As the frontman and main songwriter of one of the most successful British rock bands of the past two decades, Feeder's Grant Nicholas is a familiar face to rock fans. But the Newport-born singer/songwriter's debut solo album Yorktown Heights shows off a new side to his craft. We caught up with Nicholas to get the low-down on the record, and what it means for Feeder's future.
Yorktown Heights is your first solo album, and it might surprise people…
“Yeah, I don’t think it’d be shock to people who know me well, but perhaps it might be a surprise to some of the indie-rock kids who just want to hear loud guitars. Even back in the earliest Feeder days I’ve always written these kind of songs – we actually got our original record deal on the strength of our acoustic songs more than the heavy stuff, apparently, because the label could see that there was more than one side to the band and my songwriting – and this album is me writing in the way I always write, sitting at home with an acoustic guitar. I wanted the songs to be a bit more stripped back, and to almost have a ‘70s influence: I was listening to albums by Simon and Garfunkel and Nick Drake and Neil Young and John Lennon and the simplicity of those records is really striking. I wanted my voice to be heard rather than being buried amid all the guitars, which I normally want, so it was quite brave for me, but this just felt like this is the right time to do it. I’m at a point in my life where I wanted to do something different, and it felt very natural to me.”
Presumably Feeder remains a priority for you though: did you seek [bassist] Taka’s permission before embarking upon this album?
“Well, it’s bit tricky, because I know Taka wants to get back to Feeder now, but Taka has his own little side project – he has a band in Japan, a little fun project he’s had for a while – and I thought ‘Okay, this probably a good time for me to do something different, while Taka is busy’. But then his thing finished quite soon, at which point I was only halfway through making the album and I knew I wanted to finish it, because I’d invested a lot of time and effort in it. It is a bit tricky, and I understand Taka’s frustration, but I needed to make this album, and if it does well it’s only going to help Feeder. And if it doesn’t do well, no-one will care about it and I’ll go back to Feeder. But I think having a break is good for us. I’ve written some new Feeder stuff too, I’m not going to disappear, but I need to put some proper time and energy into this project now.”
What kind of themes are you exploring on Yorktown Heights?
“Well, I always tend to write about life experiences, but this album comes more from the Tom Petty school of songwriting: I love the way that he can tell little stories in simple lyrics and they just take you off on little journeys, and I wanted this album to have a sense of that. And I think I achieved that…whether the critics agree or not! But I didn’t make the album for them, I made it for myself and my family, and I hope that other people will find something in it. I can be very self critical, but I was listening to the album yesterday, as I was playing it to my wife’s mother, and it feels comfortable to listen to, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign.”
And what do your kids make of it?
“They’re probably sick of me playing it! But kids are great to play music to, because they’re really honest – worse than any journalist! - particularly my six year old, who’s my hardest critic. But they love the album, and have really connected to the songs. And I think if you can keep a six year old interested, I think you’re doing something right. Sometimes simple songs can be the hardest to write, and when you can put together a really simple song that people can connect to, they’re like gold. The response to Soulmates from the Feeder fanbase has been amazing, which I’m really pleased about, because I was a little worried that they’d miss the big guitars.
What will define success for Yorktown Heights for you?
“Well, I really want people to hear the record, but I think I’ve already achieved something in that I’ve made a record that I’m happy with, and I think it’s a really nice snapshot of a time in my life. And if I still feel like this in 10 years time then I’ll have achieved something worthwhile. Of course commercial success would be nice, because I want as many people as possible to hear the record, but it’s not the prime motivation. And it’s funny, a lot of radio stations are hearing the record and thinking of me as a new artist, which is kinda refreshing if bizarre after 22 years with Feeder. But basically the record is fun, and I want to have fun with it, so that’s the aim going forward.”
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS IS SET FOR AN AUGUST 11 RELEASE VIA POPPING CANDY