It’s Wednesday evening and we’re sat in Nottingham’s Rough Trade venue with Feeder’s Grant Nicholas. In just over an hour, his band will play to a packed room. Continuing this month’s in-store tour of record shops in support of their tenth long player, Tallulah. Released some five days earlier, it currently sits at number three in the official midweek charts (it will eventually make number four, no mean feat for a guitar band with very little daytime radio play in the current climate), sandwiched in between new kids on the block, Billie Eilish and Louis Capaldi.
Having initially formed as a trio back in 1994 and put out their first release the following year, Feeder have encountered their fair share of highs and lows along the way. Not least the tragic passing of original drummer Jon Lee in 2002 after their most commercially successful year up to that point. Since then, fellow founder members Nicholas (vocals, guitar) and Taka Hirose (bass) have continued to make some of the most incisive music on the rock circuit, culminating in their latest release.
“I think it would be really uncool for a band who’ve been going as long as we have to come out with something completely different to what we’ve done well for a quarter of a century.”
Indeed, their creative resurgence seems to have coincided with the media continually ignoring their presence, instead preferring to focus on the latest hyped act the industry throws up instead. This despite regularly selling out venues of 2000 capacity and upwards nationwide – November’s sixteen date UK tour being already close to doing so with three months to go.
Despite only playing a handful of festivals this summer, it’s been one of the busiest Grant Nicholas can remember since the band started.
“We’ve got loads of TV stuff coming up, a lot after the album which is actually better for us. We did Bargain Hunt with The Darkness which is coming out at the end of September. Then we’re doing BBC Breakfast News, which is pretty big for us as the last time we did it that got 2 million views. We’re also doing Soccer AM. I don’t know much about football any more where we’re playing a song or two then having a laugh in the studio. We might also be doing Sunday Brunch as well, so it’s all good, and very busy.”
One show that did happen this year was at Hyde Park as part of the Robbie Williams BST bill. While it might seem a bizarre collision of two worlds on paper, the involvement of occasional session drummer Karl Brazil in both camps made it slightly more amenable, as Nicholas tells us.
“It was bizarre. I think it worked really well, although it’s hard to tell whether we went down really well or not because people were so far away. Those awful golden circles kill the atmosphere; so, all the real fans are literally dozens of yards away. Obviously, we got the show through Karl, who’s played on most of this record bar the three, which our new drummer Geoff (Holroyde) plays on. Karl is very much involved with Robbie Williams’ band right now. If he could do both, he would but he’s full time with Robbie and on a very big wage, so when that tour came up, we were recording the album which left us in the shit but fortunately Karl introduced us to Geoff and we liked each other so here we are.”
In fact, this will actually be Geoff Holroyde’s first show of the in-store tour, having flown in from sunny Spain to play in rain sodden Nottingham this evening, with the plan being for him to occupy the drummer’s seat on this winter’s forthcoming tour and beyond.
Nevertheless, we’re here primarily to talk about Talulah. What’s apparent when listening to the album is Feeder have lost none of the drive and energy that made them one of the most essential bands to emerge from the UK in the mid-nineties. Having embarked on a greatest hits tour two years ago which also coincided with their last collection of new material ‘Arrow’, Nicholas went straight back into the studio after that run of shows.
“I started writing in between some of the shows at the back end of the tour, so I had a few bits to work with then went back home and wrote loads more. The plan was to do two or three singles via Spotify, so I started writing for that and then it grew! Suddenly it got to a place where it started to feel like a record and that’s when I started to plan it a bit more. After the end of the ‘Best Of’ shows it was a reminder to us of all those singles and what made us work at festivals, so maybe there was an element of that going on which affected a few of the songs on this album.”
Recorded at Grant’s Treehouse studio with Tim Roe on production duties. You can definitely hear what’s become the trademark, “classic” Feeder sound throughout parts of Tallulah. Particularly on the likes of opener and lead single ‘Fear Of Flying’, itself already a firm fans’ favourite.
