With breath taking highs and crushing lows, Feeder are a band that have endured through a two and a half decade career. Reaching their commercial zenith with the soul-searching ‘Comfort in Sound’ following the suicide of drummer Jon Lee, it’s been a bittersweet ride for founders Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose. Preparing to hit the road in celebration of their recently release ‘The Best Of’ set, we sat down with Grant for an intimate chat about their career, the passing of Jon, and the prickly issue of pigeonholing. Life in a stereo world; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Grant, how are you today?
I’m good, I’m hanging in there! It’s been a busy day; a lot of talking, a lot of acoustic sessions, and we’re doing the Late Late Show [Irish TV show]. It’s on tonight, so hopefully I’ll have some sort of voice left for it.
You’re gearing up for your ‘Best Of’ tour; how does it feel to be looking back over a career that spans more than twenty years?
Well, we’ve been going over twenty-five years as a band now. It’s amazing, really, I mean, it’s flown by. It doesn’t seem that long. We’ve always been pretty busy. Yeah, we took a break, and I did a few solo records, but otherwise, we’ve been continually making music and touring. It really has flown by, but we’re still here doing it. Obviously we’ve done something right, because it’s hard to have a long career in this business.
What does it mean to have had that amount of years behind you?
Do you know, I hadn’t really thought about it until I was going through all the singles with BMG for ‘The Best Of’, and then it really sort of hit home thinking; “God, yeah, we’ve done quite a bit!” You don’t sort of think about it, because I’m always writing stuff, so I just move on to the next record. You go back and think; “God, I didn’t know we’d released that many singles, or had that many Top 40 hits”, or whatever it is, and yeah, it is quite nice. It’s not something that I think about that much, really; I just enjoy writing music and doing what we do, and that’s what I’m doing now, really. But it was nice to think back to some of those early singles we released - it brings back a lot of memories, you know?
Going back to those early days, and one of the first shows that Feeder played in Ireland was in 1997, opening for Reef.
It might have been the first show that we played in Ireland. That was one of the first big support tours that we did, because obviously Reef were quite a big band. It was really hard to get on tours in those days; you had to buy on, and it was tough.
That was the gig where Taka infamously got attacked afterwards, when someone took exception to his hair.
He had those antenna things. Oh God, do you know what? I remember that gig! I tell you what happened; we were in the hotel afterwards in the bar, and it was pretty late, and there were some real, dodgy characters in there. I don’t know what they were, but they obviously didn’t like us for some reason. One of them said something to me, and I don’t know, Taka had had a few beers, and he took offence to it. These guys were just being really rude, and then the next thing I know, [*laughing*] Taka actually hit them over the head with these trainers that he’d had in a carrier bag from the gig! And these guys went absolutely ballistic and started. It was one of those moments where, I think they had to call the police, and – we’re going back a while – but I think an armoured car turned up with the army and stuff, because I think they thought it might be something else kicking off there. It was pretty terrifying at the time. I remember these guys chasing us up through the hotel, and some of our crew holding the doors back, and these guys were literally punching the door – you know the sort of [toughened] glass that’s got bits of wire in it? - A fist through that? He must have broken his hand. Yeah, they were pretty scary characters.
That was during your debut ‘Swim’ EP; have you any plans to delve that far back into the past for the ‘Best Of’ tour?
We haven’t played a lot of those songs since Jon died. It’s been a while; not because of that reason, but just because you move on. But we have been rehearsing them, actually just last week. It’s been kind of odd, to actually play them again; I wouldn’t say ‘emotional’, but it’s odd to play those songs again after all these years. Actually, some of them sound really good; I was quite surprised at how some of them stand up – they’ve still got a good vibe to them.
You had massive success with ‘Buck Rogers’ shortly after that, but then came the tragic death of Jon Lee.
It was a pretty horrible time. The last time I saw him he was going off with all his Christmas presents and about to get on the plane to Miami, going out for Christmas, and that was it. It’s still one of those where there isn’t really a day goes by where I don’t think about him and how it happened, really, and what I could have done. But you can’t go around with that - you have to move on; we’ve all got kids and families now, and time has passed, and time’s a good healer. But I still think about him a lot, and when we were playing those old songs as well, that brought back a lot of memories. But yeah, it’s a shame, because I know that we would have carried on, I know that we would have been a great band had he been here with us. It’s just a shame he’s not here to enjoy this bit of our career.
Ironically, Jon’s death brought with it your greatest success, in the ‘Comfort In Sound’ album; it was a cathartic release, wasn’t it?
It definitely pushed me as a writer. It made me do things I probably wouldn’t have necessarily done at that point. I think the positive thing that came out of it was I think I got better as a writer. I know a lot of people like the early Feeder stuff - the heavier stuff - but I’d always written melodic songs. Even back in the day, we always had that side to us in the band, even the E.P. had an acoustic song on there called ‘Swim’, which is very, very mellow. So, we’ve never pretended to be just that ‘heavy’ thing; we’ve always been a band that has different dynamics, and we go from a really heavy song, into something which is really mellow, and that’s what I love about being in Feeder, and what I love about being a writer.
The band has been pigeonholed in the same bracket as the likes of Snow Patrol and Coldplay, despite the obvious heavy side to Feeder.
I don’t know why people think that. It’s kind of a weird one, because BBC Radio 2, they see us as like a Kerrang!, heavy band. Even like with a ballad, if I suddenly play an acoustic track, in their mind, we’re this sort of Grungey, 90s’ band, and they almost can’t get past that. It’s quite strange. I mean, I know the guy from Snow Patrol [Nathan Connolly] - he did some guitar for us for a while - he was a fan, apparently, and he said when he was growing up he bought ‘Swim’ I think – but we’re a very different band to that. Of course we have songs that people that like Snow Patrol probably like – tracks like ‘Feeling A Moment’ or ‘Just The Way I’m Feeling’, but if you come to our show, we go a lot heavier than that.
Proving your heavy credentials, the band headed Download festival in 2005.
I’m into really heavy stuff; I’m into really mellow stuff. At Feeder shows you’ll see Slipknot t-shirts, you’ll see Muse t-shirts, you’ll see Black Sabbath t-shirts, you’ll see Nirvana t-shirts, you’ll see Pixies t-shirts; I mean, we have those kind of fans.
One of the biggest shows Feeder played here in Ireland, was in 2003 when you were on the bill with Red Hot Chili Peppers at Slane.
It was amazing; it was Queens Of The Stone Age, P.J. Harvey, Foo Fighters and Morcheeba. I remember hanging out with Dave Grohl and his wife now, and getting quite friendly with him. It was a really, great day. I met his mum – Dave Grohl’s mum was on the side of the stage watching the Foo Fighters and I was chatting to her, and it was just a really surreal day!
The band has played on some amazing bills over the years.
Yeah. We’ve been lucky, we’ve done some really big shows in our time. The biggest tour we done off our own back was the arena tour which was ‘Comfort In Sound’; that was our biggest. That was our peak point so far, that tour. The biggest supports we’ve done have been with anyone from U2 to The Rolling Stones, and obviously the Slane one was an absolutely amazing line-up. We’ve toured with some amazing acts; we toured with Coldplay on ‘Comfort In Sound’, which was amazing, because I never thought we’d get that tour. But it kind of worked, I mean, we did tone down the set a little bit to be fair, but we could still do our show, and it was still good. It wasn’t the heaviest Feeder show in the world, but it still worked really well. I think if we hadn’t have had those songs from that record at that time, I don’t think there’s any way we could have done that tour.
Having played on tours like that, and with all the hit albums and singles, would you say you’ve achieved everything you’d like to have with Feeder?
Oh my God, no. There’s so many things. You mentioned some soft rock mainstream bands; as frustrating as it is, if we were a bit more ‘that’, we’d probably be more successful and get more radio play. But we’re not; we still have this kind of indie-edge to us with a cult following almost. It’s something that I’m really proud of, for being that kind of band. It sounds really weird, but I feel more comfortable with that. It means that we can still like, ‘rock out’, and do what’s a huge part of our chemistry going back to those early songs. I mean, [2016 album] ‘All Bright Electric’ has got some pretty heavy tunes on it; songs like 'Eskimo' and ‘Geezer’ and ‘Universe Of Life’ - they’re as heavy as some of our earlier stuff. So yeah, we still want to rock out is what I’m trying to say, and even if it meant doing bigger gigs and making more money – whatever – I’d still want to do it in the way we’re doing it now.
What would you say are your favourite Feeder albums?
I’m not just saying this because I just mentioned it; but I really do like ‘All Bright Electric’. I just think that sonically, it just captures Feeder. It’s one of our best sounding records. Recording is different now, and I think that we’ve learned a lot over the years. I also like ‘Polythene’ because it’s of that era – ‘Swim’ and ‘Polythene’ are the same records for me because it was all part of the same recording window, so I’ll put those two in together. ‘Comfort In Sound’, obviously, is quite a special record for me. I like ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’ a lot – I think that’s a really underrated record. Some Feeder fans actually see our best album as ‘Silent Cry’; that’s a very, very popular record. So it’s hard to say; ask me that tomorrow and I might say different ones.
Back to the tour, and what can fans expect from the shows?
It’s a good mix of stuff. We’re going to try and play as much as we can. Obviously we can’t play four hours or anything, but we’re going to try and pick some really good stuff from ‘The Best Of’. Obviously we know we need to keep people happy; I mean, we need to do some of those singles people want to hear as well, but was also want to rock out, so we definitely be doing some of the stuff like ‘Eskimo’ and some of the early stuff I mentioned. We might do ‘Crash’, and we might even do ‘Tangerine’ again – we haven’t done that for years. We may even do ‘Stereo World’ one night, even going back to like, ‘My Perfect Day’, which was a Feeder classic in its time. I think we’ll try and pick a couple of popular songs from each album, plus a few old favourites, and a few songs that people wouldn’t have heard for a long time.
Finally, what’s next for Feeder?
We’re certainly busy in the summer, we’ve got loads of festivals booked in, and I’m looking to try and get on some of the Irish ones as well, if we can. Then I hoping to try and get in the studio and do a few new tracks as well. It may not be a full album; we may just drop a few tracks, just lone singles, because with Spotify and streaming, that’s the way of doing it now. We’ve got so much catalogue, it might be nice to do something a bit different this time around.
Feeder play Dublin's Olympia on 21st March, and Belfast's Limelight the following day. For tickets click HERE. For a full list of UK dates, see below.
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Feeder 'The Best Of' U.K. and Ireland 2018 Dates:
7 Mar - Bristol, O2 Academy
8 Mar - Norwich, The Nick Rayns LCR
10 Mar - Manchester, Academy
11 Mar - Glasgow, Barrowland
13 Mar - Leeds, O2 Academy
14 Mar - Birmingham, O2 Academy
16 Mar - Nottingham, Rock City
17 Mar 17 - London, O2 Brixton Academy
21 Mar - Dublin, Olympia
22 Mar - Belfast, Limelight