Last week, British cult rockers Feeder stopped off at the Paradiso Noord in Amsterdam for an energetic and well-received headline show. Ahead of the gig, Anieck van Maaren sat down with frontman Grant Nicholas to talk all things Feeder.
Hi Grant. This year you guys released Tallulah, which is an optimistic record about growing up and celebrating 25 years of Feeder. Why was it that you felt this record needed to be made now? You guys have been around for so long, so what was it about this one?
I don’t know really. I mean, I didn’t really plan it; I just wrote some songs, but I didn’t know if they would be singles, and then I wrote Guillotine, which was one of the first songs I wrote for the album. That started it all off, as kind of an acoustic track. Then I wrote Youth, and Rodeo. So I had those three and then I just kind of got on a roll, because our management kept wanting us to do more with Spofity because it’s been doing quite well. We didn’t get involved with Spotify until quite late into our career because our old label was against it. So we eventually got stuff on there, but it still wasn’t enough so we’re finally catching up with it. To keep that moving we decided we’d put out some new songs on Spotify and see what happens. I was on a bit of a roll, so when people ask me to write two songs, I write ten. It kind of went from there really, but after writing three or four then I started to realize that this could be an album. And then I started to get a bit of a concept, so I wanted to make sure I covered what I thought we needed for the record, plus some of the songs which connected in a way. Shapes and Sounds is very connected to Youth, for example.
So when you’re in the process of writing this, do you involve Taka Hirose already?
No, Taka doesn’t really write that much but I just write the acoustic guitar at home and then get into a certain level of focus. We’ve done so many tracks – and I produce as well – so I like to present them in a way that you can tell if it’s gonna be a good one or a bad one, cause we’ve done so many at this stage that I try to get them to a certain level. Then I’ll send a track to Taka. He might’ve heard me working on it on tour, on the bus or whatever. I just write stuff on acoustic guitar cause I didn’t know at that point that it was gonna be a Feeder record. I didn’t really involve anyone.
Because at this point you could also still be writing for other artists?
Yeah, but I don’t really do enough of that. I do get asked to do that all the time, which is why I ended up doing the solo record. They were songs for other artists which I ended up keeping. I really love that record, and I only did it because Taka was doing his side project which was very different from what he did with Feeder, so when he was doing that I thought it was a good time to take some time out. I did a bit of writing to keep our publisher happy, haha. Then I became close to it, and it became quite a personal record. All of Feeder’s stuff is personal, but it’s not quite so direct as this was. That was the album which hit very close to family and all that. If you imagine our early sound and how we start the Feeder tracks, because I write most of them acoustic, then that’s the solo record. Obviously Feeder’s got the big guitars and then the drums, but when you strip it all back they are quite simple songs. But simple songs are hard to write, because although they seem simple they’re often the ones which connect with people. I mean, people are only just finding out about the solo record now, which is bizarre. People like it more now than they did when it came out, because they didn’t really know about it. Obviously Feeder is my main priority, but I will do another solo record. If there’s a window I’ll do it, but Feeder’s always been my main focus. The writing happened in a very natural way. As the new album process went on, I was sending demos to Taka and he was doing the bass at home and sending it back to me. That’s the great thing about technology nowadays, you can do that. And because I know him so well and he knows me, it doesn’t really affect the way we work. It’s still great to be in a room and do stuff, but unless you have the luxury of a permanent rehearsal room in London, it’s difficult; that’s my dream, to have a massive big space. When you’re a young band you might be rehearsing in your mum’s kitchen, but as you get more successful the rehearsal becomes a much bigger thing, so you work a lot more at home and make it a lot more portable.
You mentioned Guillotine, but more recently you released Criminal. Both of those songs are a little more politically charged.
A little bit, yeah. Actually, that song was written for All Bright Electric (2016). I recorded it but it got left behind and I didn’t finish it. I didn’t feel like it suited the record either. I just thought it was a good little rock track, so I kept it on hold and then went back to it and figured I may as well finish it. I reworked it, and Taka didn’t even remember doing the bass. It was that long ago!
Do you think maybe because it was a bit more politically charged, it even fits the time now more so than it did then?
