Idlewild are almost a quarter of a century into their journey, and they still don’t know where it will take them. The line up has changed since debut album ‘Hope Is Important’ - the band’s post 2014 resurgence has been driven in part by Andrew Mitchell and Lucci Rossi – but this has resolutely stopped them from indulging in their memories.
Put simply, the past means a different thing to each member, a series of memories distilled and absorbed in a thousand different ways. It’s these different, distinct voices that make Idlewild’s new album ‘Interview Music’ such a fascinating experience. The second album released since their 2014 reformation, it’s their eighth overall – a thrilling, confounding, fascinating experience, one capable of holding its own with illustrious forebears.
When Clash arrives to meet frontman Roddy Woomble at an East London cafe he’s a figure of concentration. Having been based in the Scottish Hebrides for the past decade the singer has taken some books for the journey, and he’s busy jotting notes – in the margins, on a notepad – as he reads. He lives in an inter-connected world, capable of ordering a sought after book on Amazon then having it land on his island doorstep within a few days.
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Time is a good indicator as to whether something is worthwhile...
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It’s this form of communication that allows Idlewild to remain in gravitational sync with one another. “Every record is really different because the way we make every record is really different”, he insists. “It’s like a collective of artists working together under the name Idlewild. Which is challenging but it’s also really inspiring too. It takes a lot longer. There was more to explore. Time is a good indicator as to whether something is worthwhile.”
“It’s very difficult to agree on things sometimes,” he notes. “And that’s a challenge when you work collectively. You get a lot more out of a song if you let it go through that process. If I was to come into the room and say, this is a new song I’ve written… then it wouldn’t be very good. That’s not to say I’m not a good songwriter on my own but in the context of Idlewild it needs the input of everyone else to help the song come out a certain way.”
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‘Interview Music’ is the direct result of that process. Roddy is able to record voice notes in the Hebrides, and send it round each member, inviting input, criticism, additions, and subtractions. They each have their own recording space, but largely rely on Rod Jones’ studio in Edinburgh for the heavy lifting, retaining a quarter century link with the Scottish capital.
“You have to be very resourceful. It’s like a long distance relationship – you have to really work on it otherwise it will just fall apart,” he notes. “The band is very much an Edinburgh band. Idlewild are from Edinburgh – that’s very much the identity there. Mainly because Rod has always lived in Edinburgh, and he’s kept it an Edinburgh band. I think a lot of people think of it as just a Scottish band in general. We’ve got a lot of associations with the Highlands as well. We’ve recorded and written there so much, and a lot of the songs are about those empty spaces as well.”
Idlewild’s roots are key to understanding the band. Growing up outside Glasgow’s incredibly fertile late 90s scene, they were outsiders and outliers, perpetually linked to other, press-driven, scenes but forever retaining their independence. It goes back to Roddy’s own youth, spending time in the United States as a teenager, soaking up underground culture.
“It was so important to me,” he recalls, “this feeling that anyone can do it. It was this exchange of ideas. I could stand on this table with my guitar and shout something out… and it could be art.”
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Mistakes are part of the process...
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At heart, ‘Interview Music’ remains a punk experience, just as Idlewild remain – at heart – a punk band. “The best performances I’ve seen – like Patti Smith or Bob Dylan – hang on that edge where anything could go wrong,” he says. “I think that’s something that comes from being self taught, and learning collectively – there’s no one coming in to correct your mistakes, mistakes are part of the process. I don’t view myself as a professional musician in any way because I’m still working out what I do while I do it. And that’s a very punk rock thing!”
Working independently meant that Idlewild could take their time on the recording process. Arranging a string of shows on the West Coast of the United States, the band used the profits to fund 10 days recording at a space in Echo Park, with the warm Californian air seeping down into their Caledonian bones.
“It was a creative week,” he smiles. “There was no A&R man or someone saying ‘this must be done!’ we just spent a week in the studio recording ideas. It was a really cool studio. Kamasi Washington, Cass McCombs have all used it regularly. This lo-fi, LA, hip studio space.”
