Feeder’s Grant Nicholas on Gran Turismo, B-sides and Belfast
Welsh rock superstars, Feeder, return to Limelight next week in what is due to be a successful return to Belfast. I was so lucky to get to sit down ahead of the gig and discuss with Grant Nicholas (lead guitar and vocalist) over the phone some of the finer points in Feeder history, as well as chat about the impending show ahead.
After exchanging some pleasantries with a weary Grant, who’d just gotten off the tour bus after bringing his signature Feeder magic to Birmingham, we dived into the questions.
The very first memory I hold for Feeder was going into Woolworths (that shows how long ago it was already) as a young kid and buying Feeder – The Singles. That album alone was released back in 2006 which feels like eons ago for me so I can only imagine what it’s like for you looking back and realizing Polyethene is 21, almost 22 years old. Does it feel like it’s been that long?
Grant: Do you know it doesn’t feel that long in a weird kind of way I think because we’ve always been quite busy? I’ve sort of taken a lot of time out I did a solo record, but apart from that we’ve always been pretty busy, so it’s been album, tour, writing and then back in the studio. I’ve never really stopped so it’s like anything in life if you’re busy at work then the day goes quickly doesn’t it? It doesn’t feel that long. It wasn’t really ’til I looked back at all the singles we’ve released over the years and I was doing The Best Of compilation that I realized ‘God, yeah actually we’ve done quite a lot’. You don’t really think about it when you’re doing it so much it’s only once you actually have to reflect on it and go through all the little songs that you realise ‘yeah it has been an incredible journey for us, and we’re still doing it’.
As I’m sure, everyone is aware you’re currently on The Best Of Tour which essentially sprung up from that 21-year celebration. How’s the tour treating you so far? I understand you’re just back from playing Birmingham the other night?
Grant: It’s been amazing yeah. We went to Leeds then Glasgow and then Birmingham, but no it’s been really good. We’ve been playing some quite long sets we played a few old songs we haven’t played for a long time from the more sort of Polyethene era. We’re obviously focusing on all the songs that were actually on The Best Of but you know that’s already a choice of, including our own, 50 songs to choose from so that sort of keeps busy, and there’s only so many songs that we can rehearse. But that’s doesn’t mean to say in the future we won’t do more stuff going back into the sort of Feeder archives and finding a few old favourites.
It’s kind of nice because in our fanbase we’ve got the die-hards, we’ve got a lot of really young people coming to our shows, a lot of students as well so people are obviously discovering us like the new generation of fans and then we’ve got the kind of people who know our more successful songs, the big hits and they don’t always know the early stuff so it’s trying to get the right balance can be quite tricky. But what we felt was because some of those old singles are on The Best Of hopefully they would have at least heard them on there, so it gives an opportunity to play them live.
I think that’s always the problem with any band if you go back to your really early stuff you’ll find songs that your later fans aren’t so familiar with. I think you have to be brave sometimes you just got to try things out and that’s what has been nice about this tour; it’s given us a good reason and a good excuse to go back and learn some of those old songs.
You mentioned the wide age range amongst the fans. Another fond Feeder memory I have from my younger days comes from the Gran Turismo video games and racing around the circuits to tracks like “Just A Day” and “Shatter”. Do you think those games helped you get your music across to a younger demographic and bring your music into a whole new set of fans?
Grant: Yeah, maybe, I think it probably did, but that was quite a long time ago that that happened so we were still not an old band then. I think it was the right age group for what we were because Feeder early days had quite a big skateboard and surf following. I think the whole game thing was natural, almost a progression from that as we’ve got those kids playing those games as well, but I think it did introduce Feeder to a lot of people. I think at the time that game was such a big thing, I mean there are so many games now I think then it was still quite, I want to say, a new thing. I think it was kind of the time when it had so much more impact and I think we were just lucky that we got on this game, we got a lot of tracks on there as well. Even some early Feeder stuff is on there as well, some of the heavier stuff, I think that was a massive help to us as well. I think it definitely brought some fans for us.
We’ve talked about Gran Turismo, and we also have the cover of Yesterday Went Too Soon with the classic Citroen DS, we have lyrics like those in Buck Rogers and a few other car themes popping up now and again. Am I reading too much into this or is Grant Nicholas a secret car enthusiast?
