Grant Nicholas, (seen here on the left) – lead singer and lead guitarist with Feeder, chats with Kevin Cooper about his fondness for old cassette tapes, his finger picking skills, the release of Feeder’s latest album All Bright Electric and their forthcoming UK tour
Grant Nicholas is a Welsh musician, best known as the lead singer and lead guitarist of the rock band Feeder. Formed in Newport, Wales they have gone on to release eight studio albums, three compilations, two EPs and thirty four singles.
Following the death in 2002 of fellow band member and great friend, John Lee there were moments when it was thought that the band would call time on their Feeder days, but after having some time away writing and touring with his debut solo album, Yorktown Heights and his mini album Black Clouds, Nicholas is back and energised and is about to tour with a new Feeder album, All Bright Electric.
Whilst busy rehearsing, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Grant good morning, how are you?
I’m fine thanks Kevin, how are you doing?
I’m very well thank you. Before we go on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s a pleasure, no problem at all.
How is life treating you?
Life at the minute is not too bad, not bad at all thanks. However, as you can probably imagine things are a little manic here at the moment (laughter). It’s been a little frustrating because I got myself ready to do loads of stuff and I found that everyone was away on their summer holidays (laughter). I have now found myself trying to do everything all at the same time which sometimes is the case. You try and plan everything so that you can get the promotional side of things done but at the minute we are rehearsing for seven hours a day and then trying to get the promotional stuff done after that, so things are quite gruelling at the moment. But at the end of the day it is all part of the job.
The last time that we spoke was last February when you were about to go out on your solo tour to promote your Black Cloud album. How did that go?
I have to say that it went really well; I enjoyed that whole project. In fact it was quite hard for me to stop (laughter). I had to decide whether it was going to continue and I would then make another solo record or get back to Feeder and I felt that something was drawing me back to doing something different again with Feeder. So I have put the solo stuff on hold for now and I just want to focus on Feeder once again, and this felt like the right time for me to do that. I didn’t have any specific date when I would get back into it, I just started writing with more heavy guitars and it all seemed to lead on naturally from my solo Black Clouds mini album.
I think that I had already started thinking about Feeder at the end of that campaign. I think that doing the solo stuff has helped bring something fresh to the new Feeder record simply from the way that I approached the recording.
You are currently rehearsing to get back out on the road and tour the UK as Feeder for the first time in four years. Are you looking forward to that?
Yes I am, I am really looking forward to it. This summer we headlined the Big Top which is the second stage at the Isle of Wight Festival. I think that was a really good move for us because it really did put us back out there. I am so pleased that the management pushed us to do that show otherwise I don’t feel that we would have done anything, as I would have found it all quite daunting. We didn’t do any warm-up shows for that; we basically just did a couple of rehearsals and it all came back to me. We made a conscious decision not to play any of the new stuff. We thought that being in a festival situation it would be best just to play the songs that the crowd knew.
We had a blinding set; it was a packed tent, and it went really well. For me it just felt good to be back doing what we do. There was so much goodwill in the tent and huge support for the band which is great. I honestly think that because we have been away for a while then people have genuinely missed us a little bit. Or at least some of them have (laughter).
You will be visiting us here in Nottingham on Friday 14th October when you will be playing Rock City again. Do you enjoy playing there?
Most definitely, it is a fantastic venue. It is just one of those iconic rock venues where everyone has done it and everyone else wants to do it. It is actually quite a big room. However, when you get out there on stage it doesn’t feel as big because it is quite wide; it is a funny shape. But you can really ram people in there. I think that it holds close to two thousand people which is quite a good sized venue for us, and it is just a great rock venue. We always have great audiences whenever we play there; it has got a really great atmosphere and we always have great shows there.
You haven’t mentioned the one thing that everyone mentions whenever I interview them. They all tell me that the roof is too low and you can’t get a decent lighting rig on the stage. Is that true?
Well yes, there is that but you just get used to it. You can’t really do too much with production in there. However, I think that the gigs there are all about the music. You can try to make some efforts with the production but yes, the ceiling is far too low. Having said that I think that it sounds good in there. I always remember it sounding good in that room. Sometimes it can help the sound not having too high a ceiling so it is a case of swings and roundabouts. You just have to get on with it and rock out. I have to agree that Rock City is not a venue where you can take a massive production to; it simply wouldn’t work on that stage.
Will you pick up your solo career once this Feeder tour has finished?
To be honest with you I have to say that I don’t know. As we discussed the last time that we spoke my solo album was never really planned; it kind of just happened. At the time I was doing some writing for other artists whilst having a break from Feeder and trying to plan the next step and it kind of went from there really. I started writing some stuff and I found myself feeling very close to it and I just didn’t want to give it away. It was at that point that I decided to put out a solo record. I never really had any expectations for it but it did really well. I think the fact that I did a mini-album proved that I had a real commitment for it. It was something which I did really put everything into. I could definitely feel it starting to grow.
