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Idlewild: Roddy Womble interview.

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It’s 14 years since Idlewild first raged into earshot in a maelstrom of feedback and lost shoes that caused the NME to observe their early shows were, ‘like the sound of a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs.’ Yet what began as a violent, swirling study in angular art punk on the Captain EP has developed into a body of work that has been likened to the folk tinged latter day rock of REM or Pearl Jam, and set up Idlewild as one of the most important bands of the last 20 years. The music they create has grown up with them, from the sheer heart attack of ‘Everyone Says You’re So Fragile’, to the alt-folk of ‘El Capitan’, bringing with them a generation of music fans from puberty to adulthood, without ever sounding as if they have undergone a crass ‘reinvention’. In their second album, 2000’s ‘100 Broken Windows’, they achieved that rarest of feats by recording a contender for the ‘flawless albums’ category, creating one of the most rewarding indie-rock albums in existence.

Though they have undergone line up changes, expansions, the odd hiatus and solo project the band have managed to retain their core and identity throughout. At the tail end of 2008 Idlewild took up residency at legendary Glasgow venue Kig Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. Over the course of 5 shows the band performed their entire back catalogue and debuted several new songs. Later this month they will take up a similar residency at London venue Dingwalls. Included on the setlist this time will be the debut of their 6th studio album alongside performances of their entire album back catalogue. Uniquely the band, free for the first time in 11 years from the strictures of major label constraints, have offered the fans the chance to subscribe to their new album befre it was recorded to access exclusive content and material. Following on from triumphant Camden Crawl and The Great Escape appearances we asked Roddy Womble a few questions about the current state of affairs in the Idlewild world.

Hi, Roddy, how’s the response been to your album pre order offer? You’ve talked about it being interesting to see a global map of where your fans are. Can you talk us through the decision behind the way you’re putting out the new album?

We were out of a record deal, and when the time came to record a new album we had a few offers. But the way that the music industry is currently we researched our options, and this seemed like a good idea. It meant that the album would belong to us, and the fans who essentially funded it. Now that it’s all done, we have the option of licensing it to whichever label want it. It’s worked out well. Mainly because we have a loyal fan base who were interested in the band enough.

You’ve spoken in your online diaries about writing the lyrics to the new album, saying you’ve been rediscovering Kerouac and absorbing the US elections…but it would probably end up being about mountains and the sea! How did that battle wind up, what sort of topics are you writing about and how’s the mountain reference quota on the new album?

The mountain quota is minimal. There are a few island references, but it wouldn’t be an idlewild album otherwise! The US theme was a lot more general, and more musical to be honest. Neil Young, the Byrds, Wilco, Pearl Jam, that kind of thing.

You’ve been working with Dave Eringa in the studio again. How has that relationship developed over the course of the, now 4, albums you’ve done with him, and what does he bring to the Idlewild table?

He understands the band very well, and he works quickly, and the in a way we’re very comfortable with. So if you only have a specific time & budget to work with, he was the best option for us. Dave is also a friend, so it’s good fun to be in the studio with him.

You’re repeating your residency from King Tuts at Dingwalls in May. How was the reaction to the first shows and how did it feel to crank up some of the older songs? Did you find any surprise favorites whilst revisiting the older songs?

It was thoroughly enjoyable, and although none of us are too interested in always playing entire albums, at the moment it seems a lot of people want to hear our songs done in this way. It’s always the songs that we dismiss that seem to go down the best. ‘close the door’ and ‘lowlight’ from hope is important are two examples.

What was it like to get back into sweatbox venues? Do you prefer to be eye to eye with the crowd or treading the boards of an old music hall?

I prefer an old music hall, but I’m aware of the charms of a sweatbox, and have no problem playing in them. We’re a band of realists, so if we can’t play in music halls, we’re happy in a sweatbox.

There seems to be a real excitement about Idlewild at the moment, certainly from outside looking in, with the residencies, the new album, and the statement that you want to play live every song you’ve ever written. After all this time what personally excites you about slipping on your Idlewild shoes?

I think we’ve always written good songs, and played them well and with enthusiasm. There’s an honesty to the band that people relate to. A lot of people have grown up listening to the band, and it feels good to be a part of peoples lives.

NME once described your music as, “the sound of a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs”, and then in 2007 Rod actually fell down a flight of stairs at the beginning of a tour. Do you blame NME for that? Do you think they tempted fate?

No I don’t. Rod just slipped.

What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?

I’ve smashed out a few teeth, sprained a few muscles, and had several sore throats and tour bugs, but nothing too serious.

When writing lyrics, is there any difference in the approach you take to Idlewild over your solo work?

Not really. I write words that suit the music. If it’s a loud rock song I’ll keep the lyrics minimal and behind the riffs, if it’s a slow folk song I’ll have more room to tell a story.

There’s been a real surge in the profile of Scottish rock bands in recent years that are direct descendents of the success and influence of bands like Idlewild, Mogwai and Aereogramme, would you say it’s a good time for Scotland musically and are there any bands coming through who you really enjoy?

Scotland has always been a very productive little country. Bands tend to be quite independent and confident in themselves. And without pretension.

Do you feel it’s a better or worse time to be forming a band now than in 1995 with the advent of the internet, MySpace, Facebook et al? What advice would you give to new bands starting out?

I think advice is overrated, and besides I’m so out of touch that it’d be like advice from a granddad. We made a demo tape and posted it out to radio stations, labels and venues. And took it from there. It seems more instant now, impatient almost, but then that’s how the world is.

Food seems to feature quite highly in your online diary and even creeps into your column for the Sunday Herald with mention of Durham’s poison pie! Who’s the best chef in the band and what’s your current favorite meal? What’s an Idlewild rider like these days? Can you command colour sorted M&Ms?

I think with food, the simpler the better. Italians have it right, all about quality ingredients. I like a lot of Scottish food – peat smoked haddock, kale and new potatoes – you can’t go wrong with that. An idlewild rider is very plain – beer, red wine, a bottle of good whiskey, some fruit, crisps & nuts and a hot meal. And plenty of water.

You’ve been described as the Scottish REM. How do you feel about that? Would you agree?

I’m happy with the comparison, although I think we’re very different bands. I think these days we’re more Pearl Jam than REM.

You’re on record as REM’s ‘Murmur’ being your favorite album, and a very just recipient it is too, but if you had to do Desert Island Discs what 4 would you add to your pile, what book would you take and what would your luxury be?

Dick Gaughan – Handful of earth Grateful Dead – American Beauty

John Coltrane – My Favorite Things

Devandra Banhart – Cripple Crow

I’d take a collection of George Mackay Browns poetry

Stephen Malkmus or Thurston Moore?

Malkmus, always. He writes better songs.

Idlewild play at Dingwalls tonight, tomorrow night and Thursday where they will play their entire ouvre. Check Spoonfed for details here.

with thanks to Bruce @ World Of Bruce

By: Jonathan Sebire & Gemma Thomson

This article appears on the awesome Subba Cultcha, read it now!


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