Going solo: Feeder songwriter Grant Nicholas’s debut album is suffused with regret
He says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
There comes a time in the lifespan of any band when the singer craves a little autonomy, and so seeks out a more individual creative path. In other words, they put the band on hiatus – often whether the rest of the band likes it or not – and crank out a solo album.
Grant Nicholas, the 46-year-old frontman with Feeder, is about to do just that with Yorktown Heights, the stripped-down, semi-acoustic affair of a man quietly dealing with the small but seismic crises that tend to resonate during mid-life.
“I actually never really planned on making a solo record because I wrote all the songs in Feeder myself,” he reasons. “But increasingly I realised I wanted some time out from the band, and to do something completely different.”
In doing so, he admits, he had to tread a delicate line. Taka Hirose, Feeder’s Japanese bassist, became suddenly unemployed.
“I’ve not seen Taka for a while now, but I do know he’s playing in another band, in Japan, I think,” he says. Here, Nicholas hesitates. “It’s tricky taking time out, but then I’m not responsible for other people, am I? I can’t be. Things don’t last forever, and Feeder won’t last forever. I still think we have a bit more to do musically, but not yet, not now.”
We are sat on a red leather sofa in Nicholas’s home studio, located at the bottom of the garden of his handsome north London semi. The size of a garden shed, but considerably more comfortable, the walls of the studio are lined with silver and gold discs, and acoustic guitars. There is a microphone stand there, a keyboard here, a lava lamp in one corner.
Nicholas, sipping on tea while fiddling with his grown-out hair and pointing self-consciously at the grey in his woolly beard, is a gracious host, and spends much of our time talking at a hundred miles an hour: about the album, his inspirations, the pitch of his voice, its position in the mix. The only time he falters is when we stray onto matters personal, which at one point prompts him to say: “Musicians are pretty private people, you know.”
He says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates. I ask for examples. “Oh, well, you know, it’s the same for everyone in life, no? Not everything can be perfect all the time. There’s a lot of hard work to being in a band sometimes more than you might realise…”
There is a rich melancholic vein running through Yorktown Heights, with some songs – among them “Isolation” and “Broken Resolutions” – that sound as if they might be detailing a relationship in trouble.
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates Elsewhere, on “Hitori”, he sings, “sorrow will find me wherever I am”. He suggests a thematic correlation between these songs and Feeder’s 2002 album Comfort in Sound, a striking thing for a married man with two children to suggest, given that album was written in the wake of Feeder drummer Jon Lee’s suicide.
“Well, I get dark moments,” he suggests hesitantly. “I mean, I’ve got a great family life, but there are still times when I feel… depressed.” About what? “Um, well, we all have dark moments from time to time, right? There was a bit of drinking involved while writing this record, and that always puts you in a different headspace. You have a drink, a crazy idea for a song emerges, then you wake the morning after saying to yourself: what was I thinking?”
Jon Lee was Nicholas’s childhood friend, and his suicide inevitably remains a complicated subject: a personal tragedy on one hand but, as he admits himself, one that made people sit up and take notice of his band when they hadn’t done so before.
“To many people, we were a good band but a bit boring,” he shrugs, and continues: “Then after Jon died, the press suddenly had a story. I accept that. His death still shocks me, and I still think about it all the time. Of course I do. I wonder what would have happened to us if he hadn’t died. Would we still be going? Would we have finished a long time ago?”
Feeder has always run on Nicholas’s rampant ambitions. He craved U2 status, but settled for solid popularity. Their biggest hit remains 2001’s “Buck Rogers”, a song that had all the energy of a Labrador puppy chasing loo paper. It has aged better to others than it has to him.
“There are certain songs I feel embarrassed about now,” he says. “Songs that I have to grit my teeth through while playing live. But, you know, maybe if I hadn’t written them, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
He frowns, then shrugs, and we wander back into the kitchen where his Japanese wife, Kana, and his nine-year-old daughter, Hana Sky, sit making crazy loom bands. His six-year-old son, Ko Marley, is on a play-date, which explains, says Kana, smiling, why it is so quiet in the house right now. Hana talks me through the artwork of her father’s album, a series of pencil sketches she drew herself, and Nicholas watches on, beaming.
He may never have become the rock star of his dreams, perhaps, but Grant Nicholas remains a thoroughly likeable journeyman, and the musical reflectiveness he is tapping into now suits him.
“I’ve enjoyed doing this album,” he says. “It’s freed me. I like the idea of making a few more of these kinds of records before I get too old, and be able to play them live without making too much of a fool of myself.
“If I can achieve that, I’ll be happy.”
‘Yorktown Heights’ is released on 11 August on Popping Candy
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