Words & Deeds

London songwriter dreams wistfully of driving to 'Idaho'

Nerina Pallot has never pulled a glistening trout from an icy creek in the Sawtooths. She's never reached up to touch the sky with a ski pole from the top of Baldy.

Heck, she's never been within 100 miles of this vast state.

But if the longing in Pallot's voice sounds authentic when she sings of "driving to Idaho," that's because it is.

"It's a mystical place," Pallot explains from her home in London. "I know people will find that hard to believe, but that's what Idaho is to me."

Area radio listeners have made Idaho even more exotic for Pallot. After being alerted to Pallot's yearning "Idaho" tune by a Web-savvy listener, 94.9 FM "The River" put it in regular rotation in January. The phone lines lit up immediately. "Idaho" is now spun about three times per day.

"Obviously, the song's got appeal to a 'River' audience," says station personality Tim Johnstone. "It's that whole Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan vibe. But it's smart, too. How many other artists do you know who uses some of the words she does: 'Tell me, Phaedrus, what's good, is it Idaho?' "

Phaedrus is a character in the classic philosophy novel "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Pallot's all-time favorite book triggered her infatuation with Idaho as a teenager.

"There's a bit where the whole book climaxes in Idaho for me," she says. "That's the part that really moved me and blew my mind."

Pallot was raised in Jersey, an island nestled between England and France. Thirteen years after first reading "Zen" as a 17-year-old, she still sighs at the idea of the Gem State, like a little girl dreaming of Never Never Land.

She even has a fantasy about dying here: "I've always said ... I want to do it in an old ramshackle cabin up in the mountains near Coeur d'Alene," Pallot says. "It's just so beautiful, just all those mountains, the ravines. It's just like ... God. We don't have anything like that in the United Kingdom."

"I grew up on an island with no mountains, no rivers," Pallot explains. "Idaho ... I couldn't imagine a place more different for me."

Not that Pallot hasn't traveled. Last week, she flew to Los Angeles to film a video for another song, "Everybody's Gone to War." Her fiance, a music producer, is a Long Islander living in L.A.

"I told you! I love everything American!" she says with a laugh. "I am completely mad about the country. (I told him that) 'We're going on our honeymoon in Idaho!' And he's, like, 'No, pleeease.' "

An audio stream of "Idaho" is available at Pallot's Myspace.com Web site. But buying the entire CD, "Fires," is a task. Because it's an import, the Record Exchange in Boise can order only limited quantities that go for $23.99. Even at that price, it sells out instantly.

"It's a rage. It's got such an incredible buzz," sales clerk Derek Williams said. "If we had it in stock all the time, it would probably be our biggest selling album."

Pallot hopes to release "Fires" in the United States by late 2006 or early 2007. Warner Brothers Records just acquired her self-started record label — called Idaho, of course.

Until then, she plans to keep performing in Europe. A lifetime musician, her career has been jumpstarted by recent opening slots in the U.K. for James Blunt, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban and Suzanne Vega.

Pallot would love to gig in Boise, she says. But if she visits, Pallot insists that she won't fly here. She wants to drive across the state line, then get out and inhale a lungful of air.

"I know this sounds kooky, but ... I'll know when the time is right to go to Idaho," Pallot says. "Because it's very special to me."

Michael Deeds co-hosts "The Other Studio" with Tim Johnstone at 9 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM "The River." This week: British bands.