INTERVIEW: Idlewild | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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After five years away, Scottish rockers Idlewild made their return this year with a new album, Everything Ever Written, and a world tour that’s taken them to Japan and the US before heading back to the UK and a date at Newcastle’s Riverside on Thursday 10th December. I caught up with guitarist Rod Jones, chatting to me from New York, about the band’s long illustrious past, present and future. “It’s the first time here in ten years so it’s always nice to see if anyone’s going turn up to see you play…” quips Rod.

It’s certainly been a more successful tour than the last time Idlewild were scheduled to play in the States, the band having to cancel when Rod broke his collarbone. “It was real bad timing as we hadn’t played here in five years and it’s taken us another five years to come back. We’ve only done four gigs so it’s not been an extensive tour, but the reaction’s been really good.” With singer Roddy Woomble a former resident of New York, it’s felt a little bit more like home than playing in places like Japan, where the band have a keen following. “You feel like you’re in a completely different world. The assault on your senses…Tokyo especially. But I love Japan. They’re so attentive, completely silent in between songs, waiting to see what you’re going to say or do next.”

British music in the 90’s was something that I didn’t really understand. American bands had a confidence that came from belief in their music

A certain unexpectedness comes with the territory for Idlewild; indeed, entering their twentieth year this year, they’ve come a long way since they were once described by NME as “a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs”, and their music has evolved a lot more than most bands in the same time period. “I’m always suspicious when it doesn’t to be honest!” laughs Rod. “People grow up, people experience different things. Life happens. You’re gonna change as people and your music’s going change. Being in a band, you’re immersed in music, it’s kinda like an education. You’re going have so many influences if you’re interested in music.”

Starting out as teenagers, Idlewild were known for their chaotic live shows, their indie punk played out to a barrage of Jones’ shredded guitars and Woomble’s intelligent, literate lyrics. Songs such as When I Argue I See Shapes, Everyone Says You’re So Fragile and I’m A Message from their debut record Hope Is Important were bold and brash. Idlewild have now managed to maintain that momentum for seven records. “With your earlier records it’s always going to happen,” reasons Rod. “Be it a charm or an energy that people find hard to recapture, but I generally find good bands tend to get better. Certainly bands that started young, they grow up, learn their craft. I think for us, having new members join, maybe taking a break when we did was really important to reenergise. We’re completely different people now than we were twenty years ago.”

Releasing follow-up record 100 Broken Windows in 2000, which featured the now classic tracks Little Discourage, These Wooden Ideas and Roseability, the band followed it up with their most successful record to date, The Remote Part. With singles like You Held The World In Your Arms and the huge hit American English, Idlewild’s sound had become far more melodic, and such a change in direction can often lead to a band losing some of its original fan base. “Some have come and gone,” reflects Rod. “You’re always going to have transient fans that maybe know one or two songs. A lot have been with us since the beginning and been extremely loyal, something we’re fortunate to have.”

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Releasing a further three records, Warnings/Promises, Make Another World and Post Electric Blues between 2005 and 2009, Idlewild then took a five year break which would be a risk for any band. “Going away for five years and then coming back, we really didn’t know what the reaction would be, or how many people would buy the record or turn up to see the shows,” recalls Rod. “It was a very pleasant surprise to see the fans still there and still interested in what we have to say. There are some new fans too…either that or people who have been listening to us since they were one year old!” He laughs. “It’s an exciting time for the band, I think.”

Despite being proudly Scottish – an Idlewild best of compilation was entitled Scottish Fiction, named after a track on The Remote Part – much of the band’s influences have tended to be from across the pond. “Certainly REM, early on it would be bands like Sugar, Sonic Youth, but twenty years on down the line it’s not a record that I’d put on. [I like] bands that have a swagger and a confidence. But not that kinda Mancunian swagger. Not strutting around. British music in the 90’s was something that I didn’t really understand. American bands had a confidence that came from belief in their music.”

Idlewild have always had a strong belief in their music and courage in their convictions, and Rod is quick to reassure fans that they’re back for the foreseeable future. “We’ll put out a live record next year, then start working on a new record. We feel re-energised so we’ll put another album out and see where we’re at. It’s certainly not going to be another five years…”

Idlewild play Riverside, Newcastle on Thursday 10th December.

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