If 2016 for some was a year of shock at how things around them unfolded politically on both sides of the Atlantic, then 2017 was one of a violently passive aggressive confrontation between those hastily drawn ideologies, a war-zone fuelled by fake news and faker leaders, the atmosphere that of a society under siege with its citizens unable to trust anyone.
At the forefront of an art form finally reinvigorated by having real things to say, Idles were a voice of both scorn and hope, their carousing brand of punk rock a shot of pure adrenalin and imprinted with a boldly anti-establishment, anti-ignorance, perspective.
Live4ever recognised the five-piece’s polemical brilliance by making their debut Brutalism our album of last year – and for a supposedly underground band by way of other acknowledgement they’ve clocked up more than three million Spotify streams since its release, and have been almost ever-presents on the European festival circuit.
We caught up with lead singer Joe Talbot and guitarist Mark Bowen recently in their adopted home city of Bristol to talk about taste making, perpetual motion and album number two…
It’s been a year unlike any other for you…
JT: Indescribable in a way. All bands, when they get together, need a team in place – booking agent, manager – and we weren’t full time at that point because we all had jobs. When you get to a certain level you need people behind you who know what they’re doing, or else it becomes a logistical nightmare – it’s a very strange business if you don’t know. When we started 2017 we had an album, but we were staring into the abyss. We were very happy and confident with what we’d done, but at the end of forty-three minutes of listening to it we were like, ‘Who the f**k is going to listen to this in its entirety?’, and then want to do it again, not as a taste thing, but as an experience. We were happy with it, but it wasn’t a commercial package.
Each month it grew, the number of requests for interviews and gigs grew, but we’ve always worked hard and our horizons are now easier, so the year we’ve had has been a perpetual motion of joy.
Are you taking all of this in your stride, or does it feel almost to good to be true?
JT: We’re not going to sit around patting each other on the back, we’re working on album two. We’re looking to write something that we enjoy playing, and I can guarantee you that if we enjoy playing it I can almost guarantee the audience are going to enjoy watching it. We understand that we’re not now in the industry to please the audience, we’re looking to build a dialogue that we believe in because people are tired of being told what’s good. And anyone that complains about making their art and having the audience they’ve always wished for…we’re now playing to 200 people who know our album, it’s magic.
MB: The most important thing to us is our honesty. We believe in ourselves whenever we get on stage. Nothing’s really changed, there’s just a lot more people. We’re all communing together and it’s f***ing amazing, we’re so grateful for it, but it always just feel right for us because it’s us…
JT: It’s not just us. We haven’t ever been the most important of our language. That’s been our inclusivity. Our songs are vignettes of truth – if in the future we end up disagreeing with what we’re saying now then we’ll change that. At the moment though we’re being told that loads of other people feel the same way.
What are the experiences that stood out the most in 2017?
JT: Driving through the Black Forest, in a van, listening to Hamilton Leithauser. It made me realise how important friendship and music is, in conjunction with of course the crap you get in life.
The new material sounds great. You spent a lot of time on the road in the last year, seeing things from a broader perspective – is it still as easy to write about the things that are close to your heart?
JT: It wasn’t at first. We’d had so much positive feedback about the first album, which should be a nudge forward, but it actually made me overthink and I started worrying about what everyone liked instead of worrying about what I liked. Writing’s not automatic to me, but it’s as automatic as I get. I suffer from anxiety, but I try to honestly explore what I believe in and with the second album it’s about pragmatically exploring, listening to the people around you more, in a way becoming a better person.
It sounds like you’ve used the first album’s material to feed on.
JT: Absolutely. As a band if you ignore your first album you’re an arsehole. You are your first album. We are where we are now because of it.
So you’re recording now. To be released?
MB: To be released…