Idlewild's Roddy Woomble on 'Wading Back Into Creative Waters'

Courtesy Photo
Idlewild photographed in 2016.

The Scottish band reunites to release new album ‘Everything Ever Written’ and tour the U.S.

After about a decade since Idlewild last performed in Los Angeles, the Scottish band recently announced a trio of shows in California. It is a tour that many longtime fans weren’t sure would ever happen following the band’s indefinite hiatus in 2010. Singer Roddy Woomble explained at the time: “There isn’t the demand for our music that there was in the past, especially not outside of Britain, so it seems it’s an appropriate time to take a break, a ‘hiatus’ or whatever you want to call it.”

However, in 2013, Woomble began to meet with founding member and guitarist Rod Jones to work on new music, which would eventually become Idlewild’s seventh album, Everything Ever Written. Woomble explained to Billboard: “We always knew we’d write more songs, make more albums and play shows, but it was just a question of when. Collectively, we needed to do other things for a while and take some time away from the band.”

The hiatus led to a new creative beginning for Idlewild, who reformed to release one of its most well-received, critically praised albums to date. The Independent’s Andy Gill stated that Everything Ever Written “could be their best work so far,” adding that “the acquisition of new bass and keyboard players has worked wonders for Idlewild’s sonic palette.” On the eve of Idlewild’s California tour, Woomble spoke to Billboard about the band’s reunion, touring the U.S. after so many years and the perils of fame.

Let’s start with the reemergence of Idlewild. When you met with Rod in 2013 to write songs together, were those written with the idea of a new album in mind? In other words, were you two conscious that Idlewild’s hiatus was over?

At the end of touring Post Electric Blues in 2010, we made an announcement to fans that we wouldn’t be rushing into making another album and wouldn’t tour until we had a new record. In 2013 I started meeting up with Rod to work on new songs, and we basically just picked it up from where we’d left it. There was never any doubt that it would turn into an Idlewild album, but we had to make it something fresh. At this point, it was basically just the two of us, although we knew [founding member and drummer] Colin [Newton] would be involved. But initially it was Rod and I wading back into creative waters.

How was the songwriting process for Everything Ever Written different from previous albums?

Although it was maybe the most creatively satisfying album to work on, it was quite a dysfunctional record to make. Rod, [keyboardist] Lucci [Rossi] and I started recording the album on the Isle of Mull. We were throwing everything at the songs — the first three songs we recorded were “Like a Clown,” “All Things Different” and “Utopia” — so we knew by that point that it was going to be a different sort of Idlewild album. Fast-forward nine months, and we are now a five-piece band recording “Collect Yourself” and “Come On Ghost” and sounding much more like a rock band, so it was a real journey from start to finish.

You have described Everything Ever Written as the band’s most diverse record. Why?

Rod, Lucci and myself really set about making something that sounded different from what we had done, incorporating lots of styles that we like into one album. Lucci has a background playing jazz, which added an interesting element, and Rod was the only guitar player now, so he was really given the chance to do his own thing. We also self-produced it, which was a learning experience. The whole album is a step into someplace new.

The band has said that it was more comfortable when the spotlight was on someone else. I was curious if the Everything Ever Written track “Like a Clown” is the band’s opinion on being famous? For example, the lyric: “Like a clown you’ll stick around for fame.”

I find the idea of fame quite poisonous really. Being well-regarded for producing good work that has value and meaning to some people … I don’t consider that fame as such. When I think of fame, I just think of everyone knowing who you are without necessarily knowing what you do, and that just sounds like a nightmare to me. We are quite lucky in that no one knows who we are apart from the people who like what we do, and they tend to be nice. I’ve never felt famous.

Having written a few solo albums, do you have a different mindset when writing an Idlewild song?

Not really. When I make my solo records, it is with a different group of people, and that is enough change to make the songs and sound different from Idlewild.

The band has just released Idlewild Live, its first official live album. Why now?

We had a really great sounding set in 2015 and wanted to document it. I like live albums and always thought Idlewild would be a band that would make a good one. I think we’ve always been good live because it’s never too slick — things can always go wrong! That gives it its own charm. Mind you, the live album sounds pretty slick.

Why did the band decide to do three California cities versus a more extensive West Coast tour?

I guess we’re sort of testing the water again in America. We don’t have a U.S. label anymore, and as you can imagine, it costs a lot to get a band from Scotland to America, so we’re just doing a few shows to see if people still remember who we are! We played four East Coast shows in October and that went well. People traveled from all over the country to see us, which was humbling. I think the plan is to come back in 2017 for a U.S. tour with the new album we’re making.

I read that the band is recording the new album in L.A.

Yes, we’ve got lots of new songs and are starting recording right after the U.S. gigs. I love Los Angeles. We recorded Warnings/Promises [in L.A.] in 2004, and I’ve got nothing but good memories of the city. So many of my favorite books, films and music come from California. I know I’m guilty of romanticizing it, but it seems a world away from Scotland. I can’t wait to record there again and to drive around the city as the sun sets.

It has been about 10 years since Idlewild last toured the United States. What has it been like to revisit cities like New York after so many years?

It’s been wonderful. When you tour a lot, as we did for 10 years or so, you notice less and less, so this time around it’s been like visiting these places for the first time again. Being on tour in 2015 was a bit like being on holiday.

In a recent blog post, you wrote that 2015 was the year you got into Spotify, which some musicians have spoken out against. Was is your viewpoint on streaming services? Does it hurt or help?

Well, I think the era of the completionist is gone. I think that anyone under the age of 35 is unlikely to collect records and listen to them the way folk did in the past. I love the physical presence of records in my house — and books for that matter — and I’ll always still buy LPs and enjoy looking through second-hand record stores. But Spotify is such a fantastic archive of music; it makes you realize just how much stuff is out there. It encourages people to listen to a lot more. I think my music taste would be much different if, when I was 18, I was able to listen to anything I wanted as opposed to the three albums I could afford to buy that month. There is a different way of listening to music now, but it’s positive. Financially, for bands and labels, it’s been a big blow, and there needs to be a way to balance this out. Musicians should be paid properly for their work, but there is no going back, and we’re all just going to have to adapt — or get day jobs!

Articles about Idlewild almost always reference the band’s earlier punk sound and how it has changed over time. Do you still relate to that earlier sound?

It’s still me on those records, but we were 19, 20 when we made them, and now we’re all 38, 39. The sound of the band has evolved as we have…hopefully with a bit of grace.