For the past twenty years, Feeder have been flying the flag for British rock music with gleeful abandon. Formed in Newport as far back as 1991, it wasn't until the 1996 release of mini-album Swim that the band first attracted widespread attention. Seven albums and several million record sales later, they're now firmly established as one of the most consistent bands to grace these shores over the past two decades.
Now operating as a two-piece of Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose, April sees the release of their eighth full-length studio album Generation Freakshow via the band's own Big Teeth Music imprint. Having spent the majority of their career on Chrysalis Records subsidiary Echo, 2010's Renegades long player saw them return to the more abrasive sound of their formative years, as well as being their first totally independent release.
Currently out on tour to promote the lead single off the forthcoming record, 'Borders', DiS caught up with guitarist and frontman Grant Nicholas post-soundcheck prior to their long sold-out show at Coventry's Kasbah venue.
DiS: Tonight will be the third date of the tour. How have the other shows been so far?
Grant Nicholas: It's been great. It's given us the chance to get out there and play some new songs. It's been really intimate, the main reason why we're playing smaller venues.
DiS: What's the reception to the new songs been like?
GN: Really good. It must be difficult for an audience to hear songs for the first time. You can go and see your favourite bands as many times as you like but if they don't play the songs you know it can be a bit...frustrating. But, that's the whole point of this tour, to let people know that we've got a new record coming out. The setlist we're playing on this tour won't necessarily be a reflection of what we'll play when we go back out once the record's released, but obviously there will be a lot of new material. For this tour we're doing two-thirds new stuff and one-third old.
DiS: The last time you went out on tour was as the "Renegades" side-project to promote that album, and the set was made up of new songs from that record and some of your earliest material such as 'Descend', 'Tangerine' and 'Sweet 16'.
GN: We'll still be playing some of those songs on the next tour. We like going back to the Polythene material every now and then. We thought about doing some of the older songs on this tour but there were some people that really didn't know our back catalogue at the Renegades shows. We didn't view it as a side-project as such, but it definitely wasn't meant to be a traditional Feeder show either. We tried to do something different, and I think some people got confused by it. I mean, we had a great time, and it was really fun to play that album in that way and go back to our roots again because the band got very big and we felt we'd lost what we originally set out to do. We wanted to go back to where we started and try to reignite that spark and I think it really worked for us.
DiS: I guess many people that became fans of the band during the Echo Park era and beyond may not even be aware of Feeder's existence prior to that.
GN: We never really wanted to move away from that. I like to write songs that have melody and at the same time I'll also write songs that rock out. There's nothing worse than going to see bands with a one dimensional sound and for me that's not the type of band Feeder ever wanted to be. I grew up listening to my brother's records which were anything from early punk rock to bands like Led Zeppelin. A lot of those 1970s rock bands had songs with quiet bits and loud bits, which I guess is where the formula came from. Even listening to bands from the next decade like Boston, you can hear a similar kind of structure. If you hadn't had 'More Than A Feeling' there would have been no 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. That was a big influence on Nirvana and most of those bands from that scene. You can actually hear their sound gravitate towards 1980s rock. I didn't like all of the bands from that era but the ones I was fond of such as Thin Lizzy and Boston to me were the best. But going back to the Renegades tour, I think we needed to do that as we were becoming very stale as a band. We've always been very busy even when we're not touring.
DiS: You and Taka have been playing together for two decades now, and as a band Feeder have outlived virtually every band that emerged around the same time. Does it feel surreal that you've almost attained veteran status now?
GN: There's a few grey hairs appearing up there! It's funny because a lot of people still don't quite understand what we do. We're not trying to appeal to any one genre or write in a specific way. The only other band I'd say have a similar approach to us are the Manics, which is what I love about them. They've had a great career and their music has gone through similar stages to ours. Also, a lot of our fanbase are Manics fans and vice versa. For me the main difference is our music has more of an American influence to it than there's does. But even then they have the odd song that touches on that. The first single off their latest album - '(It's Not War) Just The End Of Love' - reminds me a little of the Smashing Pumpkins. I love the Manics and I remember it wasn't so long ago they were written off, but they've come back with a vengeance. It's interesting they get a lot of Radio 2 play as well. I wouldn't say we're both "cult bands" but I think we both have very loyal fans. Neither of us rely on positive press or music trends. They're not the reasons why we're here. Certain sections of the press have warmed to us at various points I guess, but it's been a bit hit and miss most of the time...
