More about: Idles
Gigwise are sat in IDLES’ dressing room with a jubilant Joe Talbot and Mark Bowen, 2/5 of the band after a triumphant early evening set at Transylvania's Electric Castle festival. With a fast growing reputation as one of the most scintillating, relevant and above all, necessary bands of their generation, IDLES have become the band of 2018 even though we’re still barely halfway through. While last year’s critically acclaimed debut 'Brutalism' laid the foundations, this month's follow-up looks set to catapult them into rock's premier league. Which is a far cry from this time two years ago when the band were long time regulars on their native city Bristol’s live circuit, but relatively unknown elsewhere.
The twelve songs that make up ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ display an honesty, awareness (socially, politically and self), poignancy and occasional brutality that makes it one of 2018’s must own albums. But then you probably knew that already. While the other three band members – Adam “Dev” Devonshire (bass), Lee Kiernan (guitar) and Jon Beavis (drums) casually drop in and out of the conversation, it’s left to their two bandmates Talbot and Bowen to discuss the origins of the album and events leading up to it, as well as casting an eye over the Bristol scene that nurtured them while already looking ahead towards their third record.
JT: This is one of my favourite parts of the job at the moment, talking about the new album and the development of the band. It’s all going forwards. Also, me and Bowen are practising Mindfulness. We integrated that before the album started. I went into counselling before my daughter died and practising Mindfulness helped me get through it loads. We were talking about it earlier today. When you’re in a situation of reactionary behaviour where you get angry or scared, you just ask yourself how old you feel? You think about it because there’d be a point where my counsellor would be flipping out. He’d ask, “How old do you feel?” and I’d say 12. You don’t really think about it when you answer. You don’t often feel your actual age.
So are you immediately drawn towards some moment of trauma, and that’s how you feel you have to behave to go along that path?
JT: Yeah, that’s right. You become like… You retreat into it, really. Like some kind of bolshy armour that isn’t you. It’s not a mindful, mature response. Not that mature is better. It’s not a derogatory thing. The retreat is just how you behave. There were lots of points along the way where I had to change. We all did. Bowen has come a lot more mindful. A lot better at communicating. Both of us separated our band lives from our personal ones. It’s like a dichotomy, which isn’t good for the brain.
MB: You’ve got to align what you think with what you say and what you do.
JT: A good example would be when I was grieving; I thought I was grieving well. I only had three weeks to grieve after my daughter died then try and regroup before we went back on tour. I’d get in the van and be band Joe, not home Joe. But what that was doing was stopping me from being open and honest about my emotions. So I started drinking more and doing more drugs. There’s a correlation there where, without thinking about it, I was not being honest. In the band, which was affecting both sides of my life. When people say you don’t take work home or bring your home life to work its bullshit. Especially in a creative line of work where our ethos and the one thing we want to purvey is honesty.
There are certain bands you listen to, and you either believe them or you don’t. But with IDLES, it’s difficult not to believe every single word that comes out of your mouth. Every single emotion you convey, whether it’s in a situation like this or on stage earlier. I think that comes across instantaneously and that’s why a community or network – call it what you will - has developed organically around the band. Do you ever have time to stop, think and reflect on how things have progressed for IDLES, particularly the upwards trajectory over the last 18 months?
JT: The first thing was the honesty came through, from my point of view anyway. Like any trauma, such as when my mum died, I stopped caring. There was a reaction; a point where I thought it sorts the wheat from the chaff. Suddenly, you don’t have the patience to carry all the bullshit any more and hang around with people that drag you down. People that bring gossip into your life until you start to think why am I talking about this shit? So you have to separate yourself from the shit that drags you down because you haven’t got the energy or the time. You’re mending. It’s a bit like a hangover. You just haven’t got the patience for all the crap.
If you’re always honest you can never be caught out.
JT: Which is a good point my girlfriend made. She said, “You’re saying you’ve been sober since you stopped drinking, but you need to mention when you’ve had a couple of beers otherwise you’re being dishonest.” That’s a really good point. Because it is unfair.
MB: The other thing about honesty is you do transition, move forward and change, so what is honest at that time might not necessarily be honest a year down the line. That’s one of the things we’ve always talked about. I remember Joe saying about the way Bob Dylan said stuff and then he completely reverted back on it.
