Interview with Feeder
It’s the mid-90s. Teenagers are teetering nervously on the precipice of Britpop’s musical fence – Blur or Oasis? Individual sweat beads running down their heads are staking their independent allegiance to the differing bands. It was a faddy genre; skip forward a good fifteen years, and while Oasis have combusted, there’s one name that eschewed that trend in favour of honest-to-goodness rock music, who can still proudly trade on that same name now – Feeder. The Welsh three-piece placed their stock in the unmovable tenements of rock, giving us ‘Buck Rogers’, ‘Come Back Around’, ‘Just the Way I’m Feeling’ and a catalogue more. After their invigorating side project, Renegades, which resulted in the album of the same name last year, they’re just as prolific as ever, as we find out when we catch up with Grant Nicholas…
I’m a fellow Welsh citizen, although I’ve lost my accent –
- I have as well; I’ve been in London too long!
People doubt you don’t they…
Yeah, they do yeah, but mine comes back a bit when I’ve had a few drinks. I’ve never really had a strong accent anyway ‘cause I was born in Newport, just over the border in South Wales. It’s kind of a weird accent anyway, because a Newport accent’s different to the Cardiff one, then you’ve got areas nearby, just like 10 miles away that sound almost West Country, so there’s a load of weird accents there anyway.
Well I’m a North Wales girl –
- Oh, a bit more Welsh speaking then.
You must have been pleased with the result over the weekend with the rugby.
Oh yeah, fantastic, what an amazing result for Wales. It was fantastic really; good timing – great timing for us as well with the new album coming out! Hopefully the welsh fans will be in good spirits!
Absolutely, well our two national sports seem to be rugby and singing, so we’re covering both bases there!
Yeah, exactly; I don’t cover many sports, but I’m a big rugby fan. I used to play rugby at school and it’s the one sport I follow a bit. I’ve lost track of football really, I only watch the big games, but rugby I love.
It’s in the blood really, isn’t it?
It is, it is, I know. Everyone’s football mad here and rugby… mind you, saying that, rugby has become so much more popular over the last few years it seems.
Yeah, and lucky for us we’ve got a team to shout about at the right time.
We’ve got a great team to shout about, and a young team too.
You see I’ve had to talk to you about this Grant, because I’m a welsh girl in Norwich and nobody cares! This is the first opportunity I’ve had to share the joy!
Aw, that’s nice!
Anyway, back to the music! You’re coming to Norwich next month as part of a few dates…
Yeah, to the Waterfront; we haven’t played there for many years.
It’s a really intimate venue, The Waterfront, and you guys produce arena-filling songs – what was the reason for selecting a few of these smaller places?
Well basically these dates are just small – we did four shows about two months ago now, just trying out some new songs off the new record, seeing how they went down and letting people know we’ve got a new record out. We don’t take things for granted with the fact that we have been around and done big gigs, we still like to excite our fans and get new people to the gigs to hear our music and I think the best way to do that is to play the smaller venues and then move on to the bigger ones. So these are almost like showcase kind of gigs; there’s no production, we’re using all in-house stuff and the set’s about two thirds new songs and then maybe a third old stuff, just so people don’t get confused. We did four shows and I think the biggest was about 1500, and the smallest was about 700-800 from the first batch, and they went so well and we had such good fun that we decided to do four more. So it’s not really part of a tour, it’s just about going back to small venues and letting people hear our new music.
Well it’s fantastic for us – if we’re one of the four dates, it’s great!
Yeah, and The Waterfront was always somewhere we played good gigs at, it was a really fun place and that area’s always been really strong for us. We’ve often played at the uni and stuff, and have found we’ve got a really loyal fan base there. It was always a really great place; I remember when we first started to get bigger and played The Waterfront and it was half full, then it was packed out every time. We’ve just got really good memories of that, so we felt it would be nice to go back there.
It precedes a summer of a few festival dates – after about twenty years of touring, do you still feel invigorated by the sight of a teeming festival crowd?
Yeah, I do. Festival tours are getting harder and harder because there are so many US bands who come over and get the best spots, which is weird really because they should be supporting their homegrown acts really, but it’s always the way – they all want to see the American acts, or the promoters do anyway! But it is great; obviously if we’d have had the album out a bit earlier we might have got even more festivals, but we’ve got all the ones that we went for; we got the Isle of Wight, I think we’re doing Reading – we haven’t heard what spot yet – we’re doing some rock stuff: we’re doing Sonisphere now, which we were told we couldn’t do because we were doing Reading. We were told if we weren’t doing Reading mainstage, they were gonna let us do both, which is great. We’re happy to do that because we’d rather wait ‘til next year when hopefully the album’s had more time to build our profile and possibly we could get a spot on the mainstage then. We’re doing T in the Park and then we’re headlining a few of the smaller festivals as well, then we’re going to Japan to do two festivals and a few shows, then we go back to Japan in October / November. Then we’ve got our proper dates for the album then, which are the bigger venues – we’re doing Brixton Academy, the Civic in Wolverhampton, you know, which are between 2500-5000 capacity venues. So those are our plans for the year!
