Key Points:

It was meant to be a few beers and an interview about the feelers' new album. Not surprisingly, because New Zealand's biggest band love a tipple, it turns into a five-hour drinking and poker session at a bar on College Hill.

Bass player Matt Thomas arrives first, looking as always like he's just got out of bed. Then singer/guitarist/songwriter James Reid and drummer Hamish Gee wander in; Reid with a poker set under his arm and Gee looking bleary eyed and wrapped up in a pinky coloured scarf and woolly hat.

It's a round of cider for the front man, wine for Gee, and Thomas is on the Speights. The drummer doesn't last long. Like me he thought he was here to talk about One World, the band's new album which is out on Monday, but Reid has other ideas. He starts setting up for poker, re-arranging the tables, counting out and distributing the chips.

Gee gets dealt four hands and he folds every time. He hasn't listened to a word Reid has been saying and resorts to telling his bandmate - a number of times - how he has beautiful eyes.

When Gee's girlfriend Amber arrives, he's off. He knows there won't be an interview tonight and we arrange to meet on Friday instead.

You can see why Reid describes the band's tours as an "ongoing shambles". Their most famous incident was when they made headlines for throwing a TV out of a hotel window - or some such story. They have yet to drive a car into a swimming pool. However, admits Reid, after 13 years as a band, and album sales of more than 170,000, they have grown up a little.

"It just gets too expensive. It really does. You do a tour and look at the bottom line and you look at the amount of damage you've caused - you know, $30,000 worth - and it really doesn't make it worth it," he laughs.

Today's session starts at 4pm and by night's end it's a train wreck, but a hoot.

The noise at the table increases to the point where neighbouring patrons are looking sideways and sneering; Thomas is the quietest, and for much of the game, the poorest. I lose the lot.

Meanwhile, Reid is Mr Moneybags. But it's his girlfriend, Davita, who's in, ahem, the finest form. She gets increasingly bolshie with her questions to me.

"Where are you from?" and "What do you want to interview them about because they don't want to talk about their influences again," is her main line of questioning.

She's only sticking up for her man because, as he tells me a few days later, he's not a fan of interviews, especially about new albums.

Davita also tells me when it's time for me to go home and, quite frankly, at that point it's not a bad idea.

Two days later, in the circular boardroom of record company Warner Music, Reid is having a coffee and ready to chat.

"It's the worst room to listen to music in," he says, unimpressed.

We start with his aversion to interviews. "Most of the time you just hear the same thing being said over and over again. What's new? What is there to say except, 'We've recorded a new album'. That's it," he smiles.

We'll leave One World until last then.

The feelers are the country's most popular band at present, and it's fair to say they probably have been since the release of their debut album Supersystem in 1998. In overall album sales the feelers are the country's fourth biggest band behind Crowded House, Split Enz and the Exponents.

Supersystem sold more than 90,000 copies thanks to pop rock hits like the title track, Venus and Pressure Man.

The follow up, Communicate, came three years later and, while it wasn't as commercially successful, it included one of the band's biggest songs, As Good As It Gets, and the romantic Fishing For Lisa.

Third album Playground Battle came out in 2003 and after a string of singles, including last year's The Fear and Stand Up, it's sold more than 50,000 copies.

So why are the feelers so well loved?

"We just keep touring and keep doing stupid stuff," he laughs. "And we don't take ourselves too seriously which is the most important thing. That's the way Kiwis are. We like our fun and don't like to get bogged down and get too precious. As soon as you start turning into one of those wankers then how the hell is the audience supposed to know what you're on about?

"And we're lucky. We've had some really good radio play and support from radio which has kept us going constantly."

They might be the people's band but they've had detractors. Right from the outset some music media branded their music derivative and overly polished, and Reid's sometimes coy demeanour and passion for music is often mistaken for aloofness.

But he and his bandmates are friendly, intelligent, and fun to hang out with.

Reid admits he's got "a manic personality and you take it when you can". "But I don't think that much about it," he says. "I'm always working so if I'm not writing and recording then I'm organising shows for the band outside of New Zealand, or organising art work and T-shirts, or making sure the accountancy or the lawsuits are all taken care of. You've got to have one of those going on."

