In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the loud music and hard rockin' has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Feeder frontman Grant Nicholas.
1: In 2005, Radio 1 had a competition to win a band/artist playing a gig at a listener’s school. Feeder were one of the options the winner could choose from. Can you name any of the others?
“That’s a tough one! Was it the Stereophonics?”
“I’m going to get all of these wrong! (Laughs) I think we won. I’m not sure if I’ve mixed it up, but I remember playing a gig at a school for Radio 1 and Steve Lamacq being involved. It’s not something I thought I’d be doing when I joined an indie rock band. (Laughs)”
Ever been asked to play anywhere more unusual than a school?
“We get asked to play a lot of weddings, but I always say: ‘Sorry, Feeder aren’t a wedding band!’. If we’re offered an obscene amount of money, we might reconsider! People invite you to weddings to not even play. Why would you even want me to come?! It’s flattering, but I’d feel awkward!”
2: On which two songs do both Feeder and members of Travis appear?
“I think I’ve got this one! We were recording the ‘Pushing the Senses’ album at RAK Studios and Travis were next door, so I asked Fran [Healy, Travis frontman] and Dougie [Payne, bassist] to do backing vocals on the end of the song ‘Tumble and Fall’. And we did ‘Band Aid 20’ and Travis were on that as well.”
“Thank God I’ve got one right! I was starting to get a bit of a sweat on! (Laughs)”
What do you remember about ‘Band Aid 20’?
“I bought the original ‘Band Aid’ as a kid and went to Live Aid. When I was in a band as a little kid, we’d play that song and I did impersonations of the different voices, like I did Bono – which was my favourite as he was cooler – and then Boy George, etc. So being asked to do backing vocals on ‘Band Aid 20’ was a big deal. It was surreal – Damon from Blur was there making tea for everyone. He didn’t want to sing but wanted to help out. The whole thing got a bit of stick, but I didn’t think our version was that bad.”
For a bonus half-point, in the 2013 Pointless Celebrities Christmas special, you were a ‘Pointless answer’ in a ‘Band Aid 20’ round where the contestants had to name the artists on the recording. Can you name any of the seven other Pointless answers?
“So I was picked out as someone people forgot about? Oh that’s charming, isn’t it?! I’ll have to pass on this one.”
WRONG. The others were: Travis guitarist Andy Dunlop, The Thrills’ frontman Conor Deasy, Sugababes’ members Keisha Buchanan and Mutya Buena, Shaznay Lewis from All Saints, Keane keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley and The Darkness bassist Frankie Poullain.
Talking of The Darkness and gameshows, you’re facing off against them on Bargain Hunt for BBC Music Day…
“It was a good laugh! I get stick because I collect vintage furniture, wacky lamps, retro stuff, and religious artefacts and go round vintage markets. I’m obsessed with American Pickers, Salvage Hunters and Bargain Hunt – it’s a cult show now that’s popular with students. It’s not just old ladies at home watching it. I watch it on tour. (Laughs) You’ve only got an hour – and that includes all the filming and stopping and starting – so it’s hard to get a flow going and find all the stuff in time. It’s harder than it looks on TV!”
3: Which pop star caused you to change the original name of Feeder’s ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’ album?
“I’ve got a feeling it was Robbie Williams?”
“I wanted to call the album ‘A Life Through Headphones’, but he had an album called ‘Life Thru a Lens’ so I didn’t want to risk being compared to him. I’ve met him a few times because his full-time tour drummer Karl Brazil played on the last four Feeder records. Robbie’s eccentric and good fun – we’ve talked about doing some writing together. It’s been on the cards for a while now. He told me he wants to do something different and mentioned it again when I met him recently, so I’m not sure how it’ll turn out but I’m sure it’ll be interesting.”
4: On which The Dandy Warhols track do you receive a writing credit?
“That’s a weird one! Let me think…it was an Australian single, wasn’t it? I can’t remember.”
WRONG. It’s ‘We Used to Be Friends’ which duplicates the bassline of Feeder’s ‘Day In Day Out’.
“It was nothing to do with me – it was the publishers who picked up on it. I was protesting: ‘Awww, don’t do anything! I’m friends with them – they’re nice guys!’ (Laughs). I remember them watching us at the side of the stage at festivals and Courtney Taylor-Taylor [Dandy Warhols frontman] said ‘Hey man, I really like your songs. I love your melodies.’ He might have heard ‘Day In Day Out’ then! (Laughs)”
5: What number do you get if you add up the century mentioned on the B-side to ‘Buck Rogers’ to the century the character is from?
“That’s hard! I can’t even remember the name of the B-side to be honest!”
WRONG. It’s 46. ‘21st Century Meltdown’ is the B-side to ‘Buck Rogers’ and the character is from the 25th century.
“Of course! It’s actually a very easy question – I was making it more complicated in my head than it was!”
What’s your relationship with that song now?
“It’s love-hate. Originally, it was written for another band [SR-71]. Producer Gil Norton – famous for producing Pixies and Foo Fighters – was working with the band and was short of a single, so his management asked if I’d be interested in writing a song for them. I thought it’d be a way of getting to work with Gil, because he was in demand. His wife was a Feeder fan so she’d mentioned us over the years. I wrote ‘Buck Rogers’ with guide lyrics, thinking the band would rewrite them. I had just broken up with my missus at the time, and she was seeing someone who was making a TV advert for Jaguar cars. So it was written after a couple of bottles of wine and venting my break up in rough lyrics that I thought would never be kept. Before I gave it to the band, I played it to our label, and the label head thought it was a smash and wouldn’t let me give it away.”