Grant: Yeah, I mean me and Taka both love cars but I love old classics I used to have an old, actually I just sold it and I wish I hadn’t. I’ve been trying to buy it back I just wasn’t using it. I sold it a year or two ago, it was a Mercedes 1963 Pagoda the 230 SL. It’s got a hard top that you can take off and it has a soft top as well; it’s the classic Mercedes 2 seater kind of cruisey sports sort of car if you saw it you’d know the shape it’s been used a lot on TV ads. I used to have one of those. I’ve had a few old classics, especially the Mercedes I like. I quite like some of the old American Mustangs as well, but I do love classic cars there’s just something about driving them I find really good fun. I mean, I’m not a car expert or anything like that, I’m not a mechanic, but I just love the shape and just the way they’re built it’s just a whole different experience when you have an old car and drive it. I think it makes you drive more carefully as well. I am thinking about getting another old classic at some point, but when I had the kids, we just weren’t using it enough as it only had two seats so it was a bit of a luxury but unfortunately I sold it, and instantly I regretted it afterwards.
Moving on, another thing that comes to mind when I think of Feeder and something I think you guys are quite iconic for is the B-Side. Personally, some of those lesser known tracks such as “Rain” and “Emily” have fast become some of my favourite songs. Do you think those extra tracks have helped keep things fresh and contributed to your success over the last two decades?
Grant: Well, those songs are some of my favorites as well. I mean I love all the B-sides. A lot of those things I just do on my own and just in the studio as well. They’re a really important part of our chemistry, and a really important part of me as a writer and I think that it shows that Feeder has always had the heavy side, we’ve always had that experimental and the more acoustic side and that was quite obvious after I did my solo record.
I think it’s really important for people to know that because we don’t want to be a band that, yeah it’s great to rock out, but we don’t want our set just to be that one dimension, we want to go from something really heavy song like “Universe Of Life” into something like super mellow. That’s kind of our dynamic that. Our sort of trademark as a band. I think the fact we can have different dynamics and different… not styles, but songs that can take you on a different journey, I think that’s really important for us. We’ve always tried to do that even from when we first started, and I think those B-Sides show that side even more.
The reason why it didn’t make the album is not because we didn’t like the songs it’s just because I’m always writing too many songs I think it was just the case of there’s never enough room on the album to put everything on. I think a few of those songs I wouldn’t say wasted, but there’s a few I think are really strong tracks that should have been on albums, but that’s just the way it goes. It is quite nice we did that B-Side album because it does introduce that catalogue to people. We might do another B-Side album, we’ve still got loads more we could put on like a better one. Like a part 2 B-Side album, I suppose.
While we’re on this topic, we must talk about Picture Of Perfect Youth. Not only do we have a collection of these very strong unique B-Sides but we also have some great covers of “The Power Of Love” and “Can’t Stand Losing You” by The Police. Is it likely we’ll see any more covers released in future? Are there any songs you’d like to put a Feeder twist on?
Grant: Yeah, possibly, yeah I’m not one of those bands that want to do covers all the time. I never wanted to do a cover to help our career, but I mean the reason why The Police one happened, in fact, “Can’t Stand Losing You” is the last song we recorded with Jon Lee actually sadly enough. When we first met, Jon and me, we were always into The Police and that got a big connection for us, and we really liked the whole Police thing. The whole early Police, the image, everything. We liked the kind of energy they had as a band. So “Can’t Stand Losing You” was an obvious one to do, but yeah it was just a song we did. Apparently, Sting heard that version, and he really liked it, and there was talk of us doing an MTV performance, and Sting was going to sing with us once but it never materialized. That’s a shame as it would have been quite cool, wouldn’t it? Feeder with Sting.
To answer your question, yeah I mean if it was the right song. I did a cover recently for a charity called Calm it sort of talks about depression and stuff saying that not just sort of normal people but obviously people in the music business can get it, a lot of musicians can get it, and they asked me to do a cover, and I did “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. I did an acoustic version of that. It hasn’t actually come out yet; I haven’t used it yet so I may put that out sometime whether that’s on a Feeder one or the solo thing whatever. But definitely yeah I wouldn’t mind doing a cover maybe a Fleetwood Mac song in a different way or who knows. It’s quite good fun to do sometimes, especially if you want an interesting B-Side. So yeah, to answer your question I’m sure we will do another cover at some point.
