Feeder’s Grant Nicholas on the band’s 12th long player “Black/Red” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024  

Feeder’s Grant Nicholas on the band’s 12th long player “Black/Red”

"I make albums for myself and for the band. If people like it then that’s a bonus. Because otherwise you aren’t doing it for the right reasons"

Apr 10, 2024 Web Exclusive Photography by Steve Gullick (lead photo) Bookmark and Share

Last Friday (5th April), Feeder released their twelfth album Black/Red. A sprawling affair that comprises eighteen songs spread across a double album, it’s arguably one of the most ambitious records in Feeder’s long and distinguished career. But also one that showcases every element of the band’s make-up. From the heavily accentuated “ELF” and “Playing With Fire”, which recall their earliest moments from the Polythene era to the widescreen likes of “Lost In The Wilderness” and “Hey You”, which shine with a pop sensibility Feeder have also been accustomed to.

Having just completed a month-long tour of the UK which is currently being followed up by a series of in-stores to promote Black/Red, Under the Radar caught up with guitarist, singer and songwriter Grant Nicholas.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): Feeder’s second album Yesterday Went Too Soon celebrates its 25th anniversary in August. Will you be doing anything special to commemorate it?

Grant Nicholas: Possibly. We have got some other plans that we’re going to do before that which might make that difficult. But then it doesn’t have to be on the exact date. We missed the 20th anniversary of Comfort In Sound because of Covid and everything being pushed back and we’d been planning to do that. So it is possible and Yesterday Went Too Soon is quite a popular album with our fans. I don’t think we ever played the whole album live first time around? It would be a lot of work having to go back and try and learn those songs again. There’s a song on that record called “Dry” which is really popular. I think it’s one of the best songs on there, and that album was really important for us. It was the first time we did Top Of The Pops. We actually ended up doing it twice; once with “Insomnia” then “Yesterday Went Too Soon.” Everyone talks about Echo Park being our first big record but it’s been a gradual climb from “High”, to Yesterday Went Too Soon doing quite well, and then all the Echo Park stuff. We had a fanbase that was building and then TV and media came on board with “Buck Rogers” and everything just took off from there.

It was an exciting time for guitar music back then. The music press were very supportive of guitar bands like yourselves, the Manics, 3 Colours Red and Stereophonics.

It was a great time for us and all of those bands back then. It’s a great time for music now but also very weird as well. Getting radio play for rock bands is very difficult now. I’ve got songs on certain records that would have been very big hits for us with the right support from radio. It’s just timing I guess, but what’s really annoying is there are DJs that used to support us back in the day but now they’ve moved onto more mainstream stuff and don’t bother supporting bands like us any more. I know a lot of playlists are picked by algorithms rather than the actual DJs these days but it is very frustrating. The reason Feeder are still around today isn’t because of the radio. It’s because we have a great fanbase and always put out records. You can’t make a record thinking about whether it will get played on the radio otherwise you’d end up going mad. You’d actually compromise your art form and end up writing crap, which happens all the time. I’ve seen so many bands destroy themselves over the years by falling into that trap. Touring an album they hate that just isn’t them. I make albums for myself and for the band. If people like it then that’s a bonus. Because otherwise you aren’t doing it for the right reasons.

Your new album Black/Red has been described as the last part of a trilogy with 2022’s Torpedo. It has eighteen tracks, which is quite a lot for an album these days. Was it always your intention for it to be a double album?

There are a lot of songs but I don’t think it’s a lot for a double. It only comes in at just over an hour which isn’t that long for a double album. We were going to do a double album for Torpedo but I got cold feet thinking it’s a really good rock record so let’s keep it short and punchy. Of course I want our fans to embrace the records but you’ve got to make music that you believe in and really want to do. That might sound a bit selfish but it’s not because if we didn’t do that it wouldn’t be genuine. I saw an interview with Rick Rubin recently and he was saying the same thing. As soon as you compromise your integrity as a band then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I’ve never done that and always done my best to steer away from it.

Black/Red showcases all the different elements of Feeder. There’s some really heavy stuff on there like “ELF”, “Playing With Fire” and “Sleeping Dogs Lie”. Then on the flipside there’s some really introspective moments like “Lost In The Wilderness”, which is possibly the closest thing Feeder have recorded to a pop song in years. Was that your intention?

