Roddy Woomble of Idlewild’s Songwriting Survival Kit
The indie frontman takes us into his world of wine, libraries and Scottish isles; all in the name of songwriting
Returning with Everything Ever Written in 2015 after a lengthy break, Scottish indie band Idlewild were greeted with that holy trinity of critical acclaim, commercial success and fans hungry to see their live shows. It was as if their half-decade absence had reminded listeners of what they’d been missing out on – that is, a group with a magic instinct for melody and a unique way of looking at the world.
Ever since their 1998 debut mini-album Captain, they’ve been a welcome voice on the indie scene, able to both keep it mellow and crank things up when a little punk spirit is needed. That ability is as apparent as ever on new record Interview Music – an album which, by expanding their sonic palette in a dreamlike direction, will appeal to their existing fans without pandering to any expectations of what an Idlewild album should sound like.
Here, frontman Roddy Woomble provides us with a look at the gear and environment that he considers most conducive to his songwriting…
1. PENCIL & NOTEBOOK
“Over the years I’ve written with pens, typewriter and even on a computer, but nothing beats a pencil and notebook. Nowadays I go for the Moleskine notebooks – black softcover, lined. In the past, I was suspicious of the romance around them and those who wrote in them. I’d use the cheapest supermarket notebooks which I would then throw away after the album was done. But as with anything, the older you get the more value you attach to things, and I don’t want to throw notebooks away. Let’s face it, Moleskines are beautiful notebooks, satisfying, and a joy to scribble in. Pencil-wise I use a 2B.”
2. RED WINE
“Not an essential, or an endorsement for alcohol, or drinking on the job, but I have always enjoyed drinking wine and dreaming up song words late in the evening. Even the ancient Chinese poets were onto this and would ‘…Sip wine as a way of easing self-consciousness, and so clarifying awareness of the ten thousand things by dissolving the separation between the inside and outside…’ Wise. I also like beer.”
“Reading is essential in order to become a better artist – of any kind. Books are portals into the soul of another. The closest thing to experience. I love them, and I spend most of my time reading and dreaming about books. Poetry (surrealist poetry from the 1920s and 30s, Scottish poetry from the 50s and 60s, the Beat poets) and non-fiction (particularly books about music) are my favourites. With novels, they have to be really good. I read Moby Dick and Don Quixote early on, and they are hard to better.
“I have always loved libraries, and when I’m on tour I often find the local library to spend a few hours reading and writing in. The Scottish Poetry Library is my favourite library in Scotland. It’s a good place to work, and you are surrounded on all sides by some of the best ideas going. When I’m in London I also enjoy writing in the reading rooms of the British Library. Probably the most amount of people you can be surrounded by in silence. It’s just great to be nearby by so many humans sitting quietly working away on their ideas. They also have a strict ‘no pens, pencils only’ policy, which I approve of.”
4. QUIET BARS
“Other than libraries, I find this the best place to write, also just to hang out, observe and overhear clips of conversations, or if you’re with company to talk about anything and everything. On my travels, I’ve sat in some great old bars and imagined the lives going on around me. ‘We keep passing unseen through moments of other people lives,’ so said author Robert Pirsig, I always have my notebook with me (see my red wine entry for why bars are also good).”
5. SCOTTISH HEBRIDES
“Are very important to me. I’ve lived here for ten years, and before that would regularly visit. Mainly Mull and Iona, but also Coll, Skye and Harris. It is a part of the world I feel very connected to – I love the sense of space. Artists and writers have been coming to the Hebrides for centuries, crafting their visions from aspects of the landscape – mountains, loch, sea.
“I don’t have a dedicated working space in my house. I usually sit at the kitchen table, which is old and wooden. Or an armchair if it’s evening. After years of not playing an instrument, and always working within the context of a band, I bought an acoustic guitar five years ago, which I use to compose. It has changed the way I approach songs in general – much of my last solo album The Deluder began as ideas on my guitar, several songs from the new Idlewild album too. I even play it live with my solo band shows now too. I’m not a good guitarist, but you don’t have to be to write songs. I’ve got plenty of ideas and that’s what’s more important. Limitation is freedom as far as musical ability goes!”