Interview The Birthday Suit: ‘We’re Followed By Bad Luck’

Rod Jones gives us the lowdown on new music, ‘old-fashioned’ values and his future plans.

Rod Jones of Idlewild, whose new outfit The Birthday Suit have an album out called ‘The Eleventh Hour’, gives us a lowdown on his new music, his ‘old-fashioned’ musical values and his future plans with Roddy Woomble.

Your tour got pulled the last time around because you had injured your arm. How is it healing up?
My arm is fine! I broke my collar bone before an American tour with Idlewild, which we ended up having to cancel. It got better, but it’s healed in a way that’s caused problems in my shoulder, so it basically went before the tour. We’re followed by bad luck. That happened, so we had to postpone the tour and then our van broke the day before our tour, but we’re now for the last date.

So touring’s not been blessed with the best luck so far. What part of the musical process do you enjoy the most – touring or recording?
It’s different – the most frustrating thing for me doing this on my own rather than with Roddy or with whoever – is the writing – not just for motivating myself but not having a foil to bounce off whether it’s any good. It can take longer than it should. Recording is always really good fun. These days you don’t get the luxury that you used to in terms of as much studio time or financial backing, so you’ll rush to get it done on time, but it’s good to see things come together in the studio. It’s like when listening to a record; you have time to absorb it and listen to it over and over again. When live, it’s instant and in your face and exciting. It’s the same when you’re playing music. You can savour the music in the studio and when it’s live, it’s this immediate adrenaline rush and then it’s over. This is our first tour as a band actually.

As The Birthday Suit, your name means having no clothes or garments. What does this say about your band?
It wasn’t quite so metaphorical. I’d gone to see Bat for Lashes I think and about three of her band had a birthday that night and she kept going ‘this one’s having a birthday’. So I said ‘It’s like a birthday suit’ and it stuck in my head.

One of our personal favourites is ‘Hope Me Home’, what do you think are the tracks that the download generation should get hold of first? Do you mind people individually picking at your work?
I do! [laughs] Yes, I have a problem with it [laughs] but you’ve got to move with the times I guess. By releasing the first single as a free download was trying to move with the times reluctantly. It’s good in some ways as people can get interested in music and listen to a vast array of records, but because there’s so much of it out there, it’s difficult for anything to stick to the wall. It’s like a pile of needles in a haystack. If you listen to a whole album, you connect emotionally to it as a whole. If you buy one song, it might come on once a year on your iPod on shuffle. It is a shame, but I suppose there are a few tracks that describe us better than others. When doing this record, we’re finding our feet, so it’s a collection of songs put together. The one criticism I’ve had which is probably on the money is that it’s a little all over the place in terms of direction. I think the ones that point where we’re going are ‘Hope Me Home’, ‘Sell It All’ and ‘The Eleventh Home’. It had been started as a second solo album and then became more, so that’s why it doesn’t fit together.

More cohesion on the cards then?
Yeah, try to develop our own sound really and have an image, not in terms of an outfit, but a sonic image! Like a lot of my favourite records do – like Bowie records in the 70s had a different sound, didn’t they?

So, what inspired your sonic take on Snap’s ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’?
I started listening to it in a semi-ironic way, so we had to do a session for the BBC with a cover and so we learned this one. It happened by accident, without too much thought, but works.

Rod, you also have a musical project as well as this one with Emma from the Delgados. Are there still things happening with this?
We started to link arms for a festival to raise Mental Health awareness. We were aware that there was nothing after for the rest of the year and the presence tailed off, so we were keen to do something with a lifespan, so we made a record that was always going to be out there. We stuck everyone in a house to see what happens and we came out with what is a surprisingly good record. We wrote it in five days and recorded and mixed it in a week and did two gigs. Out of the 11 people that play on the record, there was always one person missing every day at one point, so the aim is to get us altogether in one room at one time. It started to do well in America, so we used some of the profit to start a Mentor programme in Scotland where a high profile artist works with an unsigned artist for a day to write together, record together, play a gig together. We’ve done a test run of it that worked well, doing one a month. Next time, we’ll try to do an album with UK-wide artists.

It’s hard because of capital I imagine.
The goodwill is there in Scotland. I’ve questioned whether it would work as well in England, especially in London as people are in competition for slots and you don’t see so many bands helping each other out as you do in Scotland. The bands in Scotland may not all listen to each other’s music but they’ll all help each other out. That’s a very Scottish phenomenon.

It could work in the North, do you think?
The further South you get, the more isolationist you get! [laughs]

Speaking of projects, is there going to be a return of Idlewild? Is something happening anytime soon?
There’ll be something. At some point. That’s all I can say. It might be a tour, it might be a gig, it may be a bunch of them.

100 Broken Windows was named by Skinny Magazine as the Best Scottish album of all-time. What do you think of that honour?
It’s really nice to have that accolade. That record is a bit like an albatross – not just for Idlewild but for myself: you’re constantly compared to it. I don’t really understand why that one is singled-out. I don’t think it’s the best Idlewild record. Obviously it was of its time and captured people at the right time. For a lot of people, Murmur is REM’s favourite record, but it may not be their best record – it’s just of its time. It’s not our most successful album financially. It’s something we’re proud of but at the same time, “For Fuck Sake. Not again. Pick another record” [laughs].

Which Scottish albums do you consider as great?
I love Teenage Fanclub – ‘Bandwagonesque’.

What’s your favourite Wet Wet Wet record?
I’d have to say, ‘The Best Of Wet Wet Wet’.

What’s your favourite Idlewild record?
To me, ‘The Remote Part’ is the one I enjoyed the most all round. Yeah, we’ve made better songs, but I think it makes the most sense as an album.

Finally, we know your opinion of the download generation. What do you make of Twitter and Myspace as a channel for new bands?
I don’t understand it! It’s a purely lazy thing. I’d just love for them to fuck off! [Laugh] I’d like to do a campaign for every band in the country to not use
the internet for 3 months and just see what happened! You’d suddenly find that ticket sales would go up the world over and people would start buying music again. The internet inspires laziness.

You’ve got a twitter?
Under my own name @ TheRealRodJones. It’s something that someone set up to coordinate with my Facebook, but I’ve got no idea how many people follow it.

Maybe you can judge it on how many come out?
I wouldn’t base it on that! It’s slightly different if you’re a singer in a band as you’re the voice that people recognise. Unless people are heavily into bands, most people know the singer’s name and that’s about it. So you have to build from the ground up. We’ll keep coming back and playing. It’s good fun to play these places. If you play well to 20 people, hopefully next time there will be 40 people. That’s the only way I know how to do it – I don’t know any shortcuts. We’ve not had a lot of radio play and you need that to sell tickets. The people who have come down to the shows seem genuinely enthused, so that’s good. You just go out there to play the best show every night.

The Birthday Suits’ new album ‘The Eleventh Hour’ is out now via Sing It Alone Records.

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