Sunday, December 28, 2014

INTERVIEW: Roddy Woomble (March 2013)

I’ve written previously on these pages about the artistry and personal influence of British rockers Idlewild, a band who I’ve always felt never seemed to get its due either critically or commercially. While the initial fervour of teenage adoration may have faded over the years, I’ve always retained a distant fascination with their enigmatic frontman, Roddy Woomble. Following the band’s hiatus a few years back, their guitarist and co-songwriter Rod Jones carried on making fuzz-bomb indie-rock as The Birthday Suit, while Woomble retreated to the Isle of Mull and began reinventing himself as an acoustic, folky singer-songwriter. Though the departure hardly came as a surprise to those who’s been following the band for some time, with solo albums My Secret is My Silence, The Impossible Song and Other Songs and his latest, Listen to Keep, it seems telling that Woomble has gradually begun to open up the protective shell that always appeared (to this observer, at least) to be erected around himself and his work.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from Woomble, who never seemed to have been one for interviews or explaining himself during his time in Idlewild - like many of his lyrics, I think I’d suspected him to be frustratingly aloof and difficult to read. In actual fact, he proved the complete opposite: warm, thoughtful and more than willing to delve into the processes underpinning both his own writing and that of others. As the welcoming sound of his latter-day releases suggest, he really does seem to be a genuinely lovely man - and really, one couldn’t ask for much more when chatting to someone whose work you’ve admired for so long.

So, a couple of questions about Idlewild first. Since the hiatus was announced, you’ve been fairly quiet about the whole situation - you seem to be quite happy to get on with your own thing, whereas I know that Rod has expressed some regrets about the whole process. As far as you’re concerned, do you see the band as one chapter of a personal journey that’s still ongoing and unfolding?

Um - not really, no. I mean, I think about it a lot, obviously, because it’s quite important to me: all those records and songs that we did. And friendships, as well - I’m in contact with Colin and Rod and Allan fairly regularly, so it’s not something I just sort of... closed a book and put it back on the shelf and that’s part of the past. I actually think we’ll probably make another record sometime quite soon, certainly in the next few years, because I think there’s a lot of creative energy there and ideas, and I’ve always worked well with Rod. And I’d like to do that again - it’s not something that I want to say: “Oh, that’s what I used to do”, if you know what I mean.

I just felt towards the end that we weren’t playing very well, the last few years before we decided to stop it for a while - it was just becoming a bit of a drain on everyone, because we’d been so used to being this major-label band; we’d been used to that kind of world. And suddenly we were in a world where musicians and bands were having to do everything by themselves, and we were adapting kind of slowly to that. And I just think, yeah - we toured too much towards the end as well, and we were in places like Barrow-in-Furness... nothing against these towns, but they were just the wrong place! [Laughs] Tuesday night in Barrow-in-Furness, on the back of a record where - I mean, even myself, I thought the last Idlewild album was slightly patchy; it wasn’t a record we would’ve put out, say, five years before that. So yeah, all in all, it contributed to a general feeling within everyone that we needed to stop it for a while. And now that we have stopped it for a while, I think everyone’s starting to realise aspects of it that were really good - and for me, the best aspect was the actual creative process of working with Rod, specifically, but also with Allan and Colin. And I think that yeah, we’ll probably do that [again] sometime in the future.

[n.b. Since this interview was conducted, Idlewild have announced details of a new album and tour for early 2015.]

Listening to your solo records alongside Rod’s work with The Birthday Suit, you really get a sense of the two sides of Idlewild’s personality - at the risk of sounding flippant, do you think that these days you’re more the Idle and he’s more the Wild?

I see what you did there! [Laughs] Um - I don’t know, I mean... It’s not for me to judge Rod’s work - I think he’s an extremely good guitar player, a great melodicist, and he’s very good at recording - that’s kind of his ‘thing’. Quite often, his recorded work is kind of an exercise, I feel, for him, in terms of writing and recording a song, doing it all himself. If you listen to his records, he does everything pretty much himself - I think he gets a drummer in, but in that way, he’s pretty accomplished.