“Lost In The Wilderness’’ is a pop song. There is a story behind that, because I actually started writing “Lost In The Wilderness” and then I was contacted by a certain pop artist who shall remain nameless. So, I started to rework the song into what I thought might work more for them, and the song went back and forth between the pair of us for a while. It didn’t happen with them in the end, so I just thought I’d keep it for a Feeder record but by that point, it took me a while to get my head back into it again. It has a very pop-like chorus even though you can imagine a rock band doing it, but you can also picture someone like Take That singing that chorus. I actually really like that song. It’s very simple and definitely one of the more commercial songs on the record, whatever the word commercial means in this world! The thing with a double album is you want it to be a nice journey, and a few of these songs were written around the same time as Torpedo but I kept them back then wrote a few more. So, that’s why it feels quite connected and I wanted it to have a similar sound and feel but without being Torpedo part two. It has elements of that, but I also think it has a lot of different songs as well. “Hey You” is very different from the rest of the record, “Scream” as well. It’s a bit more poppy but with a rock edge to it. So, I think the album’s quite diverse but still very us apart from “AI Man” which is very different from anything we’ve ever done before. There’s a lot of different themes on there. Love songs, songs that touch on different states of mind. Not going too heavy on mental health, but I think people have been through a bit of a shitshow in recent years. Thinking back about Covid I think did that really happen? It feels like we lost two years of our lives. It was a very weird time. We were at a standstill and I was very lucky that I could sit at home and still write songs. A lot of these songs were written during Covid. “Scream for instance. I wrote that in Finsbury Park, and there’s a building that’s now flats as it’s all finished, and I used to sit opposite watching these cranes every day which forms part of the lyrics. I used to go for walks or runs in the park every day because there was very little else I could do – or anyone could for that matter. But it was a very good time for writing lyrics. So, there’s songs that go back to that period. But also some that were written much later like “Lost In The Wilderness.” “Perfume” was another that came later, but then there’s also twelve other songs which I haven’t used on this record. They’ll be on the next album. We’ve already mixed half of it.

What inspired you to use bagpipes on “Soldiers Of Love” and how did the recording come about?

Basically, I had that track “Soldiers Of Love” and it was a song I wrote in my kitchen. It took a while to finish – I had loads of ideas in my head about how I would do the sound so I put it down with a live vocal on my acoustic, stuck on a drum machine and then just left it. I thought it would be cool as an acoustic song but there was just something more grand about it. So, I went back to it and added some strings then I tried to recreate this celtic bagpipes thing. It’s a bit of an old school thing as I remember growing up listening to stuff like “Mull Of Kintyre”. You don’t hear many records with bagpipes on and there’s a good reason for that but I just thought you know what, I’m going to put bagpipes on a Feeder track. So it worked really well, recording bagpipes. But then I thought, where are we going to find someone that can play bagpipes? I’m Welsh so I don’t know anyone and we have our own version anyway and we wanted the classic ones that everybody knows. I imagined “Soldiers Of Love” being a film soundtrack kind of song so I thought it would sound great with bagpipes. I wanted to put real bagpipes on the track rather than samples, and I was having this discussion with our engineer Tim (Roe) for weeks. We finished the track without bagpipes and at first, I thought fuck it, let’s just leave it. So, I went for a walk down to Finsbury Park and bought a coffee. There’s an area where buskers play and I could hear the sound of bagpipes. I thought it’s a sign, praise the lord! So I followed the sound of bagpipes until I came to this busker who’d been playing them, then he stopped so I asked if he’d be interested in playing his bagpipes on a track. He said he’d be up for doing it so I invited him to my studio, took his number and said I’d call him when we were ready. Even on the way home I was having second thoughts, but then I phoned him up and he came round two days later on his bike wearing an orange hi-vis vest with the bagpipes on the back. So, he turned up, did his thing and then I realized he couldn’t tune bagpipes. We couldn’t get it in the right key, so just put the intro on loop. We didn’t play him the full track, just a few bars of it then said this is what we want, a classic droney bagpipes sound. So, we did a load of takes, then realized we had to autotune it, which we did in the key of the song and chop it up. That’s what happened! It was a bizarre thing, but when things like that happen I just think you’ve got to do it. It’s a great story, and the guy who played the bagpipes was just amazing. When we played in Glasgow we actually got a bagpipes player on stage with us, but we had the same problem. It was in completely the wrong key, but it didn’t matter. What I’ve learned about bagpipes is they only work in two keys, and both were different to what the song was in.

Would you do it again?

