It’s not rare to see front men of popular bands branch out and try to do it to their own – the now trendy solo act. Their lone face, their own sound and their own brand.
I would say most of the time for the artist it would for creative freedom. Maybe even a nice financial boost. Perhaps even an ego boost. Record labels taking a chance to back the act, with a smaller crew to look after, less overheads but with a decent chance for big rewards, they can afford to fund marketing campaigns and take care of radio and press. But that cannot be said for Grant Nicholas, more famously known as lead singer and guitarist of 20-year-landmark band Feeder.
In 2014, Grant Nicholas released Yorktown Heights, a 13-track length solo album. Almost holding back, Grant released ‘Soul Mates’ as a give-away to loyal fans and has since allowed it to grow into something bigger. Grant Nicholas will this month visit Belfast’s Empire Hall on Sunday 1st March to perform his solo show and on the back of our chat with him, Gigging NI’s Mark Dunn reckons it will be the perfect opportunity for Feeder fans to get closer than ever before to see a different, but no less brilliant, side of Nicholas.
How young were you and what made you get into writing music in the first place?
“Wow, when I first started? [laughs] God I think it first started in the school band really. There was always that sixth-form band and I was pretty interested in what they were doing and I just found the whole band thing quite interesting. I always loved seeing live bands. We used to have little practices in the school hall and then it all went from there really. I never really did any acting or anything in school but I think it was a good way of getting on stage and a bit of a confidence boost as well. I never really planned on being a singer as I was just a guitar player. I’m just a songwriter that sings [laughs], that’s what I call myself and now I’m the frontman of Feeder but that was never the plan. It was more just a guitar player in a band really.”
What motivated you to keep on going throughout the years? Feeder’s been going for over twenty years now.
“Yeah . I just love writing songs, that’s all I do. I like to be creative and I love the freedom of songwriting and it’s something that I’m fortunate I still feel really inspired to do. I think as you get older and experience more, things change in your life and lets you write about new things. I just love the process – the writing, the recording, the singing, playing live, it’s just something that’s in my blood.”
Throughout the highs and lows of your career, was there any moment you look back on and think ‘that was incredible!’?
“It’s been such a constant thing with us that we never really get much time to stop and think about it. This has been the biggest gap ever, doing my solo record, and I wanted to take this time out to do it properly and not just be like a hobby. This is a serious project for me. But I think probably just the success of headlining the arena tour on the back of Comfort and Sound, this was a pretty hard time for us. Obviously we lost Jon and it was nice to know there was still live left in the band and our careers and that was a huge record for us. Supporting big acts in those places and then being the headliners, it felt like a real achievement for us. That was one of the highlights.”
Your solo record Yorktown Heights was released last year. What was the songwriting process for you in comparsion to the Feeder approach?
“It was different. It was a blank canvas. A different approach, a very free-to-experiment and do what I wanted. There was no real definite plan to do a solo record at that time, it was just me and some time out. At the end of the last Feeder tour, we had a really lively tour and we just wanted to stop on a real high as we sold out the Brixton Academy in London to over 5000 people.
“Yorktown Heights just happened. There was no pressure. It was all self-funded and I didn’t even know it was going to come out as a record at that point. I just had some really positive feedback on it and I decided to put it out. When you’ve been in a band like Feeder for that long you have definitely have your style and sound and I definitely write with that in mind a little bit. It’s nice to experiment on every record and try new things but you don’t want to lose your identity. With this it was just about me as a songwriter.”
So now you’re taking your place on stage. How does it feel to realise there isn’t going to be a wall of sound coming from behind you?
“It’s really weird. The first few shows especially, my hands were shaking. To be that intimate and no wall of sound behind me, it was stripped right back. I do have a full live band but it is minimal but quite quirky live. It’s not too regimented, it’s a bit more organic and a really nice vibe really. In some ways, it’s harder as you’re much more exposed. The voice is more up front on my solo stuff, it’s all about the lyrics and the songs are a bit more personal – a different vibe but really enjoyable.”
Soul Mates is quite a delicate track. Is there anything that made the song stick out?
“It’s one of the simpliest tracks on the records but one of the most powerful in some ways as it sounds like it’s almost written in the 60s, that’s what I love about it. As simple as it is, those songs are quite hard to write as they don’t come along that often but I knew that song had something. It wasn’t pushed a single, it just given away and it was something that people might not expect me to be doing. It has struck a chord with people and they like to sing it back to me at the gigs which is great.”
Black Clouds is coming out later in the year. Can you explain?
“Yeah, it’s a mini album. It wasn’t really planned. It was just something a bit fresh and to keep interest there. I wrote the title track right at the end of Yorktown Heights and it has a bit more of my live band on there, like a party mix [laughs]. But it is darker and I think it’s nice to show that different side. We’ve being playing it [Black Clouds, title track] live recently and it’s been going down well.”
You’ve travelling over to play in Belfast in March. Have you any memories of experiences of the city?
“Yeah, I can’t wait. It’s been a while. There’s always great audiences. I remember Belfast being really great for indie rock bands and I know this is different but hopefully people that like my songwriting will come to see a different experience.”
After you’ve concluded your solo tour, is it true that Feeder might come back with a new album and tour?
“Oh yeah, Feeder is not over. It’s something that I really love doing. Feeder is a massive part of me, it’s like my little baby. We started it off over twenty years ago. I haven’t walked away from that at all. We all needed to do something a bit different – Taka’s doing a little project as well but I know he’s itching to get back at Feeder! [laughs] But we want to come back and do it properly. I do have some songs already in the can that I can put towards a new album or EP to ease us back in. But we will commit, come back and do it properly.”
Is there any advice you could give bands or musicians in Northern Ireland?
“It’s really tough. It is hard and doing a solo record has made me realise how hard it is. I didn’t have to start from scratch but in some ways I did. Not everyone knows my name, they know Feeder. It’s all about the songs, you’ve just got to keep at it. If you’ve got great songs, it will happen. That’s all I can say.”