Explosive quintet IDLES return to Manchester as part of their sold-out unity tour expressing their thirst for community and open dialogues…
As I approached the dark and jaded Gorilla backstage door, I was promptly greeted by an outstretched arm belonging to vocalist Joe Talbot. Perched on a swivel chair, dressed in white roll ups, a white hat and of course sporting a white Idles t-shirt, Joe shot up from his seat to shake my hand. This was followed by a soft northern-Irish “hello” from Mark Bowen, one of the two guitarists in this potent quintet who was contrastingly dressed all in black, embellished with his caricature-like ‘tache.
He’d been distracted initially by support band Lice’s rambunctious sound check to which Joe shouted at part of his team that it was “doing his fucking head in”, followed by his excessive array of crudités neatly placed on the well-light dresser. Talbot, after making himself a cup of steaming hot water, honey and freshly squeezed lemon pounded by a pestle returned to his seat in the centre of the room and drew in closer.
How does it feel to be back in the UK on tour having sold out all 11 dates of your Unity Tour?
Joe: Humbling, this tour was inspired by Cabbage’s Brexit tour and reaching out to different communities. Especially those that aren’t necessarily on the maps so to speak, excluding Manchester, London and Paris. We’re talking places like Blackpool, Plymouth and Bath. Just going back and meeting smaller communities that are working hard for new music so for us it’s been stunning and great to meet lots of like-minded people.
Why do you think it is so important to go to these smaller places?
Joe: It’s good to remind people that a lot of the times working for the industry in these places is harder. If you’re not in London, Manchester, Bristol or Birmingham, not as many bands go there so you’ve got twice as much work to do to get bands to come there. We want to show that they are appreciated but also to remind us that this is where we’ve come from. We are trying to build communities of like-minded fans and promoters. No matter where you are, you’ve got to stick to your guns. I came from Exeter which literally has one venue.
Can you summarise your touring in 2018 in 3 words and what has been your favourite place to play so far?
Joe: Fruitful and exciting
Bowen: Chocolate Milk
Bowen: Chocolate milk…hyphenated
Joe: America was our favourite place to play because we didn’t expect the reception. It was new, and we always go in with open minds but without any expectations, we were in a very big pond but as a very small fish.
How would you compare the crowds? I tend to be a bit hesitant for how much fans engage with bands, especially after seeing some dead crowds in Coachella.
Joe: Coachella is a fucking cesspit of human bile. It’s fucking shit, I’ve been there and it’s terrible. Coachella is for clothes-horses, not human beings. Having said that…I’d like to play it. I feel like the kind of music we do, and the kind of music Shame, Cabbage and Life do brings out the small communities people for the sake of fun and connecting. For that reason, our crowds don’t vary.
Your debut album Brutalism is just over a year old now, so taking you back to its release, it received a very positive response. Had you anticipated this kind of reception?
Joe: No. We even struggled to listen to it all the way through, so we weren’t expecting anyone else to. But we again, go in open-minded. As soon as you have expectations…
Bowen: You’re focusing on the wrong thing
Joe: It’s more about the process of what you’re doing and what you make that’s important to you
Bowen: I feel like we cared too much pre-Brutalism which is why when Brutalism did come out, it sounded so different. We stopped caring about what other people thought and trying to impress the music industry ideal.
Joe: It’s a very freeing philosophy to just not be worried about who you are and just be yourself. This is when voices become celebratory.
Bowen: Then the positive praise you get e.g. with Brutalism makes you reset because you start thinking about what people clearly liked. Do we make new music like that again or?
Joe: Yeah so, we scrapped a lot of the second album because we were doing the same thing as we were on MEAT.
Bowen: If you link it to the topic of self-esteem that we were talking about earlier, getting praise is just as bad for your self- esteem as being criticised. We have to kind of ignore it all and just focus on what it is that’s important to us. Making something that makes journalists or the wider consensus that the industry has is not something that we focus on.
Joe: If you believe in yourself, you don’t change for someone else’s praise.
How far do you believe the context of your lifestyles as well as the death of your mother impacted the final product that came to be Brutalism?
Joe: As a band, the boys congregated around me patiently whilst I lost it a bit but my lyrics and my approach to writing changed because of my mum’s death. I suddenly found a new confidence in myself as I was no longer worrying about other people but as a band, we were also at a point where we were just fed up with not really connecting with the songs continuously. There were early songs like 26/27 that we were really proud of so we’re not ashamed of the first EP or the second. It was more the 300 songs that we wrote in between that were absolute shit and we were constantly battling with ourselves and why we didn’t seem to be enjoying the writing process. But we did figure it out.