However, no matter how big a band you are in it all takes time. I don’t like to be doing too many things at once, for example if I am working with Feeder for me that is a massive commitment. It all takes over a massive part of my head space really. I don’t really want to confuse the message by doing therapy at the same time. I feel like I just want to focus on Feeder and do it to the best of my ability. I’m not saying that I don’t know when I will come back and do a solo record, who knows, it might be a year and on the other hand it might be five years, I just don’t know. It all depends upon how well things pan out for Feeder. What I can say is that I have no plans to go away for five years again (laughter). I would like to do something outside of Feeder because I feel that it inspires new ways of working.
On 7th October you will releasing your first album in four years, All Bright Electric. Do you feel that the album has benefitted from your time away working on your solo album?
Yes I do, I really do. I think that I am fortunate in the fact that the solo project has bought a lot to me in the way that I approached the new record and produced it. I think that we have captured the sound of Feeder more on this record than pretty much on any of our previous records. It feels really nice to have achieved that. I feel that the band sound really organic and that we have captured a really great analogue sound on the new album.
Do you have to adopt a totally different mind-set when you are writing for Feeder as opposed to when you are writing for yourself?
It does and I think that when I wrote this record I was writing with Feeder in mind. I started thinking along the lines of ‘perhaps we need more bass on this track’ and ‘how will the album go down with the fan base’. However, I have to say that with this record I don’t think that I was thinking about that as much as I usually do. I think that is because I hadn’t really given much thought to starting a new Feeder record, I had just started writing and recording some new stuff in my studio at home. After that I did a few drum tracks and then went away whilst still writing and doing small bits here and there. It was never really about me consciously writing for a new Feeder album; it all came as a gradual thing.
That in some way kept it all more relaxed and made me focus on it in a different way and not think about the usual things that I would normally over analyse and overthink, if that makes any sense. If you are in a band and you know that you have fans who like a certain thing then you always worry that the fan base are not going to like what it is that you are trying to do. It is so important to me that Feeder fans love the record but with this record it was important that we the band liked the record. My train of thought was that if we liked it then hopefully somebody else will (laughter). I thought that it was no use recording stuff that didn’t really feel as though we were moving forward.
I feel that we have captured some classic Feeder moments on this record whilst it being a different type of record for us, plus we have managed to keep our Feeder identity which for me that is a very positive thing. The album is old school but we have managed to keep it fresh. I think that the record feels complete, all of the tracks connect really well as a growing record and that is really hard to achieve. I can write songs all of the time but sometimes the songs just don’t seem to sit right. However, I feel with this, although the record is quite dynamic, it really does have some mellow moments along with the heavier stuff. I personally feel that it works as a body of work and I took quite a lot of time and effort to capture that.
It was a bit of an old school approach to the recording because we wanted the record to sound like some of the old songs that we had grown up listening to which sounded as though some thought had been put into the sequencing; how heavy they wanted the record to sound, how it comes across together with the journey that it takes you on. I am old fashioned in that way because I still love that idea of that is how albums should be made (laughter). It is such a fast industry now and it is all about your iPod Shuffle and suchlike but I want to make records that you play and listen to until the very end. I’m not saying that everyone out there will listen to the album in that way but that is how I work and I just hope that some people will hear the album in that way.
Going back to your question, I feel that on this occasion my headspace was different to where it was on previous Feeder records. That could be down to the break that we had or simply down to me just doing different things. Whatever it was, I took it to be a positive thing.
Are you writing all of the time or do you write when you have to?
I am not writing currently because I am concentrating on trying to learn all of the new stuff together with being so busy rehearsing (laughter). Having said that I do write a lot of the time, but I don’t sit down and think ‘I have to write a song today’ or see it as a nine to five job. I personally find it hard to write in that way probably because I am not organised enough (laughter). I am like lots of other writers and do have moments where I feel really inspired and it is then when I write as much as I can, have a break and then go back to it. I have to say that I normally have something in the pipeline just in case (laughter).
We have briefly mentioned the new album, where did the name All Bright Electric come from?
I was being driven to Newark airport from Yorktown Heights which is where I had been doing a lot of writing for my solo record, because a friend of mine has a studio there. He was driving me back to the airport so that I could fly back to London and we were just chatting away in the car when I looked up and saw this big building at the side of the freeway. It must have been a warehouse and on the front of the building it had a neon sign which said ‘All Bright Electric’. I immediately thought that would be a good name for a song or an album so I put it into my iPhone notes and thought that maybe I would use that sometime. Then when I started making the album and I realised that it was going to be the new Feeder record I used All Bright Electric as the working title until I got a better one (laughter).