JT: Not when he went electric. But in the way he was almost separatist. He had a pious nature to him that he could only end up being a hypocrite with. You cannot sustain that kind of sectarian behaviour where you believe you’re better than everyone else because your performance as a human withers as you get older. Your politics of self and practice change as you grow old.
I remember you telling me the first time we spoke over a year ago the second album was already well underway. Was it put on ice while you were still coming to terms with your own identities?
JT: It was on ice but we scrapped most of it. Most of the album was written in one stint over four months. There’s two tracks on the album that are three years old. The first track we wrote after ‘Brutalism’ is the last one on the album, ‘Rottweiler’. ‘Alcohol’ isn’t on the album any more because it’s got a Disney line in it, so we couldn’t get clearance. We didn’t even bother trying. But the trajectory you mentioned earlier also played a part. When we started writing the songs for this album, we tried to keep our integrity by ignoring our success. Even though we were getting bigger crowds we felt we had to stay true to where we are and write more brutalist songs because that’s where we’re from. But then that’s being dishonest, ignoring our success. So what we then did, and what we keep maintaining as a sense of reminding ourselves who our audiences are now, what our platform is, and appreciating our role as artists. That’s more honest. We’re going to be in a sleeper bus when we tour later this year and there’s no romance in that. It’s a lie, the mythology of the rock star. It’s crap. So we scrapped that whole section of songs and started again, with just an inwards look at ourselves. Who are we really? Let’s start enjoying our own skins and each other’s. Write songs that we love and enjoy. So we started exploring that outwardly into themes and allegories that were relatable to our audiences. I think it’s important we remind ourselves of the privilege we’re in and how hard we’ve worked to get here. Ignoring that we’re some kind of toilet tour DIY band now when we’re not. That’s insulting our audiences who are paying more for their tickets. But then on the other side it’s really interesting to utilise your platform and understand because you’ve got a bigger audience, your themes can be more allegorical. A bit more reflective on society where you can touch people a little more personally. It’s just about being aware of the context you’re in and not ignoring it because that’s dishonest. It just took us a while, because as you can imagine, second album syndrome is tough. You fight it.
Do you worry that some of your audience might feel lost, or that you’ve moved on too rapidly since the first album?
JT: No, I think we’re lucky in that aspect because we don’t stop. It’s almost like Stella got her groove back with ‘Brutalism’. We just found this thing we’d been looking for, which is passion. We were always passionate, but we were also like kids with too many Smarties. Let’s make everything sound like Arcade Fire! But we couldn’t sound like Arcade Fire, so we were just scrambling around for ideas. We had the passion, but it wasn’t in a concise artistic language. Then when ‘Brutalism’ came about it felt as if the shoe suddenly fits. So we didn’t want to stop because we had so many more ideas to go with the second album. Now we’ve evolved into a confidence where we know what we can challenge ourselves with, but without going to far. Still within our realms but using IDLES as a language. It’s really exciting. We just want to keep writing until we’re forcing it, then we’ll take a breather.
Which songs on the new album came later?
JT: ‘June’ was finished in the studio. It’s the only song I’ve ever written the lyrics for first. Agatha died then three days later I wrote it in the shower. I thought about all of the clothes that I suddenly had in this room and it made me really fucking sad. It reminded me of the Hemingway poem where he bet a guy $100 he could make a man cry in six words. Baby shoes, never worn, for sale. I didn’t think it would make me cry until that moment. That’s how powerful words can be when you’re in a different place. Be it love songs, sad songs or even techno, when you’re in this state of joy with your friends. You’re all in a club, in the same place so you have that mental connection and it’s not necessarily drug related. Sometimes it is and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s more about that connection with your friends, and techno is really unifying. You cannot argue with it. It’s fucking beautiful. It was that thing of suddenly realising that words can sink a ship. So I just wrote it for me. It wasn’t for the album. Then Lee wrote the guitar line and I thought that’s a fucking song. But even then I couldn’t sing it with the boys until we got in the studio. I just didn’t have it in me. It was a bit of a test instrumentally, because we’re not very good at jamming. Mainly because we get so enthusiastic about these ideas, but we have to be organised. Allow each other to breathe at some points then push each other at others. So we were in the studio and Paul (Frazer) our producer encouraged us to adapt the chords Lee wrote into a harmonium.
MB: Then you told me to write the middle bit.
