Roddy Woomble is a wanderer.
The Scottish artist became used to travelling as a child, spending time in the United States and France before returning to Scotland to study photography. It’s there in his work, too – spearheading Idlewild’s drift from raucous punks to something rather more profound and mature, before flitting between the band and his own imposing solo catalogue.
It’s no surprise, then, to learn that Roddy is speaking to Clash from one of the UK’s most remote outposts. Currently living in the Hebrides, his willingness to travel means that he will endure lengthy trips to the mainland to chase his muse.
New album ‘The Deluder’ though, is all worth it. It’s a wonderful return – rich, poetic, and with a driving musicality that utilises the force of his experience while pushing his work into fresh areas. Produced by regular collaborator Lucca Rossi, the sheer ease and comfort of the experience is bolstered by the Scottish artist calling on some long-time collaborators.
“It’s a lot to do with the people I’ve been working with,” he tells Clash. “We play together all the time, so we have a real understanding musically of what needs to be done. What’s the best thing to do for a song. On the credits it says written, performed, and produced by the four of us. I’m not dictating what people should be doing, it is a very collaborative thing.”
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The new record is born partly from Roddy Woomble’s family life, an island hub that allows him the solitary space he needs to compete his best work. Album highlight ‘Jupiter’ for example began life as a ditty he would sing with his son, to encourage a burgeoning interest in astronomy. “He’s like eight going on nine, and he has this burgeoning interest in records – The Beatles, McCartney… Beach Boys. That kind of thing. And he also likes astronomy, so we’ve been combining the two sometimes to make these curious little nursery rhymes.”
“I let Lucci (Rossi, producer) and Andrew hear one, and after we stopped laughing we all felt it had a good tune! So we started working on it, and as a band of adults that changes the meaning completely. But I kept some of the playfully surreal irreverence of a song you would create with a child.”
“That’s what’s great about The Beatles, I think,” the singer continues. “That’s why all kids love them so much, because they’re kind of nursery rhymes for kids and adults alike – the tunes are so good, and the words are so ambivalent that you can read something into them or ignore them. And I suppose with ‘Jupiter’ I was trying to do a little bit of that too. Keeping it quite simple but at the same time with a little bit of subversion in some of the lines.”
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The islands also fuel lead single ‘Like Caruso’. The title is a reference to the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, widely regarded as the first global superstar, while the song itself finds Roddy Woomble wandering home along a barely illuminated coastline.
“Where I live there are no streetlights, and it gets completely dark,” he tells Clash. “A lot of the record was made in winter, and a lot of the people up here from Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD, as they call it – as there’s so little sunlight and serotonin in the winter. And I was just walking home one winter night… and of course, it is pitch black but you can see the navigational lights at sea, and that started me thinking about it.”
Lyrically, Roddy Woomble has always accepted the possibility of chance, allowing his work to disappear down various rabbit-holes and other creative diversions. “I celebrate randomness in my words, and that’s kind of what I love about these walks, the flash thoughts that come into your head,” he says. “And I don’t know why, but I was thinking about Enrico Caruso, the first global superstar. The first people that people would break down when they heard him sing, and they didn’t know why but they’d understand it. It would somehow channel into their emotional lives.”
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I’m not interested in storytelling in songs...
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“I find him particularly fascinating as a person, a human,” Roddy continues. “I was thinking about Caruso and how he effected people, and I was walking along looking at these navigational lights. When I got home I strung a few of those lines together, and then when we worked on the song it developed from there.”
The absence of any direct meaning is perhaps one of the factors that makes ‘Like Caruso’ such a compelling work. “I don’t really know what the songs are about because I don’t really work like that. I’m not interested in storytelling in songs, I’d rather read a story and listen to a song. I love the idea that songs can suggest something happening without ‘oh this happened, and then they went here and did this...’ ‘Like Caruso’ is a really good example of my lyrics, I suppose, and the way that you think: is there a story there? And then you think… No. But at the same time there are lines that you remember.”
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There are certainly lines to cherish on ‘The Deluder’ - small moments of insight, flashing out like distance beams of yellow from far-flung lighthouses. There’s that title, for a start – at once definitive, scholarly, but also self-deprecating.
“I struggled with what to call this record,” he admits. “I’ve always been good at titling things, but sometimes you put a lot of thought into it and then you overthink it a little bit. I had lots of drawn out ideas for everything, and then at the end I had one song called ‘First Love Is Never Returned’ and it repeats that word ‘deluder’ again and again… and I just thought it summed up the album a bit.”
“It’s quite inward, but in the same way that people say ‘you go outside to go inside’. It’s like, I’m not without humour when I’m trying to analyse myself. And I think that ‘The Deluder’ kind of – in a fairly light-hearted way – sums up the record.”
‘The Deluder’ is out now, with Roddy Woomble set to complete two bursts of nationwide shows. Perhaps best known as Idlewild’s frontman, his solo catalogue is actually nipping on the heels of the lauded band – his latest LP is Roddy’s sixth under his own name.
“Over the years of doing the solo band I’ve kind of developed a little bit of a different crowd,” he explains. “I mean, obviously there’s a proportion of crossover with Idlewild fans who come along because they like the solo stuff. But there’s also a lot of people who come along not knowing or being that familiar with Idlewild material.”
“Obviously, I work with different bands – I’m taking out a full band this time, with a drummer and everything, but sometimes it’s just been quite stripped back. But we need to make the record the way we made it, really.”
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Ultimately, though, the work is the most important thing...
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“My thing is I want different people to hear these songs and come to these shows,” Roddy continues. “I’ve got a pretty dedicated fanbase who buy these albums and come to these shows. The shows are sometimes in fairly small places, but we’re playing in bigger places now and the idea is to get more folk interested in my solo music.”
It’s certainly work that deserves wider attention. Arguably one of this country’s finest lyricists, a recent crowdfunded campaign brought these words together into a lavishly bound, heartily illustrated tome. A real treasure trove for fans, it underlines what is central to Roddy Woomble’s work – that expressive, mystifying, resolutely creative lyrical ability.
“The words, yes,” he agrees. “The words are important, the music is important, and making a living out of it is important. All that kind of stuff is important in its own way. Ultimately, though, the work is the most important thing. You do the best job you can, you try to make the most interesting music you can make, and time decides if it’s good enough.”
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'The Deluder' is out now. Catch Roddy Woomble at the following shows:
7 Shetland Mareel Arts Centre
12 Aberdeen The Lemon Tree
13 Edinburgh Pleasance
14 Glasgow City Halls
16 Birnam Birnam Arts Centre
17 Manchester Deaf Institute
18 Nottingham Rescue Rooms
19 Leicester The Musician
20 London Islington Assembly Hall
21 Bristol Thekla
22 Cardiff The Globe
24 Leeds Brudnell Social Club
26 Belfast Voodoo
28 Isle of Mull An Tobar
For tickts to the latest Roddy Woomble shows click HERE.
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