Indie rockers Feeder return to the Leeds Festival this month. Frontman Grant Nicholas talks to Chris Bond about the band’s highs and lows.
WHEN Feeder take to the stage at the Leeds Festival later this month, they’re likely to be well received by a crowd they’ve entertained several times over the years.
“We went from being an unknown band in a little tent to playing the main stage, so the Leeds Festival has been good to us,” says the band’s frontman and songwriter Grant Nicholas.
It will be a welcome return for a band that has survived against the odds and he is looking forward to playing at one of the world’s biggest rock festivals. “We’re fortunate to have a pretty loyal following that hasn’t gone away, but festivals are a good way for people to see bands they haven’t heard before.”
Feeder have been around for more than 20 years now.They’ve survived changing trends and the tragic death of a band member, while songs like Buck Rogers, Tumble and Fall and Just the Way I’m Feeling, continue to get airplay and bring them to the attention of a new generation of music fans. “I wouldn’t say we’re a household name but most people know who we are and recognise a few of our songs,” says Nicholas.
The band was formed in Wales in 1991, emerging on the coat-tails of grunge bands like Nirvana, The Pixies and the Smashing Pumpkins. They had more in common with their American counterparts than the Britpop scene that was emerging in the UK.
“We never really followed a trend and we didn’t aim to copy American bands, we just happened to sound like them – we were on the wrong side of the water,” he says.
Success was slow in coming. “It was a gradual thing,” says Nicholas. “We went from playing in front of 10 people, to fifty people and up to 2,000 at the Indie Club in Camden.”
It was another four years before they released their Two Colours EP and a further two before Polythene became their debut album. It was well received by the music press and the follow-up, Yesterday Went Too Soon, cemented their position as a band to watch.
But it was their third album Echo Park and the release of Buck Rogers, which became the band’s first top 10 single, that propelled them into the mainstream. “It’s not my favourite song I’ve written but it’s one of our most popular,” he says. But then Nicholas admits he’s given up trying to work out which song might be a hit. “Writing songs that people have a connection with, that’s what songwriting is about for me and it’s still a challenge because you don’t know what is going to work. I’ve written songs I was sure would be hits that haven’t been and others that I thought were ok that have been really successful.”
But just as the band were heading on an upward trajectory, tragedy struck when drummer and founder member Jon Lee killed himself in 2002. Nicholas says he and fellow bandmate Taka Hirose were devastated. “It was very tough and we thought about quitting. It really impacted on me massively,” he says.
Nicholas dealt with his grief by doing what he does best, writing songs. “I locked myself away and in a strange way it inspired me, although I perhaps didn’t realise it at the time. We were in it for the long haul and there’s no doubt in my mind that we would have continued to make good music if Jon was still around.”
The ensuing album, Comfort and Sound, became their biggest selling record, a fitting tribute to their bandmate.
In the decade since Lee’s death, the band has continued with its brand of alt rock and earlier this year they released Generation Freakshow, their eighth album. Nicholas calls it “classic Feeder.” So has their sound changed over the years?
“I don’t think we’ve changed much. This is what we do, we’re never going to make a jazz fusion record because if we ever did people would look at us think ‘what’s all that about?’” he says.
“As a band you need an identity and we have that and perhaps it’s one of the reasons for our longevity. We’re still here and we’ll keep plugging away because we’ve always had to work hard for what we get.
“We’ve had our ups and downs and losing Jon was awful, so it’s not been an easy ride. But we’re lucky enough to be able to do something we love.”
Feeder play the Leeds Festival, Bramham Park, on Sunday, August 26. Their new album, Generation Freakshow, is out now.
Feeder: The life and times of an alternative rock band
Feeder originally come from Newport, in south Wales, where they formed in 1991.
The band released their first EP, Two Colours, in 1995, and their debut album, Polythene, in 1997.
Buck Rogers became their first top 10 single in 2000, reaching number 5.
The band’s drummer and founding member Jon Lee died in 2002.
They have sold more than 1.5 million albums to date, with Comfort in Sound (2002) selling over 500,000 copies in the UK alone.
Feeder are playing the Festival Republic stage at this month’s Leeds Festival.