JT: I just wanted to try and encapsulate the car crash that is in any sense of the words, in the song. The trauma comes in the middle where you’ve got no choice as a bus decides to hit you. You don’t choose where the bus is. So I wanted something like that in the middle then back to normality straight after where no matter what happens to you, the world keeps spinning and you don’t have any choice in that either. That was the idea behind the instrumentation, and we got it done after a bit of a barney. But I was really stressed about it. Not just because it was personal to me, but as with anyone I might empathise with, being really vulnerable. It’s just something I get really anxious about and I’m still not 100% OK with being completely vulnerable. Even around my best mates. It’s a hard thing to do. So it was a stressful day, but we got it.
Will any of the songs that were scrapped for the album be revisited in the future? ‘Alcohol’ for example, which you played live a few times at the back end of last year.
JT: We scrapped the songs because they weren’t good enough. There might be a couple of chords that Bowen’s written he’ll maybe remember another time, but if we don’t use a song then it’s very rare we’ll go back to it. It’s a bit like an aftershave. I just don’t like going back. We don’t use songs that aren’t right for our language. That don’t truly feel they’re us. If we love a particular song and it’s not on an album we’ll put it on an EP or something. We’ll give it to the world. ‘Alcohol’’s not going to disappear because we love it.
MB: Also, with each record, we like to work to a brief. So if we were going back to those songs it would be a case of how do we fit those into our brief? It’s not right. It would be dishonest. If we didn’t believe in it then, we’re not going to believe in it later. Although having said, we might also think it was a good idea yet didn’t realise it at the time.
JT: We won’t fight that. It has to feel right. Working to a brief is really important to us. As a collective of artists, that brief is like a school of thought. It’s like Dadaism or impressionism. It creates a general consensus or language that we can learn collectively where we’re still having our own dialects within those songs.
You refer to IDLES as a language. If you had to define it concisely what would that language be?
JT: The thematic comes second. When I talk about our artistic language it comes from the essence of the instrumentation and the tone of my attack. My approach to language. So it’s not the words and their meanings. It’s how I say the words and how they relate to the music. How we play our instruments and how we deliver. I’ll listen to the instrumentation for a song maybe 200 times before a phrase comes into my head.
MB: It’s not like a language as in verbal language. Working to a brief helps us understand, and it's each member’s interpretation of that brief. So with ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, just a simple guitar line will have lots of inhibition for the sheer fun of it, or something supportive to another member. I think that comes across and feeds into our language, which then all rolls into one.
JT: The one thing we have is perpetual energy. But it’s inclusive.
Certainly where you’re getting people on the stage or vice versa, when Bowen and Lee go into the audience. That two-way interaction.
JT: No matter what the pace of a song, I always try and conjure up that raw sense of emotion. Like if you haven’t seen a mate for a year, and you love them, so the next time you do see them you give them a hug. But it’s a violent hug. You don’t hold back. That’s our music. It’s unadulterated love or compassion or passion that drives and goes forward for me. It doesn’t wait around for an allowance. We’re just gonna go. Because we don’t want to hurt anyone.
I guess that’s one of the secrets to IDLES success, in that you’re politically aware, and also challenging things yet not always necessarily in a nihilistic manner. It tends be positive and constructive and also unifying. The way you portray yourselves is more like a community of like-minded people than just a rock and roll band. At every show, you sense that people in the audience feel as if they’re a part of something.
JT: It does feel like that.
MB: I think that was an artistic decision we made to be a sponge and exaggerate what we were seeing in front of us. Before ‘Brutalism’ came out, our shows were angry. Initially, there was that nihilistic element.
JT: Not with me. I’ve never agreed with nihilism.
MB: Not necessarily nihilism but we had a very angry tilt back then.
JT: I was a very angry man at that time.
MB: So we made an artistic decision that if we started to enjoy it more then our audience would too. That just fed into it and now there’s this real exuberant thing going on.
JT: But if you think about it, as a step forward in Mindfulness, the amount of shit we’ve gone through. Not just as individuals but also as a band and supported each other. If you look back at the period in our career where I was really angry on stage. I was also a massive cunt in the practice room. We were falling out and drinking a lot. I was doing a lot of drugs. I was a violent person and not nice to be around. That was a cyclical thing. After ‘Brutalism’ came the progress. I don’t think we made an artistic decision to do that. I think we genuinely started enjoying our own skin and each other’s. It just came out. It’s that feeling like dancing when no one’s watching. You’re so liberated for an audience. It’s not like looking up at that amazing clothes horse and thinking I’ll never look like that. I used to look at Julian Casablancas and wish I was that cool. But I never thought I could be in The Strokes even though I wanted to be.
