Warnings/Promises, Idlewild‘s fourth album, was released in March 2005. It was the first for three years, and marked a shift to a mellower sound than days gone by. Wide polarisation of public opinion ensued; it was either their best or worst work to date depending on who you asked.
musicOMH caught up with the group’s lead singer Roddy Woomble to chat about the new record and accusations of betrayal.
“I don’t really think it is a shift in sound if you listen to all the records. Obviously it’s a shift in sound from our first album, but in between that there’s six years. It you were going to just remain the same band for six years, it’s uninteresting for everyone involved – including the people listening to it. I think it’s quite a natural progression,” he explains, quick to dispel any notions of selling out and going down a commercial path.
“On this record we did flirt with our interest in country music and folk music, which I realise that for quite a lot of people that like us, they’re just not into that – mainly because I don’t think a lot of them have heard it. We play to quite a young crowd in Britain, and a lot of them are brought up on Green Day and things like that. As soon as you introduce something like a slide guitar, they just don’t understand it – so it’s a process of education as well,” he continues rather emphatically, almost to drill home the point.
And this sentiment is entirely understandable – the lukewarm reception the record received (it plummeted to 39 in the charts after originally scraping the Top 10) must have been a bitter pill to swallow after three years of hard work, not least the fact that it’s quite possibly their most accomplished set of songs. However, Roddy seems unphased by it all, remaining typically upbeat and self-assured:
“I think it’s the strongest record we’ve put out.” – Roddy Woomble holds his ground amidst accusations of selling out…
“I think it’s the strongest record we’ve put out, and I think it’s been slightly overlooked definitely by the reviewers, mainly because if they have so many records to review in a week, and a couple of them are brand new bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, they’re going to pick up on that – because of this, Warnings/Promises was brushed aside slightly, so it seemed like a low-key release. It’s unfortunate, because we wanted to make as loud a sound as possible!” he says with a hint of agitation.
This new direction that the band have embarked upon was no doubt a catalyst for a series of acoustic shows in January, where fans got the chance to hear tracks from the new album in stripped down form. “A lot of the songs were written acoustically, and I figured it would be a really good thing to do to present the new songs to people. It was also an experiment, because we’ve never done something like that. We rearranged a lot of the songs, and I think a lot of the people that came along were genuinely surprised by it. They expected a couple of people with acoustic guitars, but it was totally different – it was an evening of music!” he recalls rather proudly. “We’re doing more in the summer – because of that we’ve been asked to play acoustic at Glastonbury and the Cambridge Folk Festival,” he continues.
And how has the response been to the new material in traditional electric form on their first full tour for two years? “It’s really good. I think that’s the best way to actually absorb it. I think that having come to see us play, the album will make even more sense. It takes you a while to kind of get back in the swing of things, but when you get back in the swing of things, this is probably the strongest we’ve been as a band,” he explains, trying to rope in anyone who may still be sitting on the proverbial fence.
The album was originally written in Scotland and taken over to California to record – did the notoriously laid back lifestyle of Los Angeles perhaps seep through onto the record? “It influenced us as people, and we’re the ones making the music, so yes – the songs were written before that in the Scottish highlands, and they were kind of given a different flavour so to speak by going to California,” he remarks.
And were there any other bands that perhaps had an influence on the sound? “Older stuff I’d say, the only contemporary band that I really think have had an influence on us is a band called The Walkmen, who we’ve been friendly with for years. Paul from The Walkmen plays piano on El Capitan and that did influence the sound. I think sonically, The Walkmen are one of the best sounding current bands,” he informs.
“I think that having come to see us play, the album will make even more sense” – Roddy Woomble urges fans to put themselves out…
A band that Idlewild are continually compared to is R.E.M., and indeed their more pensive moments certainly do recall The One I Love era, with Woomble’s voice drawing obvious parallels. So is Roddy actually a fan of theirs? “Yeah I am. We’ve played with them before and they’re really nice people. The guitar player of R.E.M. is a big fan of our band, and that’s really flattering. They’re a really great band,” he declares.
With reports of Roddy recently moving to New York and the band’s recent stint at the South by Southwest festival, I asked whether success in the States was something on the agenda. “It’s not as if we have some grand plan, I think the bottom line is we want to make music that describes ourselves, and having done so, find the audience it deserves. It’s not as if we have some corporate flow chart of we we’re going to go in America. But yeah, we’ve played there a lot and we’ve got a fan base, so I’ll be disappointed if the record doesn’t get taken into the houses and stereos of all the people that like us!” he exclaims.
And if there is any justice, Warnings/Promises should eventually start seeping into people’s record collections. It’s certainly equal to The Remote Part if not better, and as for their live show, the sparks from their early days are still there in abundance. In Roddy’s words, they just want to find an audience that their work deserves – which, in theory, should be everyone with any taste.