“Can you call me back on the landline, please?” Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble asks when I phone him at his home on Mull. “The Internet isn’t working here.”
And that’s the moment I realise I am not interviewing a rollicking rocker gone rogue, but a man, in a house, with a guitar and a voice.
I call back on the landline and the connection is instantly clearer. It seems that even in the Zoom era, some 20th Century classics are still going strong – Roddy included.
The musician, 44, made his name as the lead singer of Scottish rock band Idlewild in the ’90s. But former Carnoustie High pupil Roddy has been releasing solo records since 2006 and released his sixth solo album, Lo! Soul, on May 21 this year.
“I think people really liked it, and that’s good, because it doesn’t sound like my other records.” Roddy says, of Lo! Soul. “My other records were all made with a band, in a studio – and this one wasn’t.”
The lo-fi record was made remotely over lockdown between his Mull home and Idlewild bandmate Andrew (Wasylyk) Mitchell‘s Dundee studio. And, deemed an “explorative”, “dystopian pop” album by reviewers, it proves that despite his associations with folk and traditional genres, Roddy isn’t afraid to embrace new ways of making music.
“We made the record with hardly any human contact, and it’s been released with hardly any!” he laughs. “So it’s quite an unusual record in that way.
“It was an experiment for me because I’d never done that kind of thing before. And it’s not necessarily how I’d want to make records in the future, but now I know that I can.”
And remote recording wasn’t just logistically different for Roddy – the creative process was different, too.
“I don’t tend to write on my own, I’m a collaborative songwriter, really,” he explains. “Probably my favourite song on the record is (lead single) Architecture In LA. Purely because that was an acoustic guitar song of mine, written in lockdown last year, that I took to Andrew and we just decided to not make it acoustic and make it kind of summery.
“He had suggested trumpets and things, and it just brought us to this sort of woozy summer anthem.”
Even the album art for Lo! Soul carries the summery, homemade spirit of the album, with its bright colours and beachy feel. But Roddy reveals shooting it wasn’t as warm as it looks.
“It looks a lot more summery than it was that day!” he laughs. “It was taken up here (on Mull) one day last summer – and it was windy! The colours are so vibrant because it’s shot on film, and that jumpsuit I actually dyed the night before with turmeric, so it was really yellow.”
‘Touring is just me, him and a car’
Though Roddy has the pandemic to thank for this record’s existence, it’s also the one thing preventing him from performing it.
“The only thing that’s been a kind of stable thing throughout my whole career as a musician is playing gigs,” he says. “And even those have stopped for the past year and a half! So it’s been an anxiety-inducing time. But I’m an optimist.
“I’m doing a socially-distanced gig in Stirling on July 17, and that will happen, because that’s a council-funded, outdoor show.”
And he’s looking forward to getting back on the road with producer Andrew, and delivering the spare, intimate gigs audiences have come to know and love.
“When I do my solo shows, it’s just me and Andrew. We’ve got it down to just being me, him and a car.
“Andrew plays the piano and I occasionally play acoustic guitar, but largely I just sing. So it’s quite minimal but I think it’s nice. It’s got an intimacy to it.”
Not idle, but less wild
With around forty of his UK shows rescheduled from last year – as well as the Idlewild 25th anniversary gigs – and things still looking uncertain, you might think cabin fever would have set in. But it seems the opposite is true.
I don’t have the wanderlust that I had when I was younger.”
“I’m quite happy to stay put,” Roddy admits. “I’m not really a fan of travelling on holiday and stuff, anyway – I never was. I like going places and doing something, which is why touring really suited me.
“Now, I love the opportunity of getting to go somewhere, but at the same time, I’m not that fussed. I don’t have the wanderlust that I had when I was younger.
“But,” he adds, “I don’t think I could ever have a ‘normal’ existence.
“I wouldn’t like to wake up and have the same thing to do every day. That’s why doing something like being in a band or being a writer quite suits me.”
The science of ‘songwords’
A keen reader – he’s having a Henry Miller phase – Roddy is known for his songwriting prowess, especially his poetic lyrics.
“I’m really interested in words and writing – that’s my passion, as much as music, really. I always try and find titles for songs and albums that aren’t very obvious.
“The title of Lo! Soul is very much like that. I like a lot of older language. I like the word ‘lo’. Loads of old poets use it, and it’s even in the Bible and stuff. It’s a call to attention, it means, ‘Here I am’.”
But unlike the countless writers who have tried to crack out a novel during the past year, Roddy doesn’t see himself going from music to the page any time soon.
“I’m a fan of poetry,” he says. “But I write songwords.
“It’s so much easier with songs, because the words can come alive with the chords underneath them. I’ve attempted to write other things in the past, but I do find that songs suit me better.”
‘We were a working band – and still are’
It’s a question he must get asked daily – does this solo stuff mean you’re not going back to Idlewild? But contrary to popular belief, Idlewild never actually split up.
“In 2010 we took a break from Idlewild,” Roddy explains. “The creative drive had dissipated a wee bit, it wasn’t there. And in that break, that’s when I started to focus much more on making my own albums.
“Then Idlewild got back to playing in 2015. But it’s interesting how everyone’s lives have kind of diversified, in the band.
“Rod (Jones) now runs a recording studio. And Colin Newton’s a teacher. I’m the only one that’s still makes records all the time. Andrew does as well, but he’s got his own thing going on.
“But that’s good I think – it’s healthy. We’re not the Rolling Stones, you know – an enormously successful band that could just do the same set every night to infinity.
“We obviously had a bit of success but we were a working band. And that’s very much still what we’re like.”