Do you not think that was a hangover from a time where everything needed to be so preened, poised and perfect? Whereas nowadays because of the intrusion of social media with everything under the microscope it doesn’t have to be. So audiences want their bands to mean something where they can have that direct relationship with them rather than put them on some unattainable pedestal.
JT: Definitely, especially with this album. It’s all about celebrating your flaws, listening to yourself and enjoying your own skin. The whole point of me wearing shorts on stage and growing my hair long is because I’m balding and I fucking hate my legs! They embarrass me. My feet were backwards when I was born. I had clubfeet so I ended up having eleven operations. So I hate my legs but then I realise I can’t go out and speak to an audience about loving yourself, yet not learn to love everything about myself. I become a hypocrite unless I live that.
When you first realised you didn't like your hair and your feet what age were you?
Why is that?
JT: Because I started being more mentally sexually active so I started to hate myself. Because what I saw on TV and in magazines wasn't what I saw in the mirror. I spent a long time feeling alone, even though I was surrounded by great friends and family. Because I was keeping myself inside. Hating myself because of a body I couldn’t control. So now I'm letting go of that as much as possible. I’m not going to sit here piously and say I'm completely detracted from my ego. I'm still vain.
MB: It is an exercise in honesty. You're dealing with the fact you are vain by not facing it head on. It's about realising our flaws and our problems that could be a negative thing and then turning them into positive things. Like with Joe, I’m sure facing the issue with his hair gives him more confidence when going on stage because it's like training. He’s making himself so vulnerable in that situation but once he gets over that hurdle he feels as fit as fuck.
JT: Also, it encourages me to know there are people out there looking at me on stage thinking I could do that! And that’s great, because I don't want to be this kind of unreachable dream. Not that I ever would be, because this is the empowering thing I’m getting out of this process. People are opening themselves up and being vulnerable to us. A woman opened up to me recently about something really savage, and I see that as being better than any gig or any album sale we’ll ever get. Knowing that woman has found a sense of safety to grieve openly that she wouldn’t have had before. That's not our doing. That's the luck and hard work of us and the people that built that ‘AF Gang' IDLES community Facebook group. People that have seen our art and music and gone with it. Actually been proactive as a result and changed their own lives.
There is a real sense of community developing around the band, not just online but everywhere you play. We saw it here in Transylvania earlier, people from different backgrounds and countries that don’t necessarily speak the same language yet clearly united by your music.
MB: One of the big lyrical themes on the new record is turning something incredibly personal and singular to you, then opening it to four other people in the rehearsal room until it eventually becomes our song. Then we open it up to everyone else as a group even though the lyrics themselves are only coming from one person. Within our group – you don't have to feed that whole group mentality thing - you can be yourself, think your own thoughts and deal with things on a very personal level. But the whole point of that is it does happen to everyone. For example, grief. If someone you love is going to die, the way our society – especially Irish more than British – has dealt with it is really closed off which doesn’t help anyone. Whereas if we're all-open and talk about it then we can deal with it in a much healthier way. A lot of mental health issues come about because people don’t share stuff with each other.
JT: My purpose for the content of the album wasn’t to talk about the death of my daughter. It was to celebrate just how amazing the feeling my partner and I had when we felt safe in the arms of the people that came to us immediately after our daughter's death. They just carried us through a really horrible time. We just sat there and talked about how lucky we were in the worst point of our life. How amazing it was all our friends had come round, bringing us literally two months worth of food. Our friends allowed us to just sit in our own house and feel safe and look after each other. We didn’t have to worry about food or anything. They did everything for us so we could just grieve. That's what I wanted to bring to the world. To show people how amazing communication is. To say talk to me, any time, mine’s an open door. That’s the best thing you can ever give someone.
I guess by using your own insecurities and instabilities against yourself it makes it nigh on impossible for anyone else to use them against you? Creating this path of self-awareness and unity through mindfulness to become comfortable with your own flaws.
