Formed in 1995 and famously described in their early days by the NME as sounding like ‘a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs’, Idlewild’s marriage of punk rock, poetry and Highland spirit saw them grow from a raucous cult curiosity into chart-bothering national treasures. Growing more mature and masterful with melody they dropped six acclaimed albums and two compilations before deciding to take a break in 2010.
Living life and continuing solo ventures filled their time away and a few years passed before friendship and the bind of their creative relationship brought them back together for 2015’s ‘Everything Ever Written’. Wondering if there was still a hunger for Idlewild, the band’s own compulsion and flair translated into one of the most ambitious records of their career. With it came critical praise, an album in the top 20 and successful tours of the UK, Japan and America with the band selling out venues as large as they ever had.
“Idlewild has always been a band without a plan, in the best possible sense,” says frontman Roddy Woomble. “We didn’t start this feeling like it was a viable career choice or anything like that. It was all about communicating ideas and trying to write some cool songs. I look back on our beginnings as quite an innocent time but with ‘Everything Ever Written’ the desire was there just to carry on doing it.”
With new members Luciano Rossi (Keyboards) and Andrew Mitchell (Bass) on board, Woomble, guitarist Rod Jones and drummer Colin Newton felt a renewed sense of purpose. So much so that the week that ‘Everything Ever Written’ was released they were already beginning to start work on what would become the bold step sidewards - ‘Interview Music’. Inspired, at the end of a US tour they decamped to Los Angeles to record these ideas, but it would be some years before they set themselves up at Jones’ own Edinburgh studio to finish the record.
“Starting in LA gave us a principle feel for the songs,” says Woomble. “Musically and lyrically we were striving to push them into a different space really. Idlewild has loved Los Angeles since we recorded ‘Warnings/Promises’ there in 2004. There’s a romanticism to it unlike any other American city and, of course, musically it has such a rich history. As a city it’s hugely conflicted between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. It’s like the American Dream going sour in front of your eyes but visually, artistically, a powerful place”.
“A lot of the songs are about dreams and dreaming and the thoughts and ideas that come from this state. I live in the Scottish Highlands, and between there and California you’ve got two locations that can put you in a dream like state – driving down Sunset Boulevard as the sun sets or driving over the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula as the sun rises. The world seems unreal, magical. You’re dreaming through a landscape.”
As guitarist Rod Jones puts it, by the time they returned to Leith in Edinburgh, “the sonic identity had been imprinted on the songs” – one of positivity, possibility and looking for extremes.
“We’re really strong personalities in the band,” said Jones. “In the playing and the writing of this album, we were a bit more comfortable in ourselves. It was about taking things as far we could and nothing seemed like too much or too far. There were less boundaries than before.”
Before reuniting to finish the album Jones embarked on some production work, Woomble released his acclaimed, intimate and introspective solo record ‘The Deluder’ and the band performed a run of shows to celebrate the anniversary of their seminal record ‘The Remote Part’. One of those shows would see them meet up once again with the producer of that record Dave Eringa, who would provide Idlewild with the grounding they needed to finish ‘Interview Music’.
“He produced five tracks on the album, but also brought focus back to the band and made us actually finish it,” admits Woomble. “He made it sound like us. We’ve got a lot of gratitude to him for that. We
just trust him. He knows what Idlewild are. He’s known us for 20 years and he know how to make us sound good.”
Jones agrees: “When we work with Dave, there is a way that he imagines Idlewild. It worked. On this album, there’s a classic element to it, but there are so many twists and turns in there that people might not expect.”
That there are. Opener ‘Dream Variations’ is a slave to its absorbing melody, before taking a surprise left-turn and drifting into a waltz-like trance. Much like the rest of the record it has the indie-rock DNA of the band but mutated in new and strange ways. ‘Same Things Twice’ takes the fire of the earlier, heavier highlights like ‘A Modern Way Of Letting Go’ or ‘Little Discourage’ and carries it with a more mature grace. Then ‘I Almost Didn’t Notice’ and ‘Mount Analogue’ make for record’s centre-pieces as playful, adventurous and strange – driven by abandon but still loyal to all that you want from Idlewild and, not least, from Woomble’s lyrics. Here you’ll find another tapestry of riddles written to “celebrate vagueness”, inspired by the joy of five living for the now, but always retaining the initial spirit with which they formed.
“For the one way flow of information that any interview normally consists of ‘Interview Music’ is the imaginary soundtrack,” reveals Woomble. “Many of the songs words started out as poems, or short stories which I would then edit into music essentially. Otherwise conversations are my biggest inspiration. I am being forever criticised by friends for writing down things that have been said. Using lines from real conversations is something I have always done, maybe ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ being the best known example.
“Misunderstanding is a very pure artistic moment though – when meaning is suspended between what was intended and what has been understood. I guess that is what ‘Interview Music’ is all about.”
Every rush of joyful noise has a thought and purpose behind it. Idlewild are still very DIY, they just always need to do something different while still chasing that magic something that you just can’t fathom.
“What’s really important about Idlewild is that we are basically punk rock kids,” concludes Woomble. “No one ever taught us how to play anything. We formed a band and we learned. We were inspired by the bands we saw just getting up on stage, making a noise and trying to change your ideas.
“That’s principally what the band still do. I’m not a kid rolling around screaming into a microphone on the floor anymore, but that ideal is still at our core.”
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Onsale Fri 9th Aug at 10am
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