“It was really, really nice. The sun always shines in Los Angeles. We’ve recorded there before so I’ve got great memories of it as a city. And I love driving in the evening as the sun sets, listening to music. Obviously I romanticise it wildly, because it’s a wild place on loads of levels but I’m only there for a short time so I only ever see it at its best.”
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One of the songs to emerge from those Los Angeles sessions is ‘Mount Analogue’, a gorgeous piece that drifts through several phases, pushed ahead gently by Roddy Woomble’s word play. There’s even a Robert Frost sample, too, taken from an old beat up LP the singer bought some time back. It’s a lyrical approach that clearly means a lot to the Scottish artist, something he describes as a willingness to ‘celebrate vagueness’.
“That’s something I do certainly… because I think within that, misunderstanding produces true meaning. In songs, anyway,” he says. “Songs are very specific like that – it wouldn’t work in poetry or prose – but songs can produce other meanings.”
We talk for a while about his hero Stephen Malkmus, and those vital early Beck records. But he’s also long regarded poetry as a major field of inspiration, increasingly drawn towards Surrealism as an area of inquiry.
“I’m a really big fan of poetry, I read a lot of it,” the singer nods. “Not in a scholarly way. I’m not a scholar. I wasn’t interested in school, I didn’t like the fact that we were told what it meant, whereas I felt the mystery of it was the really appealing thing. I love surrealist poetry. Alongside all the old Scottish poets, that romantic, rich imagery. But I do love surrealism.”
A record that moves from the Hebrides to Echo Park in Los Angeles, ‘Interview Music’ can scarcely be accused of lacking depth. It’s another vital chapter in Idlewild’s own novel, one that has moved from the underground to the Top 10, while remaining true to the principles that define it.
“I’m inspired by bands like Wilco, where it just becomes their life’s work, really. And some records are more interesting than others but they’re always at a certain quality, certain standard, and they’re clearly lovely human beings,” he enthuses. “So that’s what I see our band as: just doing good work.”
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I’ve never been worried about the future...
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They’ve outlasted a number of contemporaries – whether that’s bands, entire record labels, or Top Of The Pops. “The one interesting thing about us is that we don’t really expect anything,” he laughs. “I think that’s an age thing. As you get older you realise that… it’s all a little bit fucked. And whatever you’ve got is good enough.”
“When you’re younger this metaphorical carrot is dangled in front of you of things you could be, and as you get older you start to realise who you are. And it’s a really nice thing because it’s so freeing. So working collectively as a group we all feel like that. There’s a real optimism in the group. It’s optimistic music – we’ve not really an inward experience. Any experience that we do we get the most out of. There’s this feeling of delight when you’re at the airport, experiencing something new with your pals!”
Working outside the music industry Idlewild have been able to build their own lane. “I feel as a performer I’m more on the fringes of it,” Roddy accepts. “But I can do it, make some money of it, and then use that to make more music. I’ve never really been pulled into that world. The industry changes so fast – every time I put a record out I feel like I almost don’t understand it any more.”
There’s potentially a book on the horizon - “it’s sort of poetry,” he squints – while Idlewild already have songwriting days booked in the diary. With a full UK tour drawing into London soon, Roddy Woombleis putting his shoulder to the wheel.
“I’ve never been worried about the future – it’s an unknown, and that’s the exciting thing about it. Especially musically,” he insists. “There’s infinite possibilities out there, you just have to go and try them out.”
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'Interview Music' is out now. Catch Idlewild at the following shows:
25 Leeds Beckett Uni
26 London O2 Forum
28 Birmingham O2 Institute
29 Manchester O2 Ritz
30 Norwich Waterfront
1 Cambridge Junction
2 Newcastle Riverside
4 Glasgow Barrowland Ballrom
5 Aberdeen Music Hall
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