“This really feels like a new band now. No rules and no formulas anymore” – hmv.com talks to Idlewild
Scottish rockers Idlewild are the definition of a cult band. They’ve spent more than 20 years making brooding, smart rock and roll, bringing together the wit of the Smiths, the warmth of R.E.M and the darkness of Nick Cave to create triumphant anthems.
Formed in 1995 in Edinburgh, the band released six albums between 1998 and 2009, moving from scrappy post-punk through to bombastic rock songs and eventually giving way to gentler, country-influenced indie rock. They played the biggest festivals, sold hundreds of thousands of records and seemed like they’d quietly go on forever, until 2010, when the band quietly announced that were heading for a hiatus. They did the Greatest Hits thing, rounded up their B-Sides and rarities and tidied things up for a long hiatus.
Now reunited and with a brand new line-up, we spoke to guitarist Rod Jones about their new Everything Ever Written, coming back together, the band’s place in things and why he’s keener on some of their old songs, but not all of them…
You’ve been away for almost six years, how does it feel to be back?
“For us it’s not been that long as we’ve been writing for a while and we just really took our time. It was a gap that was needed, certainly for us. The band had really started to constrain us all, everything felt like it was done by formulas and it was getting stale. Stopping was the best thing for all of us, I don’t think any of us thought it was the end.”
What brought you back together initially?
“We just kept in touch. Myself and Roddy (Womble – vocals) had been listening to each other’s solo stuff and we discussed doing some writing and went in and it quickly turned into an Idlewild record. We wrote together quickly, we got Colin (Newton – drums) involved and then Luciano (Rossi – keyboards) and Andrew (Mitchell – Bass) so there was lots of new input. I have to say, this really feels like a new band now. No rules and no formulas anymore. It’s really exciting.”
Did you think you and Roddy were writing an album when you first sat down together?
“We didn’t know, but it turned into that very quickly. A bunch of the songs we wrote together in our first afternoon writing have made it on to the record, so it didn’t waste any time in becoming Idlewild again. We’ve been writing together for 20 years now, so it’s quite easy to snap back in to that.”
When did you know that you’d need two new members and that Allan (Stewart) and Gareth (Russell) weren’t going to be part of the band?
“There wasn’t a definitive moment. We’d always been talking about getting a keyboard player and Lucciano was someone who’d played with Roddy on his solo records, so he was an obvious choice. We’d always planned that, we thought we needed another dimension, I can play a bit of piano, but it was nice to get someone in who can actually play.”
“As we pressed on with recording, basically Allan and Gareth just weren’t available so we kind of pressed on. We asked them a couple of times if they wanted to get involved, but they just weren’t able to. So, after a while, we needed to find someone who could play the bass. We knew Andrew and he was another obvious choice. New musicians give bands new life, so it’s a great boost.”
Did you listen to your older albums to get back in Idlewild mode?
“Not at all. I rarely do that anyway, unless I’m trying to remember how to play something. You spend so much time on the record that you almost never want to listen to it again once you’ve finished it. I’ve listened to this one a bit more, but listening to old records is a bit like looking at photos of yourself as a baby.”
This is your first time self-producing. You’ve with some big names in the past like Dave Eringa and Stephen Street, why did you decide to do it yourself?
“I’ve produced records for other bands and my own solo stuff, but it’s a first time for Idlewild. I think it’s mostly because I felt like I could, I’d spent five years producing so I felt like I knew how. We feel a lot more confident in ourselves now and I felt like I could get us across the way I wanted to. I knew how I wanted it to sound and how to get that across. It meant we could take our time and not be beholden to someone else’s schedule.”
Did you lose that sense of discipline that you can get from a producer?
“It is a looser record, but that’s by design. I wanted a more organic record, I didn’t want everything totally perfect. It’s got a very scrapbook feel, you can hear the growth and change in the songs. You’re on your best behaviour when a producer is there and they weren’t on their best behaviour around me, that’s for sure. At the same time, we’re all grown up now, there’s no need for cutting corners or shouting at anyone.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“Roddy’s the man for that question, but I know what he says every time, it’s something I’ve always liked about the way he writes lyrics, it’s very open to interpretation. There a few themes that come back, identity and where you are in your life. We’ve been asked more than a few times whether there are any songs about the referendum and obviously we were living through that, so there’s a good chance we’ve soaked that up and it’s in there.”
What are your plans to take it out live?
“We never really plan too far ahead. We did a few shows earlier in the year, just to get used to playing again, just acoustic shows. We’re going to play the dates we’ve got, then some festivals and then hopefully I’d imagine some more dates after the summer, but it depends where we’re wanted. I know none of us took for granted that anyone would be interested when we came back, so we’re taking it as it comes.”
Do you have an appetite for touring in the same way you did when you were younger?
“We’ll play to as many people who want to hear it so we’ll go where we know we’re wanted. I don’t think any of us are in the mood to force feed people our music anymore, the days of slog touring North America for three month playing bars and Mexican restaurants are over.”
What kind of live set are you planning? Will it be focused on new stuff?
“It’ll be quite career-spanning. We’ve got new members and there’s been a while since we last toured. So we’ll be concentrating on a core of songs, a real staple diet and then playing new stuff out some older songs in a way that people won’t expect.”
Are you less keen to play the older records?
“I do feel like people still latch on to 100 Broken Windows, or certainly they did, but I made that record when I was 20, I don’t understand it anymore. I got voted the best Scottish record of the 00s, it ended up feeling a bit like an albatross, like we had to play a lot of it. With our new line-up, we don’t really feel like that.”
Are there any of your records you don’t like much anymore?
“We’ll be playing songs for all our records, but I know there are albums that aren’t as strong, especially Make Another World, it’s a strong record, but it’s got some big holes in it and it’s a really rushed record. We made it while we were doing solo records, looking back, if we’d put those solo records together, it might have been a really interesting Idlewild album."
Do people call for the same songs at shows? Or is a real mixture?
“It’s a mixture, in the latter years we’ve seen a lot more people calling for stuff off the later records, it used to just be for early ones, but, especially after the time away, they’ve all become nostalgia records. We don’t feel constrained by nostalgia anymore though, we’ve all got our favourites and we’ve re-discovered a few too. We feel about our fanbase that they’ve been following us for that long that if we like something, they probably will too, that’s our motto these days.”
Idlewild’s new album Everything Ever Written will be released on Monday (February 16th). You can pre-order the album in hmv stores now.