INTERVIEW: Grant Nicholas | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Feeder front man Grant Nicholas has enjoyed himself since dipping his toe into the inner workings of solo work. Fans of the Welsh trio have been able to hear a stripped back side to their singer thanks to his 2014 release, Yorktown Heights, with a follow up EP Black Clouds due to be released this year.

Here, he shares his feelings about how well the new tracks have been received and how he has overcome the new challenges that faced him during the journey, while importantly stressing his contributions to Feeder are far from over.

Yorktown Heights was released a while ago and it was a success. Was there always a small part of you that wanted to give solo work a go?

I’ve had a great time with Feeder and I’ve always had that outlet so I can’t say there was a constant burning desire to prove anything. I think we just had quite an established sound and there’s always a little bit of you that wants to show a different side.

I think that’s the biggest reason. It was kinda on my mind but it just kind of happened in a very natural way. I think it’s important to show all sides of your song writing and with Feeder, I haven’t always been able to. I know Feeder has an acoustic side as well but I haven’t been able to push it as much as I’d liked.

I thought it was a good time in my life to do it after being in the same band for over twenty years. I took some time out and it just happen naturally because I was due to write some songs for other artists and it just went from there. I’m really pleased I’ve done it.

And of course, Black Clouds is due to be released in April. How have your influences changed? What do you do different regarding solo work compared to your contributions to Feeder?

Yeah, that just kind of happened really. I know Yorktown Heights has been out for six months but people are still finding out about it. A lot of people know me from Feeder but not everybody knows my name. It takes time. Its like starting off again in some ways. A lot of the Feeder fan base knows about it but even that takes time. And of course, you’re not guaranteed that everyone will jump on board because they’re into Feeder stuff.

So it’s refreshing for me because you have to really earn it. It’s really new, like a blank canvas. But at the same time, it’s tough because I’m competing for gigs with all the other new artists doing this. It’s been a challenge but a refreshing one at that.

Regarding Black Clouds, I basically just wanted to write some new music. I had some new tracks written at the end of Yorktown heights which I liked. The title track was pretty much done just after Yorktown Heights was released and it was just hanging around. I felt that because I was still touring, it would be important to release some new music to show it’s a serious project and not just a casual hobby.

That’s how Black Clouds came about. It’s some new music to play. It’s too soon to do a full album but it’s a way to continue the journey a little bit longer.

Funnily enough, we did a similar thing with Feeder when we started off. We released a mini album called Swim, and then we did a full album quite soon after. Maybe that’s the best way to do things? But it doesn’t really matter nowadays, it’s all about making new music.

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“A lot of the Feeder fan base knows about it but even that takes time. And of course, you’re not guaranteed that everyone will jump on board because they’re into Feeder stuff”

And how did the recording process go?

It was recorded very quickly and what I have managed to do on this record is get the (live) band involved too, which gave it a little more of an edge. It’s nice. I did the acoustic and the vocals early on, then added the overdubs, and the drums and keyboards followed by Henry playing a little bit of bass on a few. So it’s got a little bit of the other guys on there which is nice for them, and it also brings a little bit of what the live show is like too.

Before, you mentioned how some fans don’t necessarily know your name but rather, as the front man from Feeder – you don’t strike me as someone who wants to rely on that, but instead make your own name with this new project?

I do. I’m not really an ‘in-your-face’ kind of guy. I’m not in the press every week but at the same time, I just love writing songs. That’s how I ended up as a guitar player for Feeder. Obviously it would be nice for people to discover it, but that’s not the reason I did it. I just wanted to do some music outside of Feeder.

Feeder is almost like a brand now, and that’s always on my mind, even when I’m writing songs for a new Feeder record. As much as I love it, you’re still thinking about the sonics and the foundations of the band. With this record, it was a complete blank canvas. I didn’t even know if it was going to be brought out as an album which is why I think it’s brought out a different side to me. There are songs on there though that, lyrically at least, I wouldn’t put on a Feeder album.

