When the coke-shrivelled testicles of Brit-pop were still in full-swing, Idlewild were dropping out of art school and ingesting Fugazi, Superchunk "...and all those small bands on American indie-rock labels." A few gigs, a few seven inch singles and then in 1998 they released their 'Captain' mini album via Steve Lamacq's Deceptive label (at the time home to Elastica) before signing to Food Records (then home to Blur). Then, when every new British band from Coldplay to Badly Drawn Boy trotted around with an acoustic guitar, they delivered their debut full-length of erratic punk rock, 'Hope Is Important'.
Yet, just when it seemed like their time to crossover, the yanks with their bloated Nu Metal and skinny-jeaned New York cool hijacked the agenda and Idlewild were lost at sea making melodic rock with Scottish accents. Then, when rock-with-regional accents (Arctic Monkeys, Lily, Nash, et al.) was all the rage, their front-man moved to New York and took time out to make traditional folk albums ('My Secret Is My Silence', 'Ballad of the Books' and 'Before the Ruin') - which maybe is but probably isn't quite as Great Jones Street as it sounds.
In the fourteen years since their inception, Idlewild may never have been the fashionable flash in the pan people wanted them to be but then, who wants to 'fit in' anyway? Unlike most modern bands they've been able to develop into the tamed beast that purrs like James Dean's Harley. They have toured and toured, found fans, picked up gold and silver sales discs, scored top 10 singles, released a Best Of and a B-Sides collection, not to mention finding themselves atop various year-end lists either of side of Atlantic, across Europe, in Japan and pretty much everywhere else in the known universe (approx). Meanwhile, front man, Roddy Woomble, moved from New York back to Glasgow then to the Scottish inner hebrides where he sits beside a coal scuttle writing newspaper columns, as well as a regular column for a hill-walking & backpacking magazine. It might not sound like a perfect storm but put it altogether and you have a great British rock band, in a very interesting place at a very perculiar time.
Now, whilst digital divas and earnest bearded American men in plaid shirts are running amok, Idlewild are releasing 'Post-Electric Blues' an indie-rock album of Boss-like bombast, flecked with 70s synths and dashes of brass. It's an album that leaps from Fleetwood Mac epic folk/rock/pop peaks into joyous Loch-side sing-a-longs. It's the sound of a deft and defiant band (completed by Rod Jones on guitar, backing vocals, keyboards; Colin Newton on drums, percussion; Allan Stewart on guitar and Gareth Russell on bass), exploring soundscapes whilst finding hooks and generally, genuinely and quite clearly, having a fookin good time.
"Album opener 'Younger than America' was the first track we wrote for the album," says Roddy. "The idea for the lyrics came from a spate watching Westerns - Simple stories of justice and courage set at the 'frontier'. It sounds the way it does because we're all big fans of Neil Young & Crazy horse. After we'd written the song I though the record might turn into a American sounding piece of classic rock, but It didn't turn out that way really, especially after writing 'Readers and Writers'. The record went in
whatever direction it chose to".
"I wanted to have a more off the cuff feel to the record, with the words especially," declares Roddy and there's a definite sense of anything goes which produces a volatile warmth to the record. It's a balmy heat that comes from a meeting of punk rock at a crossroads with folk. Don't get me wrong, this isn't some kinda mashed-up black-eyed beans and bratwurst genre-dump, it's just a rock record with a heart of strings, xylophones, hand-claps, trumpets, hammond organs and big nihilistic grins.
Rock, be it punk rock, folk-rock, stadium rock or indie-rock, certainly had an influence: "Rod is obsessed with... I mean, he really loves Bruce Springsteen! We all love bands like Wilco, Pavement and Pearl Jam - we loved touring with them (PJ), they're a great rock band. Some people think people think Pearl Jam are the uncoolest band in world, some people absolutely live by them, and they just do what they do, lots of bands say they do that but they're affected by things." Remind you of anyone? (A: See above)
Lyrically, the punk-rock sloganeering of their earlier work has become a mixture of poignant observational small-world imagery and universal ponder-neering. This isn't all textural wilderness-gazing or woe is me Morrissey-like rambling. There are a few wry lyrics because "sometimes you need some daft lines in there," explains Roddy, "I don't that think it's possible to have a rock song where every line is perfect, I don't think that's the point of rock music."
He continues: "The album title is not entirely serious and befits the whole record which has a playfulness to it. I suppose I'm trying to imagine a new genre for this post-modern world". So it's not a reference to Dylan plugging in a electric guitar at Newport Folk Festival then? "No, I didn't think about that, although everyone says I listen to too much Dylan and old Jazz. I guess it has a sort of Dylan quality to it but it's moreso because Post-Digital Blues didn't feel right."
Shortly after the release of 2007's 'Make Another World', the Sanctuary Group went into administration and Idlewild became an unsigned band. Instead of chasing a deal, the band took a leap of faith and asked their fans to pre-order the album. "We got the budget for the record down to a bare minimum" explains Roddy. "We knew we could make a record if only a thousand people pre-ordered it, but we had no idea how it'd go. Our last record 'Make Another World' sold about 40,000 copies, even though the record label effectively [Sanctuary] closed down just after it was released." The result of the experiment was a triumph, with over 3000 of their web-savvy tribe embracing the 2.0 record funding model.
Whilst they waited for the record to be written and recorded, members of their fanclub-like online community saw and heard work-in-progress snippets of 'Post-Electric Blues': "The fans of the band were part of this album and were entitled to see the songs being written and to feel a part of them," beams Roddy. "They paid for them to be recorded after all. In today's musical world when everything has to be available and instant and people get bored quickly (far too quickly in my opinion) this album was our attempt to get with the times. I suppose the album title reflects this. We all really like and appreciate the fact the fans paid for us to make this album and that all their names are inside of it."
Written in Scotland and recorded in Wales (and Scotland). Clearly, this was an album made to play live, as Roddy explains: "Most bands now make their living through concerts, and we're no exception, so records have to be tailored that way. With 'The Remote Part and 'Warnings...' we were writing songs that would sound good on the radio (and live, but the radio was more important - so we were told). There are a million new bands on the radio waves, or digital waves, now so it's more important to us how we will sound good through a PA system in a club and that we can play and sing it all!" Although, he concedes: "That said, it'd be lovely to have a hit."
Bringing things full circle, Roddy concludes: "I guess we've never really fitted into anything. When we got our punk rock guitars out everyone was talking about acoustic guitars and vice-versa. The nearly men, the underdogs, never as big as they should have been, these things come up all the time but..." he takes a pause to sip some tea "... I don't really know what the rush is. I really love bands with long careers. I feel like we've only just started and I'm hoping we've got another 20 good years left in us
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