Roddy Woomble of Idlewild on His Recent Solo Album “Lo! Soul” | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, August 16th, 2022  

Roddy Woomble of Idlewild on His Recent Solo Album “Lo! Soul”

Situation and Hope

Dec 23, 2021 Photography by Euan Robertson
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Featuring the single “Architecture In LA,” Lo! Soul is the new solo album from acclaimed singer/songwriter Roddy Woomble (also the frontman of Idlewild). Working in isolation together with his Idlewild bandmate Andrew Mitchell (aka Andrew Wasylyk), this is the latest LP following four solo albums including his applauded debut My Secret Is My Silence and the widely praised record The Deluder.

Originally released as a digital stream in May with physical copies dropping later in the year, Lo! Soul is Woomble’s most experimental work yet, and together with recent EP Everyday Sun, marks a massive departure from both his previous independent work and with his band towards a strange minimalist sound which marries abstract electronica with poetic reflections to create an alien soundscape he calls dystopian pop.

Woomble has also recently celebrated a quarter of a century of Idlewild by writing 50,000 words included in the comprehensive retrospective book In The Beginning There Were Answers: 25 Years of Idlewild, which documents their entire career so far.

Under the Radar spoke to Woomble to ask about his experiences of recording and performing in lockdown, how technology changes the nature of songwriting, and where the future of music lies for him and the next generation.

Jimi Arundell (Under the Radar): How do you separate yourself as a solo artist with your work with Idlewild?

I feel like I can sort of do anything. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, far from it. I don’t feel confined to one thing. Sometimes with Idlewild we feel like that a bit, but when we took the break and then came back, the shackles had gone a wee bit. We really felt we wanted to explore different sounds and different kinds of songwriting, but it always comes back to the fact with Idlewild that people do want to hear “You Held the World in Your Arms” and “American English” and stuff like that.

My solo career (if you want to call it a career—the records I make) has never suffered from that because they’ve always been quite low key, quite culty. People discover them but there’s no hits per se. The advantage to that is that every record can be completely different from the one before because no one’s expecting that record again. I think that I’ve embraced that more and more and will continue to do that. I mean, I love jazz, I listen to a lot of jazz. I’d never go near that with Idlewild cause it’s not appropriate, but with my own solo things I’m starting to think, “Could I actually just write some words and sing with a jazz band?” Because I’d love to do something like that. I think there are opportunities there to explore.

How does it feel releasing the record in two stages and how did that come about?

It wasn’t intended of course, but all the COVID-related backlog for vinyl and CD production meant that we’d need to wait until August to release Lo! Soul. I just wanted to get it out as soon as we’’d completed it in March. It felt very spontaneous as a collection of songs, and I liked the idea of having it out in the world as soon as possible, so we put it out digitally first in May. I also think people are used to disruption now! It has allowed us to prolong the anticipation for people owning a physical copy, in the absence of playing any gigs.

Both your new album Lo! Soul and the recent EP Everyday Sun sound so strangely unique and vastly different from not only your own output but also from anything anyone else is doing. How did you find yourself on such a solitary sonic path?

Lo! Soul and Everyday Sun were made like that almost out of necessity because we couldn’t meet up, so me and Andrew were trading ideas like this [referring to Zoom]. It was all based on beats and sort of synth lines. It got to the point where it was like, “This sounds good. There’s no need to get real drums and guitars and stuff on this. Let’s just keep it minimal.” It did soundtrack this kind of woozy alien landscape that I think a lot of people, including myself, felt during the lockdown when you were seeing so few people. You were looking out windows to empty streets and empty landscapes. I was looking at Andrew on Zoom 100 miles away and we were making something together. It’s quite a weird record in that way but it’s quite evocative of its time.

What do you feel are the defining tracks of Lo! Soul?

I think it all holds together in a very unlikely way and is a cohesive record, so it’’s difficult to single out specific songs. That said, “Architecture In LA” is a good blueprint for the album and the way we made it. I spent the afternoon in Dundee at Andrew’’s studio when lockdown eased—I’’d written the song on an acoustic guitar, we recorded it to a click track and I sang a guide vocal—then Andrew took out the guitar and constructed the music all around the guide vocal, which I then re-recorded at home in the Hebrides when we were in a lockdown again! Jill [O’’Sullivan, aka Jill Lorean] sang her backing vocals from her home studio in Glasgow. It’s a strange way to record songs, but it worked. It’‘s a wonderfully optimistic tune too, which I think the whole record is, it’’s a record about situation and hope.

You joined the ranks of the many acts having to play a streamed show to promote the new material. How did you find the experience?

I think everyone I know who plays music has kind of adapted to it. It’s still not ideal, really. It’s quite a strange thing to play a performance in front of a camera, you know? It’s not something I’m used to doing really and it was strange. I found it more nerve wracking because when there’s humans around you, I’m a human, other humans, you can relate to each other, can’t you? You can laugh if you make a mistake, that’s part of going to see something live, isn’t it? And you take that away, and you’re still playing with another human and you’re still interacting but there’s no one to interact with other than this cold eye of a camera. It’s really strange…in a dystopian sci-fi way, I quite liked it.

It can be a sterile feeling, for both the performer and viewer.

We grew up in the ’’90s—that was the thing, you didn’t record yourself, you had to go to a studio. Now you can record yourself after you’ve written your first song which is great, but it’s changed the—so if you can do that, possibly then doing an online show is quite normal, it’’s normalized in that way. I still feel the need to be around people playing, maybe that makes me sound old fashioned, I don’t know.

We seem to be moving into an era where there are no icons, but everyone is a star. Do you think technology is making everything temporary and disposable?

I think culturally it’s a really interesting time. Most of the art I respond to is not current, it’s old. It can be from the ’’60s in music or could be the ’’50s, or it can be writing from like 200 years ago, 100 years ago, that’s the stuff I really respond to because it feels like it’‘s coming through me, coming to me through time.

When I discovered punk rock, my parents weren’t mental like that. I was mental like that as a 14-year-old. So, I do think you have to accept your place to a degree and that kind of thing, which I do. I’m more fascinated by it than engaging in it.

When you look at the Dylans or the Leonard Cohens or Joni Mitchells, I’m just talking from a music point of view, and you think, “Where are they now?” Well, it’s not going to be like that anyway, because they were one-offs. It’ll be an absolutely new thing.

What’s next for your solo work and will you ever be returning to your dystopian pop sound?

Oh, I don’’‘t know. I’ll be spending the next year playing all the re-scheduled gigs, solo gigs and Idlewild 25th anniversary shows. I’m always working on songs though, with various interesting people. I went through a decade [2005—2015] of releasing an album every year. There’’s been a bit of a gap between albums as of late, so I’’d like to get back to putting out collections of songs more regularly. The lockdowns actually opened up a lot of possibilities creatively. It seems a strange thing to say, but I’’‘ve found a new way of doing things—like so many others.

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