Breathing fresh air into Britain’s independent scene, this Bristol five-piece are reviving guitar music’s punk spirit with equal parts intellect and anger.
It’s difficult to think of a better time for a band like IDLES to have put out their debut album. Released in March last year, Brutalism is the spitting, hard-edged manifesto of a five-piece who originally formed in Bristol in 2012. Their emergence in the early part of 2017 perfectly filled a hole in contemporary UK guitar music that ached for a sliver of grit and honesty, after a few years of struggling to break through. The dissidence on Brutalism is infectious, supplementing a sardonic wit that encapsulates everything that was needed from a contemporary punk band in the current political climate. Honesty and authenticity are principles that are fused into the core of Idles, both figuratively and literally. The album was partly inspired by the passing of lyricist and vocalist Joe Talbot’s mother: a picture of her appears on the LP’s artwork and the band even releases a limited edition pressing of the album containing her ashes. There’s no notion of inhibition with Idles.
Having signed with Partisan Records at the beginning of 2018 and recently returning from a headline tour in America, the band have an exciting opportunity to build upon their foundations as they move on to their second album, traditionally tricky territory. Ahead of their Sound City slot at Constellations, Jake Evans sat down with Joe to discuss everything from artist Tracey Emin, to independent venues, and toxic masculinity.
You played a fantastic gig in Liverpool in February for Independent Venue Week and the city has suffered from losing some of these small venues in the last few years. How important have they been for you and how do we stop losing them?
In terms of importance, it’s one of the main roots into music. People seem to forget that all the huge bands started small at some point. Without these venues, art becomes homogenised with the mainstream, removing any voice from the poor and handing it to the rich. Ultimately, it silences the people, but, in turn, it’s up to the people to maintain and support the culture. Opportunity is the most essential aspect in any art form within a society.
It’s clear from your first album, Brutalism, with songs like Stendhal Syndrome, that you have a deep appreciation for visual art. How much does that inform your work and are there any artists, out of music, that have been big influences on you?
I don’t differentiate between art forms; it’s fundamentally an exploration of the self and vice versa that translates ethos. Music is just a part of this and is influenced by and influences other aspects of this expression. Tracey Emin’s honesty had a massive impact on me. She laid herself bare and set herself up for ridicule with her work, all while opening a dialogue between audiences. Rachel Whiteread is another who infuses her work with symbolism, especially when she won the Turner Prize for filling the cast of a house with concrete and removing the cast. Also, it might seem cliché, but Picasso is probably my most loved artist. There’s universality and fluency to his work, all while maintaining a stark authenticity.
Despite wearing your British roots firmly on your sleeve, what is it that’s giving the band that universal relatability?
Our goal is to portray ourselves as truly as we possibly can. [Brutalism] saved my life and my lyrics are to me, about me and for me. We stand out because of this honesty even though we shouldn’t. It means we can namecheck Mary Berry and still relate to people on a global level.
There’s definitely a burgeoning fan base overseas. You’ve had American bloggers with big audiences like the The Needle Drop singing your praises. How were the recent shows in the US you just finished? Are they a different sort of crowd?
I remember last March queuing up in an airport about to fly to SXSW when Mark Bowen our guitarist told me we’d got a positive Needle Drop review. To be honest I didn’t know who the fuck he was, but it opened us up to a big audience in the States and that kind of noise has allowed us to play proper headline shows around America. It doesn’t matter where we play in the world, Poland, France or the US, the audiences are exactly the same. It’s down to how we present ourselves and the signs of normality and mundanity are accessible to everyone. SXSW was amazing this year, we played four shows in one day but Thee MVPs played 17, which I definitely wouldn’t be able to do. We’ve been with some great people over there like Barbara and Iceage who are big bands for us.
You can definitely see that honesty beating through Brutalism and also from Kanye West’s Yeezus. You’ve previously said this laid the foundations for your debut. Did any other genres or artist directly inspire your second album?
To be honest, there’s been nothing in music recently that’s pushed us on this second record, we’ve been looking at exploring our sound more. Yeezus itself was more a starting point for the band as a whole, we love that album so much and it still has a place with us as artists moving forward. Grayson Perry’s book The Descent Of Man has pushed how I approach my writing now and forced me to look inwardly. It focuses on the toxicity surrounding masculinity and identity, highlighting the correlation between this and things like economic upset. I’m starting to take up different roles now, including becoming a father, so all these topics are coming to the forefront of my writing and Grayson Perry’s had the biggest impact.
Congratulations on signing with Partisan Records in January. How much has changed for the band since then?
Optimism for the future is the main feeling. We feel reaffirmed from a business perspective, but not artistically. There’s no more worry and we finally feel freed up to do what we want to do. After going over there you can see they’re a really amazing bunch of people and it’s a great place.
What’s been your experience of playing Liverpool before, and how does it differ from other places you’ve played in the UK?
It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. I’ve only been two times, but I can’t think of any other place in the UK with the identity Liverpool has. I’m not bothered about the new side, it’s the same as every other fucking shopping centre in the country, but I love the industrial, brickwork architecture of the old parts. I was surprised to actually see people walking around with rollers in their hair was a real thing. We need more of that, it’s people being real.