As Idlewild capitalise fully on their recent resurgence, we speak to Woomble about hidden references, musical evolution and catching a moment
It's the night of December 20, 2017. Idlewild are playing the second of two sold-out shows at Glasgow's ABC, commemorating the 15th anniversary of their third album The Remote Part. There's a widespread feeling that this might be one of their best ever shows; the band powered by the electrifying audience energy, every song met with a deafening chorus from the floor.
Former members Bob Fairfoull and Allan Stewart are rolled out as surprise guests, Fairfoull in particular barely able to contain his excitement at briefly rejoining the band he left in 2002. By the summer the venue would fall victim to the flames from the second Art School fire. The death of Scott Hutchison, who opened the show with Neu! Reekie! collaborator Michael Pedersen, would break the hearts of music lovers the world over in the spring. Life is a relentless cacophony of ecstasy and tragedy, but this was a night to be savoured, of songs to lose your voice to.
The occasion wasn't lost on Roddy Woomble. 'Sometimes you catch that moment,' he says fondly. 'It was a special night. You can read that from the stage, too. It was a really good example of realising how much our songs and our band mean to people.' He laughs, and in his understated way says, 'sometimes if you don't play for a while you forget that people like you'.
It's an unexpected way to start discussing the band's eighth studio album, Interview Music, but that run of shows gave Idlewild (founding members Woomble, guitarist Rod Jones and drummer Colin Newton, plus recent additions Luciano Rossi and Andrew Mitchell) the impetus to get new music over the finish line.
'Originally the idea was to put the record out in 2017, following on relatively quickly from the last one,' Woomble tells me. 'Rod took over a studio [Post Electric Studio in Leith] but something wasn't quite right with all the songs and we just decided to take our time with it. I made a solo record [The Deluder] in between, but when we did those shows, Dave Eringa – who produced The Remote Part – came to one of them. He was asking about the record and raving about the concert and everything tied together. We thought, "let's get Dave to produce the rest of the record".'
Eringa worked on the last five tracks from the Interview Music sessions; his stamp is all over the expansive pop of 'All These Words' and the shimmering 'There's a Place for Everything'. Woomble is effusive in his praise for Eringa's contribution. 'He brought a real direction to the music.'
The album's genesis, appropriately for a group so inspired by American music and literature, was in LA, where they decamped fresh from a successful run of stateside shows in support of 2015's Everything Ever Written. It was the first time the band, as it is now, had written music as a unit. Woomble says their previous record, the band's first since 2010, was made in stages with different combinations working together along the way, getting to know each other whilst creating the record. Interview Music was different from the word go.
'It's definitely a band record,' Woomble says, citing the title track as an example of the new dynamic at work. 'We were splurging. We had all these different ideas and a lot of the songs were really long; we were just thinking "let's create, we can always edit it down".'
You can feel the sense of adventure in Idlewild in its arrangement, the prog and krautrock influences and trance-like state it grows into before Woomble's distorted, elliptical vocal returns. 'Andrew and Lucci were much more of a part of Interview Music,' Woomble says. 'They're great people to work with; the wealth of ideas they bring, their musicality. Until Lucci joined, we always were a guitar band. Having a dedicated keyboard player with a background in jazz: it's amazing what you can do with a rock song.'
The evolution of the band is evident, but Interview Music nods to their past too. 'Same Things Twice' rips and roars like a cut from the 100 Broken Windows era. And literary references abound, sometimes in plain sight (a Robert Frost recording on 'Mount Analogue'), sometimes hidden. 'There's more buried in there for the nerds to find,' Woomble says, laughing, 'I include myself in that.'
Words, as always, are important to Woomble. His writing has always been open to interpretation, and with lyrics inspired by dream states and landscapes – he calls both California and the Scottish Hebrides home – he's still a thrillingly ambiguous lyricist. 'Music is one of the artforms where it doesn't have to mean something but it can still mean everything; it makes you feel. A lot of my friends who write music have the same sort of feeling. It just sort of happens. There's something quite magical about it.'
Interview Music is out Fri 5 Apr on Empty Words.
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Formed in 1995 the current line-up includes Roddy Woomble (lead vocals), Rod Jones (guitar), Andrew Mitchell (bass), Colin Newton (drums) and Luciano Rossi (keyboards). As well as releasing seven studio albums the band has supported some of the biggest names in indie rock including Ash, Placebo, Manic Street Preachers…