While Nicholas’ 2014 solo album Yorkston Heights allowed him to tell stories and explore ‘the Tom Petty school of songwriting’, All Bright Electric sees him driving forward by taking the essentials of Feeder’s early ‘90s sound and giving them a muscular update. First single Universe of Life comes on like My Perfect Day from Polythene, with a riff as driving and dirty as ‘Quiet’ from Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins.
It’s fitting but surprising that Nicholas should include a Pumpkins track in his list of life-changing songs, but when set next to Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana and two tracks from The Beatles a clearer pictures emerges. He’s a songwriter with two sides, a man as in love with classic pop melodies as the bombast and grandeur of Kashmir by Led Zeppelin.
With Feeder getting ready to tour with All Bright Electric – including a special stop in front of 75,000 people for the Rugby League grand final at Old Trafford – it’s the perfect time for Nicholas to take us through the 10 songs that have led to this point.
1. David Bowie – Heroes (1977)
“David Bowie was a big influence on me growing up. I think I was playing Space Oddity next to Paranoid by Black Sabbath in my school band. What an amazing artist. He managed to write some great music even in the ‘80s when everything was changing. But what an incredible talent, and a shame he’s not around to do a bit more, really. It seemed like he still had so much more to do. We’ve got a song on All Bright Electric called Hundred Liars where the chorus, while not a direct tribute to Heroes, definitely references it.
“There’s something about the word ‘hero’ or ‘heroes’ in any song that feels timeless and quite iconic. I can’t explain it, but I’ve used it before on a song called Turn, from Echo Park. I think I’ve only ever used the word ‘hero’ on two songs in a 20-year career. I’ve been careful not to overuse it. I was recording at my home studio, which we call the Treehouse as it’s in the back garden, when I found out that he died.”
2. Neil Young – Heart of Gold (1972)
“Probably my favourite Neil Young track is A Man Needs A Maid, but I’ve gone with Heart of Gold as it’s a classic and I covered it with my solo band. We did a Radio 2 session with Dermot O’Leary where you do a cover and then we played in Hyde Park – at the same event as Neil Young. We played in a smaller tent and he was on the main stage. I didn’t do the cover live – I thought that might be pushing my luck!
“It’s a really clever song. ‘I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold’ – what a great lyric, as simple as it maybe comes across. The recording sounds real, like a band in a room. He’s got a unique voice, Neil Young, and I believe every word he sings. Live, he’s as good as he’s always been. I don’t know how he does it. Harvest is just an incredible album, and I love how he can write the most beautiful acoustic songs, and then rock out with his band and just go off on one.”
3. The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)
“This is credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership but I think it was more of a Lennon one. Either way I loved this from when I first heard it when I was about ten years of age. It’s so ahead of its time, a little bit psychedelic, and the production is amazing. It’s got one of the best lyrics ever written, I think: ‘Living is easy with eyes closed’. It’s so true and it makes you think of so many things when you read that or hear it back.
“I went to visit that part of Liverpool about a year ago when I played there with my solo record. The band and I had a day off before the show so we managed to do a bit of a pilgrimage. We went to Penny Lane and drove up to Strawberry Fields for pictures outside. I’ve never done that before. Strawberry Fields, it’s not this big park, it’s like an orphanage or some kind of kid’s centre. It’s quite different to what you expect. There’s an entrance with graffiti outside, and a funny sort of building, all overgrown – but great to see.”
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4. Rage Against The Machine – Killing in the Name (1992)
“Every time I hear it I just think, ‘This rocks’. Obviously quite an angry and political song, but everything about it sounds amazing. We played Fuji Rock in Japan when they were headlining the main stage, which is on a bit of a hill. When they played Killing in the Name you could feel the movement from the people bouncing, the sheer energy. And it was loud. We have ridiculous noise restrictions in the UK, so when you go to see a band it can be quieter than your car stereo. But there it was proper – which is how rock music should be.
“I haven’t heard much of the Prophets Of Rage stuff, but I find it difficult – I know it’s really hard to lose a member of a band – but I’m never quite convinced when there are too many line-up changes in a group. I think I was lucky because I’m the guitarist, writer and singer, and we’re very fortunate and able to carry on. But there’s something about the original Rage line-up which is just awesome. I mean Timmy C, the bass player – he’s so intense. The sound was mind-blowing. It was one of the best-sounding gigs I’ve heard at an outdoor venue.”
5. Iggy Pop – The Passenger (1977)
“Iggy Pop has such a great croonery style of singing, and for someone who’s pushing 70 now… the guy is just incredible, that he can still do it, do it well and look cool doing it. The Passenger is just such a classic. Sometimes you can hear something and just know it’s going to sound great 30 years later. It’s timeless. Songs like that don’t come around very often for an artist.
