“We could make chocolate dildos, made from our own penises. Erect of course.” Read what you like into that, misinterpret it or spell it out. It’s what Idles would want people to do.
Want to know how Idles came together? You might not like the answer: “I pissed on his car.” It’s not how most bands find kindred spirits, but at 3am like minds are easier to find.
Idles seem to have an unshakeable sense of self, already aware of their place within the industry. They’re the band standing ready to smash it apart with music that speaks to the fears and concerns of their audience because they are the very same ones the band are facing as frontman Joe Talbot explained to Live4ever at our 2017 SXSW Media Lounge sponsored by our colleagues at Pirate Studios:
“What concerns me, what’s been affecting me in my life? Politics. Relationships. Friendships. Debt. Alcoholism. Addiction in general. Fighting. Whatever. And that’s something that has carried me through, because I haven’t had to change what I focus on writing, but the way I write.”
In their time together they’ve refined their style, their power, their intensity, but never their purpose. “We’ve been what we are now, for about 3 years. The way we write, the way we think, the way we treat each other and everything is what we’ve learnt from all our past mistakes. Not that we’re not making them anymore, they’re just different kinds of mistakes.”
Which makes it sound like a tough road to travel, but it’s all about perspective. “People always say it’s hard work; it’s hard work because you work for nothing a lot of the time,” Talbot continued. “Like you’re just learning your trade, because you’re learning how to play your instruments, learning each other and getting good at what you play.”
“Now the other half of our relationship with music, which is the audience, are growing and enjoying it as well. It’s hard to know how good you are when you are in an echo chamber.”
This is why Idles are generating so much excitement. They care intensely about what they are doing, and about who is listening. The debut album Brutalism’s brilliance comes from the mighty wedge it purposely drives down the centre of the music industry. They don’t want to be loved, they want to be heard.
“We’ve always been about togetherness and being open minded, caring and focused around love and passion towards humans, humanity, but in a violent and angry sounding way.”
“If you’re making music, first and foremost you have to serve yourself. You’re not going to play music for other people on the off chance. Because then there’s not going to be any authenticity in it, and there’s not going to be any love coming from you if you’re saying, ‘oh, loads of people will listen to that’.”
But is that sustainable, how can you make a career always pushing those you love away? “It’s that kind of subversive attitude that people like,” Talbot said. “The irony is that it’s kind of sellable again. Like you can buy feminist patches in H&M. It’s great, but it’s also wishy-washy, it doesn’t really matter as long as there’s good music about.”
And this is why the band’s approach makes sense. They’re not challenging the audience, they’re challenging themselves. Pushing themselves to achieve more musically and artistically. Brutalism is testing, not because it’s harsh or oppressive but because it is brave and honest. Having the guts to make records like Brutalism isn’t easy, but then Idles aren’t looking for easy, that’s for other bands.
“Yes, we try to convey what we mean, but it’s sometimes hard to be truthful when you’re talking about yourself. But when you’re talking about politics it’s kind of easy. But I can completely see why artists don’t: they’re trying to make their way in music, and they want to be as amicable to people as they can and not piss anyone off or step on any toes.”
So can Idles sustain such integrity in an industry that is valuing this less and less? “We’ll always be outspoken and honest about our beliefs in our music and in interviews,” Talbot told us. “But it’s really tough to toe the line when there’s loads of money being thrown at you.”
With all this attention, interest and temptation being thrown at them, what’s next? Nothing simple, that’s for sure. Rather than spending the summer touring Brutalism and riding its wave of excitement, they are instead pushing on with the recording of their second album. Why so soon?
“When we get back we’re recording the second album. So during that period we’ll all have to go back to our jobs, to pay the bills and what-not, because obviously there’s no money in it.”
It’s probably not the answer people want, but it’s the right one, the honest one. Here’s a band still pushing, still fighting, still struggling and still not shying away from the truths that life brings. It means the follow-up to Brutalism is unlikely to be some awful, bloated sophomore record, but more of the same wonderfully seasoned, fiery shit sandwich which was served up the first time around. And if wishes did come true, who would they choose to collaborate on the record?
“Kanye West,” was the firm response. “100%. Brutalism sounds a lot like Brutalism because of Kanye West.”
“The way he made that album [YEEZUS] made me realise that there’s a lot of stuff that you don’t have to be scared of. You can do things in your own way. Change a genre, and within a week these ridiculous sounding songs sound like they’ve been there all the time.”
“That’s why we made Brutalism. That’s why it’s so unrelenting; 41 minutes of “BRAAAGH”, because that’s what we need right now. We need this album to sound like this, to get us through what we’re going through.”
It’s impossible to argue with reasoning like that. Kanye’s unrelenting self-assurance and Brutalism’s unrelenting honesty share the same DNA. Neither cares for what people think, but instead want to make people think. About different things admittedly, but that’s just splitting hairs. So, as Idles concluded:
“Let’s not lie and let’s not pretend to be some watered down version of who we are. Let’s just go and do a Yeezus.”
Check out all the interview’s highlights and more in the video below: