Feeder celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band this year having initially formed in 1992. Since releasing debut EP Swim, they've put out nine albums and forty singles and are rightly considered as something of a British institution as far as rock music is concerned.
Next week (Friday 29th September) they release a Best Of containing 41 of their best-known songs along with a bonus mini-album Arrow which features 9 brand new previously unreleased compositions.
DiS caught up with singer, songwriter and guitarist Grant Nicholas recently in North London to talk about the band's legacy, longevity and future.
DiS: Feeder celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band this year. Does it feel like a quarter of a century to you?
Grant Nicholas: It's flown by! The only real time out was when I was doing the solo stuff. Even then there were never any plans to stop doing Feeder. I'd been doing some writing and just needed to take a little bit of time out to think about the next plan. It wasn't stale but I felt we needed to have a little break. So that became a solo record and because I didn't want it to be something I didn't have a passion for as I'd put a lot of time and energy into it, there ended up being a mini album afterwards. It took up a lot of time. Almost three years. I hadn't planned to take that long off. It was just the way things worked out.
The last four records from 2008's Silent Cry onwards have been really well received by the music press, whereas previously it's probably fair to say Feeder enjoyed something of a love/hate relationship with critics. Why do you think that is?
I don't know. Maybe it's just timing? I was talking about Tom Petty earlier. I remember mentioning his name to certain publications back in the nineties and I'd get a muted response because it wasn't a very cool name to drop at the time. I've always thought he was an amazing songwriter and listened to a lot of his stuff. Now he's regarded as the coolest thing ever! Things change. Sometimes the timing is better. Maybe there's a bit of respect we're still doing this? We've always worked hard as a band and been consistent with our output. It isn't always about being hyped by the press because it certainly wasn't for us. Some got it but others really didn't like us at all.
Do you think a lot of it was down to being around at the time of Britpop and making music that completely went against the zeitgeist at the time?
Massively that. Also, I think another reason was we got picked up by Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. NME are not gonna jump on a band who are suddenly deemed credible by the rock press. Funnily enough, Melody Maker also really liked us back then. They put us on the front cover, so I guess the NME saw that as competition. Then sadly Melody Maker folded so we lost the only indie press that were championing us. The good thing about the rock press is they're more loyal. It wasn't just about hype. There were some great Britpop bands around. We didn't necessarily fit into that but we were playing with a lot of them at the time. We had no choice. We'd be on the same bill as people like These Animal Men and SMASH at the Barfly or Water Rats so I think people associated us with that back then. Also, our name was similar to some of the bands from that era like Sleeper for instance. Even though we never really fitted into that we still managed to gain new fans by playing with those bands. Each time we played the audiences would grow in number to the point where A&R guys were turning up. There are a few bands doing that now. People like The Hunna doing their own thing organically. It's just the way it worked out for us, because we were really loud and heavy compared to most of the bands around back then. I remember Chris Sheldon who produced our first album saying to us in the studio at the time Kerrang! would get behind the record. And they did, and obviously Metal Hammer as well. And it just went from there. Why? I don't know...
When I look at the three Welsh bands who emerged from the same era - the Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics and yourselves - you're all still very active touring and playing to large audiences while also making new music on a regular basis. What would you say is the key to your longevity?
I feel closer to the Manics in that they had a bit of a cult following similar to us in a way. I'm not saying we're a cult band but we do have that same kind of ethos among our fanbase. It's difficult to label the Manics. They have their own thing going on that takes bits of inspiration from lots of different sources. They weren't like a stereotypical Britpop band either. They started off rebelling against everything at the time then became a stadium band as the songs evolved. So I feel more of a connection with that. The Stereophonics are also a great rock and roll band but I think they're very different to us and the Manics. Musically we're all very different bands. We go way heavier than either of them but also have acoustic songs as well, which probably goes more with the Stereophonics. We all work together and I'm sure there are people who are fans of all three which is a good thing. We're all still here so we must be doing something right!
You're putting out a 'Best Of' compilation later this month. How did the tracklisting come together?
