It will be twenty years in September since Feeder released their debut single, 'Two Colours'. Two decades, eight albums and several thousand record sales later, their status as one of the UK's most successful guitar bands in recent years remains. However, after touring their most recent long player, 2012's Generation Freakshow, the band went on hiatus, with both core members Taka Hirose and Grant Nicholas concentrating on other projects.
Last year, Nicholas put out his debut solo record Yorktown Heights to a universal round of critical acclaim. Musically more in tune with the likes of Nick Drake and Tim Buckley rather than the heavier sounds normally associated with Feeder, Yorktown Heights represented a marked but suited departure for the affable frontman.
In April, Nicholas will release Black Clouds, a collection of six songs recorded during the same sessions as Yorktown Heights. Currently out on tour in support of both records, DiS caught up with him prior to his sold out show at Nottingham's Bodega venue.
Before we get stuck in, here's a world exclusive premiere of the video for 'Everyday Society':
DiS: You've just played a series of shows in mainland Europe. How were they?
Grant Nicholas: It's been really good. It was my first time in Europe touring the solo records so it's just like starting again. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people that knew the music. The Paris show was amazing. Berlin too. There wasn't really a bad one. So I'm hoping the UK will follow on from that.
DiS: Tonight is the first UK date on this leg of the tour. What can people expect from the shows?
Grant Nicholas: This is like the second half of the tour because we did some shows when the album came out last year. Those shows went really well which is why we've decided to do some more. So it will be a continuation of that because I'm still trying to let people know about the album even though I've got a new EP coming out as well. The setlist will be a combination of material from Yorktown Heights and some new songs as well. It's going to be hard to fit them all in as there's quite a lot of material. The special edition of Yorktown Heights contained fifteen tracks so with the new EP as well I'm looking at twenty songs. In Europe we ended up playing everything give or take one or two songs here and there. But the set might change as the tour progresses. You can play these songs in pretty much any order so we will change things every now and then to keep it healthy. By the end of this run we'll have done around 35 shows or something which is more than we normally do on a Feeder tour. That's a lot of shows for a small project but I just enjoy going out there and playing. I'm really passionate about it although I still get a little nervous when I play so it's not like I'm just going through the motions.
DiS: For a low key release, Yorktown Heights received universally positive reviews. Were you surprised at the reception?
Grant Nicholas: It was a very low key release. It's on my own label so we didn't have huge funding. The whole project was self funded. There was never really a plan to make a solo record. I was just taking time out and doing some writing for other artists and it just sprung up from there really. I played a few of the tracks to my wife and kids and a few close friends and they all said it was really good so why not put it out? I'd always wanted to do something a bit more acoustic, show a different side to my music other than Feeder. We're known for playing indie rock songs with loud guitars and wanted to do something different. Although a lot of Feeder songs do actually start off being written acoustically as that comes a lot more naturally to me. It just ends up getting heavier over time. I didn't really know what to expect from the critics. I just wanted to make an album I was happy with. Maybe if there had been a bigger label behind it the album could have reached more people but what's been great about this record is it's been a real slow burner and most of the press it's had has been really good. What's also been great is I've gained a lot of new followers with this record. People who probably weren't that aware or fans of Feeder. I've picked up a new audience which is really encouraging.
DiS: The album was made over a fourteen month period in various locations. Talk me through the recording process and how the record emerged.
Grant Nicholas: I started recording a lot of the drum tracks in London then went to New York to do the vocals. I had a really good time there mainly because I was in a different head space. It was quite remote, almost in the middle of nowhere, which is good sometimes. I went there for three weeks then came back to London and wrote some more songs. Then I went back to New York and recorded those before returning to my studio and finishing the album. Some of the songs that ended up on Black Clouds were written around this time.
DiS: Some of the songs on Yorktown Heights - 'Time Stood Still' and 'Isolation' in particular - wouldn't sound out of place on a Feeder record. Were any of the songs initially intended for Feeder?