I’ve always had a more ramshackle approach - I can’t really do things on my own, I need to work with folk, but I have lots of ideas. Lyrically, I have lots of ideas - the way the song feels and goes, that kind of stuff, and so - maybe much more than Rod - that’s what I’m interested in. And that’s why we worked well together - you had more of this sort of musical technician-type... and me! [Laughs] So that’s why we made that. And you can see that, on his own, left to his own devices and doing his own thing, he’s much more inclined to play sort of ‘indie-rock’ or ‘pop’ music, whatever you want to call it - and I think some of it’s very good.

But I’m not interested in that, really - being in a rock band has become quite dull, you know; and really, it’s a young man’s game. The older we’re all getting - I’m not old, by any stretch of the imagination - but rock years are like dog years! So I do feel that lots of younger guys or younger girls are doing this kind of thing much better - and anyway, I was sort of more interested in trying... I mean, I listen to a lot of country music and folk music and jazz, and all these different kinds of stuff - and that was interesting to me more musically than, you know, distortion pedals and that sort of thing. Because I really feel like I’d done that - I feel like I’d done five records of that, so it was just.... what was the question again?! I’ve sort of gone off on a tangent...

Well, that leads onto something I was going to ask - you make reference on the album very specifically to Dischord and SST records being “Memories that are buried in the basement”. You’ve branched out into country and old-time American folk on a couple of tracks here - do you still listen to Fugazi and the like, or does it just seem like a thing of the past?

It does seem like a bit of a thing of the past, and that line kind of came from staying at my friend’s flat in Glasgow last year in-between tours - I was sort of there for the night and a lot of my records were stored in that flat in Glasgow; I didn’t bring a lot of those records up because there’s only limited room in this cottage. And all my records that are stored there are all kind of indie-rock and stuff like that, and we were listening to stuff, you know - all the records that I used to love when I was in my late teens and my early twenties. And it was really difficult to get through them, you know what I mean? Halfway through the side you’re like, I just... I just don’t want to listen to this! It feels like poring over pictures of yourself when you’re a teenager or something, it’s really not that healthy - it’s fine to look at it, but not if you’re just, like, staring at it.

And nothing against those records - those records are fabulous pieces of work, and that’s one good thing that’s amazing about albums and recorded music is that they take part in your life, don’t they, at a specific moment. And some records aren’t really for life, if you know what I mean - they’re a diluted shot that you need as a young man or whatever, whereas some records stay with you for the duration. And I find that a lot of those indie-rock bands that I did love, I can’t listen to anymore - it just feels like... I don’t know... it feels like my past. And I don’t mean it feels like that’s a painful place to go back to [laughs], but just on a musical level or base, or whatever you want to call it, there’s so many more records to discover - and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years since those records were always on my turntable, is just discovering different styles of music.

And so at home, as I say, we listen to jazz - we have a record player and I buy a lot of old jazz records online, and that’s mainly what we listen to. I mean, I love the fact that most of it doesn’t have any words, and also it’s just kind of like ‘art’ - it’s been improvised as it’s been recorded, so it’s been preserved in amber, this feeling of creativity. But I also like lots of other stuff - the new Veronica Falls album’s a bit of a favourite in our house at the moment. I’m a big fan of them.

There’s a picture of you in the album booklet sitting with your feet up in front of the fire! As a young punk rocker, did you ever see yourself becoming a respected folk musician?

Well, I don’t really consider myself to be a folk musician. And I don’t really feel the respect! [Laughs] I don’t mean that in a bitter way, but I don’t really know many musicians round here - I have friends who play in bands and stuff, but basically what I’m saying is that they don’t really hang about with people who would be telling me that!

Sure, but Kris Drever and John McCusker who you’ve collaborated with before, they’re not insubstantial names within that world...

Oh, no, they’re amazing players, but we don’t see each other, hardly ever - they all live in different places.

Do you feel like you almost ‘gatecrashed the party’ in that respect...?

Yeah, I think to be honest it really was my first solo record that established me, or maybe made people think of me [that way] - because that record is a folk record; it was produced and recorded by John McCusker, who’s obviously a folk musician, and most of the people on that record were his friends who are folk musicians that came in to play on it - so that gave it a real sound of a folk record. And that was also around the time that I sang on Kate Rusby’s record, so it was just like... I mean, the whole little package was that of a folk album. And it really is - it’s quite traditional-sounding in places. But The Impossible Song and Other Songs, and also Listen to Keep - I mean, they touch upon elements of that, obviously: fiddles, and things like that. But the songwriting’s not really sort of ‘folky’ songwriting, I don’t think - when I think of folk songwriting, I think of Dick Gaughan, that sort of thing, Martin Carthy... and that’s not really what I do at all; I guess compared to that, I write pop songs, essentially. I mean, that seems a bit of a bad word these days, but to me it just means something that’s memorable.

