Rock and Pop: The hunger never stops

With an eye on his band's legacy, Feeder's Grant Nicholas thinks big with ED CAESAR
There's a scruffy presence in the top floor bar of a smart central London hotel. Grant Nicholas, Feeder's diminutive front man, is slumped in his chair after an appearance on Radio 2. "They're a big audience," explains Nicholas, "they play a lot of guitar bands. Coldplay, Snow Patrol," and now, we assume, Feeder. The band, and in particular their iconic singer, have become increasingly involved in marketing their sound. Hence the interview with Radio 2, and a tour which will take them to every far-flung corner of the globe.

"I've been in the music business a while," Nicholas explains, "and the reason why we've lasted so long is by caring about this stuff. It's not the most important thing for us, but I'm at the stage where I want as many people as possible to hear Feeder."

While such business sense is hardly rock'n'roll, one only has to listen to their new album, Pushing the Senses, to know that Feeder have lost none of their edge. A rich, sometimes harrowing follow-up to 2002's Comfort in Sound, the new album showcases a widescreen sound that has glimmers of U2 in their Joshua Tree pomp, and a greater eclecticism of tone than we have seen before.

"I love rock music", says Grant, "but I don't want to do those high energy songs all the time. There are folk songs on Zeppelin's albums, and that's why I love them. There's not one particular style but it always sounds like Zeppelin."

Though formed in 1992 in Wales, Feeder's true inception came in 1995 when Japanese bassist Taka Hirose joined best friends Grant and drummer Jon Lee. Feeder, though, remained aloof from the Britpop explosion, plying their own brand of spiky, energetic rock for two moderately successful albums until Echo Park in 2001 spawned the massive single "Buck Rogers".

But as the world sat up and took notice of the Feeder sound, it was already in the process of changing. And, in January 2002, with Nicholas already working on material for what would be the band's breakthrough album, Comfort in Sound, Feeder's world changed forever.

Nicholas has already done all the talking he wants to do about Lee's suicide, but, as he admits, it had a big impact on the band's music. "After losing Jon, I think we were much more determined. So when we had a change of direction with Comfort in Sound, it wasn't down to [producer] Gil Norton. It was something the band did. After losing Jon, it probably gave us more drive, but this development was always the game plan for Feeder. A band has to mature."

Before the band could progress, though, they needed a new drummer. Mark Richardson, formerly of Skunk Anansie, stepped up, but Hirose and Nicholas had to be comfortable with whoever replaced Jon, and there was a lengthy feeling-out process, where, Nicholas admits, "it felt like we were playing with a session drummer". It has only been since the band finished recording Pushing the Senses that Nicholas and Hirose asked Richardson to join the band permanently.

"When we play together now," says Grant with a grin spreading across his face, "we feel like a band again. The chemistry is there. Mark's such a brilliant drummer, but completely different to Jon."

It may feel like a band now, but Nicholas concedes that he, Hirose, and Richardson have had their shaky moments, particularly in the studio. This is where producer Gil Norton comes in. "He keeps the pegs in", says Nicholas. "He holds us all together when we're feeling unsure about things, whether its musical or personal. And that's part of being a great producer. It's not about guiding the music, it's about guiding the band through the music."

And Nicholas, who co-produced Pushing the Senses, seems genuinely surprised by the interest that big producers have had in the band's development. "There was some interest from Brian Eno on this album", recalls Nicholas, "he really liked our demos. It would be amazing to work with him - but I can't imagine what he would do to our stuff."

Despite his controlling instincts, Nicholas understands the need to allow other influences to shape the music. "I really want us to grow on tour," he says, "to grow as a band and find new ways of playing our songs. If `High' [from Feeder's second album] came out on the radio now I really believe it would be a big hit, so we want to rediscover a few old songs."

But if you really want to know how this band view themselves and their future, there is only one place to look: "U2 are a band that have been around my whole musical life, and whatever anyone else says about them, they've had an amazing career and they've taken some big risks along the way. It's good songs that make a band survive."

While we may be some way off Feeder's special edition iPod, one senses that what really drives this band now is legacy and longevity. It's not particularly sexy, and eschews the "live fast die young" philosophy, but there's every chance that in five years time, people will still be listening to Feeder.

"I still have the same passion for this music as I did when I was in my first band when I was 11 years old," says Grant with a glint in his eye. "I can still see us doing this in 10 years' time." If you haven't heard Feeder by now, you can be sure you will soon.

`Pushing the Senses' is out now on Echo