So, it’s just been a really fun project. What I’m please about is that it’s a really slow burn. I’m still doing interviews about it now, 6 months on, which is really good. I’m getting a lot of new people at the shows too, which shows it’s reaching out to a new audience. I think amongst the younger fans, a lot of them like an acoustic sound which is probably due to the amount of acoustic artists around, such as Ed Sheeran. It’s introduced that sound to a lot of new people.

A lot of acoustic artists seem to be coming through or at least getting the attention they deserve at the moment…

It’s just simple songs. It very similar to the acoustic Feeder stuff. It starts off being quite simple and then it ends up with big guitars and you get a feel of the band chemistry. I think it comes down to the simplicity of song writing really and that’s what it’s all about – I guess I’m old school [laughs] It’s what I feel very comfortable with. I was brought up listening to a lot of artists who come from a similar area and they influence me. I’ve always loved that simple approach. With any song, take any song, you can do it simple or start putting crazy production on it but it always needs a good tune to start with.

And if you over produce it, you can lose that initial spark…

You can. Black Clouds has very little on it. I purposely didn’t use any added guitar, it’s all acoustic other than some tiny little electric over dubs. I ran the acoustics through with a tiny bit of dirt on it but made sure not to lose that acoustic feel which is what I like. And it was actually a real challenge for me because it’s just a whole different approach, especially playing live as I’m used to that wall of sound behind me. I’ve really enjoyed it though. But it is harder in a way because you’re so much more exposed.

That’s true. After all, it’s only you who will be criticised if things don’t go right…

Yeah. I’ve got a great band behind me but some of the songs are really stripped back, while others have a odd feel to them. The shows have a sort of acoustic band flavour to them, but you can imagine how this compares to some of Feeder’s work. However, there’s bound to be some similarities because it’s the same guy writing them.

Yorktown Heights was released on your own label and largely produced by you too. That must bring it’s own challenges?

Well, I’ve always been interested in the producing side of things and have in fact co-produced some of Feeders work. So it was kind of self-produced but obviously, with some help from the engineers who did a great job. I worked with some really good people. It was cool going to New York and doing a lot of the overdubs there and I’d done loads of it in my studio home (The Treehouse) In fact all of Black Clouds was done at the Tree House except for the drums and the organ work. It came out pretty good for a little garden studio!

And the added bonus that you’ll have your own personal connection to it?

There is. And there’s something about when I record stuff in that place, my little spot at home, there’s a certain charm to it which is very difficult to recapture. It maybe be partly down to the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of gear. its quite simple and it forces you to work a different way.

I think it’s like you said, it’s easy to put a load of production on a song but trying to make it work in a simple way is more difficult sometimes. So, that’s where being in The Treehouse has really helped me. I’ve managed to get the sound right and my singing is becoming more distinctive and that’s what people are picking up on. Hopefully that’ll come through even more on my next album.

Is that what you strive for? Your own distinctive sound?

Well, I don’t have a mad or wacky voice but people do know it and my style. It’s nice to have a bit of identity as that makes you more distinctive but it’s not what I set out to achieve. I just wanted to make good songs. But now, I feel like iv found my place in the sand, Obviously, each sound can be different. But my approach in terms of the vocals and the guitar, it sends a bit of a vibe through the tracks and when you do it this way, you realise you don’t need so much other stuff around it. And that’s a whole different way that I work with Feeder. For example, with Feeder, we do the vocals last but with my solo work, the vocals have gone on first on a lot of songs which is bizarre to me.

But that could be because you’ve done it for so long…

Yeah definitely, but it’s good. Don’t get me wrong, Feeders not over by any means. I actually have a few new Feeders tracks already written as it’s something I really want to continue doing for a long time. This just gets fit in in between Feeder obligations. But it’s a whole different project with a completely new team, different management, different band etc. But I purposely did that so when I do Feeder stuff, I’m 100% on that. It does take a lot of work to do Feeder stuff so I don’t want to lose focus. I won’t do any shows until I’ve finished this and then I’ll go back to Feeder and focus completely on that. That’s the only way I could put passion into both projects.

Grant Nicholas plays at Arc, Stockton on Friday 6th March.

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