Listening to this and your last album in particular, you get a real sense of the surroundings influencing the sound - you seem to exist in a world of your own with no external pressures. Is that how it feels when you’re writing and recording with the new band?

Yeah, it does actually. I don’t feel [pressured] - and I haven’t for a few years, I must say, which is really good. Which is another thing going back to the first question about Idlewild, how it just became a drag for everyone because, you know, we were so used to having these pressures put on us - and we’d learned to put them on ourselves as well; I’m talking about external pressures from record companies, stuff like that. And it just felt like it went with that band, all that  kind of feeling - doing things on my own, from My Secret is My Silence, there was no expectation from it, and musically I felt I was much more free to wander. And my stuff’s either been I’ve done it myself, or licensed it to a very small label, or the budget’s very non-existent - it’s all kind of very economical, and I can get my head round all that kind of stuff . So yeah, I don’t feel any expectation, I don’t feel any pressure - I think that’s really a positive thing sometimes, creatively. Not always - sometimes it’s good to have deadlines and things like that imposed on you so you can work towards something, but musically speaking I feel like I can do what I want, and I couldn’t do that if I was on the conveyor-belt of the music industry.

How does it work in terms of the songwriting process? You have co-writing credits on here - do you work up the general idea and then bring in the band to work on the arrangement?

No, I’ve always been a collaborative player - partly because I’m not a very good guitar-player myself; I can play a bit, but I tend to just play the same chords, so I’d rather work with someone that’s good and then ideas come much quicker. So generally speaking, we’d either work at my house or we’d go to An Tobar, which is the arts centre in Tobermorey where we record all this stuff. And it was me and Sorren McLean, the guitar-player in my band who I write the songs with - and he just has lots of ideas, he plays these chord ideas and we rearrange some of them and I come up with the melodies and I’ve got my notebook of words... it’s very kind of, like, thrown at the wall, like a big scrapbook. And we record a lot of it and then just work on it like that: sort of ‘draft it’, if you know what I mean. And it’s nice up here because there’s a studio in Tobermorey which is fifty miles away from where I stay, but it’s not... it’s a nice drive! [Laughs] And yeah, we just work on it like that throughout the year.

Quite a lot of the time, what we found was - more so on The Impossible Song and Other Songs than on Listen to Keep - a lot of the demos are the basis of the songs, but we just recorded extra things on top of them. Which gives the song a lovely feel, because when you’re writing a demo you’re not thinking about other people listening to it, so you just have this sort of very relaxed attitude to it - sometimes it’s very difficult to capture that again when you’re trying to record it properly. There’s a song on Impossible Songs called New Frontier, and that whole thing is a demo. That’s pretty much - well, we thought we hadn’t finished writing the song yet. But listening back, I felt we just couldn’t really improve on it; I mean, I’m playing drums on that one, actually, rather than getting someone in to play! There was a wee bit of that on Listen to Keep - not so much though, because obviously we’ve played so much over the past couple of years live, and my live band are so good, it felt like - I mean, obviously they all heard the rough demos and learned them and came up to Mull, and in about three days everything had been recorded beautifully and played beautifully. And it felt like, okay - that does sound better than the demos because that’s a really good band that play together, realising these ideas. And the record has a very kind of ‘live’ sound, because it was: it’s quite simple, almost, there’s not too many overdubs and all that, it’s quite straight - and all the better for it, I think, because it’s just good musicians playing good songs, isn’t it? [Laughs]

It’s interesting you should mention jazz earlier, because that’s the sort of feeling I get from these last two records - they’re very much snapshots of that certain moment in time.