“It’s a very simple song. We made an old school video for it as well which is a very Feeder thing to do. We’re not trying to relive our past but we do what we do and we’re proud of it. Some people criticise us for that yet I think it would be really uncool for a band who’ve been going as long as we have to come out with something completely different to what we’ve done well for a quarter of a century.”
Songs like ‘Kyoto’ and ‘Windmill’ also recall the heady rush of days gone by, most notably off the band’s earlier records Polythene and Yesterday Went Too Soon.
“When I got three quarters of the way through the album it felt like we were really missing a rock moment. I didn’t want it to be a whole album of that as it would have been too similar to All Bright Electric so that’s how those two songs materialised. ‘Kyoto’ is very much a fun song that touches on a western outlook of Japan. Just obvious things people would understand as you’d be amazed at how little westerners know about Japan so if we made it too complicated it just wouldn’t work. I wanted something based around an old school riff but also touching on the All Bright Electric sound. A statement track similar to how ‘Godzilla’ was off the last record. In fact, ‘Kyoto’ and ‘Lonely Hollow Days’ were the last two songs I wrote.”
But then Tallulah still feels like a reinvention in the same way All Bright Electric felt like a reinvention before it, Generation Freakshow before that and so on and so forth. Reinventing yourselves should never mean disowning your past, surely?
“Whenever we play the newer songs at festivals they go down as well as the old ones which is a good sign. It’s great to have songs in the set everyone knows; the obvious ones without necessarily naming names; but what I’ve noticed is this whole new generation of fans coming to our shows. We’ve got fans younger than some of our songs! Parents that played our songs in the car when they were kids who’ve become fans ever since. But that’s how I discovered music, having an older brother and sister playing songs in the car with my dad. So if we’re winning over a younger age group that’s a really positive thing. The same thing’s happened to a few of our contemporaries such as the Manics. We’re not that dissimilar, particularly our histories.”
He’s right. Only the Manic Street Preachers from the same era can boast having such a loyal fanbase when it comes to buying records and concert tickets, while both bands’ back catalogues are also of a similar stature.
“The good thing about being an older band is having such a great catalogue of music to choose from. If you’re playing a festival that’s like gold. It helps a lot. People know our music more than they know the band. In some ways I quite like that because it makes the band feel a little bit fresher. We’ve got a really good live band, really nice morale and we always try to mix things up so it feels like a really great time for us at the moment. Yet I didn’t think I’d be saying that, because if I think back to five years ago which was fine, it feels better now for Feeder than it did back then.”
While undoubtedly being one of the most consistent recording bands of the past twenty-five years, not to mention exciting live acts, it’s surprising to hear Nicholas say this. Particularly with such an impressive canon of work behind him. Even going back a decade to Feeder’s sixth album Silent Cry, released in the summer of 2008 when they were wrongly considered a spent force by some, you can hear a band in transition, clearly experimenting with new ideas and seemingly without pressure. That the record didn’t sell as well as it should is more a reflection on the sign of the times than its content, which Nicholas now looks back on with fond memories.
“I thought it was a really commercial record yet it sold poorly compared to its predecessors. I think if Silent Cry came out now it would do really well for us. There are some really good songs on that record. It just wasn’t the right time for us. Our label folded, so morale was quite down which didn’t help. I was quite excited by that record and I know it’s a real favourite with our fans, but it just went a bit under the radar. Same with Generation Freakshow. I do think Silent Cry is a better album but then Generation Freakshow felt like a turning point. We worked with Chris Sheldon again on that record and had some great times.”
It was between 2012’s Generation Freakshow and 2016’s All Bright Electric that Feeder took two years off, resulting in Grant Nicholas putting out a couple of solo records; the excellent Yorktown Heights and equally impressive Black Clouds. Revitalised and refreshed, that mini hiatus might just have ignited the creative spark Nicholas and Hirose were in need of at the time.