It’s a good run down, and not having too many festival dates, you won’t get too fed up of the constant moving about, and mud and stuff by the end of the summer –
- No, and we’re not missing too many because there are all these rules now that say if you’re doing one festival, you can’t do any of these others and that’s the way it is now, I mean, you’re not allowed to do V and Reading. That’s always been the way though, so we’re probably doing as many as we could be doing anyway, apart from doing some of the tiny ones, which we did last year. Last year we decided not to do any of the obvious ones and to headline some of the slightly smaller ones, like Wickerman in Scotland, which is about 10-15000 and was amazing. We did a few like that, that were kind of off the radar in some way, so it basically freed up this year for us to start getting out there and letting people know about this new record. There’s a lot of politics involved in the live scene – it’s a bit confusing how it all works!
We’re eagerly awaiting the release of the new album, ‘Generation Freakshow’, and it hasn’t been too much of a wait since ‘Renegades’ – how much of the writing was done around the same period?
Well there was a lot of stuff that was kind of left over from the ‘Renegades’ album, you know, some commercial stuff and we might even be using that – some of that we’ve held back as well because we didn’t end up using about three or four tracks that we were gonna use on this album, just because I kept writing more and more, and the album sort of took on a slightly different vibe, so I’m keeping those in the can really for something else. Maybe only a couple of tracks actually made it from what was left over from ‘Renegades’ stuff in the end, purely because I started writing and just wrote like a bunch more stuff that seemed to sound better and had a much more similar vibe to it really. I’m quite lucky that I’ve been inspired, really, to write… I mean the list of songs that I had, including the songs I hadn’t used from previous albums was about 24 tracks. I managed to whittle it down to about 12, which is quite difficult, then all the other tracks are being used as bonus tracks and B-sides and iTunes bonus tracks and stuff like that.
It seems to be a really prolific time for you, songwriting-wise – did shaking off the shackles of the Feeder heritage when you did the Renegades side project, free you up a bit?
Not really, I think it just made me think that we’ve been doing this a long time and we’d grown to be this five-piece – I mean live obviously, we don’t have five official members – but it just made me think we needed to get back to how we started, back to our roots as a three-piece, to find where we should go next. Obviously we do what we do, and we’re not trying to change, or confuse people, but it’s really good to approach each album in a different way. I’ve always been inspired and I’m always writing songs, so I think it was more just the approach and getting back to having more fun with it really, just sort of strip everything back and rebuild from there. The whole Renegades project, we still see that as being a side project, but it was still a Feeder record, we just had a different approach to it.
I just imagine you to have a big case of Repetitive Strain Injury in your writing though, you should be careful…
Yeah, I love writing and the thing is for me, I’m so lucky that music started off as a hobby, then I started in the school band and I’ve managed to make a really good living out of it, so some of it’s kind of like work, but the music side of things, I just feel really lucky to still be doing it, and also lucky that I’m still inspired and find things to write about. I suppose as you get older you just find different things to write about; I’ve got two young kids now and that makes you look differently on things, and makes you have a different outlook on life, so that has actually inspired me a lot to write and also to keep things fresh and fun, and relevant to some of our younger fans as well.
‘Renegades’ was such an interesting album, and returned to those simple, strong rock sensibilities – did it pick you up any new fans, do you think?
Yeah, definitely; we’ve got a really young fan base still – honestly, if you come to our gigs it’s a bizarre mix of people, I mean, it obviously depends on the area as well, but we’ve got some really young fans. I think a lot of people are surprised, actually, by how young they are. On some of the ‘Renegades’ dates, we had some fans who couldn’t get into the gigs because they were under 18, which is great to have! I think there are some people who are shocked by that record, but these are people who don’t know our history, because if you go back to some of the early ones like ‘Polythene’ and ‘Swim’, and even some on ‘Comfort in Sound’ there’s some rock tracks, so we’ve always had that side to us. I think people don’t sort of realize, or even some of the fans who got into us later with the more commercial stuff, off the back of singles, or radio songs, probably don’t realise that there is that side to us. To me, the thing that makes the ‘Renegades’ album heavy is that we really tried to keep it a rocking album and not dilute it with, like, an acoustic track after the third song, or anything! What we normally do when we do a record is show our diversity, but on that record I really wanted it to be a sort of straight ahead rock album, and that’s what we were going for and I’m glad we did it. OK, it wasn’t like a daytime radio album, but we didn’t care, we just wanted to have fun with it and get out and play some shows. We did most of those shows as a 3-piece and it was just such good fun, getting in the van together and making us realise how much we love doing this. It was almost like going back to the start in some way, so that we could move along to this album. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are elements of this album that we still have from the last album, but this one’s more of a song based album in general.
With you now releasing on your own label, is there a sense that whatever you do now, you have a really good peace with because it’s all your own ideas?
