It’s easy to dismiss The Feeling – a band best known for radio-friendly singles like ‘Fill My Little World’, ‘Love It When You Call’ and ‘Sewn’ – as a pop act past their peak, a guitar-friendly Top of the Pops band that don’t fit into the urban-based modern pop-music scene.
When Goldenplec had the chance to catch up with the five-piece before the Arthur’s Day performance we found that they don’t entirely disagree, but that they also have a prog-rock side and a penchant for going a little mad on stage. Occasionally, said madness takes place in front of a television audience of over a billion. Most of the time, it’s just five close friends, a large group of very devoted fans and a little help from the likes of Sophie Ellis-Bextor…
Do you drink a lot of Guinness normally?
Ciaran has a Guinness server. It’s very good. It works through sound waves or something, and we have one on our tour bus. It’s for producing those bubbles at the bottom. It tastes pretty much like an Irish one. Not quite, but almost.
Will Arthur’s Day be a little bit like going back to your old cover band roots, playing in pubs to small audiences?
Actually we love this kind of thing. We haven’t actually stopped playing in pubs. Every now and again we go and do a kind of pop-up gig in a pub somewhere, we really enjoy it so we have a habit of doing it anyway. We engineered one ourselves for the Royal Wedding party. It was all organized by a few friends, we just played to a handful of people in a pub and it was great fun. It’s just an excuse to have a party.
It’s been 16 years since you started out, though it probably seems a lot less to everyone else, with your fame having come relatively late. Where do The Feeling stand now, compared to other times over the years?
On the subject of the length of time, we were thinking that we should do something for the twenty year anniversary. Go out for a meal, have a row, go home not speaking. Something like that.
It’ll also be a ten year anniversary for the first album, near enough…
Yeah, it’s amazing actually, it’s coming up to half our lives. It was this September sixteen years ago.
There seems to be a cyclical thing going on with pop. Five or six years ago when you first broke it was all about guitar music, now urban music – hip-hop, dance – seem to be the focus. How has that affected the new album, and your status as a band?
You’re right, but I think mainly we just feel incredibly lucky that we had a break at a time when, as you said, it was all guitar music. We get to make music and go out touring, but there’s definitely a cyclical nature. Bands today are going to have a much harder time getting signed than when it was the ‘in thing’. We haven’t ever really done anything about it, as it’s hard enough for us to sit down and make a record and try and make it as good as we can, without thinking too much about what’s going on around us. We do tend to follow our noses and instinctively make what we want to make, and try not to worry too much about what the zeitgeist is, if you like. We do things for ourselves, and that’s always worked for us. The hope is that if we keep doing then it’ll come back around.
The latest album hasn’t sold as well as the first two. Do you think that’s a reflection of how pop
music is now, rather than the album itself?
Very much so. We’re really proud of the album, and as you’ve probably observed, it’s actually the same with most acts of our kind that are around now, so it’s not personal. It’s just the way things are. We just feel so lucky that we’re at a point where we can carry on doing it.
I’ve noticed in your recent interviews that you’ve talked a lot about how the albums are a lot more varied than the singles, and that you’re actually a more varied and alternative act than you’re made out to be. Is it pressure from the label?
It’s not the label so much, and it’s not really so much ‘alternative’, it’s more that we’ve got the situations where we get labelled as a band where everything sounds like this. The idea that everything’s like a pop song or a ballad, but the album’s much more musical. Our albums were musically varied at the start because that was what we liked. For this album, we listened to a lot of Talking Heads. We draw from so many different influences, which does make the albums a bit scattered around. They harp back to the records we listened to when we were growing up. There are the Beatles records, the Queen records, but it’s much more varied than that. The tricky thing is the radio thing. We’re a radio band; our success always came from being played on the radio. Radio wants and expects a certain thing from us, and the choice of singles is often based on what they like and what they expect. It sometimes doesn’t show the whole spectrum of what we can do. Then again there are songs like Rose, that’s now being used on this international Burberry campaign, that still gets an airing to the world.
Do you find you have an audience that comes out to see you based less on the poppy stuff, but on your other styles?
Yeah. I think they come along for both. It’s quite a mixture in almost every way – the age range, size, shape, hair colour… it’s a strange crowd, but we love them all. The pop fans in particular are very much a part of us.