Probably not, but at least I can say I’ve done it! I think it worked really well. Especially if you’re not expecting them. It was a lot of fun doing it but God, they’re loud!

What’s the story behind that song “AI Man”?

I was listening to a lot of Radiohead and dance tracks at the time so I wanted to write something that was more groove based. It didn’t have to be a big, obvious chorus but I wanted something that was quite catchy. The lyrics for “AI Man” came about through what I was reading in the press at the time. It is happening so we have to accept it. It is a bit scary. I can be cloned and someone could make a track that sounds like Grant Nicholas from Feeder. There are programs that will do it. What you can’t do is copy seeing a band play live on a stage. That’s a whole different experience. But as far as the music goes there are some pretty clever programs that can do a lot when it comes to recreating sounds. It is a bit worrying because you can’t change it, so I think we just have to embrace it now because you can’t stop it. So, there was quite a lot going on in the press at the time and I just felt like I wanted to say something about it. The fear of it as well I suppose, and where’s it going to take music? Just the way it can affect music is quite scary. Not so much in the rock world maybe, but certainly more in the pop world.

The Abba Voyage shows have demonstrated what can be achieved if AI techniques are well executed and I’m surprised more bands that don’t tour very often haven’t gone down a similar route because the possibilities are endless.

If you’re an artist that can’t physically tour but has iconic status like Abba then I can see the appeal of it if it’s done well. But for a nineties guitar band like us or the Manics or Foo Fighters I don’t think it would work very well. We can’t perform the way we did when we were eighteen or nineteen but we can still do it in a way that’s good enough to pull it off. There’s also the element of spontaneity when it comes to playing live. We don’t know what’s going to happen from one night to the next. That’s all part of the show, and when things don’t always go to plan that can sometimes make the show. It’s so unpredictable but I think if it became this very clinical, sterile thing you’d lose a lot of the experience. We’re very much an organic band, especially when it comes to playing live.

Feeder's Grant Nicholas (Photo by Mark Moore)
Feeder’s Grant Nicholas (Photo by Mark Moore)

You’ve mentioned half of the next album already being mixed. Have you got a projected release date for when it’s likely to come out?

I’m not sure. I think we’re going to do something different next. I don’t want to rush it. We’ve always been consistent when it comes to releasing new music. We’re not the sort of band that takes five years off. Obviously I took time out to make my solo record, but apart from that, we’ve always been focused on the next record. I just feel with Black/Red having so many songs to take in, I don’t want to put out the next record for the sake of it. We might put out a single or EP before another album, but I think we’re going to try and do something different next and then do another record. I’m sure we’ll write some more songs in the meantime, but it won’t be another double!

That’s always been a major facet with Feeder and something that your fans buy into as well. Looking forward to the next record rather than glancing behind at the past, which is probably one of the main reasons behind the band’s longevity.

I always write lyrics from a reflective point of view, whether its about my life or what’s happening in our lives as a band. Just our journey, but also thinking about moving forwards so I think that comes through in a lot of the songs. There’s always a bit of nostalgia there as well, but I do feel as if we’ve got a lot more to do. I’m probably writing more songs now than I was when Feeder started. I feel a lot more comfortable doing what I’m doing now, which probably sounds weird after being in a band for thirty years. But you start to accept this is what I do, and not everyone’s going to like it, but that’s just the way it is. It would be a boring life if everyone liked the same things wouldn’t it?

It’s also very rare these days that a band tours an album before it comes out, which you’ve just spent the whole of March doing before Black/Red‘s release in April. What was the reason behind that?

It’s a bit weird, but then we used to do it in the old days. We thought with it being a double album we’re not afraid to release a lot of singles up front. We’ve released six singles before the album, and they’ve all worked really well live. Especially “Hey You”, which only came out at the end of the tour. “Hey You” is quite a different sound for us but still very Feeder. It didn’t feel like it needed to have big heavy guitars on it for the sake of it. It’s very inspired by a lot of 1980s artists. It has a lot of chorus guitar on it even though I actually wrote it on the strat, which is quite rare for me. I started on my acoustic then went into my studio one night a little bit worse for wear! I had a little bit of a smoke which is quite rare for me then wrote the song and had it finished by the end of the evening. I woke up the next morning and played it to our engineer Tim Roe and he said that’s a winner, so we just recorded it straight away. I remember “High” was like that. Sometimes certain songs have a simplicity that just connects the first time, and so far it’s gone down a storm live.