“I bought his recent album Post Pop Depression, the one with Josh Homme, and I really like it. I still buy records, but not every week – so if I’m going out to buy something it means I really like it. I didn’t see them play at the Albert Hall, but Nils Leonard, who’s done the sleeve for All Bright Electric, is a big fan. I heard the album at his house before buying it. He went to the show and said it was amazing. It’s a shame I missed that.”
6. Led Zeppelin – Kashmir (1975)
“I absolutely love Led Zeppelin and Kashmir is just an absolute monster. It’s epic, it’s got everything – classic Zeppelin: John Bonham’s drums are amazing, Jimmy Page is amazing, Plant’s a great frontman doing his thing. I was lucky enough to see them at the O2 in a private box with our label – I don’t know how they managed it – but it was such a great gig. I was nervous. You don’t want the memory of one of your favourite bands ruined by it not being what you thought it would be. But they pulled it off and Jason Bonham did a great job on drums as well.
”Physical Graffiti isn’t necessarily my favourite Led Zeppelin album, though. That might be Houses Of The Holy. Well that’s my favourite Led Zeppelin sleeve. That’s one of my favourite album covers of all time. The photograph was taken in the Giant’s Causeway – we were going to shoot a video there last year but didn’t go in the end. I used to have a massive poster of it on the wall of my flat in Camden.”
7. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
“This turned a whole new generation of kids on to rock music again in a really positive way. Feeder started off very close to this period in the early ‘90s when Nirvana were on that wave. I know it’s one of their most commercial songs and it probably wasn’t Kurt’s favourite one to play, but it really put them on the map for better or worse. It’s got that classic quiet bit/heavy bit, and you can hear so many influences, from More Than A Feeling to Pixies. Kurt Cobain was an amazing frontperson, a great songwriter and he just made rock cool again. And I think rock music needed that, after the ‘80s.
“I saw Nirvana play at the Reading Festival. I was working – I’d managed to blag myself in as a steward. It was me and Jon Lee with Donna Matthews, who later went on to play in Elastica. I knew Donna from Newport and we managed to get this job, standing in front of the stage wearing orange vests. We got to watch virtually every band. It was the most amazing day. I had a security pass so I could go anywhere, and I remember climbing up on one of the towers to watch that Nirvana gig. It was amazing.”
8. Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
“People might be surprised by me choosing Fleetwood Mac, but I loved them growing up and Go Your Own Way is a classic. Feeder were going to cover this about ten years ago. We worked out a very good rock version but we didn’t end up doing it. I wish we had, actually. It’s probably been done a million times now.
“It’s a weird song, because I know that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were going through a really bad breakup. A great song though, and again it’s timeless. Whether you like Fleetwood Mac or not, Rumours is a classic record from start to finish. Not a bad song on it. I don’t do karaoke, but if I ever got drunk enough I might sing this. It reminds me of growing up and summers in Wales, with flashbacks to that period of my life.”
9. The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970)
“This is a beautiful song. Obviously I love a lot of Beatles tracks but Across The Universe is a real personal favourite. All the members bring something to it. George Harrison never really got credit for how talented he was. It’s got Ringo’s unusual drumming and then obviously Lennon and McCartney with their genius for songwriting. Both very different styles, but styles that complemented each other and made the Beatles what they were.
“I think I love their mid to later stuff more. Revolver is a really interesting record, the White Album is brilliant, and Abbey Road too. Obviously the early Beatles stuff is fun, but that’s when they’re sort of teeny – with brilliant songs – but I prefer it when their songwriting went to a different level. They were very into the spiritual side, especially George Harrison, he was probably the most into it. I know lots of people who are into meditation, and it’s something I wouldn’t mind learning for when we’re on tour – probably a good way of keeping yourself together on a tour bus.”
10. The Smashing Pumpkins – 1979 (1995)
“People might be surprised that I’d choose a Smashing Pumpkins song but I love this track. I know Feeder have had comparisons with Smashing Pumpkins over the years, with our guitar sounds and similar dynamics with strings or heaviness or acoustic songs. But I think Pumpkins are great, and I think we probably follow similar paths in what we’re trying to achieve as a band. I hear so many influences from the ‘70s. Led Zeppelin had those dynamics, the Pumpkins do and I think we do as well.
“On 1979, they went a little… I wouldn’t say ‘electronic’, but something a bit different came in when they recorded with Flood. 1979 is a great-sounding track, with a fantastic groove and it sounds fantastic on the radio. It reminds me of when we were in America touring early Feeder stuff, and the whole mid to late ‘90s period when we were on tour busses across America playing almost everywhere. We were there for almost a year. It reminds me of those times – and they were great times.”
Feeder are on tour across the UK in September and October, with their ninth studio album, All Bright Electric, available on 7 October.