Music: Great Scots

Scottish "Indie" band Idlewild humbly try to capitalize on burgeoning U.S. success

Scotland's Idlewild have found American success with the album, The Remote Part.

When you think of "Rock band," the word "normal" probably doesn't pop into your head. But that word best describes singer Roddy Woomble and his Scottish Rock band, Idlewild. I mean, come on — the band got its name from Anne of Green Gables. That's so ... cute.

Woomble and his mates — guitarists Rod Jones and Allan Stewart, bassist Gavin Fox and drummer Colin Newton — are currently touring with Grunge gods Pearl Jam on a tour that will find them playing some of the largest U.S. arenas.

"(Pearl Jam) actually requested us," Woomble says. "That was a total surprise."

Despite Woomble's amazement, the rise of Idlewild from British unknowns to Pearl Jam's band of choice isn't all that unbelievable. The band has more than paid its dues. Before the Pearl Jam tour, the group headlined an Australian tour and a tour of mid-size clubs in the States in support of 2002's The Remote Part, which featured the songs "American English," a bombastic Power Rock anthem, and "You Held the World in Your Arms," a contemplative, yearning piece of BritPop.

Call it a mix of R.E.M., The Replacements and the Cure. The songs' earnestness resonated well with audiences; they topped the European charts. Though Woomble remains humble, he admits the group knew something was happening during the making of the album.

"We knew those tunes were strong when we were writing and recording them," Woomble says. "They were designed to get people into them. But we didn't presume anything. I mean, there are a million brilliant songs out there that people never hear."

Idlewild formed in 1995 in Edinburgh, Scotland, immediately attracting attention for their no-holds-barred live shows, at which they infused a restless twentysomething ennui with a healthy dose of Punk DIY. On the road for a solid year, it wasn't until 1997 that the group attracted much more than a cult-size following: That was the year that Idlewild's single, "Queen of the Troubled Teens," got a push from Radio One DJ Steve Lamacq. Based on that exposure, Idlewild inked a deal with Fierce Panda, which released the group's sophomore record, Chandelier, also that same year.

By the time Odeon released Hope is Important, in 1999, Idlewild had gelled as a unit. The lineup included guitarist Rod Jones, bassist Bob Fairfoull and drummer Colin Newton, and Woomble's songs began to take on a definitive sound, somewhere in the middle of Pop Punk and Post Grunge, effectively becoming one of the most American-sounding bands in a country that was redirecting the sound of Modern Rock toward the likes of Oasis, Radiohead and Blur.

On the group's next effort, 100 Broken Windows (released in 2000 on Capitol Records), the band continued to walk the line between literate Rock ("Roseability" is a tribute to poet Gertrude Stein) and its working-class Scottish roots ("Little Discourage"). Indie influences like The Pixies and Washington, D.C., Hardcore began creeping in as well, further distancing the group from the rest of the BritPop crowd.

Despite the continued success, internally, Idlewild was experiencing creative dissatisfaction. Bassist Fairfoull was kicked out of the band during its 2002 European tour; guitar tech Alex Grant stepped in to finish the tour. Eventually, Gavin Fox became Idlewild's permanent bassist and guitarist Allan Stewart was also added to the lineup. Despite all the changes in lineup, Woomble says Idlewild's sound never really changed in focus all that much from its Post Grunge/Indie roots.

"The more you try, the harder it is to sound different," Woomble says. "As you record, you find there are just different versions of yourself."

Now, after taking some time to regroup, and bolstered by the American success of The Remote Part, Idlewild has a newfound self-assurance.

So. No Gallagher histrionics, no grudges against other bands, no bashing the media. Just a normal guy who talks about the Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan records he scored while on tour and raves about the "brilliance" of the new Bright Eyes record, Lifted (or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground).

"(Listening to the that) motivates you to do something just as good," he says. "I think our next record is going to be a lot more ambitious."

IDLEWILD opens for Pearl Jam at Riverbend on Thursday.

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