Yeah it does. I’m not really into…y’know? I know artists who do it really well, but I’m not overly political in my songs. I like the escapism of music and that it takes you away from things that are happening, especially in politics and with Brexit, it’s so depressing. Politics does my head in, whether it’s in this country or in America. I’m a parent and I’m older now, so I’m a lot more aware of issues than I was starting out in a young band when we just wanted to tour and be crazy. At the same time I don’t wanna over preach to people in songs; I do it in a very abstract way. Of course, that was on my mind because that’s what’s going on, so it feels like it still has a place. Even on Guillotine there’s a bit in the middle eight which goes, “what’s the future of our children?”, so I do touch on it and I felt like it had a place in that song. I bring a bit of politics into songs here and there, but I still don’t want to lose the way that music can make you feel. I’m not like Billy Bragg or Bob Dylan, I don’t wanna overdo it. We’re not an overly political band, but we still care about it; we just want a happy balance. I’m all about melodies and sometimes a melody can make it feel less depressing. It’s funny how some songs feel more relevant after the fact. Although saying that, I did actually write a part of the lyrics later, so that’s probably why they feel more relevant. Criminal was a bit like that, it got forgotten about but the lyrics did get written a bit later.
You cited Black Sabbath as one of your inspirations back in the day, but are there any new artists now who are inspiring to you?
I do so much music on my own and with Feeder that I don’t sit at home at listen to new bands all the time, because you need to get away from music sometimes. I never really get away from it because even when I’m at home, I’ll pick up a guitar and I’ll be sat there with a cat next to me. There are some great guitar bands around at the moment, but yeah. An obvious name that I think is really strong and everyone is mentioning now is Billie Eilish. I think she’s really good. My kids like her, and I can totally see the appeal. She seems to be quite an interesting character, you know?
Do you get inspired to listen to certain artists through your kids?
Yeah, I try to educate them so they are into some guitar bands, and my daughter is in a band as well, but she also loves whatever her friends like, whatever is cool at the moment. I like some and I hate some, but it’s always been like that. There was great pop music in the 80s, and there was terrible pop music. The 80s have a bad rep, but it was a very melodic time for music with some awful stuff. There are some really cool bands around now who wouldn’t have been around if it wasn’t for that influence. I think there are some really great bands, but now with Spotify and the internet it’s almost like it swallows you up. I like bands where you hear a song and their vibe rings through the whole album, because sometimes you hear a song and it just isn’t there on the album. I mean, you can have one killer song and have a career on the back of it sometimes. We had a band supporting us recently called Novacub, and they were really good. They’re the guitarist and drummer from Bloc Party. The drummer sings in this band and does a bit of guitar and they’re really good, they’re a four piece with two women. I was sent loads of stuff by the agency and that’s one that I thought was really good. There are just so many good bands, and I’ve got mates in bands and mates who manage them so I get bombarded with music all the time. I try to give them all support slots and our manager hates me for it cause it makes it even harder for him, but it’s good for the bands. I remember what it was like for us; we had to pay to do supports back in the day and it cost us and our label a fortune. In the old days you had to buy onto tours. In fact, bands offered to buy onto our last tour and I said no, I’m not charging a band. I’d rather just let them do the shows, because I know how hard it was. If we can help a band get a few more people to their next gig, that’s what it’s all about really.
The legend goes that you named Feeder after your goldfish.
I don’t know if that is strictly true. That’s probably some press story made up to make it sound more interesting. I did have a fish as a kid though.
But how likely is it that we’ll see a future project named Bamboo?
I think if we put her on the cover we’ll probably sell more copies. It’s amazing, the power of animals.
She’s already on the merch.
Yeah that was just a joke, I did that as a laugh. I asked my daughter to cut out the picture on Snapchat and I think I posted a picture somewhere and everyone was like, “oh my god where can I buy that t-shirt?” And I was like, “really?” So I did 50 and they just sold out like that. And then our merch company was tried to get us to do 50 more. I thought, “okay what if we change the colour?” I don’t know if I can keep doing it but it’s one of those cases where if I don’t do them people come up and ask “where are the cat t-shirts?” In Japan we had four different designs and that just flew out. They sold out in two gigs.
You guys have a very interesting connection with Japan. The Japanese go crazy for Feeder.
Yeah they do, but it’s not just because of Taka. We’ve worked hard there. It’s a difficult market now, it’s not as big as it used to be. It’s very pop oriented but they do like guitar bands. We recently had Asian Kung-Fu Generation supporting us and they are really big in Japan; hey do arenas! It’s quite bizarre, they had an entourage of about 14 people and it was like being on tour with Beyoncé, it’s hilarious. They’re another band I’d recommend checking out, even though they sing a lot in Japanese, they’ve got good melodies.
You’re always busy with music and you’re literal release machines. I was gonna ask you how you stay inspired, but I wonder how do you get away from music for a second?
I go running. I do, I run! And then I listen to music. When I’m mixing or recording and it’s just a really rough one, I’ll be listening to it in that headspace. Do you know when you’re walking down the road and you’ve got your headphones on and it just feels different? That’s what I love about music. It’s like when you’re watching a film; if you take the music out it’s just not the same experience. Tallulah is out now.