JT: It’s about being able to look at your own flaws in a positive way. If you can do that you'll only progress. If you celebrate your flaws; not as an arrogance, but through mindfulness by being aware of your role in life and not allowing other people to make you feel shit. Because they don’t love themselves. But if you do that fable of the sun and the wind – a guy’s walking down the street, the sun and the wind are in the air and they have a bet. The sun says I bet you 10 pounds I can get his jacket off? So the wind says I bet you 10 pounds I can get his jacket off first? So he blows and he blows but the guy pulls his jacket in tighter and shelters by hiding himself away. Then the sun comes out and the guy smiles and calmly takes his jacket off. It’s like that. If you go in aggressively, we're in a time and as a utilitarian minded person, I didn't want to just make it about me. We’re always talking about social issues and toxic masculinity was a point we’d always mentioned. The Descent Of Man came into my life so I read it – well half of it – I started to understand a way of articulating it quite concisely. I wanted to use the process of surviving a trauma as a good allegory for Brexit, for masculinity...
How does that allegory work?
JT: For me, it can be as simple as naivety. I think the more I try and intellectualise something – because I want to seem intellectual to my audience which is something I’ve always struggled with – I try and prove I can write long sentences when the truth is, I’ve got a really short attention span. I can’t get through many books but I like to think of myself as an intellect even if I’m not! We did it with ‘Brutalism’ as well, but with this album we’ve tried to get the words down to the most bare boned sentence that sums up either the beauty or ridiculousness of human nature in a specific sphere that makes people go, “Fuck!”.
Is that why you’ve been doing a lot of Haiku on social media?
JT: No, that’s mostly Dev. Some guy asked me to do Haiku in an interview but I didn’t know how to do one. Then I came up with a really good one and he started talking so I said, don’t interrupt me in Haiku! I had this fanciful idea that all art is either a jackhammer or a peacock, so it will either take you somewhere otherworldly or ethereal like Van Morrison or Bowie, or bring you back down to earth like Mike Leigh. Which is the realism I love. So like that idea, and I just find with my short attention span and economy of words I restrict myself to everything becomes more relatable. In saying that, I do like to challenge our audiences. Because the sentences are so short and concise, I say things that sometimes are lies, sometimes in the persona of a character like Stendhal and it keeps people on their toes.
Do you ever find it difficult translating those ideas into songs? For example, ‘Samaritans’ has a very clear and concise message yet it's very different structurally from any of the songs on ‘Brutalism’.
JT: Honestly, it’s just about enjoying naivety and not worrying about what other people think. So you’re just letting go, and then listening to their music over and over again. A phrase, or a word or a couplet will just come into my head and then it’s done. The song’s written. Sometimes I struggle with lyrics but normally they just come to me in one sitting.
MB: That’s one of the things we were saying earlier about those songs we scrapped. I think Joe was focusing too much on what he was writing rather than working from an automatic place. So we scrapped those songs and started again, at which point Joe’s writing became a lot more automatic.
JT: I think all of our best songs have started where I’ve come up with something in the rehearsal room or on the way home. We practice the songs as soon as we’ve written them so they're airtight by the time we start playing them live. They'll be in my head, and I really like to make Dev laugh when we’re practising. So watching his face when I was singing ‘Never Trust A Man With A Perm' for the first time was a picture! Without sounding contrived, this isn’t me lying. It's about trying to be as automatic as possible.
You signed to Partisan Records at the back end of last year. Did they have any input on how the record turned out? Was it an easy decision to go with them rather than one of the other numerous labels that wanted to sign the band?
JT: No. The reason why we were so excited about signing with Partisan was because of a friend of mine who I’ve known way before she was in the industry. She started working for the label and wouldn’t have anything to do with us. We contacted her a couple of times but she wouldn’t entertain us. She said I’m not going to ask the label to sign you just because you're my friends and I respect that. They have a strict ethos and she was just learning the ropes with them, so didn’t want to go against what they were talking about, which is anti-nepotism and doing something because you love it. Then the head of Partisan asked her if she’d heard of this band called IDLES! The reason why we fell in love with their label is because they were honest about it and said you guys have built this all on your own. They just wanted to open up doors for us that weren’t open before. They wanted to sign us then waited for us to finish the album.
MB: We already had the studio booked and knew what we were doing before anything happened with Partisan. They haven’t had any input on what people would imagine a label would have input on. They didn’t try to nudge things in a certain direction or anything like that. But their input has been incredible. We were having difficulties in the mixing stage, so Tim (Putnam) who runs the label said give me 24 hours, and he got in touch with Nick Launay and Adam Greenspan who eventually mixed the album. He knew they’d be perfect but didn't tell us who they were so we started writing mixing notes for the album and we kept putting in Nick Launay tracks!