I am a very hard person to be around and I think I was consistently hard to be around at that point. There was a relief in my mum’s death, but also with that came guilt… at the end of the day, the band were all there ready and I just had to catch up.
Due to the brutal honesty that is laced within your lyrics, do you believe this is why you have such a ‘cult’ fan base? Do you think it’s the personal venting of anger and opinion that draws in your listeners?
Joe: Ooh, I hope so because the pounding sounds we write provides the platform for what I then write to be brutally honest and I think people are missing that in popular culture. People are writing about normality and the beauty of mundane life.
Bowen: The most important thing for us as a band is to be a shared community. Out of that, you’re going to get people who are more honest with each other.
Joe: One of the biggest gifts we’re getting is being vulnerable to people as performers which then invokes other people to then be vulnerable with us. Whether that means they feel shit or feel great, it still creates a dialogue.
Bowen: People sharing their experiences with us is important. If we were sharing what we do but not paying any attention to the response…
Joe:…well that’s just wank isn’t it. I kind of hope that we’re realists or at least fantastical realists. If you look at Leonard Cohen, people want to take you on these journeys that may not even be your world and that’s still important but the only way I know how to do it well is the way we do.
How important do you believe using your platform is in educating other people in issues such as politics and mental health?
Joe: For me, it’s important to write about what I want to at the given time. I’ll always be interested in politics because it’s the balancing act of our welfare and our safety. Sometimes it’ll be completely allegorical and I’m writing about Mary Berry or my friend, or my father but it’ll always be political. Sex, love, buildings, geography- it’s all political.
Bowen: People say we are political, but they’ll think that’s either left or right wing, but we also cover gender and homosexuality. We deal with how people interact with each other on a daily basis and we’re still working it all out because we know we’re privileged, middle class, white men. We’re opening up the conversation, so we can continue to learn about it.
How does your second album, due to be released at the end of this year, compare with Brutalism?
Bowen: Yeah, the second album has been written and finished. I wouldn’t say that we’ve changed our sound because that’s not the kind of band we are. We’re not progressive in that sense but we have progressed. A lot of the writing process for this album involved less of an attachment to our separate parts because before, for example, I used to think my guitar part would be the most important thing within a song but that’s not helpful. I think because we preach a lot about community and the shared experience, with this second album we finally work together. We’ve given each other more space and allowed others to push parts forward.
What can we expect from your upcoming second album?
Joe: You can expect a more rounded vision because we are less clouded with fury. It is a much more considered and poised violence. We understand we are a collective of individuals.
Bowen: We’ve had more time and inclination. The ability to focus on it but be more serious about it even though I do think it is less serious than Brutalism.
Joe: I just think we’re better. It’s a better album all around. It’s just great. We are more fluent in our artistic language, so we can celebrate it. But we are definitely more verbose.
Are there any bands/ artists we should be paying attention to?
Joe: Lice, Heavy Lungs are great, Bambara, Numb…
Bowen: Show Me The Body. I think they’re one of the best bands that have come out in the past 10 years and it doesn’t seem as though people have realised that.
Bowen: I think LIFE, even though they’re popular they’re underrated for what they are. Shame get enough credit because they don’t need any help.
Joe: Yeah, they’re amazing.
Who do you think changed the music industry?
Joe: Mark Zuckerberg, I mean he’s put a lot of promoters out of business or at the very least made their jobs a lot easier. He’s made our lives a lot easier.
Bowen: But, he’s also made the industry a lot worse because now people are looking at algorithmic success rates. Bands can’t be as controversial which is in many respects a very fucking awesome thing, because there are still a lot of fucking dickheads in bands.
Joe: Yeah, a lot of horrible pricks still get away with sexist bullshit.
Talbot strutted on stage to the incessant chanting of “We love Joe, we love Joe” as the four walls closed in to form a claustrophobic yet oddly consoling space. The crowd came together as a cohesive unit as IDLES stormed the dripping walls of Gorilla with vigour and remorseless demeanour.
The sheer vehemence that radiated from this commanding quintet was enough to quite literally knock you off your feet as a wall of hungry, unrelenting and riotous fans hurled themselves in the hope of clutching at the body of idolised Joe Talbot.
Has Gorilla ever experienced something so animalistic?