Idlewild’s Warnings / Promises Promises Greatness
By
J. Gordon
9/11/2005 9:25:18 PM

"We were falling apart, to be honest"

Touring on their fifth CD, Warnings / Promises [Capital Records], the Scottish quintet Idlewild has never sounded better or had a more promising future. Picking up where REM left off when they were great, and adding the interest of some Teenage Fanclub harmony and Brautigan-influenced literature, this is a CD to set apart as an all-time favorite. Nighttimes.com caught up with one of the founding members, guitarist Rod Jones, just after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and just before anyone really knew what the heck was going on down there.

“Yeah, well New Orleans is a little further on in the tour, but it doesn’t look very good…” he said.

Nope. Not good at all.

The future of Warnings / Promises, however, is looking very good—and sounding even better. Maybe that’s because it’s the work of a new band--the first album written collaboratively as a five-piece.

“[The addition of Gavin Fox, bass/vocals and Allan Stewart, guitar] made a massive difference with the dynamic of the band, ‘cause we were happy,” says Rod. “It was the situation when we were hanging out on a tour bus for two months with someone who didn’t want to be there, who was drunk all the time. Bob [Fairfoull, bassist] had been a friend of all of ours for a long time, but he was just unhappy. I don’t know if he didn’t want to be in the band, or didn’t want to be on tour, or what. But that, combined with the fact that he drank too much, was just a recipe for disaster. The band just became an unhappy band. We were falling apart, to be honest.” Rod says the guys had known Gavin and Allan a long time, and Allan had been playing live with them anyway. “We had all gotten along with Allan and Gavin, and Gavin is a good singer as well. So it seemed like an obvious choice.”

So, did Rod and Roddy ever think Idlewild was on its way to ending?

“I never did. I still don’t. Everyone has their ups and downs. Everyone has those moments where you question what you do and why you do it. I think that the band is a lot stronger than that, to be honest. We still want to write songs and we’ve still got something to say. We’re not the dinosaurs we’re made out to be in the British press. We’re still a young band.”

Dinosaurs? But you’re all still in your twenties!

“We’ve recorded five records. I’m only 28, but we’re considered this indie band that’s been around for ages. We’ve built a cult following and we play to a lot of people now in Britain and sell a decent amount of records, but we’ve never been a massive band, like Coldplay or Snow Patrol. It’s just a case of when you’ve been around for a long time, people get sort of fickle. It’s about what’s the next new thing. It’s more consumer-based and throw-away. Very few bands, even those that do well, end up sticking around awhile.”

Idlewild doesn’t really have that problem in America, as they’re only just catching on. But fans of Idlewild are so devoted they don’t really want the secret to get out. Woe is the day that Americans will have to give up the comfy, intimate club settings for the big stadiums.

“Smaller clubs are more nerve-wracking, to be honest,” Rod continues. “The most comfortable I’ve ever been is playing in Hyde Park in London, to about 70,000 people. You’re so far away and it’s so impersonal that it’s really difficult to gauge what’s going on. It’s almost like being at band practice, looking out the window at a whole lot of people. But in a club, people are so close to you and it’s so light and there’s no getting away from people. It’s much more intimidating. At the same time it can be a lot more fun sometimes. There are pluses and minuses to both, I think.”

With the response from Warnings / Promises, the big stadium is right around the corner. So what has made it different from the others?

“It’s kind of a transitional record. We’re coming to terms with the fact that we’re a different band. It’s the first time we’ve come together [writing] as a five-piece. Previous records were just me and Roddy. The other guys were just not interested in doing that then, and we’d become quite insular. To involve everybody was kind of different to start with. Obviously, five people’s opinions take a lot longer.”

Warnings / Promises is all over the board in influences—from folk/country (“I Understand It,” “Not Just Sometimes But Always,” “Disconnected,” and “Goodnight”) to squealing psychedelia (the undeniably catchy, “I Want A Warning” and heavy arena-rock jam of “Too Long Awake”), but there’s a cohesion to it all that rests squarely on the smartness of the lyrics and the passion of the music. The first track, “Love Steals Us From Loneliness,” could almost be a love song, if it didn’t call his girl ‘stupid’ from the get-go, and then circle around with the smart-alecky line, Happy birthday, are you lonely yet? “Blame It On Obvious Ways” is flat-out one of the most brilliant examples of lyricism on the planet—and it rocks.