Grant Nicholas: Not really, no. 'Time Stood Still' was originally written for another band. It was kind of written as a Tom Petty song and I was going to give it to this band who were looking for a song. It's one of those songs that can be adapted in many ways. I think they were going to use it in a punk rock style. Quite high energy. It has a similar attitude to someone like The Jam. With the album version I added a lot of keyboards and tried to make it more experimental, but the original demo sounded like a Tom Petty track. It had a simple acoustic vibe. I probably prefer the live version with a band around it. When you hear it like that you'll probably think less of the Feeder thing. 'Isolation' I can see maybe fitting on Comfort In Sound. It's a pretty old school track that as well. I wouldn't say it's a country song but it definitely has an Americana feel to it. What with the chord changes and all that. But then it is the same person writing these songs so I guess there will be similarities. I'm trying to hide what I've done with Feeder. I'm just trying to show myself as a songwriter that sings. That's what I've always called myself. With Feeder, it's a whole different head space. It's a different approach, almost a blank canvas. Whereas with this record there were no expectations at all. It didn't know what it was going to be, and in some ways that made it very free which is quite nice sometimes.
DiS: I've read an interview where you compared Yorktown Heights with Feeder's Comfort In Sound in terms of how some of the songs are structured and the subject matters covered. Do you still stand by that?
Grant Nicholas: There are similarities. Songs like 'Child In You' or 'Quick Fade' for example would probably have worked alongside the Yorktown Heights material in the same way 'Isolation' maybe could fit onto Comfort In Sound. Comfort In Sound was perhaps the most out of sync of all our albums purely because of how and when it was recorded. After Jon (Lee) passed away me and Taka decided to carry on. Looking back, that record's quite bonkers. There's a song like 'Godzilla' alongside something completely different like 'Quick Fade', and yet it seems to work. If I had to pick one Feeder album that was recorded in a different head space to the rest it would be Comfort In Sound. Bizarrely, that was also our most successful record as well. It sounds horrible but I guess there was a story there for people to latch on to after we lost Jon. The songs on there seemed to touch people and I guess you could argue that's one of the reasons we had a career after it.
DiS: I'd probably view Feeder's career as having a similar trajectory to that of the Manic Street Preachers if that makes sense?
Grant Nicholas: I've always regarded Feeder as being a cult band and still do in a way. We've never really followed the rules or fitted in with what was perceived as being cool at the time. I don't think the Manics did either. What's interesting is how many young fans we've picked up along the way. Same for the Manics too. I don't know whether bands just starting out look at us and the Manics and realise it is possible for rock bands to make more than one album and have a career. I think it's a really great time for bands like us at the minute too. Musically guitar bands seem to be back in vague. The Manics are bigger now than they have been for a long time. They were really popular then had a bit of a dip, so it's great to see them back on top again now. They're a great band with an incredible history. Maybe we could do a Comfort In Sound tour similar to what they're doing with The Holy Bible?
DiS: Next year will be the 20th anniversary of Feeder's debut mini-LP Swim. Will there be a tour to commemorate that?
Grant Nicholas: We are thinking of doing something along those lines, or maybe even recording Swim 2 with six new tracks. There will be a new Feeder record next year. I wrote four or five songs at the same time as the solo stuff that I thought would be more appropriate for Feeder. The earlier songs in particular were still written from a similar perspective as the last Feeder album. I was still getting that out of my system, so hopefully those songs will surface again in the future. Maybe as part of an EP or something. I think we're more likely to do that before we record a full album. Who knows? But the solo stuff is something I want to do more of, and I'll fit it in around Feeder. Feeder is still a massive part of my life. It's like my baby. I can't keep away from it. This will only help Feeder anyway, because it keeps me busy playing and writing songs. Some people may have missed us because we've always been there from album to album.
DiS: For me, the standout track on Yorktown Heights is 'Joan Of Arc', which reminds me of Nick Cave a little. Was it intended to sound that way?