BMG wanted it to be really singles heavy. They've been wanting to do a boxset compilation for a while which we didn't really want to do. But labels do it even when bands don't want to, so I said look, if we're going to do this can we do it properly? That way we'll support it. They initially wanted to do it before All Bright Electric but I said no because I really wanted to finish the album. I was really focused on making that record and wouldn't have supported a 'Best Of' had they put it out then. We didn't fall out, but I felt it was the wrong time to put something like that out with no new songs on there or anything. We'd been away for four years, so I said let's make this album first and let people know we're still making new music rather than just living off past glories and see how it goes. And it turned out to be the best thing we did. It really worked in our favour. I love that record and really enjoyed touring it. So now it feels like we can release a 'Best Of' because we've come back with a new record that stands up alongside anything we've released in the past. Yet there's still people out there that don't know those songs. I didn't realise just how many singles we'd done until I went through the tracklisting. We've released four albums since we put out The Singles compilation in 2006 so this feels like the right time to release a 'Best Of'.
If you could have chosen a personal 'Best Of' which songs would you have put on the album?
Lots of things! 'My Perfect Day', probably 'Descend', lots of quirky b-sides which I think are a massive part of who are and I really love. Some of the more mellow stuff as well. I got that out of my system on the two solo records but I think there are some great Feeder moments in a similar vein. Also, some of the more experimental tracks we've done which I think are a key to who we are as a band and I am as a writer as well. Originally the label asked if we could put some rare demos on the compilation but I refused as I wanted the album to be real quality and if those demos weren't good enough to release then they aren't now. Some of the songs might sound a bit dated now production wise but they document specific periods in the band's history. I'm a massive studio head but at the same time, I think it would be wrong to mess with them. That's what we did then and that was that time.
Was it your idea to mix the tracks around rather than put them in chronological order?
It was a combination of everyone having a bit of input. A real team effort. I'm really passionate about stuff like that and if I wasn't, it would suggest I didn't care anymore. It's not even a control thing, I just didn't want it to be wrong. So I looked at it objectively from the point of certain songs sounding better alongside other ones rather than chronologically. Some just don't sound right together without going down the remastering route, so I said let's try and make it work with what we have. Also, I wanted to have some of the newer songs at the front such as 'Eskimo'. That was really important to me rather than it just being 'Buck Rogers' followed by 'Just A Day' followed by 'Seven Days In The Sun' and being obvious. I know we have to put some of the big hits at the front but I felt some of the lesser known songs were equally as strong. I think it's a good mix. There was a little bit of a compromise especially with the timings on the vinyl. We had to keep going backwards and forwards moving songs around to make them fit but at the same time without compromising the sound quality because vinyl is expensive. So there are four heavyweight vinyls and even then we still had to leave some songs off because we just couldn't fit them in anywhere. It's a great body of work and hopefully, people will understand why we did it in this way because the overall sound is more important to us than some of the individual tracks. The sequence didn't turn out too badly. There are a few of our rarer songs on there that I really wanted to include like 'Down To The River' and 'Paperfaces'. 'Silent Cry' was never really a single. It was part of a double A-side and I'd have also put more of the Renegades stuff on there but we ran out of space. 'Piece By Piece' is another I really wanted on there, because it was never officially a single over here, only in Europe. There's lots more I would have liked to put on there. It's just unfortunate we couldn't fit them all on.
Will there also be an updated version of 2004's B-side compilation Picture Of Perfect Youth?
We probably could make another B-sides album as there are loads of tracks knocking around so it's something we might do at some point. Maybe we could put a few more new tracks on there too? I want people to hear those songs. There's a lot of tracks that people might not have heard as they were only on one version or format of a single like a rare cassette or limited seven-inch. How many people have actually got those?
You're touring again next March. Will the setlist be focused on the Best Of release or will there be new songs in there as well?
It's going to be very hard deciding what to play and what to leave out. I think for this tour we will have to go a little bit commercial so I expect the sets will be very singles heavy. But then I haven't played a lot of those songs for years. Stuff like 'Forget About Tomorrow' for instance which is one of my favourites. Then there's also songs like 'My Perfect Day' which haven't been in the set for a few years but was always a live favourite back in the day. We've recorded a new version of it. It's very true to the original because I didn't want to mess with it too much. It's actually closer to the live version we did so it's a little bit longer and I've added a few overdubs as well. I actually think it sounds better than the original because as much as I love that song the recording wasn't great. It's actually the third version of it. It's interesting talking to Brian Sperber who mixed the first two versions because even he admits the second on, in particular could have been better. At the time we always thought it should have been better so we've finally got round to re-recording it. That and 'High' were actually the two key songs that got us signed in the first place. I remember us playing that song in CBGBs and Elektra immediately wanted to sign us in America as well. So we're giving away the new version as a free track to people when they order a ticket for the tour. It was a difficult one to do because at the same time we didn't want to make it too different to the original in case people didn't like it as much. If you go on YouTube and watch some later footage of when we played it the new version is closer to that.
You played Chepstow Racecourse in August as a one-off homecoming show. How was that and will there be any similar events in the future?
Nerve-wracking! It was quite a stressful few days before. The one place where you want to do a good gig is when you go back to where you grew up. My dad grew up in a house that's literally five minutes walk from Chepstow racecourse so I spent a lot of time there with my grandparents. I was born in Newport but grew up just outside of Chepstow so I used to go for walks with my grandad as a kid and play war games in the woods. It was quite surreal going back there to actually play. It was actually the first time we've ever played in Chepstow! We used to rehearse in a cowshed about two miles from the racecourse when we first started as a three-piece. It was always freezing in there! But it was cheaper to go back there. Donna (Matthews) from Elastica used to come and watch us rehearse which was bizarre. It wasn't the most ideal place to rehearse but it was an important period in the band's development as we'd just started to write songs and record demos. It's where a lot of things started for us and we've had offers to play in Chepstow before. I've always felt there'd be too pressure playing there but this felt like the right time and it's the perfect place for me as it's where I discovered music. It went really well. It was a really good gig so hopefully, we'll do something like that again in the future. We're playing eight shows in March up to now and if they do well we'll probably announce more with maybe some bigger shows later in the year. We want to do some more festivals as well. We've done a lot this year, more than we ever have in the past.
Feeder's debut album Polythene turned 20 in May. Will you be doing anything to commemorate its anniversary?
I'd love to do something. Maybe play the album in full at some point because it's something we've never done before? We have talked about it. Maybe even re-release Polythene with a couple of bonus tracks from that era or even re-record some of them? I'd love to remix the album. Not re-record it, just remix what's there. If the tapes still work of course because they're pretty old now! Maybe give away that version of the album when you purchase a ticket? It would have to be something really special. The problem is Polythene is a really popular record with the diehard fans but then we've also got people who only really got into the band around the time of Echo Park or Comfort In Sound so would only come if we played some of those songs as well. They seem to be the three albums most people want to hear.
Yesterday Went Too Soon is probably mine.
Is it? That's one a few people have been asking for as well. I love that record. It was such a great one to make. We just recorded a load of demos and ended up making an album. We literally wrote a bunch of songs, turned up the next day to record them and the album was pretty much done.
What do you make of bands doing full album shows in general? I've been to several and for some reason often found them quite sterile in that the audience doesn't seem to be into it as much as the bands themselves are.
I think that's why we're a little nervous about doing it to be honest. Also, we'd be playing songs that are over twenty years old and it's a whole different vibe now. I think we could pull it off but it would take some work. We'd need some serious rehearsal time learning those songs again. I can remember some of them because we still play stuff like 'High' and 'Sweet 16' so I'd love to do it. But at the same time I'd also love to do Yesterday Went Too Soon and Comfort In Sound too because that was a really special record for us. Maybe we could do one every year or something like that? I don't know. It would probably take a year of rehearsals just to get it right! I think we'll definitely pick one at some point and do it. Muse did it with Origin Of Symmetry and the Manics did The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go so it's something we have seriously thought about.
Talking of Muse, they recently gave fans who bought a ticket to one of their shows an opportunity to choose which songs they'd like to see on the band's setlist and subsequently played their choices. Is that something you'd consider doing in the future?
I don't know. I bet Muse regretted doing that afterwards! They're great musicians but I bet they had difficulty remembering how to play some of the older songs the fans wanted to hear. It's an interesting idea. Maybe if you make a list and let fans choose from that it's something we could do. I'm not sure about a completely open list though. We'd have to narrow it down because we have literally hundreds of songs and some of those we haven't played for years or even live at all. So I'd have to shorten the list a little bit although I do like the idea. There's something quite cool about it even though I know some might sound a bit ropey if we were to try and play them now.
If you had to choose a definitive Feeder record from the band's back catalogue what would it be and why?
It's a difficult one to answer. Obviously, Polythene was a really important record to us. It was a really unique record of its time for a UK band. There wasn't anyone else doing what we were at the time. Not in the UK anyway. Swim was also really important to us. That was recorded during the same sessions as Polythene. We put it out to test the water before the album. So it's really tricky trying to choose any particular one. Yesterday Went Too Soon was where we started to experiment with making records a bit more. We wanted to move away from some of the sounds on Polythene and we'd been heavily influenced by being in America at the time. We were in a different headspace when we recorded that. Some people see Comfort In Sound as being the holy grail for us and it is our biggest selling album. It is a really important record for me because it was pretty much all over for us until we made that album. I didn't even know it was going to come out as an album at the time. I think Silent Cry is another important record. It has some of our best songs on it in terms of consistency. I think if we'd released Silent Cry after Comfort In Sound it would have been massive. It just wasn't the right time for that record. It's so frustrating because I really love that record. I love Renegades because it was us going back to our roots. In some ways that album was key to us carrying on as a band. I wanted to get back to what made us want to do it in the first place. My favourite record sonically as an overall body of work is All Bright Electric. That's the one I'm most proud of. Not necessarily the songs but definitely in terms of the sound.
All Bright Electric captures the zeitgeist and sounds very current. Certainly not as if it was made by a band celebrating their 25th year of existence.
I guess we are an old band but then we've also never stopped making music and will continue to do so while ever we have something to write about. Musically we're always willing to experiment with new ideas and techniques as well. I think that's the key.
By the same token, going through your back catalogue is there anything you'd change or do differently?
Loads of things. I'm a studio buff so things like production for sure. On the first record for example. Some bands first release is pivotal and it ends up going downhill from there. For whatever reason, they can't follow that. Either something goes pear-shaped or they argue and it's all over. It happens all the time. Whereas I think we made a good first record but have evolved massively ever since. We haven't always got it right but we haven't stood still either, and that's great because I'd much rather it have been that way. It's given me a career doing something I love. Which I'm really grateful for. Some of our biggest hits are probably my least favourite songs. There is more to this band than 'Buck Rogers' and 'Just A Day' just because they're well-known songs. What about 'Forget About Tomorrow'? What about 'Just The Way I'm Feeling'? What about 'Descend' or 'My Perfect Day'? I think they're all equally big tunes and all of them put us on the map. It was a combination of that and timing. Whereas 'Buck Rogers' put us into the supermarket space. That's the reality of it. Supermarket chains realised we were a band that had a hit so ended up stocking our records. I'm not complaining about that but at the same time as a writer, I'm much prouder of a lot of other things I've done. I've stopped beating myself up over it and nowadays I do enjoy playing 'Buck Rogers' because it always gets a great reaction live.
It's interesting that Echo Park was the album that broke the band commercially because it's not really a very commercial sounding record.
It really isn't except maybe a couple of singles. I remember we'd got to a point where we were bored of making videos so wanted to have a laugh doing the next one which is where 'Seven Days In The Sun' came from. So I wrote a song that was partly influenced by Blur's 'Girls And Boys' only with an American style guitar riff around it. The whole thing was tongue in cheek yet some people said it was embarrassing which was kind of the whole point. Foo Fighters did a similar thing with 'Learn To Fly' and we wanted to do something like that. I guess people weren't used to us adding a bit of humour but it was just meant to be a bit of fun. Saying that, these are the songs I feel less attached to. If you asked me to write 'Seven Days In The Sun' or 'Buck Rogers' now I probably couldn't do it. It's ironic that we've written albums with a lot more depth to the songs than Echo Park yet people always seem to come back to that record.
Was there ever a point where you thought about disbanding Feeder?
Not really, no. Even during the darkest times after Jon (Lee) passed away. When you do something you really believe it's difficult to stop. Even if some people end up not liking it. We always try and do the best we can in the time frame we're given.We can't do any more. Some records I like more than others. I'd be lying to you if I said that doesn't mess me up a little bit. All Bright Electric was pretty well received which was great. I don't always believe people that say they don't read their own reviews. Especially the bad ones. I don't believe that for one second. You can have the best reviews ever but I guarantee you'll go online and find a really horrendous one somewhere too. That's part of doing what we do. They're the only times when you maybe start to think I don't want to carry on doing this anymore. I think we've been lucky at times as well, certainly compared to some other bands. You just have to grow a thicker skin. That's the way it is really.
Would you be able to do anything else other than be in a band after being in Feeder for so long?
No, I honestly don't think I would! Looking back if I had my time again I probably would have taken more risks. There've been times where I've had opportunities to do collaborations that I chose not to do and maybe wish I had now. A few things in photo shoots I probably wish I hadn't done! A few clothes we wore. Orange boiler suits and eye liner. All sorts. Although it's kind of fun looking back on it. It was a different time and Britpop was everywhere.
You're also putting out a collection of nine new songs with the Best Of entitled Arrow. When did the writing process start for that?
It came about because I didn't want to release a 'Best Of' unless we had some new songs to put out with it. So the label initially only wanted me to write two or three bonus tracks. But then if someone says to me write two or three songs I usually end up with ten. So we started with two then that became four then six and so on. We had a couple left over from All Bright Electric that didn't fit in with that record and one of those called 'Sound Of Birds' was really classic indie so I held it back with the 'Best Of' in the back of my mind as I knew it was on the cards. By the end, there were twelve new songs, but we didn't have time to finish them all. There's always stuff left over that doesn't get used. I've got about ten songs sat at home no one's ever heard. So I said to the label let's release a mini album with the 'Best Of' instead of just a couple of tracks, played them what we had and they liked it. By the time we finished there were nine songs ready so it became this stand-alone album that forms part of the compilation. That's pretty much how it happened. It wasn't written in the normal headspace we'd write a new album in. In some way, I think it's made the songs slightly more commercial but then in another way quite different to how I'd normally write a Feeder album. 'Figure It Out' is actually the oldest song on the record. It originally dates back to when I was writing my solo album but I thought it sounded too much like Feeder to go on that record so I held it back. That one and 'Walk Away'. The title track 'Arrow' is quite quirky and would have fitted in well on the last album whereas I can imagine a song like 'Veins' being on Yesterday Went Too Soon. It's got elements of that record in it. 'Figure You Out' was actually my choice to be the first single but the label wanted 'Veins' because it was more radio friendly. I'm not going to lie, if you're putting out a Best Of it helps to have a song playlisted on the radio and the team as a whole felt 'Veins' was a better call. I don't understand radio. I really don't. We don't tend to get played that much or even put forward for that matter. Some of our songs do get played on Radio 1 but it normally tends to be 'Just The Way I'm Feeling', 'Buck Rogers' or 'Just A Day'. Which is fine because it's for a Best Of but at the same time it is nice to have something fresh, something new on there as well.
Are there any plans to release Arrow separately as a stand-alone album?
Possibly when I've finished working on the other three tracks so I can put them on there as well. Although I'm not sure if that would upset people that bought the Best Of with the other nine songs on there? There was talk of just doing Arrow as a Japanese release only but it was quite complicated. I think if people asked for it I wouldn't mind, then we'd probably put it out as a twelve track album. There are no plans to do it at the moment so it may never happen. Who knows?
Will any of those songs that didn't make Arrow come out at any point?
Maybe. They're very eclectic in their sound. It depends whether people want to hear them. A few of them are actually quite punky. I'm really enjoying going back over the old stuff at the moment because it has been a case of relearning a lot of those songs in rehearsals.
And onto the next album after? What are your plans going forwards?
I've got a couple of ideas for new tracks. There's no plan or timescale in place for the next album yet but it definitely won't be a four-year wait like the last one.
Will there be another solo record in the foreseeable future?
There will but not for a while yet. I want to focus on Feeder at this moment in time. Some artists manage to be in ten bands at once. I'm not very good at that. I can't just switch from doing mellow, stripped back Grant Nicholas shows to big full on Feeder ones. I wish I could but I can't. They're two very separate things that require a whole different headspace. I think it confuses the message a bit as well.
Are there any new bands you'd recommend to Drowned In Sound and its readers?
I like The Hunna. I think they're a really interesting band. They remind me a little bit of ourselves twenty years ago. They're not a heavy band as such but there are elements of our early guitar sound in what they do and I really like that. Those guys are really good at social media too. It's nice to see bands from this generation building their own fan base through word of mouth. It seems to be happening quite a lot now.
What advice would you give to new bands that are just starting out?
It's all about the tunes. That's the reason we're still here. That's the kind of band I always wanted to be in. The bands I grew up with - punk bands, whatever they were - they still had tunes. The Sex Pistols had some great songs. People go on about it being a racket. They were great. John Lydon might not be the best singer in the world but he had a great vocal style. It really is as simple as that. It's all very well trying to keep up with changing trends but it's songs that make bands last.
Do you think a band like Feeder would be able to achieve the same level of success if they were starting out in the current climate?
It's really difficult for young bands to make a living now. I was lucky enough to experience the music industry in the 90s which was a good time for music. There was a lot more money in the business then. People bought CDs. That was a massive part of your earnings back then. Unless you're Ed Sheeran or someone operating at that level the only real way to make any money now is by playing live. You might have to pay for your transit van. You might have to pay for no crew. You might not even be able to afford any crew. It's very hard to make a living. Which is why a lot of people in signed bands have other jobs. When we got signed back in the day that was it. I wasn't going to be a pushbike courier anymore. Unless you're extremely lucky, that's just the way the business is now. You can make a living out of it but it's certainly not the business it was. I'm not trying to paint a negative picture. It's still great and it's still something I love doing. My daughter's twelve and she's just started playing guitar. She wants to be in a band and while I think that's great, there's also a part of me that wants her to keep her options open elsewhere because it is a very difficult career. It's easier to be in a band now because of social media. Anyone can make records easily, but to make a living and be successful is really tough. I don't think it will ever go back to how it was. Technology is different now. But then sometimes people get bored of technology. You want something more organic. Something more old school. That's what we desperately try and cling onto when we're making records. It's an important part of what we do and up to bands like us to keep that going. Hopefully influencing some of the younger bands coming through.
Has the rise of right-wing politics both in Europe and America influenced the way you write? Do you see a lot more artists becoming political because of what's happening worldwide?
I don't know how much of an impact Brexit's going to have on bands touring overseas or indeed overseas bands coming here either. It's gonna be a nightmare for tour managers. It's very worrying because no one knows if it's going to get worse. It's a massive step into the unknown for everyone. Playing festivals in Europe is going to be so expensive and such a faff. It makes you wonder if there's any point leaving the UK to play once Brexit's kicked in. I think having kids has changed my outlook on politics as much as anything else. I'm not saying if you don't have kids and you're in a band that you aren't politically aware, but it definitely changes your whole outlook on life and has some influence on the writing. I'm not trying to be Bob Dylan or anything like that but there are definitely songs where I've touched on stuff that's happening. Just things that were going on at that time. I don't think I'll ever make a protest record but if I feel really strongly about something I'll support and get behind it. For me, music was an escape and most of the time I find politics a complete pain in the arse. I didn't get into a band to write about politics but as I get older I think it's quite hard not to.
Best Of is out on Friday 29 September, and can be pre-ordered here.
For more information on Feeder including tour dates and where to purchase tickets visit their official website.