Well, it’s nice that you say that, because that’s the intention, really - it’s not to labour over them like with Idlewild records, which were laboured over... and latterly not by me; I ended up on the last two just going in and doing my stuff and then leaving! Because Rod and the other people are into that, but I’ve never really been into that whole idea of... I love writing songs and recording them, but I don’t want to spend too long with them - I would rather go and play them live then, and that’s kind of the way I approach my solo work. And I say this because I do have such a fabulous band; they’re great musicians that play with a number of other people as well, so they’re capable of just coming in and doing that quickly - but at the same time, giving it a lot of depth. Not everyone has that, so I’m quite grateful for that - but yeah, there is a ‘feel’ about them... well, that’s what you’re trying to do when you make a record is try to preserve a moment of time. You’re making a recording of time, or a piece of time - which is why a lot of these old records are really fascinating when you put the needle on, and it crackles, and then suddenly you’re in a room, in some recording studio in 1924 in New York City, and it’s come to life in your room - that’s pretty magical, and I mean... that’s why I’m a music fan! [Laughs]

There’s a real sense of serenity in your lyrics these days - I always used to describe your work in Idlewild as quite precise and mathematical, whereas in your solo work it feels a lot more open and questioning. Is that a shift that you’ve noticed happening gradually over time, or is it just a consequence of developing your own material from scratch?

Yeah, I think the last thing you said there was the true one. I think that when I started writing songwords, I had no idea what I was doing, really - and no-one really cared, as we were just out of our teens or whatever; we were a punk rock band, really. But then on 100 Broken Windows and The Remote Part, I started getting much more of a sense of trying to ‘say something’ - although, I must say, I’ve never been hung up on that; I don’t feel a song needs to be ‘about’ anything, I never felt that. I’m a big fan of surrealism, particularly in songwords - people like Dylan, Stephen Malkmus from Pavement, and Beck, they’re really good at that kind of thing where they can convey a meaning and put some thought into the lyrics, but at the same time they’re not really about anything specific. And that’s the approach I’ve always taken, too - obviously I’ve refined it over the years, and the older you get, the more comfortable you are with being a bit more straight-ahead, honest, whatever you want to call it, about a specific... you don’t feel you need to mask behind some kind of tortured, terrible rhyme or words - you know, a line you’re going to be really embarrassed about years later!

I also don’t really care so much about what people think of them - I think that’s important, because when you’re younger you tend to care more about that, whereas now I don’t. You know, if someone thinks it’s terrible songwriting, then that wouldn’t bother me in the slightest; it’d be like, well...

Yeah - “you do it, then”!

Yeah, life is short - go and do something else, instead of worrying about my lyrics! [Laughs] So I think that when you kind of let yourself go a wee bit in terms of not worrying about that, it’s quite liberating. As I say, I’m just really into - not in day-to-day life, I don’t mean I’m wandering round as a surrealist in Mull! - but in lyrics, I love that idea of having loads of different images and ideas going on in the song that are not necessarily related. And my songs don’t really do that very often, but there’s a song called Making Myths, and he’s a Greek myth sitting in a croft, you know, a Greek god, and there’s all these different ideas going on there - there’s someone dressed up as a priest, and the next minute he’s not there anymore; all those kind of things don’t really make any sense, but while the song’s going on you feel like it’s sort of captivating in a way. And I don’t know if I possess that, but certainly a lot of songwriters I really admire do - when you’re really kind of absorbed in that, you don’t really know what’s happening.

A friend of mine met you once and had a conversation about films - you’ve always been very influenced by cinematics, and so it seems almost kind of David Lynchian, this idea of getting the meaning without really understanding what it’s about.

Yeah, well, I mean that’s what really draws me to... that’s the kind of thing that I like, in terms of music and also films. I don’t watch films very often, because I only really like watching films at the cinema; I can never concentrate otherwise - so I don’t really go to the cinema, because there’s not one! [Laughs] But yeah, the kind of films I like are Bergman films, or Tarkovsky - a lot of the European arthouse stuff that lots of people think are rubbish, that’s what interests me! I also really like Wes Anderson films. And books, as well - I don’t really read too much fiction, because I don’t like the idea of... things always need to have a plot, you know, people always want [that]... and that’s the thing that really doesn’t appeal to me about a book. I don’t want it to... it doesn’t need to conclude a certain way for me, which is why I tend to stick to more non-fiction and poetry, because that’s a bit more, you know... ‘real’.

I know that you’re a big fan of R.E.M., who you toured with and have obviously also been influenced by - I’m currently reading Marcus Gray’s R.E.M. companion, It Crawled From the South, and there’s a really interesting section in there about Michael Stipe’s ‘cut-up’ approach to writing his early lyrics, which he appropriated from William Burroughs.