Grant Nicholas: A few people have said it sounds like Nick Cave, and also Johnny Cash too in terms of the vocal delivery. I love that kind of stuff. I guess you could put heavy guitars over the top of 'Joan Of Arc' which would touch on what I do with Feeder. But then I think it would lose the drama if that makes sense? I don't often write songs in that way, and I'm also using my voice in different ways. I use my lower range on that song which I quite enjoy doing. It's hard to do that with Feeder because you're having to sing over heavy guitars. Also, I think the vocals are key to this record, probably more so than a lot of what I've done with Feeder. Which isn't to say the vocals aren't important but because the arrangements are so stripped back on Yorktown Heights, there's no wall of sound to hide behind. That's partly why I went to New York because the engineer I worked with there, Brian Sperber has worked with me in the past and knows what I'm about vocally. He's always encouraged me to use my lower range as well as my higher one. Once I got the confidence to do that I started using my voice in different ways.
DiS: How did you first become involved with Brian Sperber?
Grant Nicholas: He's done some engineering on some of the Feeder records. He's very musical so I asked him for some guidance. He wasn't looking for a credit on the album. I wasn't even planning to do vocals with him originally. It just ended up like that. I needed that different head space to come up with a record like this. It made me focus on what I was doing, and for me was a really inspiring time. The songs are very simple. You can strip them right down and they still work. But also for that to work the vocals have to be right.
DiS: You're playing as a four-piece band on this tour. How did you get the other musicians together for the shows? Have any of the songs' arrangements changed as part of a band set up?
Grant Nicholas: It is a solo record but I've put this band together with three guys I know and they do bring a different vibe to the songs. I like playing with them. It makes me feel more comfortable, so my plan is for them to become more involved in the recording process on my solo records in the future. They've actually played on some of Black Clouds. I'd like to think it makes them feel part of the set up rather than just session guys. There's a real chemistry between us so maybe the next record will have more of a band around it. I like the idea of being a solo artist with a band around me, like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. So far on it's worked really well. The arrangements are still the same but there's a lot of extended parts. The only song we do really different when we play it is 'Robots'. We will probably do a similar version to what's on the record at some point but it's quite electronic, and I want to avoid sampling and sequencing as much as possible on this tour. I want to keep it organic. With a small band there's only so much you can do. It does work, but it's a little different. A little more full band sounding than on the album. We actually play the originally track as our outro at the end so you'll get to hear it in both forms. After I've recorded a song I always look back and wish I'd put something else on it. So we've had a bit of a mess around with a few pieces. It is different live. It's not just like the record. I'm still only playing an acoustic guitar because this to have more of an acoustic flavour. That's all I'm playing on the whole tour, which is weird for me because I'm used to a wall of noise behind me.
DiS: When can we expect the next solo record after Black Clouds?
Grant Nicholas: It's hard to say at the moment, but this is definitely something I want to do a lot more of. This could even go on longer than Feeder, possibly because it's more suitable to what I want to be doing in my later years.
DiS: I haven't heard Black Clouds yet but I've seen the tracklisting and 'Joan Of Arc' is on that record as well as Yorktown Heights. What made you include it on both records? Are the two versions different?
Grant Nicholas: It's a slightly different version. It's more of a radio edit with a shorter intro and middle section. The reason I put that on there was because I don't want to leave Yorktown Heights behind just yet. Some people might just be getting into my solo stuff off the back of Black Clouds, so I want them to go back even further and discover the album. So 'Joan Of Arc' is like a little bridge between the two, because they are very connected.
DiS: Your daughter Hana Sky drew some of the artwork on Yorktown Heights. How did that come about?
Grant Nicholas: It was a complete accident. She was almost nine at the time. We'd just done a photo shoot for the album and she said, "Dad, I'm going to do a new album cover for you." So she drew this little picture of me sat in the woods and I just fell in love with the image. It was so good. Being a solo record, it also felt a lot more personal. It just fitted in with the whole vibe of the album. I'd describe my solo thing as being a little bit boutique, a little bit DIY. All the merchandise is very minimal. There's only small runs of everything. It hasn't gone at all corporate in any way. Her artwork was perfect for it, so I sat down with her and asked if she fancied doing some more. So she did one for every track, which was really nice, and she's also done the artwork for Black Clouds as well. It keeps things really authentic as well.
