Feeder are among only a handful of bands who’ve been going 25 years or longer and are still able to write songs that rival the tracks that put them on the road to stardom. Tallulah, Feeder’s 10th studio album sounds like classic Feeder, and, sonically, surpasses a lot of their earlier stuff. I think of the Newport-formed band in the way I do Pixies or Manics: they may have songs that a lot more people know from the earlier years – in Feeder’s case ‘Buck Rodgers’, ‘Just The Way I’m Feeling’ – but they still emit spark and imagination in their latest output. When I meet lead singer and principal songwriter Grant Nicholas over the phone, he’s in a truly positive mind set, and chatty. For someone on a winning creative streak, it’s hard to blame him for a bit of self-confidence.
“Tell you what this album felt like in terms of head-space: writing our second album Yesterday Went Too Soon,” says Nicholas, keenly. “We did quite well with Polythene [the debut album]. Things were starting to happen for us as a band. ‘High’ would introduce us to quite a lot of people. OK, it wasn’t a massive record but it still sold quite a lot. It was quite a confident time and we started doing these songs off the back of this really long American tour. And I basically started doing Tallulah off the back of doing the Best Of tour and doing loads of festivals.”
Indeed, there's cause for celebration, the Feeder Best Of tour sold really well, but such tours can be construed as the activity of a band may be sitting back to cash in on their legacy. Considering how adoring fans are towards the magic of their knack for using classic melodic pop songwriting in a heavy rock aesthetic, it’d be easy for them to do. But credit to Feeder for using it as fuel to move forward and consolidate the impression of them as a continually evolving powerhouse.
Work on Tallulah began in earnest in Nicholas’ North London shed-like home studio the Treehouse. Asked for one catalysing idea that fueled the spree of creativity, he says: “I think the idea was to work to our strengths as a band and to my strengths as a writer, and what a lot of people like about the band. There are some songs on this album that are total classic Feeder and I’m really proud of that."
Singer Nicholas substantiates this claim a couple of times during our conversation: he notes in the middle of explaining the album where lines can be drawn: “’Talullah’ - that’s got some arpeggios. We’ve done that before on ‘Tumble and Fall’ [from Pushing The Senses LP]. And ‘Daily Habit’ touches on songs like, ‘We Can’t Rewind’, ‘Lost & Found’."
Even though there are cross-references, it doesn’t stop Tallulah being a record that feels like its own chapter to delve into. The track list; the artwork, and the way it’s produced is so nicely crafted it adds to the immersive feeling of the record.
Beginning to chat about the process of sequencing, Nicholas says: “I wanted the album to be semi conceptual. I still work like side a, and side b. The a-side is more loaded with singles and the b-side goes off somewhere. It’s old school but that’s how I still like to make records and love about the whole process. ‘Shapes & Sounds’ kicks off side two in a similar way to ‘Youth’ kicking off side one. Lyrically, it’s a continuation of that story.
Does this pairing of songs happen frequently on the record?
Only sometimes. Other times it’s just two tracks that sound good next to each other. For example, I put ‘Guillotine’ next to 'Kyoto' because the end of ‘Guillotine’...the songs like this execution... and then you’re into a song which is the heaviest track on the record. It reminds me of a battle scene.
Production took place largely in the Treehouse with Tim Roe and Grant Nicholas co-producing demos. “I did really good demos but basically it’s got a drum machine on it so it’s a pretty crappy drum sound, but the rest of it is there. It will sound like a Feeder track. Taka [Hirose] did some bass at home and sent me some bass bits that I re-amped and messed around with. Then we go off to a studio and we do the drums there. We could spend loads on a big studio but you don’t need to be in the space to do vocals and overdubs, it’s a complete waste of money,” he says reminding us of the diminishing amount of money for artists since the advent of free downloads and then streaming.
Who drummed on the record?
"Karl Brazil, who played on the last four records is playing on it, but he’s playing with Robbie Williams full-time now because he makes a lot of money. He played on eight songs on the album. Geoff Holroyde played on four songs on the album but there are a couple of tracks that we haven’t used yet that we will probably come back with on Spotify.
"We recorded at Angelic in Brackley [Oxfordshire], where we recorded a lot over the years, and at the Fish Factory in London. The Fish Factory is really cool, quite retro vibe place I like that fat organic sound. Karl and Geoff are really good drummers as well so it was really fun to do that.”
