Originally published in the Columbus Alive (April 17, 2003)

With the release of its fourth album, The Remote Part (Capitol), Scottish band Idlewild may finally work its way into the mainstream. Combining the punk ethos of Gang of Four, the melodic ingenuity of Teenage Fanclub and the quick-witted lyrics of REM, Idlewild first caught the attention of music critics in 1999 with its brazen post-punk sophomore disc, Hope Is Important. The album, while containing some of Idlewild’s greatest songs (the Jawbreaker-esque “When I Argue I See Shapes,” “I’m a Message”), was a bit hit-or-miss, often finding the band indulging in spastic punk blowouts that could be hard on the ears.

Hope Is Important’s follow-up, 100 Broken Windows, was a more mature, more polished affair. It yielded college radio hits like “Little Discourage” and “Roseability” and was a modest success even though, by the time U.S. audiences heard the music, Idlewild was already fast at work on its next album. 100 Broken Windows was released in Europe in April 2000 but didn’t hit U.S. store shelves until March 2001, prompting Spin to call it the “Best Album That You Didn’t Hear in 2000.”

The band continues to be frustrated with release schedules. Idlewild’s most recent effort, The Remote Part, was just released in the U.S., after coming out in July 2002 overseas. Despite the lag time, the band remains optimistic—as well it should, considering The Remote Part is receiving rave reviews. Couple that with the fact that Pearl Jam, so taken with the beauty of Idlewild’s music, handpicked the Scotsmen to open three weeks’ worth of dates in the U.S. in late May and early June.

I spoke with Idlewild guitarist Allan Stewart the day after a show in New York a few weeks ago.

Idlewild started its U.S. tour nearly a month before the U.S. release of The Remote Part. Were you surprised at the number of people who turned out in New York and Boston considering they couldn’t yet buy the CD?

There is a hardcore fan base. We are pretty much known in the U.S. as an underground band, so many people already have the record as an import. They aren’t going to wait for it to come out here. There are other people who might have heard a few things and are just interested to see us. So, we never know what to expect. Last night in New York was busy and Boston was really kind of busy as well.

A lot of the British bands that have achieved success here—Coldplay, Doves, Travis—seem to be overnight successes, but Idlewild has built its fan base comparatively slowly. Is that OK with you?

It’s more natural than coming over and being an overnight success and immediately selling out massive venues. I’d rather do it in a more natural way because that’s what happened in Britain with the band. At first people wrote us off and we kept writing songs and putting out albums and eventually people gave us credit for what we did. It was like that there so I don’t really expect it to be any different in the States. We don’t have any massive expectations. We never have expectations, because you can only be disappointed with them.

Over the years, Idlewild’s sound hasn’t so much changed as it has matured. On Hope Is Important, for instance, it seemed you were content bashing out punk rock songs that bore the influence of American bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth.

A lot of the songs on that album are rather erratic. They are young, aggressive guitar songs, but they were the seedlings—particularly the melodies—for what would come out in the later albums. In songs like “I’m a Message” and “When I Argue I See Shapes” you can see the direction that we were headed towards.

Did the sound mature because you were listening to new music over the years, touring, or just growing up?

It’s a combination of things. As you grow up you don’t just listen to Black Flag, Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü like you used to. You become more open-minded. I think it’s a combination of seeing other bands, listening to other bands, and then changes within yourself. There is also the fact that your technical abilities get better. It’s just a combination of things that make you produce different music and write different songs. You’re never going to stay in the same field of songwriting because if you did that, it would be disappointing to be in the band. I am in a band to progress and write different stuff and go with what comes out rather than stick to one genre.

With your own tastes, do you go back and listen to stuff you liked when you were growing up, or are you trying to discover new music?

I still like the classics, but I’m always willing to listen to new music. I used to be a wee bit close-minded and I’d stick to the same thing. I’m a big fan of Hüsker Dü and Sugar—bands that are aggressive but the melody is there as well. I just bought a Lightning Bolt CD today. I think it’s a bit experimental, but I’m willing to listen to it—just anything to feed your brain with different things.

Is there anything in your collection that people might be surprised to learn you own?

I have a few Carpenters records. I got a four-record box set at a thrift store. I bought it a long time ago and thought, “Why the hell did I buy this?” I was listening to a lot of other stuff at the time. I went back to it about a year ago, and it’s got some great songs on it and some great melodies. I don’t suppose I would have thought that in the past. I would have thought, “Oh my God, the Carpenters, this is the kind of stuff my mom listens to.” My mom listened to a lot of softer stuff like Barry Manilow and rubbish like that. My dad was more into bluesy stuff and Black Sabbath. People might be surprised that I listen to the Carpenters.

Idlewild will perform at the Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, April 23. Local pop-rockers Outrageous Orange will open the show.

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