Grant Nicholas of indie-rock band Feeder tells Tim Hughes about the highs and lows of their lengthy career – and why it feels good to be back
Feeder are back. The boisterous Welsh indie-rockers have had a break of four years but are once again on the road – new album in tow. And core members Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose could not be happier.
“It’s great to be back,” says frontman Grant, while taking a rest before a soundcheck in Cambridge earlier this week.
“We’ve been away for a while, and have been testing the water and seeing where we are at – and it’s fantastic.
“We are now on part two of the tour. On reflection we should be playing more gigs, but it’s quite nice doing it this way.”
Feeder are indie-rock’s golden boys – among a handful of survivors from the heady days of grunge in the early 90s.
With the release of their album All Bright Electric, last year, they have clocked up nine LPs over the course of a career which saw them rise from the Newport gig circuit to the dizzy heights of Wembley, the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and, with singles Buck Rogers and Tumble and Fall, the top five of the charts.
It hasn’t always been an easy ride for the affable lads, though. While riding a wave of adulation for their third album, Echo Park, they were touched by tragedy. Original drummer, and close friend, Jon Lee committed suicide – hanging himself with a metal dog chain at his home in Florida in 2002.
John’s death affected the band deeply. Still, they carried on, bouncing back with the album Comfort in Sound the same year. A heartfelt affair, it touched on issues surrounding John’s death and broader questions of loss and striving for a brighter future.
Their fans stuck with them, right through to 2012 when Grant decided he needed a break.
“We have been going for almost 28 years,” he says. “I have always loved it, but, a few years ago, I did feel like it was time for a break. I wanted to put my head in a different space. I did some writing for other artists and that led to a solo project and mini album.”
The result was album Yorktown Heights. Taka, meanwhile, threw himself into his own side-project, Muddy Apes.
“I was enjoying doing something completely different,” says Grant. “My music was more acoustic and it was all about my voice, which was right up at the front. I had always had a band behind me before. But while I wanted to do more of that, I also started thinking about Feeder again – in fact I am always thinking about it.
“Feeder is my main priority and always will be. So I started writing with my Feeder head on.”
He came up with last year’s top 10 hit All Bright Electric – featuring chunky singles Universe of Life, Eskimo and Another Day on Earth.
They returned with an appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival and a tour, which reaches Oxford on Monday.
“We’ve always been a busy band,” he says. “ But we had just felt tired of doing the same thing. We thought maybe people would appreciate what we are, and what we’ve done, if we had a break.”
While, he says Feeder are “very much a band, live”, it’s beating heart is the partnership of Grant and Taka.
“The break was probably more on my side,” says Grant. “It took a bit longer than I thought, which was difficult for Taka. There was never really a plan.”
But he is delighted with the welcome they have received from fans. “It has been amazing,” he says. “We are also getting a lot of younger people at our shows. There’s a bit of a 90s revival going on with young bands coming through which sound like us. We are probably a good example of 90s indie-rock – and there are not many of us left. In fact, we are maybe more current now than when we were popular.”
He struggles to reel off examples of Feeder’s contemporaries – but concedes most have long since given up.
So what is their secret? Why have they continued to thrive and evolve while so many others have fallen by the wayside?
“We have never followed any trends nor been trendy,” he says. “We have never played that game – and I think that’s the secret of our longevity.
“We were somewhere between the indie Brit-pop thing, and American grunge bands. It’s mid-Atlantic but also Welsh, though we have never tried to play up to that. Although I see myself as Welsh, I have never been ‘in your face’!” he laughs.
So, looking back over the sweep of their career, what has been the high point? “There is not one particular high point,” he says, thoughtfully.
“The worse time was losing John, and probably the best thing was having the drive to carry on after that, as we were not sure if it was going to be the end of Feeder. But we released an album which helped us through an awful time – so something good came out of it.”
He goes on: “That was a big step for us and put us in a different place, from everything grinding to a halt when John passed away and thinking ‘is it all over now?’ We put it all into writing and ending the negativity. We didn’t want to lose the band – it was like family.
“That was the highest and lowest point for us.”
And does he still feel John’s presence with the band? “He’s here in spirit, still,” he says. “John wasn’t a writer but he was a great character with the band, a fun guy and an amazing drummer.
“He was like a brother. he was close; too close sometimes. We were first and best mates.
“Life goes on. His dad still comes to gigs every now and then.”
Certainly Feeder have lost none of their passion – and the new album is testament to that.
“I think there are moments on the new record which are as heavy as anything we’ve ever done,” he says.
“But we are also trying to sound more natural. I’m not kidding myself that I am 18! We are trying to make our sound dynamic and powerful, so that when we rock it’s fat and energetic – but also more soulful. It’s really exciting mixing it all up.”
He promised fans that they would be treated to the hits as well as new songs – with anthem Buck Rogers getting an airing.
“It’s a great quirky song,” he chuckles.
But perhaps, I ask, he can solve a long-running dispute between fans over the song’s lyrics: Is it ‘drinking cider from a lemon’ ... or ‘from 11?’
“Ah!” he laughs. “A lot of people ask that... but I’m not going to say. It’s a Feeder secret that will go to the grave. I’ll just say that when we were younger we used to drink a lot of cider in the park... and sometimes we’d put it in lemonade. So there you go!”