Some critics have pointed out that Warnings / Promises sounds like an angrier record than those of the past. Maybe it’s the title, which calls to mind the old American saying, ‘Is that a promise, or a threat?’

“I can understand what people are saying, but I don’t think it’s angry. I think it’s a much more direct record. Certainly more honest. It’s not to be taken that way, really. I think the title, as well as the title of some of the songs such as ‘Love Steals Loneliness’ means you can’t have one thing without the other. You can’t have love without loneliness and you can’t have warnings without a promise. That’s kind of the premise of it. But then Roddy came up with the title, not me! I don’t exactly know what’s going on in his head. Sometimes things pretty strange, I think,” he laughs.

Rod says the record took two years to write and put out, and while they were also using that time touring, he blames most of the delay on them just having fun with it and experimenting.

“I was getting used to being the band that we were. We really hadn’t decided what we were gonna sound like as this band, and we really didn’t have a clue when we started. We did a lot of trial and error, writing a bunch of songs and seeing how they sounded. As per usual, we realized there were a whole lot of songs we really didn’t like. Maybe that’s too strong of a term, but it’s a case of writing a bunch of songs that could really have been on the last record. I think we wanted to record and got impatient. We went straight to the studio as soon as we had some songs, but we weren’t ready. We’ve learned that now, finally. Every time we start writing, we have to get at least twenty songs out of our system, and then start working on the new ones. We’ve started thinking about the next record already because it takes time.”

The new record was produced by Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air, Phoenix) and he’s left his fingerprints of brilliance all over without actually changing the band’s sound.

“From the first time it became apparent he was the right person. He had an enthusiasm for the songs and had read into them what we wanted and got a grasp of them very quickly. He didn’t say, ‘Right, this is what you’ve done before and you’ve made these kinds of records…’ says Rod.

“Too many people in British bands complain about how long it takes to tour the states and how much work you have to do. Roddy summed it up in an interview when he said, ‘Well, it’s cheaper than therapy.’ Basically, we’re just talking about ourselves! I’m really keen to just spend as much time out there as we can. We’ve got a really good fan base and we want to build on that.”

Does the UK still consider Idlewild a punk band?

“No. A lot of bands are generally surprised when they hear us. We did an acoustic tour earlier in the year in Britain, and basically turned ourselves into a folk band. We had an accordion and a violin. I think hundreds of people were totally stunned of what we turned into.”

“There’s one thing I really love about touring in America…because we’ve built up a fan base through college radio, and we’ve never really been through modern rock radio and MTV. The people who come to see our band are genuine, hardcore fans of the band. It’s different in Britain where a lot of people have read about you and are just drifting in to check you out. [In America] you feel you can actually go out into the audience after you’ve played and have a conversation with people. In Britain, that’s quite difficult to do. America to me is like 50 different countries, almost. It’s so different from state to state. Places like New York, Boston and Chicago. We saw a very privileged side of Los Angeles. We were in a very nice house with a nice car that we could drive to the studio and parties. We saw the up-side of Los Angeles. We saw abject poverty and a lot of extremely strange people, but on the other hand, it’s this dream world of a party at some actor’s house. It’s a strange thing. I realized we did see a side of it that a lot of people don’t get to see. It was fun.”

Don’t miss Idlewild on tour in one of the United States’ 23 different ‘countries’ –including a replacement for the New Orleans gig in Birmingham, Alabama:

SEPTEMBER 2005
6th: Boston, Paradise
7th: New York, Irving Plaza
9th: Philadelphia, Theater Of Living Arts
10th: Baltimore, 8x10 Club (formerly the Funk Box)
11th: Washington, Black Cat
14th: Atlanta, Smith's Olde Bar
15th: New Orleans, Twiropa * CANCELLED
REPLACEMENT: 15th: Birmingham AL, High Note Lounge
16th: Houston, Fat Cats
17th: Austin, The Parish
19th: Dallas, Trees
21st: St Louis, Blueberry Hill
22nd: Chicago, Metro
23rd: Minneapolis, 1st Avenue
24th: Lawrence, Bottleneck
27th: Denver, Bluebird Theater
28th: Salt Lake City, Shaggy's Velvet Room
30th: Seattle, Neumos

OCTOBER 2005
1st: Portland, Dantes
4th: Santa Cruz, The Attic
5th: San Fransisco, Slims
7th: Los Angeles, El Rey Theatre
8th: San Diego, Casbah
*New Date* 11th: Phoenix, Martini Ranch Scottsdale






 

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