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Living Their Best Lives: Idles' Joe Talbot Talks Their New Album 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance'

Thursday, 30 August 2018 Written by Laura Johnson

Crackling through a speakerphone, Joe Talbot’s voice is calm and level. “I don’t feel any pressure to do anything,” he says. “It’s up to me. I genuinely don’t care what anyone else makes of what I do. It’s up to me to be as honest to myself, and truthful to the band and our art, as possible. The rest is up to you.”

We mention the cadence of his speech because as these words leave his mouth he’s getting a back piece tattooed. A year and a half on from their breakthrough with ‘Brutalism’, it seems that Talbot and his band, Idles, are as uncompromising as they’ve ever been.

On their new album, ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’, they continue to pave their own way. It is not just a title, it’s a way of life for the band, and they are resolute in their ambitions.  At a time when there is so much to feel sad about, to be joyful can be a rebellious act. Where their debut LP was a cathartic effort stemming from the passing of Talbot’s mother - sometimes a stream of consciousness over meandering, improvised instrumentals - its follow up has a clearer goal and a positive outlook.

Here they have shifted the focus outward and are more concerned with how they can affect the world, rather than how it has affected them. Its lead single, Danny Nedelko, is an anthemic pro-immigration track, for example, while Samaritans and Colossus tackle the subject of toxic masculinity. “Music and the message is paramount,” Talbot says.  

Here Idles want to inspire a safe, inclusive space for us all to express ourselves, and as a result find happiness. But they will also do whatever they believe is best to achieve their artistic goals. This integrity will only endear more people to the band, and build their already burgeoning fanbase.  Just like the ink that is being tattooed onto Talbot as we talk, Idles have managed to get under people’s skin.

Touring for ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ will take in their first global run and the biggest headline London show of their career at the O2 Forum Kentish Town in October. For those who Talbot says overlooked, underestimated and misunderstood the band, this development may come as a surprise. To them it is the next logical step, and one they grafted to take.

“Everything feels like a natural progression,” he says. “It’s taken so long for us to get here. It’s allowed us the time to breathe and make mistakes, not get chewed up and spat out. Our audience feel like they’ve gone on the journey with us. With each increment of getting bigger it just felt like it was the right time, and we’ve never taken it for granted. We’ve embraced it and played every show, no matter the size, to the best of our ability. I think that’s definitely benefited us, as artists and as people just enjoying the moment every time.”

Though their two albums differ thematically, the approach to writing them was by and large the same. They created the music collaboratively, and Talbot then went away to listen to each track a couple of hundred times until inspiration struck. He then penned the lyrics in one sitting. That focus extended to the recording process. Though they applied the same three-strike rule they followed when recording their debut, most of the tracks on the new LP were completed in one or two takes. Talbot chalks this up to restraint and following a brief.

‘Brutalism’ was recorded at a studio in Wandsworth, where Talbot “turned up, shouted and left”, but this time they decamped to Monnow Valley studio in Monmouthshire, Wales for a 10 day stay because they got a good deal they couldn’t refuse and producer Space wanted to work with its desk.  

Talbot’s surroundings had changed and so had his technique. Throughout the record there are moments where he swaps gruff spoken word for a softer, more melodic delivery. “It’s all about me doing whatever I feel is necessary at the time,” he explains. “So sometimes I will be singing. June was about something that needed tenderness and it was about listening to myself and being tender to myself.

“I used to sing a lot more and I just think I’ll sing when I feel like it. When I don’t I won’t. I don’t really think about it too much. I get bored if I just shout all the time. We want to take our audiences on a journey and it’s important that there’s a bit of variety in there. It’s about dynamics. If I’m being honest in our music then you’ve got to depict what naturally occurs in life, which is difference."

"You’re not always shouty, you’re not always talky. There’s parts in life where you need to be delicate and listen to yourself. There’s parts where you need to exalt all those anxieties you have in life. Life is full of change and it’s about keeping up with that. I think that’s why people feel there’s a bit of verisimilitude within our music because we accept that things change over time.”

Talbot entwines discussions of personal evolution, mental health and self care with a lacerating wit. Humour is one of the main tools they use to get their message across because it helps to level the playing field. As the tattoo needle buzzes in the background the vocalist explains: “Self deprecation is there as an offering, really, to show I’m not lecturing anyone. I’m just opening up about my own experience and my own opinions. You can take from that what you will. I am not perfect, I’m far from it. I’ve done a lot of awful things. It’s about accepting that, being open about it, because vulnerability instils vulnerability. It’s a great inclusive tool for discussion.”

Talking openly is something that Idles are advocating not only through their music but also through the causes they support. They recently put on an exhibition in partnership with the Samaritans, a charity that stands for “everything that my friends, family and the album represents, which is a safe place to be able to open up and be vulnerable.”

“It’s also a charity that’s saved a couple of my friends’ lives and I’m very grateful to them for that,” Talbot says. “I want to repay them somehow. The exhibition was an act of vulnerability, because we gave our art and our music to someone else to take the reins, which is a beautiful thing. It felt great.”

Talbot keeps returning to the word vulnerable, and scanning the lyric sheet for the record it’s easy to see why. His candour on ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ is arresting. June deals openly with heartbreaking tragedy and loss. “Baby’s shoes for sale, never worn,” he sings. Television implores us to value ourselves: “If someone talked to you the way you do to you, I’d put their teeth through. Love yourself!” Love Song is described as a “clumsy naive cluster fuck” that references Talbot’s favourite film, Dirty Dancing. “I carried a watermelon,” he declares, cribbing Baby’s famous line. The movie enters the conversation again with Idles’ cover of Cry To Me, which nestled on its soundtrack.

“The boys didn’t know it was on Dirty Dancing. They’re too ignorant to watch it" Talbot says. "I wanted to cover it because it’s one of the best soul songs of all time. It’s one of the best songs of all time in my eyes. I thought it was a beautiful b-side to Samaritans, so I got it on the album and they found out afterwards.”

One final question: if you’re advocating positivity all the time, surely you should be positive all the time, right? Wrong. “I don’t have to be positive for the rest of my life if I don’t want to be,” Talbot says. “I’m just gonna be honest. I’m gonna live to the ethos of ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ for the rest of my life, because it is my life. It was my life before the album and it’ll be my life afterwards. It’s up to me to be mindful and to be truthful and to work hard for what I love until I die . That’s a fact.”

'Joy As An Act Of Resistance' is out on August 31 through Partisan Records

Idles Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Thu August 30 2018 - KINGSTON UPON THAMES New Slang, The Works
Tue October 16 2018 - BRISTOL SWX Bristol
Thu October 18 2018 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town
Fri October 19 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Sat October 20 2018 - GLASGOW QMU
Mon October 22 2018 - DUBLIN Button Factory
Tue October 23 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Riverside
Wed October 24 2018 - LEEDS Leeds University Stylus
Thu October 25 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Fri October 26 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Sat October 27 2018 - BRIGHTON Concorde 2
Mon October 29 2018 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford

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