“DON’T GO INTO EVERY DEBATE WANTING TO WIN, GO IN WANTING TO LEARN” | IDLES DISCUSS BEING OPEN-MINDED, CELEBRATING THE THINGS THEY LOVE AND JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE

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JOE TALBOT. image: Iona-Skye Wood featured image: Lindsay Melbourne

We haven’t sat back and basked in the glory of what we have achieved, because we haven’t achieved enough to do that yet,” says IDLES frontman Joe Talbot and there is a real sincerity in his tone. Often the most difficult record a band will put out is their second, but Joy As An Act Of Resistance has become a talking point for everyone – from mainstream radio to the “purists and musos.” Released via Partisan RecordsTalbot deems not repeating Brutalism‘s self-release approach necessary because “the label have a shoe-in with radio and magazines and the boring shit that as a band you don’t want to think about.”

The name Idles is definitely rolling off the tongues of a lot of people around the country – infiltrating the charts and peaking at number five, Talbot explains “no one gives a fuck about you until you sell enough units. We were on a platform that we built ourselves being a DIY band, selling tickets, selling T-shirts; but the label have transformed everything.” There is no risk of Idles becoming another victim of being tethered by the label’s demand, though – as he goes on to reveal “they wear our kit. They know what egos to massage, but they’re doing it with our ethos and our language in mind. They’re not going to get us on something we don’t want to do.

While Talbot uses the term “something we don’t want to do,” he is quick to advise “just listen to other people and enjoy other people’s voices and opinions. Then appreciate that you’re not always right – don’t go into every debate wanting to win, go in wanting to learn.” It is this attitude of wanting to learn that is perhaps the most endearing quality of both Joe and Idles as a band. Progressive learning and understanding the world via the opinions of others, even on the toughest of subjects such as the death of his daughter Agatha, is documented both on Joy As … and in Joe‘s brutally honest own words. The first album was not a conversation to be had; it was cathartic. It was a release. If I didn’t release then, I’d have probably imploded. Second album; the period I was in before my daughter Agatha died, I was in a better place, but I was still fucked. I started counselling and I learnt a lot and sharing my emotions and listening to myself.”

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image: Iona-Skye Wood

Summing up the record, he uses the phrase “it is a conversation about a period in my life where my friends and family were carrying me,” and he reveals the best thing I learnt from counselling was just how lonely I was before because I wasn’t dealing with it.” The release of Joy As … has aided Joe‘s release from loneliness and at various signing sessions around the release of the record, fans revealed to Joe how much the album has impacted their life. Humbled by this, he expresses “it is invigorating. It is not something you can expect to happen, but it is something that you want to happen because that’s the whole point of opening up conversation. You don’t know that until you speak, but that’s where bravery and vulnerability comes in. You open yourself up first and that is the gift of conversation.”

It is this conversational technique that makes Joy As … such a commanding record. Touching on the topics of immigration (Danny Nedelko) and death (June), it could perhaps be deemed as a difficult listen, but the approach Idles have taken has made Joy As … accessible for all. Perhaps this stems from the fact “we started the band within a scene in Bristol that was already kind of judgemental in a muso sense,” where “you couldn’t be a Foo Fighters fan and be in one of their bands; that’s not cool. I’m not a Foo Fighters fan, but you get my point.” Instead of masquerading and joining this attitude, “we just went in drinking WKD blues and Buckfast tonic wine, being ourselves, smiling, enjoying people’s company and crowd instead of being moody.” Heavy and The Birthday Party-esque throughout, Talbot insists “we’re not punk; punk died a long time ago,” but instead offers “what we are is violent musicians with compassionate views and we live our lives truly to our music.”

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image: Iona-Skye Wood

Has this changed since BrutalismTalbot says I’ve not changed what we’re talking about, I’ve just found a better dialect. I am speaking the same words, but we’ve just got a lot better at playing songs. We’ve found what we love, which is the vehicle of violence as a tone and as a songwriting process.” Combine this love of violence with the music Idles love and you have the recipe of Joy As … – “I think what we are doing is derivative of everything we love,” Talbot ponders. Shamelessly gathering what the band love music-wise and adding the Idles stamp is the way Joy As … came about. “What we’ve done is embraced everything we love and spat it back out and regurgitated it in our own language,” he says proudly and his observation that “another thing that has been bastardised over time is openly celebrating the things you love in your own art. Bowie did it. Bowie stole and stole. That’s how you learn and grow – by going to art galleries, shows, having discussions with people. Philosophy comes from discussion – not from one man on his own.