To me it felt like a really positive title and I quite liked the fact that coming off the back of a very acoustic record it was back to the electric sound. I liked it for two reasons; firstly because I had looked up and had seen this beacon of light in the sky from the car and secondly after finishing the record we felt as though we had gone back to the electric sound of Feeder. Because of that I felt that it would make a great title and a more positive title as well. It is always difficult to analyse album titles but one just feels right for the records that you make and I just kept going back to it. To me it just sounded like a classic timeless album title; it reminded me of something that you might have heard of back in the 1970’s. To put it simply, I quite liked it (laughter).
I have to say that I have been playing the album for the past few days and I think that it is a great piece of work. I think that Eskimo and Paperweight are superb.
Thank you for saying that. It is always nice when someone tells you that they like your work. Eskimo and Paperweight are two of my favourite tracks on the album too. However, I would urge you to give it a few more plays because there are some other tracks on there that I think that you will like; tracks such as Oh Mary, Another Day On Earth and Infrared-Ultraviolet. I feel that Eskimo is a key track for the album and it was one of the first songs that I wrote. There are some very Feeder moments in there especially when it gets to the chorus which is a bit more anthemic. It is quite a different sound for us; I wouldn’t say that it is bluesy but when I wrote that song I had a Louisiana backdrop in the back of my mind.
I could have been on the set of True Detective as I was writing that particular song (laughter). It is quite nice when you get that imagery when you are writing. It really helps you to get the essence of the song especially when you are producing it. There are just some odd little things that come together when you have got that idea in your head. When we first started tracking that song I knew that it had something. I think that it is certainly one of the better tracks that we have done and obviously I just hope that people get to hear it now.
Are you happy with the finished article?
I am really happy with the album as you can probably tell from my voice (laughter). I know that I am not going to sit here and say to you that the album is terrible but hand on heart I would have to say that All Bright Electric is possibly the best Feeder album that we have ever made. I am not just saying that because artists will always tell you that their latest album is their best, but it’s not just that, I like the sound of the record; it is the overall vibe of it that feels right. It feels like us, it feels organic and it feels like a band. Even though it wasn’t recorded live in the studio like we did back in the old days, I think that in places it has an essence of that. We worked really hard to capture that and we are so pleased with the production.
Your best work to date perhaps?
Yes I think so. Without going over the top I would have to agree with you and say that I personally think that it is some of my best work to date. However, we will have to wait and see what the people think (laughter). It just feels like this is what we wanted to do at this moment in time and I think that we captured it. Let’s see what everybody thinks of it (laughter).
Will you be putting it out on vinyl?
Yes we are, we are putting it out as a double album pressed on heavyweight vinyl. One of them is black and the other one is yellow (laughter). We have had to put it out as a double album because we put the deluxe CD out with three bonus tracks on it. We didn’t want to compromise by trying to squash it all on one album so we thought that we would go for the better quality option and put it on heavyweight vinyl.
Now correct me if I am wrong but I have heard a rumour that you will be putting the album out on cassette too. Surely my information is incorrect (laughter).
(Laughter) no, your information is correct; we will be putting the new album out on cassette. We did a cassette single for the last record and it proved to be really popular so we just thought that it would be something different if we put the album out on cassette (laughter). We won’t be doing a massive run of them because that then makes them a little bit more collectable to people. It feels nice to have an album and a cassette because you don’t see them that often nowadays. Doing a small run on cassette is considered to be really cool; it makes it something special for the fans (laughter). I have to be honest with you and say that I still use a cassette for my warm-up tape before shows (laughter).
Whenever I see any cassette tapes in a shop I will always buy a few simply because you don’t see them anywhere now. I really do find them handy because you can cue them up, I know exactly where the heads are, and they are brilliant for putting my writing down on. I don’t do that so much now since I got myself an iPhone but it really does work well. Especially as I have said for my ten minute warm-up before going out onto the stage (laughter).
I have to ask you how is the finger picking coming along?
I have to say that I think that I am getting pretty good (laughter). However, as I haven’t played anything off the solo album for quite a while now I will probably be quite rusty. At the moment I am having to go from playing the acoustic guitar to being able to comfortably play the electric guitar once again. I only played bits of electric here and there on the solo tour. It is a whole different beast trying to get back into playing electric once again. I do need to keep practicing the finger picking otherwise I will end up being very rusty. It is quite tricky and if you get cold hands at a gig it is really hard to finger pick well. If you find yourself doing finger picking music at a gig but you are not moving around that much then your fingers do tend to get quite cold. I have seen quite a few people who sound great at home in the kitchen but once they get out onto the stage it is not quite that easy (laughter).
On that note Grant let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure as usual.
Thanks Kevin and I hope to see you at one of the gigs sometime soon. Bye for now.