IDLES Transcend Tragedy, Champion Love and Vulnerability on 'Joy As an Act of Resistance'
Published Aug 30, 2018"I think people don't talk about death enough," Joe Talbot, frontman of British post-punk quintet IDLES, tells Exclaim! over a phone call — and on his 34th birthday, no less. "I think, because people don't talk about it and it's not talked about, that people feel shame when something happens to them — when they have a miscarriage or an abortion or their baby dies in labour like ours did."
In the wake of such colossal personal tragedy, Talbot channelled his pain and frustration into the band's second opus, Joy As an Act of Resistance — a masterful offering of 12 fully realized tracks in relentless pursuit of warmth and honesty amidst even the darkest moments of despair.
With crisis, Talbot learned, comes opportunity. His trauma forced him to take a critical look inward — at himself, his relationships and his place in the world.
"I think that the point in my life that changed was when I went to counselling and me and my fiancée kind of worked through our grievances and our issues in our lives," he says. "I realized that I needed to enjoy what I was doing, but as a whole. I was separating band life and my life, living them separately, and my counsellor and my partner both helped me appreciate the fact that it wasn't healthy to separate and to live life almost dislocated."
The release of Brutalism, IDLES' urgently brazen debut full-length, in March 2017 quickly catapulted the band into a deal with Partisan Records and onto stages across the globe. Heavily influenced by Talbot's mother, who died during its recording after years of illness, Brutalism's quick wit and blunt critiques of the world at large felt incredibly vital. But when Talbot and his fiancée suffered the tragic loss of their daughter, he felt like he needed to connect the polarized aspects of his life.
"I had to become more lucid in my private life and lucid in my band life by being honest and vulnerable to the people around me and open up and be more emotional or open about my emotions. That's where joy as an act of resistance came in — [Joy] wasn't an album, it was a way of life."
That lifestyle embodies the importance of vulnerability, acceptance and truth, themes that the band tackle on record.
Joy As an Act of Resistance amplifies Brutalism's ferocity and candour while sharpening their cohesiveness as a unit. Propelled by Jon Beavis's fiercely punctuated drumming, Adam Devonshire's heavy bass tone lays the foundation of each song, upon which Lee Kiernan and Mark Bowan's guitars expertly shred. Talbot's jagged vocals growl declarations of devotion for his partner on "Love Song," and wail over the loss of his daughter on "June," a song so raw in its grief that it's hard to hear. Pro-immigration anthem "Danny Nedelko" literally spells out the word "community," engraining it in the brains of bigots living in a post-Brexit world.
The band aren't tiptoeing around meaning anymore.
"I just feel that it's my duty as a person and a father to project some realism back into popular culture," Talbot explains. "And the bigger we get, the more real I'm gonna get. The projection of perfection is unhealthy and it's especially unhealthy for young people. Everything's so pornographic and unrealistic and dangerous for the mind to believe."
Talbot is adamant that IDLES exude authenticity in all areas of their art.
"All of our everything — our t-shirts, our website, everything — should encapsulate everything that we say and do. It should be all one language. IDLES is not just a sound, it's an experience."
That includes on stage, where the band's energy is palpable and dynamic. Years of dedicated practice have formed an exceptionally cohesive and seasoned sound that leaves each member unrestrained by their instrument, free to command and entertain their audiences. They take it seriously.
"Going on tour — it's not a given, it's not holiday, it's work," Talbot says. "It's the best job that I will ever have. It's the best job that most people could ever dream for. The audiences we have now is a gift, is a privilege. They're the ones that put the work in. They're the ones that turn up and pay to see us and give us so much love and energy. I've worked too hard for those audiences to piss it up the wall, so to speak."
Having struggled with alcohol in the past, Talbot has cut out booze and is using his sobriety as a means of staying in touch with himself.
"I think the thing is that I've got so much to live for: I'm engaged, I've got a home, I'm a father" — Talbot holds that he became one forever with his daughter; on "June," he sings "A stillborn is still born / I am a father" — "[and] I've got a beautiful career ahead of me. I quit alcohol because I was in a good place," he explains. "I stopped drinking, and I realized and appreciated everything I had."
Now, Talbot's sharing that joy with the world, and encouraging other people "to love themselves as a resistance against normality," with IDLES' latest LP.
"Joy As an Act of Resistance is yours, it's not ours. We don't own it. We wouldn't put it on record if we didn't want anyone else to have it. It's very much a dialogue, and if you're aware of the dialogue, we've really tried to craft our live shows and our albums as a journey that you take [fans] on. Without them, we're nothing."
Joy As an Act is Resistance is out August 31 via Partisan Records. Catch them on tour now.