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Idlewild | Remote Part | interview | alternative | rock | Lollipop
The Remote Part (Capitol)
by Tim Den
And I thought I was floored by Doves. Idlewild, those formerly punky Scottish youngsters whose 2001 album, 100 Broken Windows, became one of my Top Five Albums of All Time, have raised the bar into outer space with The Remote Part. Already certified Gold (with four Top Ten singles), this fourth full-length is a combination of everything the band does best: The aggression of DC, the melodies of Brit rock, the lyricism of Faulkner, and a hair-raising charisma that only the most natural of songwriters possess. Whereas 100 Broken Windows already perfected the formula of invincible hooks-via-fuzzy guitars, The Remote Part makes the softer elements even softer and the harder parts rattle with electricity. It's a vibrant, explosive piece of art that radiates youthful energy, intelligence, and optimism all through kaleidoscopic anthems. 50+ years after rock 'n' roll made Elvis a star and the later generations hapless ripoffs, who would've thought four young kids from Scotland would make its simple magic more affecting than ever? This is Idlewild's year, if not their era. The Remote Part will make you realize that no other songs feel this good when you sing along.
You just spent some time in China, right? How was that?
It was amazing. I have a friend who teaches English there, so I went for a visit.
Is there any sort of a music scene there? I know The (International) Noise Conspiracy did a secret tour there without the government knowing...
There're some labels in Beijing now - People Records - but we were in an industrial town. We discovered a punk scene.
There's definitely music around. It's not outlawed anymore; people are allowed to express themselves... within reason. I went to this bar called The Paper Tiger, and they were playing Guided By Voices' Isolation Drills, and there were all these Chinese dudes singing along. You don't expect that, but there's no reason why you shouldn't. There's Internet there now, and I think people in China are just desperate for music and art. You can get any album you want on bootleg there. Nothing formally "released," but I got an Aphex Twin CD for 10 pence.
Did anyone recognize you? Did you see any of your own albums?
I saw some Idlewild albums, but the only people who recognized me were Western music fans I bumped into. And there weren't too many of them.
Explain the declaration "Support Your Local Poet" inside The Remote Part's artwork.
It's kind of tongue-in-cheek. (On) the last record we got tagged as this "lyrical/poetic" band. In Scotland especially, we are seen as these wistful characters who live in pain and look into the sunset. I don't think that's the case. Poetic, maybe... My mother writes poetry, my grandmother as well. But they don't consider themselves poets simply for that reason. It's just too big a word. Same with the word "artist." A lot of people called themselves "artists," and it's just this word that has such a definition. So "support your local poet" was just a little fun thing to write; my way of dealing with it. It's self-mocking, but also a nice thought: People should write. I think it's important for everyone to do that, regardless if they write nonsense or whatever. Nonsense sometimes makes the most sense once you've written it down. So it's encouraging, but also joking.
Also, it looks good in front of a t-shirt. Which sounds shallow, but it's true! (laughs) But obviously, I've always been interested in the written word. I was brought up by my mother, who was an avid writer... I think, if Idlewild has done one thing, it's been to encourage people to check stuff out like Edwin Morgan (who appears on the album), without being too preachy.
Is it me, or are rock 'n' roll lyrics getting dumber?
I agree, but you also have to bear in mind that the majority of people don't care about lyrics, which is quite depressing. But whatever we do, we always keep in mind that we're not writing poems. These are songs. A part of me loves lyrics - Dylan, Patti Smith, Modest Mouse - but a part of me loves "My Sharona." The poetry in stuff like that is just the fact that it's... rocking. (chuckles) That's the balance we have in our band. A lot of the songs have thoughts behind them - some more than others - but it's always kept in context of the tunes we write.
You lived the States for a while, right?
South Carolina, yeah. From ages 13 to 15. The age when a lot of your tastes are formed, essentially, what you're gonna get into when you're older. I was never into sports. Music started to really interest me, and I had friends in South Carolina who played in bands, so I started to play in bands. Where I was living was not far away from Athens, which has a huge music scene, so I got into a lot of bands like The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Uncle Tupelo, and all these groups that I would've never heard of back in a small town in Scotland. I went back to Scotland with hundreds of LPs that no one knew of. I formed a band and tried to duplicate all these albums.
Do you keep in touch with those American friends?
No. To be honest, I didn't have that many friends. Most of my friends were much older than me. I was 14, and the people I hung out with were 18 cuz they didn't give a fuck about school and kept getting held back.
You guys are kind of aligned more with American indie rock ethics and aesthetics than Britpop...
That's the way we saw ourselves in the beginning. It's weird coming from a Scotsman, but we did see ourselves as an American indie rock band! Right down to the fact that I sang with an American accent on Hope is Important (major label debut), which was also partly because of my total lack of confidence in my singing voice.
But we had the same attitude as American indie rock bands (like) putting out records and touring; playing to 50 people then 100 people in the same towns. We built up a loyal fanbase in Europe that way, and people caught onto that. Especially in Britain and Scotland, we are seen as a legitimate, thoughtful rock band now.
The main difference between Idlewild and American indie rock is definitely the melodies. This is a reoccurring theme: Bands from Europe have a better sense of melody.
We're under no illusion that we're Pavoratti or Brian May; we just wanted to make a lot of noise. But I grew up with a lot of folk music, and there's just this really melodic sensibility to it. I couldn't deny that. We'd listen to Damaged, but still love pop and folk songs. That (eventually) came through. In fact, even though Hope is Important is kind of abrasive and noisy, there's still a pop-ness to it. Nowadays, we manage to combine it the best we can.
Do you think there's a lack of melody in American indie rock?
No, I don't think so. Some of my favorite records still come from America. I really love The Shins' album from last year. I think it's unbelievable. Bright Eyes, too. I'm a big fan. I think American bands are generally tighter, because they have to play more to get noticed. In Britain, you can play ten gigs and be signed and on the cover of NME, which is a real problem. American bands have to play hundreds of gigs before they play New York City.
Are you still living in Scotland?
The band is still based in Scotland, but I moved down to London just cuz I was a bit fed up with Edinburgh. We've been practicing up there for a few weeks in an old lighthouse. It's a cool place to practice. It doesn't sound particularly good, but it's nice to be in.
How are the new members (bassist Gavin Fox and guitarist Allan Stewart) working out?
We've had five people on stage since the end of '99 (Allan played second guitar during live shows). Allan even cowrote one of the songs on The Remote Part, so it's not weird at all. Bob (Fairfoull, ex-bassist) kind of drifted away the last couple of years. He wasn't really into touring, getting pissed off at everything. So we brought in Gavin, who was our close friend. It's only a bit odd in photos and stuff, cuz we were used to having four people for so long.