“I got to meet Gil, played it to him and he ended up producing our third album ‘Echo Park’. The music is a little bit Pixies because I thought he’d like that! (Laughs) It’s a great little pop song but it’s not really saying anything. In the studio, I started rewriting the lyrics – and had a big disagreement with Gil because he said if you change this now, you’ll ruin what’s good about it. We had a big falling out; eventually he convinced me to keep them.”
“I think I’ve written much better songs – certainly with more depth – but it’s become an anthem for us and at festivals, that’s worth its weight in gold.”
6: Which band once selected ‘Stereo World’ as their ‘Single of the Month’ in Metal Hammer magazine?
“I’m still upset that I completely messed up the ‘Buck Rogers’ maths question! It’s so obvious now! Anyway, Korn gave us a good review and weren’t the sort of band I thought would ‘get’ that sort of song – but they loved it.”
Who’s been the most unusual person who’s said they like your music?
“Zedd – the dance guy – is a really big fan, and bought all our stuff when he was younger. We’ve spoken and are actually planning on doing something together some day. Calvin Harris said he liked our stuff when he was first starting to get successful, and we talked about him working with Feeder. I liked a lot of his quirky early stuff, and emails went back and forth with him but it didn’t ever happen in the end. He blew up everywhere and got massive and was too busy to do it in the end.”
Wasn’t Brian Eno also interested in producing you at one point?
“Yeah! I met Brian Eno at the NME Awards. He tapped me on the shoulder and said that he really liked ‘Buck Rogers’. (Laughs) He was the last person I’d expect to like that song! I said it would be great if we did some stuff together, but we never pursued it. But there’s still time!”
7: What type of ice lolly is eaten in the ‘Just a Day’ video?
“Is it a Fab?”
CORRECT. Ever thought of reuniting the promo’s participants for a follow up video?
“No – people have asked but I don’t think it would ever work again. It’s not out of the question but why the video works so well is because the people were genuine fans auditioning to be in a Feeder video – and didn’t know the footage would be used. If people knew what it was going to be used for, it would have been too fake. David Mould, the director, had the idea after watching You’ve Been Framed. This was pre-social media and he was ahead of his time. I thought it was the most absurd idea for a video I’d heard in my life. They got loads of entries – some good, terrible, and unusable – and edited the best together. We were on tour with R.E.M. on the bus when we first watched it, thinking: ‘What is this?! This is either the best video we’ve ever made or the worst’. It was risky for us at the time, but worked out well because we were on tour and didn’t have time to appear in the video ourselves.”
8: Name the three bands you were in between 1987 and 1994.
“Jesus! Uh – I did an acoustic thing called Raindancer which is the most terrible name ever. We were trying to have a hippy Led Zeppelin vibe, and were originally called Rain but had to change it when we realised Liam Gallagher had been in a band called Rain. (Laughs) We stated out busking then did a few gigs. The other name must be Reel, which was the original name for Feeder. Is there a third one?! No, there can’t be!”
WRONG. It’s Raindancer, Reel and Temper Temper.
“Sorry, there is Temper Temper! That’s the Cardiff-based band I was in with [original Feeder drummer] Jon Lee for a while! Well I got two out of three! Their original drummer before Jon Lee took over was Greg Haver, who ended up producing the Manic Street Preachers and others. Tim Lewis – whose band it was – was encouraging about my voice and is a big reason why I got the confidence to actually end up singing. He ended up in Spiritualized. Temper Temper was ‘80s avant-garde muso rock – like Frank Zappa meets Van Halen meets indie-goth.”
9: Feeder bassist Taka Hirose had a Japanese cooking website. Name four bands/artists on his ‘Funkin Cooking Time 1’ playlist.
WRONG. Bob Marley was on there, but the rest were: Eric B & Rakim, The Gaturs, Curtis Mayfield, Cold Grits, General Crook, Herman Hitson, James Brown, Majestics, Marva Whitney, The Meters, Mickey & The Soul Generation, Grant Green, Kool & The Gang.
“His food’s really good – what I’ve tasted of it!”
10: What is the only song with an acronym on your 1996 Feeder ‘Swim’ EP?
“I can’t even remember what songs are on that! (Long pause) You can hear my brain ticking. ‘Stereo World’? No wait – it has to be ‘W.I.T.”
CORRECT. It’s ‘W.I.T (Women In Towels)’
“I think the crazy name ‘Women In Towels’ was something Jon Lee said to me one day and we found humorous. In the early days, we’d write songs quickly. We did gigs where we hadn’t written half the lyrics and we just made them up as we went along. ‘W.I.T.’ had a great riff and was very popular live.”
What were those early days like? Didn’t you used to tour in a bus that belonged to the Village People?
“Yeah! That was the second leg of our first American tour. We got upgraded from a transit van and thought ‘We’ve finally arrived!’. Then this bus turned up which was pink on the outside and inside – which wasn’t what we were expecting! It was filthy inside as well. But there was more pink than the eye could take. Dirty pink, I should say!”
Bonus question! In 2011, you teased the album ‘Borders’ by posting a message on YouTube written in Morse code which translated as the album title. Can you guess the following Feeder album from this Morse code? ‘- .- .-.. .-.. ..- .-.. .- ….’
“God, I can’t do Morse code! Is it ‘Echo Park’?”
WRONG. It’s your latest album ‘Tallulah’.
“Cruel! I’m sure there’s some really intellectual guy in a band who’s an expert in Morse code – Brian Eno maybe – but I’m afraid that’s not my area!”
The verdict: 5/10
“Oh well, I’ve let everyone down! (Laughs) When you’re hungover, it doesn’t always work in your favour, does it?”
Feeder’s latest album, ‘Tallulah’, is out now. The band start a 16-date tour on November 1 at Pyramids, Portsmouth.