Are the feelers misunderstood then?

"If people just listened to the music and didn't get bogged down in the personal lives of musicians then everything would be much better," he offers.

Midway through the interview Gee rings him and puts in an order for "cigarettes and a bottle of sauvignon blanc please" to be delivered to him when Reid leaves the record company. Reid hangs up and laughs in disbelief: "Now, it's got to the point where everyone knows each other so well that, well, that's just them."

The pair have known each other since school in Christchurch. In the early 90s they met Thomas, and the feelers were formed. Along with other Christchurch bands like Pumpkinhead and Loves Ugly Children, the feelers played their early gigs at venues like Warners and Dux De Lux.

"You'd have to throw in a couple of covers, like Hendrix or AC/DC or something, if their attention span started waning to get them back on track," remembers Reid. "They were a bourbon-drinking crowd," he laughs.

"Looking back it was pretty whack music. I don't know if it really suited us in the end, with the long hair, tartan shorts and Dr Martens. We were following that Seattle trend, I guess," he says.

However, one song from those early years, Arm, did make it on to Supersystem.

Two years before their debut the band signed with Warner Music New Zealand, thanks to the support of their manager Tim Groenendaal and championing of James Southgate, the then head of Warners.

Music had become their living.

The other night Reid was flippant about why the trio were still in a band together after all these years. "Because we just don't give a shit," was his response.

But in the Warners boardroom he's more forthcoming and business-like. "There's still heaps and heaps to achieve. There's a lot of stuff internationally to do so there's no point working for so long, building up a name and folding."

He believes international exposure is the band's biggest challenge.

While they are reasonably popular in places like the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, and have a healthy following in Australia, album sales overseas have never taken off like they have here.

"It's very difficult getting record company commitment outside your own territory because people like to have the band there. So you've just got to keep pushing and make sure you've got those champions on the ground [around the world]. We've been saying it for years but we need to keep building up [overseas] and put a suitable business structure together."

Reid is in the process of organising overseas dates, including a visit to the Czech Republic, but first they've got a nationwide tour starting on December 20 in Auckland to promote the new album One World. For all of you gagging to know where the feelers' New Year's party is, Waihi is the place to be.

One World is no great musical step in another direction - if anything it's more subdued and alluring rather than heavy on rowdy rockers like Larger Than Life from Playground Battle.

But the country-tinged Last Goodbye stands out as an oddity on the album.

"There were a few random tracks similar to that because I did a whole series of songs in a western type feel, like something that might be in a Quentin Tarantino film, and Last Goodbye was the only one that translated into being a feelers track," says Reid.

One thing that hasn't changed is his penchant for romantic songs like the beautiful Nothing's More Real.

"I'm a romantic at heart ... definitely. One of my favourite films has always been The Princess Bride," he smirks. "It's a nice feeling to be loved and to long for the perfect love and relationship. It feels good and so to sing about it makes you feel good as well."

He never stops refining his songwriting and describes his ideal song as one that takes you on a journey, can be played on an acoustic guitar and will "impress the chicks around the barbecue".

You heard it, people, all round to the feelers' place for a barbecue, then.

The thing is, they probably wouldn't mind at all and there may be a bit of poker going down too.

LOWDOWN
Who: the feelers

Line-up: James Reid (vocals/guitar); Hamish Gee (drums) and Matt Thomas (bass).

New album: One World, out Monday.

Past albums: Supersystem (1998); Communicate (2001); Playground Battle (2003).

Playing: Brownzy, Auckland, Dec 20; Altitude, Hamilton, Dec 21; Stampede, Auckland, Dec 22; St James, Auckland, Dec 23; Shed 2, Napier, Dec 27; San Francisco Bath House, Wellington, Dec 28; Waihi Beach Hotel, Waihi, Dec 31; Duke of Marlborough, Russell, Jan 2; Mangawhai Hotel, Jan 3; The Boiler Room, Whakatane, Jan 4; Brewers Stadium, Mt Maunganui, Jan 5; Coroglen Tavern, Jan 6.