A Dream State: Idlewild's Roddy Woomble on Interview Music

We chat to Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble about the Edinburgh band's upcoming eighth album, Interview Music, and talk artistic travels and moving forwards

Feature by Paul Sinclair | 02 Apr 2019
  • Idlewild

It’s a warm Edinburgh afternoon as we head down Leith Walk, en route to meet frontman of the city's own Idlewild, Roddy Woomble. As we arrive at the band's studio, we're greeted by friendly handshakes from the rest of the band, taking a break from rehearsals, huddled around a table signing hundreds of CD and vinyl copies of their upcoming album Interview Music. After a few introductions Woomble appears in a doorway; just as friendly and outgoing as his bandmates, he offers us a coffee and we head into the group's rehearsal room to talk about the new album, upcoming tour and the life of Idlewild.

It’s been a hell of a ride for the band, a career spanning more than 20 years, travelling the world and cementing a legacy as one of Scotland's great artists. Now the band are preparing for their next chapter, their next adventure on the road. Back in their hometown, just a stone's throw from the recently demolished Meadowbank Stadium, Woomble reminisces about the night Idlewild performed alongside fellow Scots Teenage Fanclub in support of grunge forefathers Pixies

"I grew up with the Pixies and Teenage Fanclub," Woomble recalls, "and I'd known Norman [Blake, Teenage Fanclub], he sang on an Idlewild B-side. We did a Teenage Fanclub cover and I knew them more as people, and they knew the Pixies well because they'd toured in the 90s, so it was a really nice vibe backstage because everyone was hanging about. I got to watch them both from the side of the stage and they're two of my favourite bands – it was great!"

Playing a hometown stadium show with two of their adolescent heroes is just a note on a long list of achievements for Idlewild. From their debut release, 1998's mini-album Captain, to their breakthrough single You Held the World in Your Arms, from 2002's The Remote Part, the group have gained global recognition. Now in a second chapter of sorts, Idlewild are back with their second release since returning from hiatus.  

The group, armed with a fresh creative spring in their step and a tweak in their line-up, seemingly began working on Interview Music prior to 2015’s Everything Ever Written. "We started working on new songs around that time, even before the record was out, already knowing that we're really happy with this record we'd made," Woomble tells us. "We feel sort of, I don't know, revitalised to some creativity that's really happening. So yeah, we started work on some songs and some of them are on this record. Obviously we went through that period and then we sort of stopped and life sort of took over, and then we came back to the record at the start of last year. So yeah, it was started pretty much as the other one was coming out."

Heading to Los Angeles for ten days as part of the recording process, Woomble believes it’s important to travel with an album, an artistic experiment of sorts, to feel the effects of each place and what that city can do to unlock hidden potential in each song. Idlewild has seen Woomble living in New York and Los Angeles, but it’s here in Scotland he feels most at home. "It's a good place to look out onto the world, and I wouldn't imagine living anywhere else now, but I think it's fascinating for an artistic thing, like Idlewild songs, to take them into a different environment, whether it's Los Angeles or New York or Iceland, and see what that brings to this music, and then to bring them back to where we understand it a wee bit better and finish it off – that was the thinking with Interview Music."

Interview Music is certainly a progression for the group from The Remote Part days of old, but Idlewild are very aware of their mainstream perception, and it doesn't seem to alter their creative path. "There are people that just know us for You Held the World in Your Arms," Woomble states, reflecting on their past records and more current pursuits. "I think we always have a good mix of things that people associate us with, and laterally, in the later records there are more musical moments and mellow moments, and more interesting moments in terms of things going left-field.

"I don't think people think our band do that," Woomble continues. "But we are big fans of lots of different styles of music and we've tried over the years to incorporate things, and it's never felt right, but this time we just thought, you know, people are either going to like it or they're not going to like it. You know what I mean? We're not flavour of the month. We're not on any kind of 'new bands to watch' radar; we're 20-odd years into a musical career. People already are going to come to us, or they're not going to come at all. So we should make this record as diverse as we want."

Prior to the album's release, its lead single, and opening track, Dream Variations came out in February, a sneak preview of what was to come from Interview Music, an album that at times ebbs and flows in a dreamlike manner, something Woomble takes great interest in. "I'm interested in the idea that we spend a third of our time asleep as human beings, and you carry your dreams through the day," Woomble says.

"So you have this vivid dream, and you wake up from it, and you forget about it, but it comes back to you while you're walking. I notice that now in cities, a lot of people, they don't engage with their environment, they sit with headphones on on public transport, or while they're walking, and they're in a dream state that way. So we are kind of all wandering around in a bit of a dream state quite often, I think. I'm pretty fascinated by that, and the imagination that's going on within that dream state."

The release of Interview Music will see the band tour the UK througout April and May, including a stop in Glasgow’s iconic Barrowland Ballroom. What lies ahead beyond that is still to be determined by the group. But, as Woomble reflects on the band and their work, it seems that Idlewild is an artistic journey – from a group of teenage pals to major label artists, the band's road has had many twists and turns, with no end in sight.

"You know, we've been in a band since we were 18 together, and we're all 40, 41, 42. Obviously in that time success has come, but there's been a fairly consistent group of people that will come and see us and buy the records and are interested in our work. So I think, assuming that that would continue... It's quite fascinating for me because what other sort of body of work, or work of art can go on for 40 years? It's like it's an ongoing painting you're always adding colour to. You never know when it's finished."

Interview Music is released on 5 Apr via Empty Words

Idlewild play Barrowlands, Glasgow, 4 May; Music Hall, Aberdeen, 5 May; Clarks on Lindsay Street, Dundee, 27 May; The Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 28 May