IDLES (Credit: Tom Ham)
Clash chats with Joe Talbot, the increasingly sage frontman of the ever-rising Bristolian firebrands...

Joy and open-mindedness are two qualities our world often seems to lack at at this point in history, past their sell by date ideals that belong to the bygone age when the naively optimistic hippie walked the earth.

They are certainly not the qualities you expect to find espoused by an aggressive modern punk outfit whose personal lives have been marred by tragedy. Chat for five minutes with the outspoken Joe Talbot about his band IDLES, who’s upcoming sophomore album is entitled ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, and you’ll find he uses these terms like punctuation marks when discussing their approach to music.

“I actually think (our debut album) ‘Brutalism’ was written in a slightly more optimistic time, post-Brexit Britain is more confused and discombobulated,” he reasons when asked whether this is a more positive record than its starkly named predecessor, “but I would, yeah. We took a step back musically and learnt to enjoy ourselves, be reflective and look inwards. We learnt to listen to ourselves and enjoy life via becoming better people, friends and artists, which has improved our lives no end.”

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For Joe and his bandmates thoughtfulness and self-observation are vital, as being mindful of their own issues and shortcomings informs the political and social awareness inherent to their output.

“I think we’re just trying to use art as a platform for discussion and open-mindedness as a way forward,” he claims, “If you get involved in the discussions of politics you often talk with people who disagree with you. You recognise your fallibility and you learn to enjoy the vulnerability of both yourself and other people, which leads to a far more outward looking perspective that enjoys different things and isn’t afraid of itself or others.”

For a band working within the parameters of punk, a genre that has just as much of a reputation for being boneheaded as it does for being politically engaged, the twin qualities ignorance and fear are the greatest enemies we need to vanquish.

“Ignorance is the key to being miserable,” Joe explains, “I think being afraid and being ashamed of ourselves is something that comes from a world of defensive, sectarian thinking. We’re trying to approach things with an open mindset, which leads to joy.”

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You learn to enjoy the vulnerability of both yourself and other people...

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This ease with which human beings can forsake reason for ignorance is perfectly reflected in ‘Joy’s album cover, which depicts a joyful occasion (a wedding) devolving into an animalistic brawl. “I saw the image on Instagram on Awkward Family Photos (side note: every image on this account would make a great album cover) and it summed up everything that we’re about,” he recalls, “We’re discussing the issues caused by emotional impeti when people who don’t express themselves or think creatively end up drinking and taking all their frustrations and anxieties out on other people.”

As an ex-alcoholic himself, Joe knows what humans are capable of when they resort to their basest instincts better than most. Despite what you might write off as their ‘high ideals’, IDLES are still as disruptive and in your face as any snotty nosed punk act you can name.

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I have felt so lonely for a lot of my life because I didn’t trust or love myself...

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‘I KISSED A BOY AND I LIKED IT!’ roars Joe at the climax of recent single ‘Samaritans’, reworking the overly sexualised Katy Perry lyric into a highly-charged challenge to closed-minded listeners. The rest of the song makes a typically cogent point about the shortcomings of society, in this case the effects of toxic masculinity on male self-worth, by putting his own failings under a microscope.

“It came about after reading The Descent Of Man,” he says when asked about the song’s inception, “I think Grayson Perry was so astute in describing the anxieties that I’ve had all my life about my productivity, performance and achievement as a man, and realising that I have felt so lonely for a lot of my life because I didn’t trust or love myself. So I wanted to write a song about this and open up a discussion about both the obvious pressures of what it means to be a man and the maybe not so obvious causes of toxic masculinity.”

But did he kiss a boy? And how was it?

“I’ve kissed loads of boys!” he laughs “And it depends on the boy. Some of them were good, some of them were not.”

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IDLES’ message of revolutionary positivity has struck a chord with many listeners, their reputation as both witty songwriters and a potent live act swelling to the point where they’re garnering Foo Fighters support slots. For a band that weren’t known outside of their hometown for over half a decade, could this leap in stature compromise their nature as kings of the Bristol music scene?

“Nah, ‘cause we’re just being honest,” insists Joe, “Bristol has been so important to us as a band because it allowed us to express ourselves freely. There’s not a Bristol sound anymore, there’s not a Bristol outfit, there’s not a Bristol scene. It’s just people having a good time and allowing each other to breathe artistically. We’ll always feel part of Bristol as long as we’re being ourselves.”

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Our work ethic and all our compassion are universal...

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Gaining fans overseas has been an interesting experience for Joe and the band, not least because his lyrics tend to be smattered with references to British cultural touchstones like Trevor Nelson, Bovis homes and Mo Farah.

“It doesn’t translate at all well I’m afraid!” he admits, “No-one knows what we’re fucking talking about. But the beauty of it is that our attitude, our work ethic and all our compassion are universal, so they do their research. They look up Trevor Nelson and Mary Berry and Horlicks. But I wanted to get a few more Spotify hits so I started referencing Katy Perry instead.”

For Joe himself, IDLES’ rise reflects his own continuing journey from ignorance and fear towards wisdom through an open-minded pursuit of knowledge and joy. Because, as he corrects that bastion of wisdom Yoda on ‘Danny Nedelko’, ‘Fear leads to panic, panic leads to pain / Pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate’. Does improving this maxim mean that he sees himself as wiser than the 900 year old Jedi master?

“Well of course I fucking am, he’s a fictional character!” he exclaims, “But do I think I’m wiser than Yoda in reality? Absolutely not. But I think I am what I am because I celebrate my ignorance via learning. So one day, when I’m a wrinkled green scrotum, I might be…”

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‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ will be released on August 31st.

Words: Josh Gray

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