Seven of the songs off Black/Red featured regularly in the live sets throughout the March tour. Is it your intention to eventually incorporate the rest into your live set by the end of this year?

We rehearsed twelve songs off the new record, but with the live sets we know there has to be a mix between old and new stuff. About a third of the set is new material so there’s still a fair bit off Black/Red in there, but we don’t want to just play the new stuff in its entirety before people have heard the album. Even though it’s a tour for the new album, people still want to hear the greatest hits as well. I think it’s a really good mix. We’ve cut it back a little bit, as we thought there were too many new songs and also too much off the first record as well – we started off the tour playing several songs off Polythene which we love playing but a lot of the newer fans might not be familiar with. We did that on the last tour as well. We brought back “Radiation” and “Stereo World” a few times, which is nice because if you’re a diehard fan that’s been there from the start it’s giving them something they might not hear live very often. There might only be ten or twenty people in the mosh pit enjoying it but that’s fine. It gives them something. It’s almost like we’re all revisiting our youth a little bit. I know I am on stage! We played “Polythene Girl” a few times on the first few dates of this tour, which I hadn’t played live since 1998. That was with Jon (Lee, former Feeder drummer who passed away in 2002) so it felt quite bizarre and poignant doing those. But it was really fun. Getting the balance of the set right is really hard but I think we’ve got it right at the moment because all of the new songs have been out already apart from “Hey You”, which came out at the end of March.

Will there be any more singles off Black/Red?

We’re hoping to release at least one more. Which might seem like a lot but so what? It’s a double album. I’m not sure what it will be yet but I know “Unconditional” is quite popular or we might do a double “A” side with a rock track and then one that’s a little bit more mellow. The only problem with double “A” sides is whether it dilutes the message a little bit. It felt a bit like that when we released the first single, because I think “ELF” is one of the strongest tracks on the album, but “Playing With Fire” kind of became the lead track on that single which I also think is great – it’s been well received on this tour and also got a lot of syncs from American baseball. It only takes one song to get on a film or advert and then people discover the album. But there’s so much competition now. What I’ve tried to do with this album – and you don’t really analyse it until you’ve finished it and then you live with it and I’ve heard it a lot – is to make a record where there’s something on there for every Feeder fan whether you got into us from the start or later on. I think it ticks a lot of boxes. They’re almost two standalone albums. The second record gets a little bit more commercial towards the end with songs like “Lost In The Wilderness’‘, “Unconditional” and “Soldiers Of Love”. Even “Here Comes The Hurricane ‘’ as well. They represent the catchier side of Feeder which you might not get so much on the Torpedo record, so it has that element. There’s lots of strings on this record as well, which goes back to Yesterday Went Too Soon and Comfort In Sound. I can imagine “Soldiers Of Love ‘’ on Comfort In Sound. It’s got that similar feeling about it. I’m probably too close to it, but it is quite brave to do a double album because what I didn’t want to do was just six or seven big songs then the rest as filler. There’s a few songs I know aren’t big, in your face songs like “Memory Loss.” I felt like the record needed a break but I didn’t just want to put an acoustic song in there, so I wanted it to be a rock song that was really mellow instead. I had this idea of an understated shoegaze kind of thing in my head, similar to “My Perfect Day” off the first album. Something with a really relaxed vocal but also quite big and dense musically. There are some really good tracks we’ve kept back because I felt there would be too many songs on there, and some of them are probably quite commercial as well in a more upbeat, summery Feeder kinda way. But I felt they’d perhaps work better on the next record instead. The next album might be a bit more direct and less grand. There’s still some catchy stuff on there but I feel it needs to be different in some way.

You’re always planning ahead, which goes back to what I was saying earlier about constantly looking forwards.

I am, yeah. I always need something to work towards. It’s the same with anything. If you’ve got a plan it gives you something to think about. I’m always writing new songs so I have to put my guitar down every so often otherwise I’d end up with too much stuff and quantity over quality. There’s a lot of Feeder stuff which has never come out. There’s some amazing unreleased material in the vaults so I’m sure if we ever hit a dry period we could always find something to put out. But I really did enjoy making this record even if some of the songs date back to lockdown. I had to remember how to play them again because I’d written them so long ago. Every time you mix them songs change, and albums end up hanging around for long periods of time before they’re finished. You often end up waiting over a year for an album to come out now.