DiS: Has Taka (Hirose) heard your solo records? What does he think?
Grant Nicholas: I've spoken to Taka a few times as I know he's very keen to back working with Feeder. He's been doing his own project too. I was hoping that would last a little longer but he's really itching to get back to Feeder now. I think he understands I've put a lot of time and effort into this. I don't know whether he's heard the records? I'm sure he has. I've checked out some of his stuff and it's completely different to what we do with Feeder. It will be nice to get back together again after some time apart and what on some new Feeder material. There was no fall out or anything like that. We just took some time out to do other things. In fact, he actually started his solo project while we were still doing Feeder. That gave me the impetus to do my own thing as well.
DiS: You've occasionally covered Tom Petty's 'Learning To Fly' as part of your live set. Will that be a regular feature on this tour? Are there any other covers planned?
Grant Nicholas: We haven't been doing covers on this leg of the tour, just because we've got Black Clouds to play as well as Yorktown Heights. I don't want to outstay my welcome by playing for too long. Some of the sets have varied from an hour to an hour and a half, which is quite long for a new project that's just starting out. My original plan was to do forty-five minute sets, because that's what bands normally do on a first tour. The evenings have been quite relaxed and we're still trying songs out. We're not overly rehearsed so sometimes there's a few mistakes. We did a few cover versions on the first leg of the tour. 'Heart Of Gold' by Neil Young as well as the Tom Petty one. With this leg of the tour we just want to focus on playing our own material.
DiS: Have people been shouting for you to play Feeder songs?
Grant Nicholas: You know what, some guy shouted out a couple of times at one of the first shows. But that's only happened once. I purposely made a decision not to play any Feeder songs, purely out of respect, but also because I firmly believe in these songs. I didn't want to play that card. This isn't Feeder. It's a whole different world for me. I think it would have been disrespectful to Taka. I've only played one Feeder song since I started this project and that was for a TV show. They insisted I had to play a Feeder song, so I did 'Just The Way I'm Feeling' as well as two of my own. That's the only time I've played a Feeder song since this whole campaign began a year and a half ago. I've stuck to my guns on that. I haven't felt so far that I've needed to do it.
DiS: Are you playing any festivals this summer?
Grant Nicholas: There's nothing definite yet but I'd like to do as many as possible. It would be good to play some different festivals that perhaps wouldn't be possible with Feeder. I guess some promoters are a little wary about putting on new stuff in case it completely bombs, but I think this record's done enough now to justify itself.
DiS: What about future shows and tours?
Grant Nicholas: I'm on the lookout for good supports. I'm also hoping to do some more shows in Europe but this is the last leg of the current run of dates I have planned. There may be some long weekends here and there, a couple of shows in Scotland and Wales just to make sure I've covered all the areas. The two Scottish shows last year went really well, and we had to leave Scotland out on this leg purely for logistical reasons. So I've had lots of people asking me on Facebook why we aren't playing Scotland. It's always a good place to play. The two shows last year were really different to one another. In Edinburgh the audience were really quiet and it made for an intense evening where we could hear every single individual note. Whereas in Glasgow it was probably the most vocal audience I've ever played to. It was hilarious. I must have spent half an hour just talking to the audience. It ended up being quite a special gig.
DiS: And what about Feeder shows?
Grant Nicholas: Maybe later on this year. I don't think there'll be any tours or festivals with Feeder until 2016, but once we have some new recordings we're happy with it's likely we'll play some shows. I want to do as many shows with this first. I can't just jump between the two. Obviously if something came along and there was a gap then I'd probably consider it, but I can't devote my time between the two projects and not give my all to either. I want to give 100% to whichever I'm working on at the time.
DiS: Finally, are there any new artists you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers check out?
Grant Nicholas: There's a guy who opened for us in Paris recently. His name is David Simard. He looks a bit like a young Matt Dillon. He had this Americana vibe going on but with a French theme to it. He has an incredible voice. His music's super mellow but it's cool.
Grant Nicholas is on tour until 7th March. Full dates here.
Black Clouds is released on 6th April via Popping Candy Records.