Posted by: Richard Frost | 8 Apr 2020

Interview with Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble

Logo for Purple Radio, Durham University's in-house radio stationOriginal publication date: April 2005
Outlet: Purple Radio

Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble spills the beans to Richard Frost about the indie-rock band’s new album Warnings/Promises and their upcoming nationwide tour.

So Roddy, Idlewild spent the whole of 2004 recording the new album. It’s the longest period you’ve been away from regular gigging since you formed in 1995. Do you feel slightly nervous about getting back out on the road after all this time, or have you got past the nerves now?
Roddy Woomble: Yeah it’s been quite a while, I guess. But I still wouldn’t say we’re all that nervous. We’ve been doing this for such a long time that I don’t think we really get that nervous about gigs anymore.

Casting your mind back to the mid-1990s, Idlewild first built their reputation on explosive live performances. Do you feel that your albums have become progressively more important as you’ve developed as a band?
RW: Definitely. This album, and the last one [The Remote Part], have become a lot more relaxed. So we’ve really had to rethink what we were doing live. It wasn’t so much that the songs weren’t working, but generally in our early years we’d write the album and then think ‘which songs can we actually play live?’ Now though, we’ve tried to only write songs that we’re confident we can do full justice to onstage, and so that’s put a lot more pressure on the albums.

Is it true you’ve got an acoustic gig lined up at the Cambridge Folk Festival? What was the thinking behind that?
RW: Yeah. We did a low-key acoustic tour of Britain a couple of months ago and it all stemmed from that really. I guess a lot of people expected us to just bash the songs out on an acoustic guitar. But we’ve always had a lot of folk influences in our music. Most of our music is actually written on an acoustic guitar and then hardened up, so it just made sense to revert back to the songs in their original forms.

So can we take it that the folk influences will increasingly shape your music, either live or on future albums?
RW: It’s something we’ve always been hinting at, it’s just that we’ve gradually got more confident over time. Now I think we’ve actually reached the stage where we’re more confident acoustically than normally. But it’s not the case that we’re trying to abandon the other side of the band. We just need to remember how to play the heavier side again.

Is it fair to say that Warnings/ Promises is your most mellow album to date? Was this a conscious decision?
RW: I don’t know about mellow. It’s definitely our most direct and honest album to date though. We prefer to think about it as less cluttered. Yeah, less cluttered and confusing than our previous records.

Having said that, potential single I Want a Warning feels like a nod back to your heavier punk roots. Do you ever feel like revisiting the heavier sound for a full album?
RW: I think we still have moments of all-out thrashing music on every record – A Modern Way of Letting Go on our last record is one of the heaviest songs we’ve ever done. Really, we enjoy playing both folk music and making as much noise as humanly possible about equally. It’s just that the extremities have widened as the band have progressed.

Artwork from Idlewild's 2005 LP Warnings/Promises

Over the years, you’ve progressed from frenzied, thrashing punk – NME famously described you as a ‘spitting, mewling hellcat of a band’ – to the crowd-pleasing anthems of Warnings/Promises. Do you think these two sides fit well together live and on recordings?
RW: I guess we’ve changed so much because we’ve just been learning how to be in a band. Lots of people forget that we’ve been together for ten years now. I guess our horizons and our musical abilities have just broadened out over that time.

Now that you’re back here in the North-East, what do you think of the hotly tipped local bands that have sprung up, led by The Futureheads and Maximo Park?
RW: I think that there’s a lot of really good bands out there at the moment. But the problem is that there’s still too much emphasis put on where bands are from. A good band is a good band – it doesn’t matter where they’re from. Having said that, I guess the newer Scottish bands like Franz Ferdinand have quite a distinctive sound. But then, people forget that there’s always been good music outside of London. Actually, I think you tend to find that bands outside the capital have more longevity because there’s much less hyping and pressure to conform to the trends.

The new wave of British bands has been received really well in America recently, particularly at the South by Southwest Festival. How important do you think it is for British bands to succeed in the States?
RW: I think that there’s too much emphasis on bands doing well in America. Take us, for example. We had a few great gigs supporting Pearl Jam over there and suddenly people back home were hyping us up way too much. It seems that you only need to sell a thousand records over there before people start saying that you’ve broken America. Even the idea of breaking America is a bit weird – it sounds like you’re beating them over the head with your music!

Obviously though, I guess the goalposts have moved a bit with the number of albums that bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Franz Ferdinand are selling in the States now. I know Idlewild have always had a cult fanbase over there, which is great. But really we’re just happy to keep travelling and playing gigs to fans in as many new places as possible.

With the current trend for jerky art-rock bands like Franz and Bloc Party, do you ever worry about Idlewild being left behind?
RW: We do laugh about it. I mean American indie-rock seems to be coming right back in at the moment, but we were doing that two or three years ago. Actually, we’ve just started leaving that behind on the new record. So I guess you could say our timing isn’t the best, really! Then again, perhaps that’s one of the reasons for our success as we’ve never tried to get involved with the latest short-lived trends. I don’t think we’ve ever been considered part of that scene really.

Scottish poet laureate Edwin Morgan contributed lyrics to your last album The Remote Part and your sleevenotes urged us to ‘Support your Local Poet’. With the increasing emphasis on lyrics in your recent albums, are you deliberately setting yourself up as new Scottish poets?
RW: Not at all, no! It was all kind of tongue-in-cheek, we never meant it seriously. Basically, everyone saw us as hermits in Scotland writing folk songs. We were always seen as a little bit twee and I guess that’s partly our fault for staying around the Scottish Highlands. But for this record, we were given the opportunity to work over in Los Angeles and I think it really gave a new side to the band. Hopefully, it’ll finally get us away from that twee stereotype.

Your new album had a difficult recording process. What went wrong with the recordings in Sweden?
RW: I think it was just the same thing as always. Ever since the second record (Hope is Important), we’ve been a bit too keen to get back in the studio and record some new stuff. But then we end up recording stuff that would probably be better off on the last record. We definitely needed a change but it wasn’t the fault of the producer, it was just that we needed to try an uncomfortable situation. Well, at the very least an unusual situation with a new setting, and a new producer, and a new way of doing things. I think it’s important to keep growing as a band, and with Idlewild that means every so often giving ourselves a slap on the wrist!

The recording of Warnings/Promises ultimately spanned several locations – Sweden, Scotland, England and the States. Do you think this contributed to the sense of alienation running through the record?
RW: I really don’t know, actually. We tend to write our songs on the tourbus or up in the Highlands. But then you find that a song has different meanings when you play them in a hut up in the Highlands or driving down Sunset Boulevard. Where you are shapes the sort of sound that you want. I’ve always thought that songs are a reflection of your personality as a writer.

Any hints as to what you’ve got planned for the new tour, and specifically Newcastle tonight?
RW: As it’s the first night, I suppose we’ll be keeping it fairly straightforward. Most of the songs will be from the new record. You have to remember that we have a back catalogue of 30 or 40 songs now, so we’ll be looking at changing the setlist from gig to gig. Next time, we might also try an acoustic section or even do a whole acoustic show. But for tonight, I think we’ll be sticking with the ones that we’re most comfortable with – just to get back into the swing of things. Hopefully, they’ll be the ones people want to hear too.


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