Idles – Interview – 2017

Shortly before the release of their brilliant debut LP and sold out Brighton show I caught up with Idles frontman Joe Talbot. Self-described as a “nosebleed for the ears”, the Bristol band’s noisey post-punk is an enticing and threatening spectacle to behold, with the politically-charged lyrics of Talbot a welcome antidote in the current musical landscape. The group have managed to capture the raw emotion of their live shows in Brutalism and with slots booked in at SXSW and the The Maccabees’ farewell tours, the band have a lot to be excited about.

How’s the tour going so far? You started it in Bedford last night, is that right?
Yeah, we’ve just finished the first night in Bedford. It was amazing! We’re still sorting out the logistics of the set but the crowd were great and it was brilliant.

What can we expect for the show in Brighton? Will it be solely songs from the new record?
No, we are going to play a few songs from Welcome, but only at the start, there’s no point playing Welcome in certain towns as they’re not going to know them. We’ll also throw out some Meat songs as well, but the focus is the album. You’re pissing in the wind if you’re playing old stuff to people who don’t know it. Especially when we’ve changed our approach to songwriting. People up north, for example, will be expecting a certain of type of song. You have to play to your audience.

Is there a particular process that your songwriting goes through when crafting the tracks, do you write the lyrics before the instrumentation is in place?
No, we all write the music together, often our own parts. Someone will come to practise with an idea and we’ll work around that. Once that’s done I’ll go away and write the lyrics and melody.

There has been a large change with this album compared to the Welcome EP and even the Meat EP, what brought this on? Was there a light bulb moment or was it more of a natural progression? It’s now a lot more stripped down, raw and instantaneous.
It was a bit of both really. Welcome was a time when we were learning each other’s rhythms and I was new to writing in general. It was something I’ve never done before. So I was ironing myself out, working out how I wrote best and how I could articulate myself interestingly and enjoyably and that takes a long time. I’m still learning now. When you first start out you look to find your voice, and initially you do that by echoing other people’s voices. So over the years, we’ve gradually realised what we enjoy and that is music which is a lot more visceral and aggressive, which is the easiest way to describe it I guess.

Your lyrics have also developed from a few years ago, was that a conscious decision on your part? What I take from them now is they’re very British in the way you express things as well as being very politically motivated. Has your process changed at all?
Well some people have called it a stream of consciousness, which I don’t really think it is, it’s more about painting abstract pictures of something to highlight the ridiculousness or the severity of it. I’m just trying to frame things that are knocking about in normal life and trying to put it on a platform where people can discuss it further. In one of our earlier demos I wrote about politics then, as I was fed up about being lied to by people I voted for and the people I voted against, so the politics has always been there in my writing, it’s just my approach, diction and rhythm has changed. I’ve never changed what I’m about, I’ve just changed how I write it.

And it feels that in this current musical landscape, thoughtprovoking bands such as yourselves, Fat White Family, Sleaford Mods and Young Fathers are at the vanguard of politically motivated artists. Do you feel musicians have a social duty to broadcast their feelings? Especially the way the world is right now.
I think there’s a danger there. No musician has a duty to do anything. At this point in time there is a massive polarising of political sides and this is because we’re being lied to. The right-wing government that we’re under is tearing our country apart and blaming the poor, blaming immigration for things they are doing themselves. That is infuriating and, by nature, creative people are often left-wing, which leads to a lot of pissed off musicians who are talking about it because it’s relevant. But it’s not my duty to do anything, it’s my duty to vote, pay taxes and work hard for my friends and the people I love. As a musician I’ll do whatever the fuck I like, it’s up to my audience to decide whether they like that or not. Saying that, I’m always going to stay true to myself and my music will therefore cover things that I’m pissed off about. It’s a cathartic process. I do feel an affinity towards social commentary as it’s something I’m interested in; I find it engaging. I want there to be a dialogue with our music, I don’t want to bark at people, I don’t want to dictate what people should and shouldn’t do. But I will express my feelings and often that will come out as left-wing beliefs.

