Interview: The Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells on music, cricket and helicopters

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

When I meet Dan Gillespie Sells, frontman of British pop group The Feeling, and the 2007 Stonewall entertainer of the year, I am meeting a man who has just put his foot down.

“We’ve just had to put back the release date for the new single because I threw a wobbly over the video,” he tells me.

“We nearly had a video booked in and at the last minute I just thought: it’s not the right thing. We’ve been away for such a long time and it felt like we were coming back with something that wasn’t fresh.”

The comeback single he’s referring to, Set My World on Fire, will be the first release from the band’s new and third album. The single will now come out on Marc 28th ahead of an expected July release for the album itself. Three years have passed since their last offering, sophomore album Join With Us, went straight to number one in the UK album chart.

“Albums one and two came pretty much back to back. Altogether that period amounted to four years of solid touring so afterwards I had to take a bit of time off. Towards the end I was going a bit mental.

“We recorded our second album pretty quickly and the problem with that is you don’t have any time to live with the material. The reason our third album has taken so long to put together is I wanted to make a record that’s of the same quality as our first, which was basically written over a three year period.”

Having road-tested a number of new songs over the past year in a series of low-key concerts, Dan is confident the new album is one he can live and die by. I ask him to tell me what Set My World on Fire is about.

“It’s a bit push and pull really. It’s a love song that sort of says: I love you, but you do f**k around with my head.” He laughs. “It’s obviously based on real life!”

The BBC is currently using Set My World on Fire as the theme tune for its coverage of the 2011 Cricket World Cup. I ask Dan if he’s taking personal credit for England wicketkeeper Steven Davies’ recent decision to come out.

“Absolutely!” He’s being sarcastic.

“Seriously though, I think what he’s done is wonderful and such a good thing for him personally. He’s only 24 and with England having just retained the Ashes he’s right in the thick of it, isn’t he?

“I would encourage anyone to come out regardless of what world they’re in, even if it means getting chucked out or having to fight with your family. I don’t think there are any circumstances where you can say that living a lie is ever good.”

Sophie Ellis Bextor revealed recently that she’s recorded a duet with the band, which will appear on their new album. I ask Dan how the collaboration came about.

“I love Sophie. I’m a big fan of hers and I’ve written for her in the past and we’ve sung together before as well. We had this song for the album and it had the line: ‘You don’t know what love is ‘til you’ve had mine.’

“The way it’s sung doesn’t sound arrogant, but it sounded wrong for a guy to sing it. The song naturally lent itself to a woman. So we changed the key for her and when we heard her vocals they sounded amazing.”

As well as succeeding commercially The Feeling has been critically successful too, winning Songwriters of The Year at the 2007 Ivor Novello Awards.

“It was a big surprise. I felt very insecure at the time, like we were going to get booed when we went up on stage to collect it. I don’t normally agree with giving people awards, but the Ivors are judged by other songwriters so they feel like they have some value.

“I was actually asked to be a judge last year for the Best Contemporary Song category. You go to the PRS building, sit down in a room with five other songwriters and have lots of tea and biscuits while someone plays the songs on a CD player. We had two meetings like that. In the first meeting we whittled it down to eight songs and in the second we chose the winner, which was Bat for Lashes.”

The Feeling’s debut album featured a song called Helicopter, an attack on modern-day materialism which contains the line: “I’d feel much better, I’m sure, if I had a helicopter.” I tell him I was surprised to read he’d taken helicopter lessons during his time off.

“I’ve always been obsessed about helicopters! I didn’t buy one though. Although we’d been successful I was still in the mindset of a struggling musician. I hadn’t got used to spending money. Then one day I thought: sod this; I should do some nice stuff rather than working all the time.

“So when Ryan, my boyfriend, bought me helicopter lessons as a surprise I was so excited. I got a dog too. I’d been meaning to get a dog for years. I bought an old VW camper van as well that I’ve since had restored. I wasn’t being materialistic though; they were just little ways of treating myself after working so hard. “

I’m glad Dan mentions Ryan because, having now been together for more than four years, I wonder what he thinks of the British government potentially legalising religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and possibly even gay marriage.

“I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m ambivalent about it personally: I’m not a big believer in marriage probably because I wasn’t raised by anyone that was married. I’m an atheist too so the idea of a marrying in a church doesn’t have any extra appeal either, but from an equality standpoint I think they’d both be steps in the right direction.”

I tell him that doesn’t make him sound terribly romantic.

“I suppose if Ryan really wanted to get married then I would, but I think it’s more romantic not to. It’s like flowers and Valentines Day. It’s much more romantic to do something when it’s not prescribed.”

Dan is nothing if not romantic. You only have to listen to his music to realise that.