As I’m sure our readers are excited to hear, you guys are returning to the stage at Limelight next week after last being here back in 2016. Are you excited ahead of the gig?
Grant: Aww yeah, I mean it’s a small venue, I think it’s one of the smallest on the tour but you know what Belfast is always great for us, they’re always great audiences, and we’ve always had really sort of loyal fans there, and they always love their guitar. Indie rock there as well. We just love coming there we wish we could come there more often you know.
When you were here last time you were supported by local band R51 (now Wynona Bleach), and for your return you’re paired up with Brand New Friend, hailing from Castlerock. What’s the fixation with these smaller local bands?
Grant: They’re on the same agency as us, so I was sent some of their tracks by our agent, and I really liked it. I thought they sounded really cool. I mean, what often happens is you get pushed into having a band that’s kind of the next cool thing or whatever and just I said you know what that’s cool but I remember back in the day it was really hard to get good support so what we’d do is give any up and coming bands a shot to play for a decent audience.
We basically got a different band on most nights, and that’s what I tried to do. Some bands are doing two shows, and some are doing one I just thought it was a really nice thing to do and hopefully, it was a leg up for any new bands that were starting out because it’s all about picking up new fans, and if they do a good show they’ll pick up, they’ll get some of our fans onboard, and I think that’s kind of what you need as a young band in this day and age.
One thing I remember from that gig last time was actually before the show started. I was sitting down having some lunch and skimming through a few articles when I came across one stating that a lot of the more successful songs and well-known tracks you hate playing live and have to grit your teeth through them. Do you care to name a few or elaborate further?
Grant: You know what? Of course. We’ve talked about B-Sides and those songs that aren’t the obvious, they’re always songs we always want to play deep down, but you know what? When you get a reaction from that audience on a commercial song that you’ve had success with, it’s not a bad thing. I think that you kind of need that to make the set work and make the chemistry of that night work.
There are times were yeah of course like ‘God, I have to play “Buck Rogers” again’ or whatever but at the end of the day, it still gets a great reaction. I think the set is interesting enough. We have enough heavier moments and enough mellower moments that it still has its place. I could easily decide not ever play it, or we just embrace it and just go for it for what it is, and I’m actually quite enjoying playing it again cause it’s just a fun, it’s like a cult song now, it’s become a bit of a cult classic. It’s a lot heavier live than it is on record anyway, it definitely got a bit more energy. So I think you know what? It’s fine. I think it’d be wrong to expect fans to come to the shows and then you don’t play some of the big hits. I know a lot of bands do that, but I always feel slightly let down by going to see my favourite band, and they don’t play some of they don’t play some of the obvious songs.
It’s not my favourite song I’ve written, but it was a stepping stone in our career in some way because it put Feeder on the map and it kept our label pushing the band. Every band needs a hit at some point otherwise it’s very hard to survive.
You touched upon the solo album. Regarding plans for the future back in 2014, you brought out your solo album Yorktown Heights which was followed by the mini-album Black Clouds. Is that something you plan to return to?
Grant: I might do. I mean the thing is I write stuff for Feeder, so it’s not like I have any burning desire to prove anything. The solo record only came about because I was going to take a little bit of time after Generation Freakshow tour. I just felt like it wasn’t that we were in a bad place. Everyone was getting on well. The tour was great. It was just I felt like 24 years whatever it was then I just thought I just need a little bit of time to think about the next step. I just want to spend a bit of time at home.
I’ve been asked by a lot of people to write for other artists which I’m obviously flattered to be asked to write for people, but it’s not something which is my main priority because I still love being in a band and stuff like that. So I said well okay, let’s take some time out. Taka’s doing a few things out in Japan, so I thought this was a good time, so I started writing for a few acoustic artists and then just a few young people up and coming. I got so attached to it that it just became this kind of solo record there was no plan for that record, it just kind of came about. I didn’t even know whether it was ever going to be released, I was kind of just making it for myself and my family really.