DiS: I think Drowned In Sound have generally been quite supportive of Feeder. Silent Cry and Echo Park both got positive reviews here, and there've been some glowing live reviews such as the one from last summer's Splendour Festival.
GN: We seem to have quite a good following on the Internet. Our current single 'Borders' has had around 200,000 hits on our website without any real radio play. It was number 1 in the iTunes chart recently, which is an achievement in itself I guess. Mind you, we are up against so much crap in the charts! To get in the Top 10 you need about 50,000 downloads which is ridiculous when you listen to some of the songs in there. I often think to myself, "Who on earth is buying that shit?" It can be difficult trying to compete with that.
DiS: It's a double edged sword, the Internet, isn't it? On one hand more music has become widely available but on the other filtering out the good from the bad can be an arduous task.
GN: It is, but I'd like to think the good will eventually come through. I think one of the secrets of our longevity is that we've changed our sound for every single album. I'd like to think that when people get sick of us and we call it a day our legacy will be that we always tried to do something different with our next record. It's also quite an honour when a young band cites us an influence on them starting out in the first place. That alone says to me some of our songs are timeless. It's like with Oasis for example. Love them or hate them no one can deny they've written some of the best music of the past twenty years. Whether you like the Gallaghers as people you have to respect they're responsible for some fucking great songs. And I love bands that write tunes. I'm a huge fan of Tom Petty. People may be surprised by that but I love the way he writes such simple yet believable lyrics. The whole imagery from his songs. He has a unique observational style of writing, and that's how I try to write, so simple yet so direct, even though I don't always succeed. More importantly, Tom Petty's music has never dated. It was never cool and trendy anyway, and I think that's why he's still held in such regard today.
DiS: Feeder are now officially a duo with just Taka and yourself the only full time members. Would you ever consider recruiting a permanent drummer again in the future?
GN: That makes us sound like Hall & Oates or the Pet Shop Boys! Yeah, I mean it isn't something we'd ever dismiss. The guys we've been working with recently have fitted in really great. Damon Wilson who's on tour with us at the moment is an excellent drummer, but he has a lot of other commitments so probably wouldn't want to join us or any other band full time at present. Same with Karl Brazil, who played on Generation Freakshow. He wasn't available for rehearsals as he's quite a busy session drummer. He's actually coming night so it will be quite funny having him watching us playing those songs. I don't consider the current set up as weird though. When the band first started it was just me, Taka and Jon Lee. After Jon passed away Mark Richardson joined us and stayed with the band for seven years. He'd previously been in Skunk Anansie and Little Angels yet wasn't the original drummer in either of those bands so was used to coming into a similar situation with us, albeit in very difficult circumstances. Mark's a great drummer but we didn't really click. It wasn't anything to do with him as a drummer. I just don't think we clicked personality wise and it was time for him to move on. When the opportunity to rejoin Skunk Anansie came up, he wanted to do both to be fair but for me it seemed like the perfect time for a change. He was a bit upset at the time, but it wouldn't have worked. Initially he said Skunk Anansie was just a one off tour, but they ended up making a new record so in hindsight it proved the best decision for all parties. When Mark first came along and recorded Comfort In Sound we thought it crazy not to invite him to join the band permanently. Maybe on reflection, we kind of rushed into it a little bit. We should have taken our time and not made that decision. It was too soon, but then we did have some great times with Mark as well.
DiS: The live shows during the early part of the last decade were quite spectacular, culminating in the band playing arenas for a while.
GN: We did the arena tour for Comfort In Sound. I remember when we sold out the NEC, you know, 15-16,000 people, and nearly pinching myself. It was a crazy time, but the hardest thing is staying there. So many bands encounter a similar problem. Unless you continually have an album out or a massive hit single with blanket radio support it's difficult to maintain, and as you get older it becomes even harder.
DiS: I don't think people realise just how influential daytime playlisting on stations like Radio One can be. It can make or break a record, or a band even.
