Interview: IDLES open up about forthcoming second album and its “defiance of love”

IDLES by Lindsay Melbourne

Ahead of their DIY Presents show in New York next month, we caught up with singer Joe Talbot.

On last year’s debut LP ‘Brutalism’, Bristol punks IDLES marked themselves out as a vital new voice with a searing line in sheer, gut-punching humanity. Raw and emotional, sarcastic and funny, their blistering bullets of noise were torn straight from singer Joe Talbot’s own turbulent life story and it was this unflinching openness that earned the band a rapidly increasing fanbase and critical plaudits across the board. Packing out every show along the way (their forthcoming April gig at London’s Heaven sold out months in advance), it’s with no small level of anticipation that they now head towards album two.

Less than a year after the release of its predecessor, the as-yet-untitled record is now finished, bar some final mixing and mastering, and set for release later this year. “As soon as we left the studio for ‘Brutalism’, we started writing the second album. That was maybe two years ago, so it’s not actually as quick as people think,” notes Joe.

And on LP2, Talbot looks to be dredging even close to the bone, drawing from the most open of wounds to craft a record born of the utmost pain but filled with an equally resilient sense of hope. It’s an album that seems set to push their empathetic glut of emotional honesty to its limits and one that should see their increasing legion of fans swell in tandem.

We spoke to the ever-eloquent frontman to find out about it.

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Hey Joe, you’ve mentioned that you had a concept in mind going into the second album – what was that?

People always have this second album syndrome and I was suffering from that – instead of writing, I was thinking about what to write. With this album, at the start I was struggling so I wanted to explore the idea of the second album and renaissance, a rebirth of ideas. As a band we completely changed and evolved from the first album because it was way more successful than we thought it was going to be and we got better as musicians because we played live way more than we expected. There’s lots of things that I wanted to use, and then I realised that was bullshit and no-one fucking wants to hear [that]. I realised I was half a writer when I’m thinking about writing. I imitate what I think is supposed to be me instead of just being me, so I scrapped all that and came up with a new concept and it was much more fluid, and much more honest and I’m very excited about it.

Were you struggling because of a need to keep the momentum from ‘Brutalism’ going?

Initially there was pressure, and that’s negative energy. If you listen to compliments then you become inflated. What you are is continuous – I’m not suddenly a better musician because someone’s told me, I’m [still] what I was before. It doesn’t matter what people think about your album in the sense of an analytical thing; that’s not why you do it. You don’t do it to be told your value. You do it because you love making music or writing a diary or being cathartic. That album was about grief and it helped us become a better band and it helped me get over a death, so that’s what it was about. And as soon as you remember that and go back to that again, you realise that all the accolades in between are just meaningless.

You’ve cultivated a real community from that record though, which must feel good.

It’s about opening up discussion about how you think and feel about the world around you, and your ‘fans’ as it were are the people who are giving you feedback and reactions and disagreeing with you and that’s why you do it. So that’s fucking perfect, yeah.

It’s been enlightening, strengthening. It makes you feel safer in the world to be more open because it’s about realising you’re not alone. Their opinions and stories are just as important as mine, so those communities that are built are enlightening. It’s fucking cool. The songs are almost the key to the door to opening up a bigger discussion about what’s going on.

“It’s a straight-up attack of words to show people that you can beat the fuckers by just listening to each other and loving each other.”

Joe Talbot

Tell us about the new idea behind the record.

It’s a new kind of grief. The first album was much more about catharsis and explosive, visceral emotion and this one is about channelling a different kind of grief that’s about progressing as a person and learning from pain, loving yourself and helping other people and yourself through community and listening to people.

My daughter died in June, so I had to deal with that. It’s very different, it’s a much more violent grief and something that will either break you or make you stronger. My mum dying was different, she was dying for at least a year before [it happened] so it wasn’t a car crash of an event. Whereas this was different and I had to be a lot more reliant on my friends and my partner. There was a shared grief and I realised that community around you is the most important thing you have because when you’re weakened you have to rely on other people. This album is about a resistant joy and a defiance of love. Rather than just screaming at the world, it’s about going, well this world isn’t going to stop spinning for me. How can I become a better person to myself and the people around me through being compassionate and listening to opposition as well as just to ourselves? I think it’s a universal thing that can be learnt, and I think it’s very important that we speak that.

Would you say it’s a hopeful record?

It’s very hopeful, but this isn’t about my personal dilemma now. This is about us using our art as an allegorical thing, where we can go beyond the little, selfish bursts of emotion and onto something [bigger]. We’ve got a bigger platform now, and I want to make something so visceral and honest and brave in my infantile approach to lyricism that there’s no fanciful bullshit in it. It’s a straight-up attack of words to show people that you can beat the fuckers by just listening to each other and loving each other. It’s simple. There are songs in there that are obviously about me and what I’ve been through in different ways, but it’s not about me now.

Does that translate to a wider political context?

The colour of our nation is a lot darker than it is before. We’re in a much worser place than when we wrote ‘Brutalism’. I was in a much worser place personally when I wrote the second album. It’s about finding the light in that and working together to beat it, and you can. You’ve just got to stop throwing stones at the opposition and start uniting and listening. Brexit happened because of mudslinging and not listening to each other and just fucking blaming things on immigrants. The left are completely dissatisfied with each other because they’re all on Facebook labelling things instead of going out there and listening to the opposition. Instead of throwing stones and saying ‘you’re a fucking stupid racist’, you should sit back and ask ’why are you so angry and afraid of immigrants? What’s going on? What’s in your life that makes you that way?’

The frustrations of existential dread or happiness or whatever are always allegorical to your political state because both are exactly the same thing. It’s about feeling safe, feeling warm, feeling fed. It’s like A-Level philosophy that I lean on. It’s really simple writing and it seems basic but I’ve only got three and a half minutes to get my point across with every song and I’m not gonna sit there and write a bunch of Morrissey lyrics. I’m a flowery man, but in a different way. So I think if I talk of vignettes of personal anguish and use them as a stepping stone towards bigger issues then it allows people to relate to me because they see themselves in me. They see my imperfections, they see this broken person and they think ‘well, I’m a broken person too’ and that’s cool because then if we’re all in a place where we feel broken and lost, then why don’t we discuss this and try and move forwards as a community? When communities move forwards, then things change.

IDLES play a DIY Presents show at Rough Trade New York on March 24th. Details here.

The band’s second album is due out this year on Partisan Records.

Photo: Lindsay Melbourne / DIY

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