The Feeling: A band with a passion for pop
Who wants to be cool and trendy? Certainly not The Feeling. Alexia Loundras meets a band with a determination to be successful
Friday 17 February 2006
Paul Stewart furrows his brow. "Could it all go wrong for us?" he wonders. The drummer from The Feeling has the windswept look of a man caught in the eye of a tornado. Around him, 16 people rush about in a space far too small to hold 16 people. Across the cluttered room, spotlights are trained on the band's singer, Dan Gillespie Sells, who looks like a young Christopher Reeve being filmed by a Hollywood-size movie camera. "But then, what is wrong?" continues Stewart, deftly stepping out of the way of the fast-moving floor manager. "If nobody liked our music, that would be a shame. But that just won't happen. People will like it."
While it's not unusual for a rising band to brazenly blow their own trumpet, Stewart and his four band mates are far too polite and well brought up to resort to any uncouth rock star swagger. But that's precisely what makes their measured but firm self-assurance so compelling. There's no bravado-fuelled bluster, just a simple statement of fact; speaking to The Feeling, it's clear that to them, success is already a foregone conclusion. And judging by the flurry of excitement that surrounds the band - both here on the set of the video for their debut single, the irresistible "Sewn", and in the wider music industry - they're not the only ones convinced of their talent.
Signed to the label that brought us the similarly nice chaps, Keane, The Feeling's prospect of success is very real. Not because they capture the zeitgeist, or because the music press has got its knickers in a twist, or, indeed, because of any new-fangled internet buzz. Instead, their inevitable success will be built on good old-fashioned radio play, which they're sure to get because they write such good old-fashioned songs - their excellent single is already A-listed on both Radio One and Radio Two.
These boys are not, make no mistake, trying to be cool. In fact, The Feeling worry that they'll be mistaken for an indie band on the basis that they play guitars: "We've always been fearful of that," says Gillespie Sells, "it's not us. We're a pop band and if anyone tries to pull us in one direction or another for the sake of what's trendy and fashionable we tend to resist it. We don't care if anyone thinks what we do is too simple or too straight; we don't care about kudos - we grew out of that when we were 16."
The Feeling are all about their tremendous, tankard-sized hooks. Pitched in the rainbow-coloured realm between Queen and the Scissor Sisters, Keane and 10cc, Gillespie Sells and his band of well turned out young men pen fiercely infectious, life-affirming pop. Which is just what you'd expect from a band who all relate to keyboard-player Kevin Jeremiah's earliest memory: as a four-year-old dancing round his nan's living-room to a ABBA's "Super Trouper"
Revealing a chink in their confidence, the band do self-consciously refer to their songs as "cheesy". But while their unassailably catchy tunes are proof of their devotion to 1970s MOR, it's certainly not in a bad way. Like the most liberating guilty pleasures, The Feeling's music ticks all the right feel-good boxes. Their songs are built on gloriously uplifting melodies replete with enormously sing-along choruses and underscored with a pleasingly bitter-sweet melancholy.
There's nothing accidental about The Feeling's open-hearted sound: "Our songs are designed to put a smile on your face," says a famished Gillespie Sells as the video shoot finally breaks for lunch. The band may only be coming to prominence now, but they've actually been around long enough to know exactly what they want from their music and, crucially, how to achieve it.
The lads first came together ten years ago when Stewart introduced his old Sussex school mates, quiet guitarist and keyboard-playing brothers Ciaran and Kevin Jeremiah, to his new Croydon music college pals, Gillespie Sells and Jones. They didn't form a band immediately, though; now all in the twilight of their twenties, they actually all spent several years honing their abilities as jobbing session musicians.
Five years ago, finding themselves at a loose end, they answered a wanted ad for a covers band to play the après-ski set in the Alps. It was to be the perfect practical experience for the burgeoning pop group: they lived out of one room (with just four beds), stuck to a gruelling daily touring schedule (they played three bars every night) and trained their livers to handle rock star levels of alcohol.
Winter over, the band went back to their session-playing day jobs. Like a music apprenticeship, playing in other artist's bands gave The Feeling superior pop nous, improved musicianship, and in Jones's case, a popstar wife (he met and married Sophie Ellis-Bextor after playing in her band). "It was quite an old- fashioned way of doing things," laughs Gillespie Sells, mid-mouthful. "We were finding our way musically and it made us all very professional - and the more competent you are, the more creative you get."
But it was the stint in the slopes that had the biggest impact on the band. It whet their appetite to work together, but more significantly, it set them on their unique sonic path: "Supertramp were on French radio all the time," says Jones. "Hearing their music every day, we all grew to love it together, and now half our songs sound a bit like Supertramp!"
It's a sincere and unselfconscious admission. And this honesty exists in The Feeling's songs too. Gillespie Sells has grown from being the self-confessed "cute fat kid who could play the piano" to being an astute, emotive (and slim) songwriter. The catalyst for his transformation was learning to open up: "If pop music doesn't have any genuine emotional content to it then it's pointless," he says. "And to get that you really have to lay yourself bare." The singer's lyrics do cut close to the bone: "Sewn" hints at a debilitating shyness, while "Strange" is a softly driving ode to defiance that packs a similar vital punch to Radiohead's "Creep".
After their short lunch break, Jones receives a welcome visit from his popstar wife - even more petit in real life - laden with their bouncing 21-month-old son, Sonny, and a bottle of champagne: "So you can celebrate when you finish," she tells Jones. Refreshed by the distraction, the band return to filming the "Sewn" video's various scenarios which include Jones being mauled by electrical cable and Gillespie Sells having his lips, ahem, sewn together by a vengeful sofa. And all the while the band's insistent song blasts through the freezing cold room. But despite repeated plays, "Sewn" just seems to sound even better. The band are well aware that, like Keane before them, their aural concoctions will prove too sweet for some, but their singer is unperturbed - to worry about such things would be counter-productive: "The important thing is not to care about what comes out of you," says Gillespie Sells again taking his place in front of the camera. "We are pop," he says passionately, "and great pop is about being fearless." He smiles to himself. "And the only way we'll get it wrong is by being scared."
'Sewn' is out on 27 February. The band tour until 27 February, and support The Charlatans in April and May. Their debut album, 'Twelve Stops and Home', will be out in June
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