anthems; there are some rocky moments as well,” he reveals. “It’s a rock record, but it’s slightly different to Renegades. There are songs on this album, if they make it, that were recorded at the same time as the Renegades album that we held back, so there will be a few songs that touch on that.

“But it’s going to have a few songs, that hopefully people will like, that are on the more melodic side. I won’t say any more, or it’ll be giving it all away. I don’t even know what’ll end up on the record yet, because we’ve got 20 songs and we’re going to get it down to about ten or twelve songs.

“That’s all I’m going to say, it’s a bit more of a classic Feeder record, but it still sounds different to some of our previous records, just in the way we recorded it.”

After several unsuccessful prods for more exclusive gold, o-two asks if the album will be released this year. “That’s the plan, I mean it’s almost ready to go, but we want to make sure we got it right. We might put out a single around the tour, but I don’t know whether it’ll be an in-between song. It might be something that ends up on the next album, so that’s our plan if we get it all done on time.”

At last, something to rock us out of this dreary winter.

Feeder play The Academy on February 5th.

  • Tommy

    Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. Good interview.

    I hope Feeder don’t start yo-yoing between genres and instead progess through them. I’m desperate to hear an acoustic album by them one day as well.

  • Tommy

    Hah, I also thought the new album would be called Emer Sugrue until I re read that title :-)