When the Yorkshire Evening Post catches up with Grant Nicholas, the Feeder front man is in the middle of an impromptu songwriting session.
“I was reminding myself of some of the really early stuff that we haven’t played for a while that I thought we might throw in on the tour, then as I pick up my guitar I get distracted and I end up writing something new, which is not a bad thing,” he says.
Now aged 50, Nicholas is about to embark on a tour to belatedly mark the release of The Best of Feeder, a triple-disc that came out last autumn. “The tour came afterwards, which is a bit weird because we’re promoting the record,” he concedes. “We did the one gig in Chepstow which is my sort of home town. I was born in Newport, South Wales, but I grew up just outside Chepstow and I’d never played there with Feeder so it was kind of one of those ones where it felt like a good time to celebrate 25 years of the band and it was 21 years since we released Swim, which was our first proper release apart from our Two Colours EP which was more of a thing we sold at gigs.”
Last year also saw the band do “loads of festivals” and play “some really good gigs” in Japan. “Now we’ve come back and are getting ready for the tour that follows the record,” he says. “It’s always a bit weird when there’s a gap but in a way it’s worked out.”
The fact people are still buying the band’s records and tickets for their gigs after all these years is heartening, the singer and guitarist says. “The whole physical side of the business is tiny now compared to what it used to be so the fact that we’ve still got fans and there are new fans as well buying not just CDs but also quite a lot of vinyl, we sold quite a lot of cassettes as well, I think that sold out, so we did pretty well on it.
“Unless it drastically changes I think we’ll always have some physical format of what we do, whether it’s limited vinyl or whatever it is. I’m hoping that CDs carry on in some way, I know it seems like they’re going to be phased out, but for me it still has that old formula of why I wanted to be in a band and what got me into music, looking at all those records I grew up with.
“There’s something about having a body of work, you can actually look through the artwork and have something you can touch and feel, which I still like.”
Nicholas still remembers the buzz he felt at Feeder’s first gigs; it’s much the same now, he says. “I’d say almost more, in some way,” he adds. “I think we’re really enjoying the whole live thing now – it could just be because we’ve built up a really good catalogue of music so we’ve got a lot more to play in the sets.
“A lot of fans have stayed with us over the years, we’ve got a lot of new fans as well, whether that’s a combination of older brothers and sisters, mums and dads introducing them to Feeder or also the internet, streaming, social media – that all helps.”
Performing live is, he says, “a real challenge because the sets are longer”.
I think it would be unnatural not to feel a little bit insecure. I think a lot of artists do at some point. You are putting quite a lot of your heart and soul on your sleeve when you’re writing songs.Grant Nicholas
“It’s a lot more physical doing it than back in the day when we were jumping on the stage and screaming for 40 minutes and then hoping you had a voice for the next gig whereas now you’ve got to think about it a bit more, what you’re going to play, how am I going to sing this, how am I going to pace myself, it is a workout but that’s what keeps it exciting.”
Nicholas feels as a band Feeder have “become more fashionable as we’ve got older”.
“I think there’s a bit of a revival for bands like ourselves,” he says. “A lot of young bands seem to be doing similar things.
“It’s nice having things in the press but it was always been more about the songs for us, having songs that could be around for a long time, not just part of the trend.”
Feeder’s durability could be seen as in some ways similar to Nicholas’ long-time idol, Tom Petty. Nicholas talks of his regret at not seizing the opportunity to talk to Petty when he was backstage at the American’s concert last year in Hyde Park, just months before he died. “He’s still a massive impression on me,” he says. “I just love his songwriting, it’s a very similar style to what I like to write, simple little stories. Those are always the hardest songs to write because they really connect with people.
“My last memory of him was seeing him on stage at Hyde Park and thinking, ‘My God, he’s 65 or whatever he is and he still looks cool and he can still do it’. The music he did seemed to age quite gracefully. I know in some of his earlier work there was probably a bit more energy and it was maybe vocally a bit more challenging but I don’t think he lost any of that spark, though. He was still really good and they were just great songs, and he seemed like a really nice guy as well.”
Having once described making records as “an emotional process”, Nicholas stands by the idea that a certain sense of insecurity is an aid to creativity. “I think you realise, especially if you’ve done OK with a band, that a lot of your fans are going to hear this so you want to connect what you’re trying to say to others. It doesn’t mean you don’t believe in the music but I think it would be unnatural not to feel a little bit insecure. I think a lot of artists do at some point,” he says.
“Maybe some don’t but I’ve always felt like that. You are putting quite a lot of your heart and soul on your sleeve when you’re writing songs. It obviously depends on what style you are what you want to touch on, but certainly for me not just my solo stuff but also Feeder stuff, there is some stuff that’s quite personal that I maybe try and twist and bury a little bit here and there, but you do feel very attached to it.
“There always a fear that it won’t connect with people and there’s always going to be critics out there that don’t really understand an artist or a band, that’s part of the business, but the fact that we’re still here and I’m still writing and we’re very much a band we’ve obviously done something which has worked and people like, which is great.”
Feeder play at O2 Academy Leeds on March 13. www.feederweb.com