And music such as yours sparks discussion, which is always a good thing.
Yeah exactly, I bet if you did recordings of discussions in the same pubs now and 20 years ago there would be a massive difference. People are a lot more politically minded these days and they’re fucked off. There’s a massive gap of trust in our nation and people are scared. The sad thing is this normally leads to them voting for people with easy answers, which is normally the fucking racists. The best thing that happened to my community was that the Tories won outright. The worst thing was a coalition as it was just a smokescreen to allow the Tories to get into power. All the neo-liberals were sat there twiddling their thumbs, watching Great British Bake Off thinking it’s all hunky dory and suddenly the Tories are in charge, ripping everyone off and fucking over our country. I’d rather they’re in full power and in full sight.

Divide and Conquer’ is about the government tearing apart the NHS, is that an issue close to your heart?
Sadly, I had to spend a lot of time in hospital with my old dear and more often than not the staff were foreign, hard-working and under appreciated. My girlfriend is also a nurse; she’s doing 14 hour days, without a break, whilst pregnant and also going totally under appreciated. The NHS is a massive institution that saved my mother’s life and is being undercut by greedy little fat fingered c**ts.

There aren’t that many bands out there now who have a story to tell or message to give out, so it’s good that you guys are doing that.
Yes, but there is a balance there. There are a lot of bands with a message these days and it’s getting increasingly harder for the conglomerates to ignore it. The conglomerates think ‘oh, politics is cool again,’ and so they want to monetise it. Which is great because it means bands are being heard again. I think it’s the lesser of two evils. What would you rather? Rich people making money from political bands getting their message across or no political bands with no messages getting out there? I’d rather it be like it is now. You’ve got to work within the system and do it to the best of your ability or you may as well go and live in the woods.

And history has shown us that if there’s one thing we can take from any worrying political period, it’s good music.
Yes, definitely, and what there is now is a unity between sub-cultures in young people. For example, more people are interested in grime because of the subjects the genre portrays. You don’t have to be black and living in a council estate in London to relate to it. It was the same for two tone and reggae cultures, which all unified because they had a common cause and something they felt together.

You’re off to SXSW as well The Maccabees’ farewell shows, how did those gigs come about?
Through the wonders of Steve Lamaq we got offered SXSW but we couldn’t do it initially, but then the PRS foundation granted our request for funding to go over there. It’s a fucking dream come true, it really is. I still don’t understand how it’s all happened. The Maccabees is also because of Steve Lamaq, he suggested us to Felix White, who then contacted our manager about doing something with us which turned into a live session for his record company. And for some reason they thought we’d be suitable to support them.

Tell me about ‘Exeter’, I’m originally from Torquay 15 miles down the road so I can relate to everything you sing about in that song.
Yeah, I spent a good ten years of my life down there so I’m glad you said that. I mean it’s not just about Exeter, it could be about any similar town in England to be honest. What people don’t realise is there’s a lot of violence in these small towns and a lot of savage drug problems because people have nothing to do. Not facilitating young people and getting them off the streets turns them into animals; it’s bizarre that it’s brushed over so much. I hope that my friends that still live there are not too offended but that’s their fault for not leaving I guess. There is also a horrible clash of Oxbridge rejects in Exeter, every time we went out there was a fight. People would get thrown out of bars at 1.30am and it was like a bottleneck with everyone shit-faced and bored. I’ve just got really bad feelings relating to that place now and I’m not sure why. I’d like to explore it at one point in the future because it was a big part of my life and I just hate that suffocation culture when there’s nothing to look at but urban outfitters and generic shops. It suffocates any freedom of expression and individuality. The government have emptied the guts of towns like that and turned them into Americanised shells.

What is your relationship with the city of Brighton? It was one of the first shows on the tour to sell out. Have you played many gigs here before?
We’ve done Great Escape and played last year at Sticky Mike’s, which was fucking cool. It wasn’t that busy but I really enjoyed it. I love Brighton, I think it’s one of the only other places in the country that I’d move to although the sea breeze would get under my skin a bit. I’ve heard the Prince Albert where we’re playing next week is really good and I was surprised it sold out so fast considering only 25 people came to our last show in the city.
Paul Hill