Talbot laughs with confidence as he says “they can’t deny that they like it because we sound like the stuff they like.” Expanding this point, he suggests “the reason why we’re popular with NME readers and probably The Sun readers is because of the honesty. I’m not hiding anything. There’s no pompous edge with it.” Offering an example, he plucks “say, if Birthday Party fans heard our music and I was singing lyrics about In the Pines and a Murder Ballad I hadn’t witnessed they’d be like you just want to be Nick Cave. I love Nick Cave’s music. We’ve got the same mixing engineer on our last album and I hope you can hear all the stuff I love on it.”

This mindset has not come easily, nor was it used with complacency. Honest as ever, he points out “there’s pressures on a band – especially when you’re teetering on the edges of post-punk.” Although the post-punk audience are arguably most likely to engage with Joy As …Talbot sets his sight at “people that are sat there listening to Ariana Grande and watching Ant and Dec. That’s who I want to listen to our album.” Offering a solution for those unfamiliar with post-punk and conscious-thinking albums, Talbot suggests the most revolutionary, more forward thinking thing people can do is be a Trojan Horse – penetrate the minds of the populous. Maybe stop being so fucking vocal about things you don’t agree with and perhaps listen. We don’t care about upsetting musos or Sun readers if they listen to our album – what it is, is a celebration of my opinions, none of them are fact. All of them could be wrong – even the one about my daughter’s death. Someone can give me an alternate reaction to it.” Throughout, Talbot has offered his willingness to be proved wrong or be given a different angle to his beliefs, but this whole attitude is summed up when he says “the whole point is that people are too fucking narrow minded these days, so hopefully it [Joy As …] evokes some open mindedness.”

Although openminded in terms of hearing other people’s perspectives, Talbot is often the catalyst for hearing them. Unapologetic, he adds I have a privilege. I grew up middle class. I’m not trying to pretend I’m some working class hero and befriend every single person. What I’m trying to do is create a dissolution of the ego and fame as a thing where I’m more important than the people there.” The class divide, although he admits “I don’t want to care about class,” is something that Talbot speaks openly about – both throughout this interview and on Joy As … – I wanted to start opening up the conversation again about the roles of white men.” The unapologetic tone continues; I can’t help being a white man, but I can behave in a way that gives opportunity to people around me. I’ll never be an apologist for who I am, because I’m no longer acting like a fucking cunt. Politically, socially, whatever, I just want to be responsible for my own actions and start discussions on that.”

Instead of being an apologist or not using his privilege to address social issues in the UK and beyond, Talbot is doing the complete opposite and using his voice to validate issues like feminism through the white man’s perception. “The reason feminism is a movement that needs to exist, in my opinion, is because women aren’t given the same opportunities as men. The world is often seen through a white man’s eyes and voice. Obviously that’s not 100%, but the dominance is there. The only way as a white man that I can change the necessity of feminism is by acting better and being more responsible as my role of a white man in society.” As mentioned, there is no ‘care’ of class from Talbot and this resonates within Idles – exchanging a care for class for an awareness, he reveals “two of the guys in the band are very much working class, but there’s no exclusion there – I allow them to speak, they allow me to speak because we respect each other as people. You can’t apologise for your privileges, you can only act on them in a way that becomes productive for the society you’re in.”

It is clear that the Idles ethos is to use their platform to deliver a message of willingness, openness and to dissolve the assumption that class is the be all and end all of how we operate as a society. When asked to summarise what Joy As …, he contemplates silently for a moment before offering “the whole point of this album is that if you’re angry you drive badly, you write badly, you enter a room and when you see your partner you’re probably 400% more likely to start an argument.” With that statement comes a solution in the form of “if you acknowledge your anger and think about why you’re angry and put down a pragmatic plan or an emotional outlet to do something about your feelings, you displace that and it becomes something productive or it becomes something beautiful.”

The beautiful creation formed via Talbot‘s anger is Joy As An Act Of Resistance. It documents the themes of immigration, death, toxic masculinity and class – all of these are areas Talbot speaks strongly about, but it has become clear that no matter how adamant he is on a subject he can be convinced to approach the idea with a different mindset by having in-depth conversations from different perceptions. Leaving us with the thought of “the worst thing you can do is try and fix something you have no control over,” it is obvious why many critics will fight Idles’ corner when it comes to selecting their albums of the year.


Joy As An Act Of Resistance is out now

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