JT: We basically gave him his catalogue and said can you make it sound like that. We'd go out for food and just talk for hours about all these exciting ideas we had. It wasn’t a case of by the way, we really need you to do these socials. There was none of that. I think they’re very respectful of what we've done ourselves and we're very respectful of what they've done as well. They're also working their asses off for what they believe in. We’re just respectfully allowing each other to breathe. We know when we can take the reins and they know when they can, because we’ve never been on a label before. So we trust them because we’ve seen what they’ve done before and they're amazing at it. What we've done is make the album we love. They're gonna translate that to the audience.
Does it feel like the past 18 months have been a really steep learning curve? From spending years playing the local Bristol circuit without much recognition to then finding yourselves on the European showcase festival circuit at the start of 2017 to where you are now.
JT: It has for me, but then as you can tell from the content of the album, I've had a really steep learning curve in life. Which has made me really excited, because I’ve got this renaissance of self-respect. I’m living as a father now, sober and working hard for what I love. My relationship with my partner is amazing, so I’ve learned to be a better person and that’s just come out in my music. But then all the stuff you can imagine, I shit them. I shit gigs. That’s not hard work. It’s the best feeling in the world. I respect my audience enough to give it everything. Anyone who complains about the turbulent lifestyle of being in a band can get fucked.
MB: That’s where the real learning curve has been because the focus for all of us as a band has been that hour where we’re all on stage. Everything we've learned in the past 18 months is how to make that as good as possible. Whether it’s streamlining our gear so there’s just two plugs then we’re done, straight in and out. Nothing breaking on stage any more so the show can be as good as it possibly can be. Everyone knows what they need to do before they go on stage.
JT: Eating food no later than four hours before a gig. No one drinks before shows any more. Not that we're judging anyone who does. But I don’t perform well if I've been drinking. Dev wants to build himself up to a point where he’s maintaining sobriety for three months. It’s going to be hard playing every day for three months if we’re drinking.
MB: One of the things I always have a problem with is that bit after the show where you have a massive endorphin dump. I used to just sit and not talk to anyone, and that's when people are approaching you to talk. We do want to practice what we preach and talk to people, but I’d always struggle with that. Whereas now I embrace that endorphin dump because I know I’ve given everything. So it spurs me on and I like talking to people or doing interviews after gigs because I can feed on the energy.
JT: It doesn't go cold. Even in the van on the way home we're all talking. About album three, our relationships, about how well Dev’s doing or how well Jon's doing. We're just hungry for life and that comes out in everything we do. If you work hard for something, you fuck it up for so long that when you finally start getting it right; when you’re really lucky enough to get results back and start getting this gratification not everyone gets. There are better and harder working musicians out there in the world than us. But they’re in the wrong country, or the wrong town. They've got no money so they have to work full time jobs because they have wives and kids to support. There’s people out there who aren’t as lucky as us. We've got our gratification and we’re not going to let it slide. We’re not going to get arrogant on it. We’re in this cycle of beautiful shit. It’s as simple as that.
You mentioned already talking about album number three. How far down on the line are you with that? Are there any songs ready as we speak?
JT: Yes indeed! We’ve got a title. I’ve done the front cover.
MB: We were talking about in the car on the way to the Blackpool show a couple of months ago. At first we decided to focus on just playing the songs off the second album live and not doing anything else creative. But Joe wanted to move on right away and I was flat out against it. I wanted some time off after before getting creative again.
JT: We’ve got to nail the concept first, same as we did with our other two albums. We, as a collective, have to follow a brief in order to work well. But because Jon is naturally a jazz drummer, we’re being more reductive. So it's really hard asking Jon to not play drums well! Or asking Lee to make his guitar sound like he’s not playing a guitar. We’ve got about six song ideas that we’re working with. I've got the lyrics down and everything.
So I guess that implies another sonic progression from ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, which in itself moved forwards from 'Brutalism'?
JT: Sonic Regression I think we’d call it!
MB: One of the big things you can hear on ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is how well it was recorded, but also it was a step up from the guitars. We knew and understood each other much better. It was a massive step forward. Now we’re nailing those sonics.