And David Bowie - he was famous for that as well.

Getting to meet someone like Stipe - what sort of conversations did you have with him?

Well, he’s a very charming man - we didn’t really hang about that much, but we did do a tour with them. He’s quite quiet, I suppose... yeah, really nice - friendly... I can’t remember what we talked about! The chattiest one in R.E.M. is definitely Peter Buck - I talked about music a lot with him. But Michael Stipe, we just kind of talked about... the weather, you know; what we were eating at the catering table, that sort of thing!

So you didn’t sit down and pick his brains or anything, as a fan...?

No, I mean, I wouldn’t really want someone to do that to me, so I wouldn’t really do that to him. It’s fine in this sort of situation, an interview situation, where we’re kind of discussing the work - but I wouldn’t want to go and sit and bother him while he was having his lunch about the way he writes lyrics, because ultimately I don’t really want to know how he does it; I want to listen to them. But yeah, that cut-up technique is quite famous - Burroughs used to write books that way, and Bowie (who was obviously friendly with Burroughs) kind of adapted it to songwords. I’ve never done it myself - I mean, I do it kind of unconsciously in my notepads because I’m taking rhymes from other pages onto a different page, so in that way you’re kind of making verses from lines on different pages, and I suppose that’s kind of a cut-up technique from your own words. And obviously if you write songwords, everything you read influences you a wee bit - sometimes more so than others. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been guilty of lifting lines into songs from others, but you never know because sometimes subconsciously you have it in your head, don’t you? I think more so I did that when I was younger than I do now, but that’s really [a thing] in pop music - The Smiths were famous for that: there’s entire bits of dialogue from films that Morrissey liked in Smiths songs. So it’s sort of a mixture of everything you’re thinking about at one particular time goes into songwords, and I think it’s probably the same for Michael Stipe - or anyone in any band.

Following your writing style right from the start, there’s a very definite shift in perspective - on the early records you have a very tight, ‘interior’ style, whereas nowadays it seems to be a more philosophical approach to your position in the world. This is especially true of Making Myths and The Universe Is On My Side - the latter in particular reminds me a little of R.E.M.’s Nightswimming in the way it evokes memories triggered by images of the past. On one track here you say that you “Did it wrong so you could do it right” - do you feel like wisdom comes with age and experience?

Well, I mean, it does - it’s such a cliché, isn’t it, but it’s so true, that “I wish I knew what I know now when I was younger”; all those kind of ideas. But I think that’s kind of the beauty of it, too - when you’re young and you don’t really know everything but you’re so full of life and you want to experience everything... then when you get a bit older you don’t really want that anymore, but you know a bit more about it! [Laughs] It’s what humans are condemned to! Yeah, so obviously in my songwords that’s been the case too - there’s this kind of gnawing at the world when you’re younger; you want to kind of... you want people to listen to you, don’t you - especially if you’re in a band. Although we weren’t as good at that as other people because we were, you know... too Scottish! Too kind of polite and quiet. But yeah, when you get older you just think, again, there’s no way in hell that everyone can listen to your music, or like it - it’s ridiculous to even assume that. So you just do it more for yourself, and you realise that if the work is quality and you go and play, and if your name’s still known in music circles, you know, people will pay attention to it. Aiming low: that’s my new thing!

Time and memory seem to be the most prominent themes on this album - the passing of time seems to be of particular concern to you, especially on what I think is one of the key lyrics: “The minute you close your eyes / The little you die”. You’ve always been a quite cerebral writer who seems to be trying to fathom their place within a much bigger puzzle - what are the big questions you want answered these days, and are they different from what they were, say, a decade ago?

Well, I don’t know - I think obviously the really fascinating thing about art and music is that it’s all touching on the same theme, which is essentially uncertainty, isn’t it: again, I think what Freud said was that humans are condemned to uncertainty, and that’s very true. And I think most art is, at its core, dealing with that - that kind of... you get up and you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you kind of carry on. And that’s as equally scary as it is kind of euphoric. And that’s kind of what I’m talking about always in words, that kind of idea, and within that - that’s obviously a massive kind of theme - within that theme there’s so many things you can discuss: you know, drinking in a bar to sitting at home on your own or going walking on the hills, it’s all these kind of things within that. And yeah - I do think that’s kind of what I’m talking about when I’m writing the songwords. So they are different - but it’s essentially the same thing! [Laughs] Just filtered through the years.