You’ve never been afraid to say you’re a pop band to be fair…
No, as we said before when we’ve made music it’s always been instinctive. There’s no point in trying to pretend any different than that. In many ways it was kind of a reaction to the way people wanted us to do it. A lot of people wanted us to kind of be as ‘indie’ as we could. We grew up in the 90s, so we were well aware of what ‘indie’ was, and we didn’t feel we could try and do that, it just didn’t seem like it would be ‘real’. We want to be true to what we do, and pop music, whether it’s The Beatles, Queen, The Stones or Fleetwood Mac, pop music is much more varied than just saying that you’re indie; going with the image and the label that was popular at the time. Now it’s all changed anyway. And it’s all semantics, it’s all pop music. I read a great article in The Times recently about the Grunge scene in Seattle. But every band from Seattle got labelled Grunge, but they all sound totally different. If you go from Pearl Jam to The Posies… The Posies sound more like us. They were a pop band with harmonies but they got called Grunge, because they came from Seattle. Pop was a dirty word in the 90s, with the Spice Girls, Boyzone, Westlife thing going on. The word got dirtied and bands were generally encouraged to steer clear of it. We understand pop to be like the Beatles, or Nirvana, or Bob Marley… any of them.
Given the obvious connection to Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Richard is married to Sophie), it seemed to take a long time to do something with her. What made you do it this time?
It was the song actually. The song just seemed to be screaming out for her. That hadn’t really happened before, and we’re not the kind of people who would force it to happen. We just worked away, and when it seemed natural we did it. We also had a bit more time with this record to do those collaborations. There are a few other collaborations on the record, like Rosin Murphy and Freemasons… the diaries wouldn’t have lined up if we’d had to rush the record. That, and it didn’t really feel right before, we were just doing what we were doing. It was all very instinctive.
How many tracks do you think you have in total now? This album was cut down from 40 to 12 or 25, depending on the version, and the second album had a big special edition too…
There’s a lot out there. There are all kinds of quite proggy, quite bizarre b-sides that we’ve accumulated over the years. Our label recently got hold of us and said they wanted to get together all the cover songs we’ve done, and make sure that they didn’t miss anything. We were turning up all sorts of different stuff that we’d forgotten about.
What’s been your most pop star moment so far?
The Diana gig was a massive moment. Standing on stage at Wembley stadium, and being introduced by Kiefer Sutherland. There has to be a mixture of excitement, adrenaline and pure terror for it to be a real rock star moment. We had no sound check, we just walked on, and we were told that there were a billion people watching it live. There were 75,000 in the stadium, and if something doesn’t work, there’s nothing you can do. Terrifying. Once we realized everything was working, though, we had a great time.
You were demoing a song – about a year ago – called ‘Bullshit Rules the World’. What happened to that?
It never really sounded right. We’ll keep trying, though, as it was a great song. It’s been knocking around in our repertoire since we were sixteen years old, and I think that’s part of the problem, that we wrote that song when we were so young. Maybe we feel too old to sing it. It had something, and we tried to change it but it felt diluted. We changed it back and it didn’t feel quite right. It was called ‘Bullshit Fucks the World’ as well, but that was always going to be an issue with swearing. Bullshit does still fuck the world, but there are always other ways of expressing it. Taking a dump in a hotel lobby, something like that. As a form of protest.
I’ve never seen you live. How do you differ live from on record?
You should see us! People tell us it’s louder and more rocky than they expect. When we produce records, we love to be able to hear all the parts, all the harmonies. Inevitably at a gig it gets a bit more raucous. On record we often put things together as we go along, rather than as a band. Once it’s all produced, we kind of have to learn to play our own music. Once that happens it gets an edge to it. People are often surprised, and tell us ‘its way edgier than we thought’. The live show is quite energetic. But then our background’s playing in pubs, so we’re used to being drunk, playing bars and stage diving at five in the afternoon. We’ve never captured it in the studio, as our production taste is different. But we like to put on a show. We like the sophistication of really intricate sounds on record.
A lot of people associate pop with people who don’t write their own music, so perhaps you seem rockier because of that association?
Yeah, and the association with people who don’t actually play their music… By being such advocates of the word pop, perhaps we give people the idea that we don’t write our own music or play it. But actually we even produce our own records as well now. If you’re dismissed as a certain thing, it’s quite frustrating that people haven’t looked a bit closer. Perhaps it deserves a bit more. Aspects of the media want something they can sum up in two sentences, while for the public it’s just they hear a song, do they like it? Put all that aside and you’ll get played on the radio because people like the song. That’s all there is to it.
Can you see a time in the future when things are seen differently?
Well, we just go into the studio and do what we do. Who knows. We might end up doing something really avant-garde one day. It’ll only happen if we all agree it’s what we should do.
For Goldenplec.com, September 2011.