JT: We’re pushing the Mindfulness to the limits. We’re going into what are almost like meditations. The whole album's going to be like one big fucking engine. We're working towards having the album completed by January or February of next year.
For a band with such a relentless schedule and unstoppable work ethic, do you ever worry about burning yourselves out?
JT: We won’t allow that because of our practice of Mindfulness. I'll know when I need a break. Our manager’s motto is family first. There'll be a point where we won't keep writing albums. We’ll have to take a break at some point because I think we'll know when we're forcing it. But at the moment we're just secretly excited so why not?
You once mentioned recording a trilogy. Is that something you’re still thinking about doing?
JT: I think this is, and one day I’ll tell you why…
MB: Of course it’s going to feel like a trilogy because there's three albums! When we get to the fourth it will be a saga now.
JT: I’m very aware of all my favourite bands and artists and where they lull. I think that either comes from too many sycophants being around them, which we don’t have. For instance, our partners, who can be lethal! We’re also savage to each other because it works for us. We don't have to pussyfoot around one another or pander to each other's egos. We can say something’s shit, as long as we explain why its shit. That always works for us. I think we’re self-aware enough to know when to take a break. The next couple of years won't be easy. The tour schedule is already filling up between now and 2020, which makes me very happy. We should carry on doing it while we can, for as long as we can, then just take a year out. Rest is as important as work.
Bristol has always been a vibrant city and its musical underground streets ahead of most of the UK for a long time. Nevertheless, it does seem that there’s an explosion of new bands coming out of the city once more that are generating a lot of national interest. Would you say a lot of that is down to your success?
JT: I don’t know, and to be honest it would be unfair to comment because I'm never there; I'm touring all the time and I don’t go on the internet. Bowen lives in London but the rest of us live in Bristol. If there is a focus on Bristol I think that’s great because that whole London-centric commercial weighting is one of the things that stops people from having the confidence to go out there and work hard. Bristol’s got a lot of unsung heroes, so many amazing bands and artists. I think Howling Owl and Qu Junktions were the ones who sparked it. We were there at the same time, but we just focused on our music and our band. They built a whole scene around it and I think they should take the credit for building Bristol into something substantial. We were a part of it, and we separated ourselves. Unintentionally. We didn’t want to separate. We only celebrated our friends’ successes. We never focused on what other people were doing as a comparison. We were always doing what IDLES do and that’s it. To their detriment, I think they worked too hard for other people and built their own community of musicians, because there are so many talented fuckers in that group. Whereas what we’ve done in a non Bristol-centric way is build this online community because we focused on becoming better people as a point of building a better society. So they put Bristol on the map and I think we just got lucky with that. We would have done this no matter what city we were in. I don’t think we’d have been as good if we’d have been in another city. Bristol has made us confident in our own skin. Bristol breeds joy and difference, that’s why everyone in the city's music scene sounds completely different. It doesn't matter what you look or sound like, people just enjoy each other’s shit.
Do you think being based in Bristol enabled you with a sense of perseverance to keep plugging away when a lot of bands would have probably stopped a long time before that first album came along?
JT: No. We were in a big enough city where there was a competition and a fight in us along with this massive smorgasbord of art and music around us. But at the same time it was also too small. It wasn’t London, which gave us this subversive existence in Bristol as well as the incentive to keep going.
MB: There’s a very healthy live music scene there so you do get the opportunity to support touring bands that are passing through, and when you get the opportunity to play your own shows, you will get 150 people turn up. Back in the early days, Fear Of Fiction used to put on nights where there’d be eleven bands from Bristol playing. It did feel like everyone was working together. Each band would bring their own fans and everyone would connect and collect fans together.
JT: There’s a real pro-active nature in that. Crack Magazine were also a massive part of it. That was another big part of the change for me when they really boosted Simple Things and Crack grew. They worked their arse off for what they believed in but were also super, nice, respectful and gracious. That is Bristol. You’re gracious, and you work hard, and you also celebrate each other’s successes. Which is what Crack Magazine did.
MB: I think Crack Magazine made that whole Bristol aesthetic cool. That's why people are latching onto Bristol.
JT: I think we were just part of a wave of excitement. We were definitely surrounded by a lot of hard working, like-minded bands. And there was a bit of a lull, but we just kept going.
‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is out on 31st August via Partisan Records.
Words: Dom Gourlay & Jimi Arundell
More about: Idles