I guess Covid and the subsequent lockdowns changed a lot of musicians and artists’ mindsets when it comes to releasing music and playing live?

I still think like that. That the world could stop at any moment. What if something else comes along? At least I’ve got a few songs there. It is hard because the whole physical side of music is so difficult now. I do preach about it a bit on stage but if you knew the amount of time I spent on artwork and finding the right people to do our sleeves – it takes months of planning and organising - because I really care about it. But then a lot of people don’t buy records and CDs any more unless you’re a real music fan. The numbers are really small now, especially for rock bands like us.

It probably explains why more bands are doing in-store shows and signings at record shops as well as traditional album tours.

Which costs an absolute fortune! Even just going round the country. As soon as you add it all up, it is a real investment for any band unless you’ve got a label behind you. You’re investing a lot of time and money into it unless you just do signings, but some people aren’t interested in that. If it was just me turning up with my acoustic guitar it’s not so bad but we try and do a bit more than that. It’s stripped back because we’ve just done a big tour and people might want to see something different. They’re super relaxed and a bit of a laugh really. We’ll play a half hour set of stripped back material and that’s often how the songs were originally written as raw acoustic numbers. It’s not going to be perfect like listening to the records but some people like that. Also, we don’t do those paid meet and greet things. I think it’s really bad to charge fans to come and meet you. Some bands do it all the time and make an absolute fortune but I won’t do it. It feels wrong to me. If people come to an in-store and part of the admission fee is the cost of an album that’s a whole different thing. We’ll always meet fans and sign stuff wherever we can if possible but not the paid meet and greet thing. If a band has to do it to make money, fine. I’m not going to diss them for it. But personally, I’d rather meet people at signings or before and after a gig.

What are your plans for the rest of 2024? Are you playing many festivals this summer?

We’ve got quite a few lined up now. Ten or more, which is quite good. We’re playing Kendal Calling on the Sunday which I’m really looking forward to. I think Paolo Nutini is headlining the stage we’re playing. We were offered the Saturday originally with The Streets and Sugababes on the main stage, but then we realized we’d double booked ourselves with another festival and thought we’d have to pull out. But fortunately there was a slot on the Sunday so we swapped it which I think will be fine going on before Paolo (Nutini). We actually got offered a lot more festivals this summer than we have in a long while. It’s taken a few years to get that many offers but they’re coming in now. We didn’t want to do too many as we’re getting offered some for next year as well. People want to see cool young bands at festivals but they also want to see bands who’ve got a bit of a history and a catalogue as well.

Talking of cool young bands, you’ve taken a lot of interesting and mostly unsigned acts on your UK tour throughout March. How did that come about?

I got so much stick from our booking agent because they only wanted me to pick one band but I said no, I want to take as many as possible. I know how hard it was for us when we started out. We had to buy onto tours. Most of our debts we built up in the early days were from touring and tour supports because you had to pay a fortune to get on tours. So, I saw this tour as an opportunity to give a load of interesting new acts – some signed, some unsigned – a real leg-up. That’s why I picked so many. All quite different musically as well. We’ve had Girlband, The Pearl Harts, Berries and Daytime TV who were all great. They’re all tipped for quite big things so we’ll see, but it’s been a really good mixture of bands. I think it’s made the tour more interesting, because we haven’t been out on a month-long tour for a long time.

The tour also visited a lot of towns and cities that you’ve not played for a while or even before in some cases. Did you see it as a way of reconnecting with fans from many of those places?

Yeah, definitely. Some of the places we haven’t played in years sold out really quickly which is great. The Glasgow Barrowlands show was absolutely amazing. It was a perfect gig. It was a really special night. They’ve all been good but there’s just something about that venue. It’s a really cool place.

With so many artists now releasing biographies and documentaries about their careers, is it something you’ve ever considered for Feeder? Particularly as you’re now entering your fourth decade as a band.

I did think about it and we actually started doing a Feeder film but then something happened and we stopped filming. So, we have got a lot of old footage that I’m sure we could put together. It’s not out of the question. I think it would be an interesting story and something I’d like to do at some point. I think we’ve reached a point now where we’ve ticked off most of our bucket lists. I’ve always wanted to make a double album and we’ve done that now. We’ve never done a live album – that’s something I’ve always been really against – but I’ve now reached a point where I think the way things can be done nowadays are so much simpler and so much better. So, a book or a film definitely aren’t out of the question.

The album Black/Red is out now on Big Teeth Music

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