Another key lyric on the album is the one you’ve singled out on the packaging, which is “Eternity - it’ll make a talent show of history”. While there’s a definite sense of wistful melancholy about a song like I Know Where I Went Wrong, you seem - and sound - very content nowadays. Is that the case?

Yeah, I am. I mean, as I say, because I had a more kind of surrealist approach, words were always in a bit of a tangle to me until they’re finished and the record’s out - and even then, I don’t spend hours poring over it. So sometimes it’s difficult for me to get an idea what the record means to other people, and that’s why I find it interesting quite often doing interviews. And also, my wife sometimes - she doesn’t listen to the records very often, but we had one on once and after about four songs she went, “How come all of the songs are about death and money?” [Laughs] And sometime it takes someone like that [who’s] kind of removed from the whole situation to make you realise that maybe they are about death and money! [Laughs] I mean, I certainly didn’t sit down and think, “Right - I’m going to sit down and write an album that’s going to be all about death and money”; I never did that. And they’re not actually things I think about too much - maybe subconsciously they’re on my mind occasionally, like everyone, but it’s not something that I’m at all fixated with! [Laughs] But she’s probably right - she’s right about most things, so that’s what the record is...

I once wrote of your lyrical style that if you wrote a love song, you’d never know it - you’d get to the point indirectly and find any number of ways to talk around it, rather than addressing the subject directly. So it’s interesting that maybe that’s the dominant perception of your work - that while you may not have intended it, that’s what people take from it.

Yeah, well - I mean, again, a lot of that’s to do with my approach to it: at the very early stages, I don’t want it to be about anything, if you see what I mean. When I was working on the songs with Sorren, he’s a lot younger than me, and used to that kind of song. He was quite, to begin with - not perplexed, that’s too strong a word, but slightly confused by the whole idea of: I’d be quite wanting to leave the songs as just sort of scraps, not wanting to work on it anymore - we’ve got the kind of melody idea, let’s go move on and do something else, then come back to that. So I think I sort of build them up, don’t I, over a period of time - in that way, their meaning is kind of garbled, but it’s still there somewhere. Also, one thing I’ll say is, love songs and things like that, I do like some - but often I don’t trust songwriters who write them. Because I feel like it’s quite a selfish thing to do, to write songs: you’re sitting describing yourself and you’re sitting for long periods of time writing songs about yourself - sometimes they’ve got lovely melodies which people will be swooning over, that kind of thing, and if you’re writing how you love someone and how much you miss someone... I’m sort of the guy who’s standing at the very back of the room by the door thinking: “I’ll let myself out - I’ll have to leave the room. I don’t think I can handle this, because it’s just a bit too cringeworthy”. And I find that, more often than not with kind of ‘heart-on-their-sleeve’ songwriters that I can’t really... I just don’t believe it. Maybe partly because I know how you write a song, and how you work on it - I just think the best love songs are the ones that aren’t really supposed to be.

‘Distance’ would always be the word I’d always use to describe your writing - you seemed to consciously remove yourself from the lyrics, whereas nowadays you seem a lot more comfortable putting yourself in there in the first-person.

Well I am, because I mean... well, the classic songwriter thing is always to use ‘I’, because it goes well with music, and you can use it to rhyme with a lot of different words. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you, does it - when I say “I” in songs, it’s not... I mean, you are creating some sort of character in whatever you do, whether it’s writing a poem or a book or a song or a painting - really, it’s a version of yourself; it’s not you, really. And sometimes it’s a complete creation - there’s a song called Travelling Light on the album which is not... it certainly wasn’t written with characters in mind, but it’s certainly not me, it’s someone else it’s talking about: all these things he’s doing. Meeting people called John McDonald and stuff. Although I do know someone called John McDonald...! But again, none of it’s premeditated, and I think what you’re getting at in what you’re saying about a lot of the work is that it has that feel, because it isn’t thought out too much in the initial stages and because of that there’s room to breathe always, in the words. And you can put your own meaning into it - it’s not written out, like... I’m just trying to think of a song that’s written out and I can’t, but there is plenty! But you know, you feel when you’re listening to that that “this is what it is, and this is what it’s always going to be”, and you either like it or you don’t - whereas my work, it’s not like that, really. And obviously because musically it’s quite gentle, really - it’s quite listenable, so hopefully people’ll listen to it.