GN: It can. I don't want to get into radio politics too much otherwise I'll start getting really angry but it does really amaze me that they don't seem to support bands as much as when we were first starting out. It seems bands have to get to a certain level and prove themselves before radio stations will go near them, but then on the flipside of the coin there's also a cut-off point where bands are deemed to have outstayed their welcome as far as radio's concerned and are no longer seen as being relevant. At times they often contradict themselves. It's like recently when Noel Gallagher was number one they refused to play his song because he didn't fit in with the age demographic of their target audience, yet playlisted the Red Hot Chili Peppers who are even older than he is! And their single wasn't that great either. I just find the whole process quite hypocritical. We fall into a very awkward place for radio. Some people see us as being very mainstream whereas others believe we're too heavy. Take 'Feeling The Moment' for example, which is a very crossover song. At the time it came out I remember Radio 2 refusing to play it for being too heavy! I was amazed by that, really amazed. I can only guess that because our roots are in rock music some people interpret us as being a metal band?
DiS: Your new album Generation Freakshow is out in April. Listening to the record, there are elements throughout that could easily fit in with various stages of your career. 'Oh My' for example is reminiscent of something like 'Seven Days In The Sun' while the title track is full on punk rock like the rawest moments of Polythene or Swim.
GN: 'Generation Freakshow' is a bit of a wild card compared to the rest of the album. It's there for that reason. I think it's important for people to know that a Feeder record's going to be quite eclectic musically. By that, I mean we'll never make a record of ten songs with the same structure.
DiS: I read somewhere that some of the songs which were recorded for the Renegades sessions were considered for Generation Freakshow?
GN: They were, although only one song that dates back to those recordings - 'Side By Side' - will be on this album, and that's only on the Japanese version not the UK one. The rest of the unreleased Renegades stuff hasn't been used yet. There's a couple which will probably surface as b-sides over the coming months. The oldest song on Generation Freakshow that was actually written way before Renegades is 'Idaho'. We'd completely forgotten about it, probably because it wasn't finished, but we kept it on hold and it sounds just right alongside the rest of the new album. 'Tiny Minds' was written around the same time as some of the Renegades stuff but again it didn't feel right for that record. It's probably too "indie" for Renegades whereas it fits this record quite well.
DiS: Was Matt Sime involved with the production on Generation Freakshow after working with you on Renegades?
GN: No he's not on the record. Matt's not actually working in the music industry any more. He was only really involved with one song on Renegades as well. Chris Sheldon, who mixed our first album, is on Generation Freakshow. He's worked with us on several records over the years. That's how we knew Matt Sime. He used to be Chris' assistant, and Chris wasn't available for Renegades so Matt came on board for a while. He's mixed 'Borders', 'Hey Johnny', 'Quiet', 'In All Honesty' and 'Children Of The Sun' on this record. I'm involved with the production as well. I have been on most of our records. I think it's good to work with different people as you always pick up on their ideas and learn something new.
DiS: You worked with legendary producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters) on Echo Park, Comfort In Sound and Pushing The Senses. I guess that must have been quite an experience?
GN: We learned so much from him. He brought so many new ideas to our sound. It was an awesome experience, even though we didn't really hit it off at first. There were a few occasions where we nearly came to blows, but over time he gave me the confidence to do whatever I wanted. His discipline with both the pre-production and recording processes was just exceptional. He works in a very thorough way. Some people don't like it and some people do. I kind of work somewhere in between so I've picked up a little bit of that discipline from my experiences with Gil. Chris Sheldon is a little less fussy, so I guess working between the two is quite a happy compromise for me. It's a nice and happy place to be found.
DiS: You've launched your own label, Big Teeth Records. Will this just be exclusively for Feeder records or are there plans to release any other artists' music on there in the foreseeable future?
GN: Yeah, it's something we'd like to do in the future. Initially we just started Big Teeth to put Feeder's music out there, but if we're ever in a position to offer a band something then I'd definitely consider it. I don't see us ever working with a maximum of more than three or four other artists on the label. It would be a very small roster and not necessarily all rock either. We'd only work with artists we all feel passionate about.
DiS: Finally, so much has been written in various sections of the media - not DiS by the way - about the so-called "Death of guitar music". What's your take on the subject?
GN: Guitar music's dead? I think that's absolute bollocks! There's too many bands making guitar-based music for it to not continue. It's been around far too long for it to disappear. Whenever there's a media backlash against something it goes underground, but that doesn't mean hundreds of great bands aren't there. It's quite ridiculous to even suggest such a thing. It's not going away, never.
The album Generation Freakshow is out on Monday 23rd April. For more information on Feeder visit their official website.