“We’d never taken any time off before, so it gave me a chance to come back with a fresh approach to it all. It’s still Feeder, but I do work a little bit differently now. All Bright Electric might not have turned out the way it did otherwise. Likewise, I don’t think this album would have sounded like it does had we not made All Bright Electric even though it’s quite a different record.”
With even more songs written and ready to record, it’s probably fair to say Nicholas and Feeder are at their most prolific right now. Something the amiable frontman is quick to play down.
“I’m quite lucky in that respect. I can always come up with something. But if I’m being honest, I’d say we are more prolific. I think being a parent has a lot to do with that. It’s given me more drive and a reason to write songs. My kids are getting a bit older now which is better when you’re working at home because you are on call all the time. But then that also gives you more time to live with the songs, which is definitely what happened with this record and All Bright Electric. I think that’s a good thing, because I had time to go back to it without overcooking anything so it’s not overproduced in any way.
“It’s actually quite a straightforward sounding record, which is hard to make. It’s easier to put loads of stuff all over it, which I also enjoy doing. But one of the things I learned from making the solo records was less is actually more. It’s still got that Feeder sound with lots of little parts going on, but none of it is overpowering. Quite a lot of time goes into getting that right even though it is a simple guitar record. It’s nice to experiment. But I think sometimes you can experiment too far and lose where you are as a band. Now I’ve lived with this album for a while, it really does remind me a bit of Yesterday Went Too Soon.”
Which brings us onto yet another pending anniversary in Feeder’s history. Their second album, Yesterday Went Too Soon, released in the summer of 1999, turns twenty this month. It’s the latest in a list of milestones for a band who’ve never really celebrated such occasions. As Nicholas goes at length to explain.
“I think every band has gone out and played their albums in full and done a little tour around it, and I guess they are quite successful to do. It takes quite a lot of work because you have to go back and relearn all the songs again. But really it’s a case of whether we could fit that kind of thing in between making new records, or do we just pick one and see how it goes? I don’t know which one we’d do first because it doesn’t have to be in order.
“The obvious one is Comfort In Sound sales wise, but then I’ve met people that are totally obsessed with Echo Park and Yesterday Went Too Soon. Some that want to hear the first album, so it’s hard to know which one to pick. It’s quite a nice problem to have. I’d love to do all of Yesterday Went Too Soon again. There are some good songs on that record. It’s a bit of a demo album because we did just enough with Polythene for the label to trust us in the studio on our own. So, we just went in with an engineer and a few songs, then I’d turn up the next day with a new one and say let’s do it!
“This happened every day until we had enough to record an album. There were a few songs where we laid some strings down but it was mostly just us having lots of fun in the studio. Maybe the mixing could have been better? If I could find someone to remix it now, I’m sure it would sound really good because I know we recorded it well. But then it was a document of that moment in time. I’m sure every band looks back at something they’ve done and would do it differently now. It’s an important record for us because it showed we were more than just a three-piece grunge band.”
Looking ahead to the future, Feeder have outlasted every genre from grunge and Britpop through the post-millennium indie revival and beyond (“Some people call us a heavy metal pop band which I understand in some ways,” declares Nicholas). Becoming more impossible to categorise with every passing album. Their best might still be yet to come, which is testament to both Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose and their relentless quest to create something better every time. Long may it continue.
Tallulah is out now. Tour dates below.
Upcoming Tour Dates
01 – Portsmouth Pyramids Centre, Portsmouth
02 – The Great Hall, Exeter
04 – O2 Academy Oxford, Oxford
05 – The Nick Rayns LCR, Norwich
07 – The Great Hall – Cardiff Uni, Cardiff
08 – Leeds Beckett Students Union, Leeds
10 – O2 Academy Newcastle, Newcastle
11 – O2 Institute, Birmingham
16 – Albert Hall, Manchester
17 – Albert Hall, Manchester
19 – The Engine Shed, Lincoln
20 – Rock City, Nottingham
22 – Roundhouse, London (sold out)
23 – Roundhouse, London