Yeah, always do it for yourselves to start with, because if you don’t, you’ll end up losing focus I think. It’s not that different though, because we’ve always been on a small label anyway, even when we were signed to our previous label for all those years. We’d still be with them if they were still going, but they folded after our sixth album. It was a six album deal we had with them anyway, and to renew another long contract is really rare in this day and age anyway, so it was either sign to another label and do some sort of deal, or try and do it off our own steam really. It’s not like we have this total control or anything though, because we’re paying people around us, who are a really good team of people, so it isn’t that different to being on Echo. The only difference is that we’ve having to pay everyone ourselves! To me, it’s a bit more draining, but I suppose we’re lucky enough that we can still do bog enough shows that they basically pay off the debts of recording and paying our press people, and that kind of thing. We’re paying, like, 10 people’s wages, which is quite a lot every month!
Is it right that you released ‘Borders’, one of the singles from ‘Renegades’, on cassette?
Yeah, that’s right, it’s on cassette. We weren’t sure whether it would actually go, but we sold all of them – they’re all gone!
I’m sure there’s millions of redundant inkless biros that had lost their purpose of winding a tape back up that you’ve put back to good use again!
Haha, yeah, but they were only for the diehard fan really – we’re not going to start doing it on all the stuff! We just thought with it being the first single from the album, we wanted it to be like it used to be in the olden days, and make it a bit special, and make it more than a quick release. We did a bundle thing where they were signed and you could buy the vinyl, CD and cassette and you’d get three extra tracks as B-sides on those as well, so I think it was a really good thing, and it was pretty successful for us too because they were all gone. I think you get a lot of our fans who still enjoy the physical side of things, whereas with the rest of the industry it all seems to be downloads and stuff. It’s pretty scary, your percentage of physical sales versus downloads is tiny.
Yeah, I was gonna say that your key performance indicators used to be your physical sales of tapes, CDs…
God yeah, back in the day, in the mid to late 90s when people were still buying albums in big amounts, or even the amount of singles they used to sell was incredible compared to what it is now, although saying that, the singles download market now is just massive, but it’s all downloads, which is mad. We do really well still on vinyl – I’m not saying that we sell millions of copies, but we always do pretty well on vinyl, which is why we tend to have a run of albums and stuff that we do put out on vinyl. And the singles always go, even if it’s just a run of 500, or 2000 vinyl singles or whatever, they always go, so there are kids out there who still buy them and keep them for their collection. It’s not a massive industry, but it’s still going quite well.
I saw from the Feeder Anorak page on Facebook that you’ve still got a legion of fans who would buy everything you release, but who seem really reinvigorated by the new material as well…
Yeah, I mean our fans are great, but they’re fussy as well! If they don’t like it, they’ll tell you straight! With Facebook and all this stuff, you read stuff that you would never have seen before as an artist, so although it’s great that you can keep in touch with your fans, you also have to be quite thick-skinned sometimes! You’ll get 100 people saying everything’s great, then some guy who absolutely hated it, but that’s life really, and I think that’s the same for every band.
They’re the most honest and devoted quality control, aren’t they?!
Yeah, and the more loyal the fan, the more loyal they are sometimes, or they have a very strong opinion, because they have a slight ownership over the band, but it’s great. We’ve got really good fans, there are some real diehards and there’s so many new people that we’ve got since the last album came out – it did introduce us to some younger kids again, which is great. I’m not sure why that worked, it may have been the way we did it, but it allowed us to connect with a whole different audience. We definitely picked up a group of a younger fanbase off the back of the ‘Renegades’ record.
That’s good, because it takes the pressure off us older fans, because when we come to the gigs, we won’t feel the pressure to jump around as much, ‘cause it hurts nowadays!
Yeah, let the young ones jump around! You come to one of our gigs and it’s great, I love those bands with a diverse audience. I think it also depends on what stations you’re being played on – that can help as well. I’ve heard people saying that rock music is sort of going away again, but I think there’s always going to be a market for guitar rock music; sometimes it dies down a bit, then comes back again, but there are always going to be kids who want to hear live bands.
The thing is, you were gaining success at the height of Britpop, but you’ve long outlived it, because it was just a faddy genre.
Yeah, we’ve outlived quite a few trends really, but I think that’s the good thing about not really being part of a trend, that you can survive outside of that little industry’s bubble, otherwise it can be a bit shortlived otherwise.
Now Grant, you’re coming to Norwich next month – what as an audience can we bring to the show?
We’re lucky in that all of our audiences are always great, but these shows will almost be like doing gigs back in the day really; they’re gonna be stripped back, so if you wanna come and see the big production shows, then obviously we’re gonna be doing that later in the year, but these shows are more intimate – expect to hear some new songs and be open minded really, because I know it’s difficult hearing loads of new material live, but hopefully the new songs are pretty immediate. The few dates we did before went really well, so hopefully the Norwich audience will be equally warm. I’m sure you will.
Feeder play The Waterfront for this intimate gig on April 26th. For tickets, go to www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk.