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Still Inspired: Feeder's Grant Nicholas on Hope, Relief and 'Torpedo'

Thursday, 17 March 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Steve Gullick

When Grant Nicholas sang ‘scream in, scream out, time for healing’ back in 2002, he had no idea those rousing words of self-encouragement would become so resonant two decades later. As society emerges from an unprecedented period of confusion, division and grief, such sentiments have never sounded more apt or necessary.  Full of that trademark ability to mine hope from adversity, Feeder’s ‘Torpedo’ is the sort of anthemic rallying cry the world needs right now.

Having experienced considerable success after forming nearly 30 years ago, thanks to radio staples such as Buck Rogers, High and Just The Way I’m Feeling, singer, songwriter and guitarist Nicholas, alongside bass player Taka Hirose, briefly experienced one of those lulls all bands go through once the initial glow of critical and commercial recognition has faded. Rather than go quietly into the night, however, the pair subsequently bounced back with some of the strongest, best charting records of their career.  

Not that such resilience should come as a surprise. Following the death of drummer Jon Lee in 2002 the duo dug deep and produced ‘Comfort In Sound’, their best-selling record to date. Tackling darker subjects with a degree of sensitivity that rarely fails to endear, the band’s ability to navigate trauma is consistently reflected in optimistic and reassuring music that always picks you up off the floor.

Featuring 10 tracks written during lockdown, and partly inspired by the events of the last two years, ‘Torpedo’ feels like the right kind of album, by the right band at exactly the right time. Bombastic and tough, mellow and thoughtful, epic and profound, it’s a perfect Feeder album. 

‘Torpedo’ is a product of what you, along with everyone else, have been through over the last couple of years. What’s been your take on the state of play during that time and how’s it fed into the themes on the album?

Every time you read a newspaper, if you could get one, or see the news, it was all a bit depressing and doom and gloom. The songs I wrote, it’s an album that’s quite universal. If it hadn’t happened the songs would still have a place because they’re open for interpretation. I’d be lying if I said quite a few weren’t inspired by the whole situation, little snapshots, thinking about the world and the future. I’ve got kids and all of those things went around my mind more and more while in lockdown. Everyone had more time to think about their lives, what they wanted to do and what they hadn’t done. But for me songwriting’s a massive part of my life and apart from doing stuff around the house and a bit of gardening, I focused on that because it was helpful to me.                           

Did it take a while to process the situation and figure out what you wanted to say and how you were going to say it?

The first lockdown, after being quite inspired, I didn’t have the drive to pick up my guitar as much because I didn’t know what was happening. It felt like we weren’t going to be out on the road for a long, long time. So for the first two or three months I didn’t do much writing, which is rare for me. But one day I just picked up my guitar and started again. I had all these ideas, songs, melodies, riffs, everything. It all came together. I wrote the ‘Torpedo’ album in a short space of time, but I don’t think you can always plan it. If you feel strongly about something, or something’s happened in your life, that can give you something to write about. There may be fragments inspired by a little headline I read that morning, but in general songs have to come naturally when they come.  

With all the material you amassed once inspiration struck, were you ever tempted to release the hallowed double album?

I grew up with a lot of double albums but have always felt it’s a lot of information for a listener. Also, albums come and go so quickly that I thought it was better to space it out.  But in the process of us getting this album ready, I wrote another six or seven tracks.  There are a few which were written during lockdown that will be on the next one, but I wanted this album to be focused. A bit more classic, old school Feeder.    

To cut a long story short, the next one is like the other half of ‘Torpedo.’ So it’s kind of a double album, in two halves. They’re standalone records but still very much connected.  Even the artist we used, it’s the same style artwork. That’s what gels them together. The second’s more upbeat, more of the indie-rock side of Feeder and because I’ve been writing more songs I’ve actually been thinking ‘maybe this next one could be a double?’ That would be a curveball. But we’re hoping to get the second half out next year and do more touring around that.     

‘Torpedo’ has the air of a proper old school record. It’s wonderfully sequenced. That feels like an endangered art form these days.

If you knew how much time I spent doing those sequences…I’m literally thinking about having some therapy. The sequence seems to be very old school, as you said. Ten tracks, Side A and Side B. I know there’s a very small amount of people who care about that the way we do but, to me, that’s part of being in Feeder and why I wanted to be in a band.  Obviously music was the main thing, but it was also about making something special for people as well as ourselves. I know everything’s about playlists now and things like that, but our die-hard fans will listen to the album all the way through. That’s how you should hear it, at least once.

The Healing is a very dynamic opener. By the time the second chorus finishes, you think you know what it’s all about and where it’s going…and then there’s that dramatic prog-rock shift in mood and tone.

Taka thinks I’ve gone all prog in my old age! Basically, The Healing is more of a throwback to our earlier stuff. When I wrote that I wanted something that was undeniably Feeder, with chord changes that have that classic rock feel. I didn’t know it would be out now, but it feels like a very good time for that song, both musically and lyrically. It’s quite uplifting, quite positive. Almost like a recovery song. It’s a real call to arms to make change and bring positivity back.

Rock opera sounds a bit pretentious, but I had films like Tommy and the soundtrack by The Who in my head and wanted it to be really grand and take you on a journey that you weren’t quite expecting.If you take out that whole middle section, which is like a basic mainstream radio edit version, it works as a classic Feeder song. Like you said, you know what it’s gonna do and it does what you want it to. The whole journey in that heavy section was how I wrote it and I felt like that’s what it should be.

Submission reminds me a little of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk during the verses, while the chorus  sounds like something from a long lost classic. How did you develop and bring that one to fruition?

Submission felt like a bit of a statement at the end. I’m not ashamed to let people know my influences. I’m a massive Fleetwood Mac fan. It’s got a bit of a Pink Floyd vibe as well. It’s quite heavy going lyrically, there’s a bit of afterlife stuff and loss, but I don’t think it’s depressing. It’s the more anthemic side of Feeder, dark but uplifting. That’s what I love doing.  

When it touches on something a little darker, a bit more melancholy, it’s important to have a bit of hope, relief and a lift. Sometimes it might not be lyrical, you can give it that lift musically. Just The Way I’m Feeling is a perfect example. The lyrics are quite sad but it’s uplifting at the same time. I naturally write songs like that and think it reflects life more than ‘everything’s gonna be dark, everything’s gonna be happy.’ Songs come at certain times, but that positive/negative thing I do has been there since day one. 

Do you think your career trajectory, and obviously Jon’s loss and how you rebounded from that with ‘Comfort In Sound’, gave the songs on ‘Torpedo’ more authenticity because you’re a person who’s experienced life changing adversity and knows what it takes to overcome that? 

Lockdown and things that happen to you, your friends, loved ones, family and kids, it just gives you more to write about. I’ve seen a lot of things, done a fair bit of travelling. I’m not an expert on the world. I just put down songs I feel, or hope, will connect with people.  Experience isn’t the right word, but you find more to write about as you get older and accept your strengths. Not everybody likes what we do. Not everybody understands what we do. We’re not some weird avant garde rock band. This is the music we like doing, that I naturally write, and a good song is a good song. There’s obviously people out there that still want to hear our music, which is great. That keeps me inspired and I still love writing songs.  

I have to ask about Magpie. Can you tell me what that song’s about and who the servants of control are?

I suppose we’re all servants of control aren’t we? I’m a little bit superstitious because my grandad, when I was a kid, always had these crazy superstitions that stuck with me. He would see a magpie and say ‘give them a hug.’ Magpies, they’re basically like married couples aren’t they? So when you see a magpie on their own it means they haven’t got a partner and that’s meant to be quite sad. That’s where the title came from and it was literally written on one of my daily walks or runs in Finsbury Park.  

I had the melody, vocal lines, a few odd words and was playing it on my headphones and writing the lyrics as I was running and seeing what was around me. That’s how a lot of the album was written. Sometimes you sit down with a bit of paper and get ideas and a good song, but when you get out there and look at things it opens up the mind in different ways.  It’s also about feeling like we’re all part of the system, the frustration of it all. Social media can be a very dangerous and frustrating place. So it does touch on that. It only takes one word to shatter a kid's dreams.                             

You’ve always had some great riffs, but there feels like there’s something incendiary about songs like Magpie, Torpedo and Decompress.

I’m a massive Black Sabbath fan. I always liked Led Zeppelin but there was something about Sabbath that I really connected with when I was about nine. They’re one of the bands that made me want to play guitar, just the riffs of Tony Iommi. They’re not overly hard to play but they’re really cool riffs. It’s all a bit discordant and weird but so great. There’s definitely a bit of a Sabbath influence on this record. Torpedo is quite Sabbath-y in the verses. I love tracks like War Pigs and I was touching on that, but with the classic Feeder guitar sound.

And that will be out in full force on the new tour, where you’ve said you’ll be performing the heaviest Feeder set you’ve played in a while.

We’ve got a massive catalogue of music now. It’s difficult to get the set right but, to answer your question, I want it to be a pretty rocking set. There might be a few mellow moments, but I would rather go back and play one or two songs from ‘Swim’ or ‘Polythene’ because I feel like, musically, they fit really well with ‘Torpedo.’ I’m hoping people will like it and if they don’t know the songs we’ll just have to rock the place and win them over. If I was a fan I think I’d want to see that, so let’s hope we get it right. 

A few years ago you spoke about playing ‘Comfort In Sound’ in full in 2022 and then finally releasing a live album from one of those shows. Is that still on the cards or has everything changed as a result of what’s happened?

It’s very unusual to have never done a live album when you’ve been in a band for 30 years.  I don’t know many that haven’t. We’re also one of the only bands going that long that haven’t gone out and done one, if not all, their more successful albums in full. It would be nice to do that at some point. Maybe a pair of gigs at somewhere like the Roundhouse, or Albert Hall, where we go out, do the full record and maybe finish with a few greatest hits at the end. Some people might want to see us do ‘Polythene’, but ‘Comfort…’ was definitely our most successful album sales-wise. It’s the 20th anniversary so the next year or two would be a good time to do it.    

Feeder Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat April 23 2022 - BEXHILL ON SEA De La Warr Pavilion
Sun April 24 2022 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Tue April 26 2022 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall Southampton
Wed April 27 2022 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Fri April 29 2022 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy
Sat April 30 2022 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Mon May 02 2022 - NEWCASTLE University Students Union
Tue May 03 2022 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Thu May 05 2022 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Fri May 06 2022 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Fri June 24 2022 - BELFAST Limelight

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