Not Pro Tools-ed to death then?
“No, polished modern rock sounding albums, I don’t like that sound, it doesn’t really sound like a band."
As for the surreal artwork, an image of a girl with tattoo-esque doodles scattered in place of her features, he explains this is by his friend Anthony McEwan – an artist whose work is collected by musical comedian Tim Minchin as well as Nicholas.
Of the creative process he says: “I wanted it to be classically his style but I wanted to incorporate some of the song lyrics, some stories into the art icon images. He’s done some of those for certain tracks. If you look at the face, you’ll see some obvious ones like the guillotine, there’s a samurai sword. There’s this rodeo horse."
I suggest that allowing the artist freedom to keep his own identity must be key to his successful creative relationships in general. Nicholas proceeds to speak about the complicated network of relationships in Feeder.
“It’s only me and Taka full-time,” says the singer. “Everyone else are live players. It's alway been tricky since Jon's gone as we've only been a three-piece once when Mark Richardson was in the and for seven years. We are kind of a three-piece in our chemistry and that’s how we started and how we’d been for years. But we expanded a bit as the records had more layers on them we added more members. We are a band and all hang out together. They’re all great players, Tommy, Geoff and Dean on keyboards are passionate about the band. But we haven’t got to that stage where everyone’s become full-time members because we never felt really sure. If you take someone on and he’s not going to be there for very long... you’ve got to get the right people, you know what I mean. It’s partly what happened with me losing Jon at a real high point in our career," he says, referring to the tragic death of Jon Lee in 2002.
I say to the singer: When you see the Feeder posters, you still see Jon's face even though there’s two of you on the poster, it can be interpreted to be an in honour of him.
"That is a massive part of it and some people don’t understand that," replies Nicholas. "I don’t want anyone to think they’re not part of the Feeder family, but it is a little bit like that. It’s a weird thing to say... apart from when we had Mark Richardson in the band for quite a long period of it felt a bit uncomfortable for somebody to replace him like that. Maybe psychologically that is on my mind sometimes and we have kept it simple just the two of us. You know it might change, if we have the same line-up on the next record and we’re working a bit more together, it might be full-on band shots for the next one. That would be nice, I have no problem with that."
For now, though, preparations are all on the live set. What will Feeder play on the upcoming tour, and is there going to be any special feature?
"Of course we are going to play some of the songs I know a lot of the older fans will dig, going back to our early stuff like ‘My Perfect Day, 'Stereo World', and even some of our b-sides. We’ve got a lot we can experiment still in with the new stuff. We don’t want people to think we’re just going to play 'Feeling A Moment' every night. That’s the festival kind of set. You have to hit people hard with the songs they know at festivals."
And the special feature: "The artwork is going to be featured here and there. I love the artwork. I think it's one of the best sleeves we've ever had.”
Sounds good to us. And the chance for fans to immerse in Tallulah live for the first time live comes this November. After feeling how enthusiastic Feeder are, hearing about the uncompromising level of craft that went into making it, it's certainly an album I'm excited to see toured. They sound fresh, not jaded, purposeful, direct. This is going to manifest in the set and, in turn, allow the crowd to feel lifted.
My conversation begins to wind up and he's gracious, unhurried on the phone, the antithesis to what you'd expect for someone living in London who drinks a lot of coffee and has a busy release week. His wide-eyed passion for to keep the Feeder flame burning brightly is definitely there. His infectious passion for music in general is an inextinguishable, postive force, and the music industry, I think, is all the better off for it.
Feeder are on tour. See the full list of UK dates below:
01 - Portsmouth, Pyramids
02 - Exeter, Great Hall
04 - Oxford, O2 Academy
05 - Norwich, UEA
07 - Leeds, Beckett University
08 - Cardiff, Great Hall
10 - Newcastle, O2 Academy
11 - Birmingham, O2 Institute
13 - Inverness, Ironworks
14 - Glasgow, Barrowland
16 - Manchester, Albert Hall
17 - Manchester Albert Hall
19 - Lincoln, Engine Room
20 - Nottingham, Rock City
22 - London, Roundhouse
23 - London Roundhouse