That album does touch on a lot of things that are very close to me, and it’s a different record to some of the Feeder records. It just came about really, and it was just nice to do something completely different without the big guitars, literally just a voice in these very simple little acoustic songs. I was pretty terrified to go out and play that stuff. I felt I didn’t have the big power of Feeder behind me; the big band, and the big guitar sound and the big drums. But I think it was really good for me as a writer, and I think it’s actually been really good for Feeder as well. It’s put my head in a different place, I think when we started to write All Bright Electric. Also, although it was pretty frustrating for Taka if I’m having so long out, I think it was actually a good thing for the band having that little break.
The recurring theme for this interview is the past and the last 21 years. Do you see Feeder continuing for another 21 years?
Grant: I don’t know about 21 years I might be a bit too old by then. I think I’ll be too old. What I say to answer that is and also to answer your previous question – if I do another solo record, it’ll fit around the Feeder thing because Feeder is my main priority. It always has been. So if I do a solo record, it’ll be if we have a little gap. But as far as the future goes, we’re going to do it for as long as we can physically do it. You know the sets are getting longer, we’ve got a massive, massive catalogue of music so I think for as long as we feel like we’ve got fans out there and we’re enjoying it, and I’m still inspired to write music then we’ll continue for as long as we can.
It’s very hard to put a time frame on it because you never quite know. I’d like to think we’re going to going for a little while yet as we’ve already started writing new songs for some more Feeder stuff already but there’s definitely more stuff in the can. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a good vibe in the camp and I think as long as that continues then we’ll continue for as long as we can.
I just want to say thank you, Grant, for taking the time to sit down with me and answer my questions but just as a closing question, since starting up Feeder what for you has been your favourite album to work on, your favourite gig and your favourite experience?
Grant: God, you know that’s such a difficult question, I get asked that all the time and I never know how to answer it. I mean I don’t really have.. I really enjoyed making Polyethene and Swim. I mean Swim and Polyethene was the same session basically. It was released because Polyethene was already finished by then it’s just we felt because we were such a new band we didn’t know. We were testing the waters, so we decided to put out a mini-album first rather than have that first big record that comes out and no-one knows who you are and it just disappears. I think it was a very good move but for me, of course, doing Swim and Polyethene was a really creative time. It was our first big in the studio as a band, and that was a really great time, and I had so many songs at the time it was just an exciting period, so that’s definitely one that I really enjoyed making. There’s been so many I would say Yesterday Went Too Soon was a great record to make that was a really fun record. Apart from the Polyethene one, it was probably All Bright Electric. I think it really captured Feeder as we are now. I think everything about that record (All Bright Electric) is organic and I’ve always wanted to try to get that sound for Feeder.
Grant: God, you know that’s really hard to say. There have been so many amazing gigs we’ve had… I’ll give you two examples. Obviously touring with bands like The Rolling Stones and R.E.M. and U2. I mean that was all amazing experiences, and they were great to play those but on a personal level a gig that I remember clearly in my head and I think Taka tells the same was when we first did the main stage at Reading back in the day and we were playing songs like “High” and “Descend”. A little three-piece band we pulled this really big audience, and people were like ‘Who’s this band?’ and we just had an amazing gig, and it was not late in the day I think it was a lunchtime or an early afternoon slot. Massive audience, a big moshpit and it was just one of those gigs I just remember so clearly I remember what I was wearing. I still remember everything. I’m still playing the same guitar, still got the same guitar strap on that guitar to this day. It was just a real turning point for Feeder I think.
In my mind that was a very iconic show for us because it really put us on the map. A lot of industry people kind of started to say ‘Ohh wow! Who are this band?’. So that was one; there have been so many. When we headlined D Festival and Coldplay were on the main stage we were on the second stage which was still a big stage. It was an amazing gig as we thought ‘Ohh no, Coldplay are going to take all the audience’. But we had a massive audience, and I think Coldplay finished before our set and we suddenly had not only our fans, suddenly all the Coldplay fans came over to watch us, so we had this massive audience. I just remember it being one of those festival gigs that had a great atmosphere. There you go, there’s two.
I remember we did a line-up once and it was Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stoneage, PJ Harvey, Feeder, somebody else I mean what a line-up. It was at Slane Castle, and it was the most amazing gig I absolutely loved it. I was hanging out with Dave Grohl and his wife it was just one of those perfect gigs, the perfect line-up. That was one I remember. I mean most of those bands would be on my festival line-up probably.
Feeder return to Limelight 22nd March 2018 for The Best Of Tour. Tickets for the show are available here.