We caught up with Feeder’s Grant Nicholas to chat about their new album, making the transition from singer/songwriter to bona-fide rock frontman, and the problems with mainstream radio:
Your new album All Bright Electric is out now. Was it an easy record to write and record?
‘It was certainly enjoyable. I think having a break from the ‘Feeder headspace’ did me the world of good. I really enjoyed doing my solo stuff, and I really enjoyed it being more about the voice and less about the guitars.
‘It was quite a brave move for me, actually; I’ve always thought of myself as a guitarist who sings, and not as a singer, so it was a little bit scary for me. I suppose that people do see me as ‘the frontman of Feeder’, though, so I suppose I haven’t really got a choice in that respect…
‘It was very, very naked – just about me, and without me having the big wall of noise to hide behind. It made me approach this record in a slightly different way, and I think it’s brought something new to the Feeder sound.
‘I was feeling really creative at the end of the solo record stuff. We did quite a lot of shows for it, and I was thinking about doing another solo record at the end of those shows, but something was just telling me to get back to Feeder.
‘I went straight into writing from the solo stuff, and it took a bit of a transition; I was certainly going from writing for an acoustic to writing for electric, so it took me a little bit of time to get back into that. I definitely took some of what I learned from the solo stuff – and what I liked from the solo stuff – and put it into the stuff I was writing for Feeder, and I think that I achieved it.
Did you approach writing the new Feeder songs differently to how you approached writing your solo stuff?
‘Yeah, a bit. I mean, I’ve always written my songs on acoustic guitars, but that’s just because I’ve always got an acoustic lying around the house. I always think it’s quite good to hear a song in a very simplistic way – you usually know if you’ve got a good song if it works on acoustic.
‘With songwriting, it’s kind of the same. The only difference for me was that there was a slightly different headspace I had to be in for the solo stuff; it was a lot more personal, so I had to be in a state of mind where I could write about that sort of thing.
‘I tend to touch on those things when I write Feeder stuff, though, so it wasn’t like I was a million miles away from my usual headspace. When I’m writing Feeder stuff, I’m thinking about the chemistry of the band, how it’s going to work live, and the fanbase, so it’s a lot of stuff to juggle at once.
‘To be honest with you, we didn’t really plan to do a new Feeder record; it just happened in a very natural way.
‘It was all self-funded: we had no label pressurising us, and there was no rush to get it finished, so it was all done in a very chilled-out way. I put a lot of work, and a lot of time into it – probably more than I have on some previous Feeder records – but it was a really enjoyable process.
‘Nobody knew we were doing it until we were finished, so it was a really nice thing to do. I made it in my own time, and did a lot of it in my studio at home in the back garden, so it was a really nice way of doing it.
Did this free you from any pressures (or thoughts) of ‘there needs to be a radio hit on this record’?
‘I never really think about that anyway. I think that if you try and think about it too much, you can’t do it. I naturally write quite melodic songs – sure, some are heavier than the others, but they’ve always got a melody running through them.
‘I mean, I know that we’re not a massively mainstream radio band, but I think we have songs that always do feel like they could be on the airwaves. They’re not forced, though – they just come along sometimes.
‘I like writing songs with hooks, and I love writing songs with melodies, so that’s just what I do.
‘I think that when the album’s finished is when we think ‘oh, this could be a single’. We never worry about that when we’re writing. I think that if you do that, you end up going down a very weird root, and that’s not what we wanted from this record. I just wanted to make a record that we thought was cool.
‘We just make a record, and then hope that everybody else likes it afterwards! I think that’s the best way of making music, anyway. We don’t want to compromise. At this point in our career, I don’t feel like we want to do anything we’re not comfortable with. We just want to do what is us, what is Feeder, and hopefully something that fans will like too.
You’ve previously told us that you feel there are quite a few problems with modern mainstream radio. If the Feeder name wasn’t attached to the new songs, do you think they’d be played on the radio?
‘Any band who’s been around for a long time has got more of a chance of being paid attention to. That’s natural. If it’s a good song, though, it’s a good song, and it deserves to be played.
‘I don’t agree at all with the notion of ‘we’re aiming for this audience, so we can only play this music’. That, to me, is ridiculous. How can you possibly work a demographic out? You’ve got people working outside who are listening to the station… It’s all very confusing.
‘Sometimes the name can work both for and against you if you’re an established band. If people know one of your songs, they attach a certain sound to you, and they form an opinion of you based on that one song. I just think that people should keep an open mind, really. I think it’s never too late to make a great record; some people wrote off the Manic Street Preachers, for example, but they’ve just put out one of the best albums of their career.
‘Hopefully us having a four-year break will work in our favour.
‘We’ve had some really good radio support so far – Track Of The Week on Virgin Radio, some plays on Kerrang!, and some support from BBC 6Music, so it is starting to get some exposure. It’s a rock album – it has some mellow moments, but it is a rock record. It’s not like it’s ever been likely that we’ll get played on BBC Radio 2 or anything like that.
‘I just love making an album. It feels like another extension of what we are as a band, and an outlet of showing people that we don’t want to live off our past glories. I’m a really creative person, and I’m lucky that I still feel like that; yes, I’ve got two kids now, but I really do feel like I’m more driven than I’ve ever been.
‘I think you never stop learning as a musician. As soon as you feel like you’ve stopped, it’s probably time to call it a day. I’m always getting inspired by music old and new, and I’m going to love writing songs until I feel there’s no longer a spark there. I feel like we’ve got a bunch of great albums in us before we call it a day.
You must be looking forward to going out and touring the new album, then?
Yeah, I am. I’m a little nervous, actually; going from that mellow stuff to having to sing the rock stuff is quite full on, and trying to sing songs you wrote twenty years ago… Yeah, it’s a real marathon. It’s sounding good at the moment, which is all that matters. Bring it on!
Describe yourself in three words?
Oh, God. I’ll go for… Passionate, driven, and complicated.