I have a couple of questions that are basically for my own amusement - I’ve got a bunch of friends who are big Idlewild fans, and when I said that I was going to interview you, the one question they all wanted answered (if you can, given what you’ve just said about your lyric-writing!) was this: what does the term ‘Roseability’ mean?

Well, it was a made-up word. I made it up! Gertrude Stein is an American writer and poet - she has this endless poem called A Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose: kind of like this idea of what we were talking about - word deconstruction in words and poems. So they mean nothing, but in that you can really see the beauty of the words, and the way that nonsense can really make you feel something. So that was her idea in that poem - or what I took as her idea - so I made up that word ‘roseability’ about kind of... nonsense being profound. [Laughs]

Nice! Finally, I always ask this of people who’ve had a long career in music, or whose work I’ve been following for a while: what are your five favourite songs that you’ve written, or what are the five songs that you’d like to be remembered for?

Well, I don’t know - that’s not really for me to say in terms of... I mean, I’m a very critical kind of fan of the stuff - obviously I like it, but also I can’t really listen to it for pleasure very much, because I just see the flaws. And that’s not unique to me, that’s how every single person I know who does something creative feels about their work. So you know, I’m analysing it probably in a different way from someone who’s just a fan of it.

Um... I think on the new record, I’m really proud of quite a few of the songs: Making Myths I think is one of my favourite songs I’ve done, because it’s a different pace and a different feel, and it’s not... I think a lot of the songs I’ve done in the past and also with Idlewild are quite ‘clipped’, if you know what I mean - it’s always kind of three-minute-based, you know. That’s the way I’ve always learned to write songs, whereas this one’s six minutes and it’s not in a rush to get there - I felt like I’d really just put all my words I wanted to put into there in it, and I just really love it; I really love it as a piece of music, and so that would be in there. I also really love the second one after it on that new record, The Last One of My Kind - again, because I’m a big fan of a lot of country-rock, Gram Parsons and people like that. We could never do that with Idlewild, but the band - Gavin and Danny and Sorren and Seoniad - they can play different styles of music quite well and comfortably just switch into it. And they were like... they were just so good at doing that kind of thing. I mean, it’s a wee bit daft lyrically - it’s more along the lines of being concerned with being catchy than having any proper meaning... which is fine, because a lot of songs I’ve done are like that, particularly with Idlewild.

In terms of Idlewild, then, what do you think are the main two or three that stand out above everything else?

Well, I wouldn’t say any of the ones that people would probably think - I mean, obviously I recognise that American English and You Held the World in Your Arms were quite important songs in terms of establishing us as a band, so for most people, they would be the ones that they’d associate with the band - and with me. And that’s fine, because they’re good tunes, and also they’re well-recorded and well-produced and realised. Unfortunately they weren’t realised enough to become proper hits! [Laughs] But like, you know, we were trying our best... My favourite Idlewild album is Warnings/Promises, and I think that has got all my favourite Idlewild songs on it. The Space Between All Things is one of my favourites - particularly when we play that live and sometimes it’d stretch to eight, nine, ten minutes because the band could just play into it and there’s a lot of guitar solos, which I love. So I would say that would be one... um... another Idlewild song that I love...

I’ll tell you one I really love is City Hall from Post Electric Blues. I just really like how that starts - you see, I like weird little bits of songs rather than the whole song, like... I really like the end of quite a lot of the songs and just little specific chord changes and stuff, but the start of City Hall I think’s really brilliant - the way everything kicks in, it’s got a good feel to it.

To narrow it down then, we’ve got Making Myths, Last One of My Kind, The Space Between All Things... I’ll definitely put on that list Little Discourage, too. That’s just kind of... as a summation of all the Idlewild records - what is there, six or seven of them? - that’s kind of the song that we played every single night since we wrote it. It just has a really solid feel to it, and it was all the things that people liked about the band: lyrically quite thoughtful, really good tune with a bit of jangly indie-ness to it, but at the same time it was quite hard-hitting in the chorus... all these things. And I think that would be a good song for the band to be remembered by, certainly.

Listen to Keep is available now via Reveal Records.


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