- 09 Oct 18
Brexit, toxic masculinity and personal demons are all on the menu on the extraordinary second album from hardcore champs Idles. Singer Joe Talbot talks about the pain behind the record.
Before he finally faced up to his alcoholism and quit drinking, Idles’ frontman Joe Talbot worried whether he’d be able to step on stage sober. The idea of performing – leaving it out all there for his audience – without booze fizzing through his veins terrified him. Would it work? Did he want it to work?
“Prior to quitting I had a conversation with my partner – ‘I don’t think I could ever do a sober gig. I need at least a pint before a show’,” he recalls.
In the end it was either the booze or his life. He was acquainted with people who were agreeable when drunk. Talbot wasn’t one of them. He was moody and vindictive and it was damaging both his relationship and his friendship with his bandmates
“When I quit it was nothing to do with music,” he says. “It was to do with me being a better partner and a better friend. I wasn’t going to let my career falter because of alcoholism. It was me, as a person, who was letting the band down.”
These should have been some of the best days of Idles’s career. The Bristol hardcore group – they politely decline the “punk” tag – were on a high after the success of their high-kicking 2017 debut, Brutalism. The record spoke truth to power in a way that felt engaging and universal.
But their singer was a man with demons. His drinking, he finally accepted, was out of his control. And there was the unresolved grief he was processing following the stillborn death last year of his daughter, Agatha, and of his mother, who passed away in 2017 having suffered a paralysing stroke a decade previously (Talbot was her chief carer). The boozing and the grieving were probably not unrelated.
This was life at the coal-face – brutal and unrelenting, with no happy endings. Yet rather than be overwhelmed, Talbot decided to keep living – for his partner, for his family, for his bandmates. Hence the title of Idles just released second record, Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
“The thought process I went through before the album was about listening to myself, having conversations with my counsellor, my friends. I had to improve my life first of all.
“What counselling taught me is that I needed to share my feelings and that I needed to offload this huge weight I was carrying for so long. Catharsis is a process I went through. The album is a reflection on that catharsis.”
Talbot’s demons go back to childhood. Though whippet-lean today, as a kid he suffered from a “club foot” that required 11 rounds of surgery and made it difficult to exercise. So he became overweight and a target for bullies. Not far beneath the surface, it is tempting to conclude, a part of that old, frightened kid lives on – making Talbot question himself but also driving him forward.
Joy As An Act of Resistance was not a straightforward album. With the positive response to Brutalism in their ears, Idles set out to refine the formula patented on that LP. They soon came to realise what a hollow process that was.
“After about a year it dawned on us that we weren’t enjoying the process,” he says. “The songs didn’t feel right. We realised we were trying to recreate the gratification we were getting from the positive reviews of the first record. So we got rid of all that shit and started again – went back to the guttural and primal enjoyment of writing songs.”
Idles are often tagged as a “political” band. This strikes Talbot as both inaccurate – they don’t have a “manifesto” – and stating the obvious.
“Everything is political. If you’re apolitical, if you’re a fucking idiot who’s ignoring politics… that’s a political statement. Nihilism is a political statement.”
There is one subject on which they are prepared to set cards on the table – Britain’s brave bid to cast off the shackles of Euro-tyranny and reclaim its position in the sunny uplands of global dominion (Brexit to the rest of us).
“The uneducated were lied to,” says Talbot. “And by uneducated I don’t meant people who haven’t gone to school. I mean people who are not told the truth. But we’re not trying to win a debate. We’re trying to start a debate.”
Joy Is An Act of Resistance is out now. Idles play the Button Factory, Dublin on October 22.
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