“If you feel like you’re unhappy then you’re going through cycles of behaviour”.
At sold-out venues across the world, an ever-increasing fan base is singing along to IDLES’ songs of torment, frustration and personal disaster. The bands sonic aggression, along with singer Joe Talbot’s lyrical candidness is an appeal to many who harbour frustrations of their own.
IDLES are mastering the art of turning the bad into good by creating powerful music with messages of defiance and positivity. Whilst commercial success has arrived, Joe tells The Mind Map that real success is understanding your own mental health needs, building community, and creating music on your own terms.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’ve not long come back from touring the US and Canada. We’re playing sold out shows around the UK now. The tour is good. I’m struggling with sleeping patterns if I’m honest. I can’t get to sleep at night on the coach. I’m normally getting up at eight in the morning full of beans. Apart from that the gigs are amazing – the best gigs we’ve ever had. Album three is happening. We’re writing it now. Next year we’re going to Australia and New Zealand to play shows.
You got to number five in the UK Charts with your new album. Does it matter to you?
It matters that we got number five, absolutely. The whole point of our narrative is to change the populous and its narrative. The problem at the moment is there’s a stranglehold on popularity, commercialism and artistic license. An example is Kings Of Leon. They made two great albums. At the time, they sounded great, they looked great. They did everything you wanted as a young person listening to bands. Then they began writing for bigger audiences and they sacrificed their artistic license for money. That’s awful. What I want to do is be able to headline the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury – but not have a single song in our catalogue that I’m ashamed of. I want to change people’s minds instead of changing my mind. We want to keep writing songs we love that are within our artistic language without sacrificing any of that. We want to make people like good music again.
The aptly named Joy As An Act Of Resistance seems to tackle the stigma around mental illness head on. Was it intended? Do you feel obligated to give people a feeling of positivity about themselves?
The reason I attack those things is because they’re concerns of mine in life. Be transparent on stage – be believable. Play and sing about the things you believe in and that you’re concerned with. The album was written in a period of life where I needed change. I needed to approach my mental health and my cyclical behaviour. I wanted to tackle ideas of masculinity because I was reading a book by Grayson Perry on toxic masculinity. These were things I was talking about in my life so I’m gonna write about them because that’s what’s important to me. The time we’re in at the moment, people feel so much more isolated than ever before because of the internet, because of social media. I’m not interested in singing about stuff I’m not interested in.
What has been your biggest life challenge so far and what did you do to overcome it?
Without any shadow of a doubt, losing my daughter. I think giving advice on grief is a double edged sword. Sometimes there’s no right answer. The thing with grief that you should always remember is to never feel like you’re a burden. Sharing your feelings and your emotions. You’re supposed to be sad, so feel sad. Don’t apologise to yourself or anyone else for feeling sad, or down, or angry. Go through those feelings, be in those feelings and live through the sadness of grief. Don’t fight it, you’re supposed to be sad. What you do is you embrace sadness and you talk about why you’re sad. You keep doing it until you feel less sad, then you keep doing it until you feel ok, then you keep doing it until you feel better. But, you know – you’ll never, ever be the same after losing a child or a parent. Everything changes after those moments. You can’t fight it. You’ve just got to embrace those feelings. Embrace anger, embrace sadness, embrace loss. You’ve got to talk and accept that things are going to be that way for a while.
There’s some specific personas and characteristics you call out in the lyrics of Joy As An Act Of Resistance. Is there a face of the darkest parts of society you are fighting against?
Ant & Dec. Saturday night TV. People clustered around watching C-List celebrities jump through hoops for loads of money, whilst they’re at home eating out of food banks. There’s millions of faces of it. The whole point is that we’re now in a place that is driven by money. Perfect aesthetics. Performance driven economics and performance driven ideologies that makes people feel like they’re not good enough. So they get drunk on the weekend and then they work more hours then they they should, for not much money. For people that get way too much money. And they’re not investing back into the community or into the country. So there’s a constant cycle of isolation. Not one of those people in that cycle feel like they’re connected to the next. And isolation will make you feel like sh*t – and then you die.
There’s an open letter to your Mum on the inside of your first album Brutalism. Do you hold resentment towards alcohol or alcoholism?
I’m not angry at alcoholism. I’m at angry at my Mum, and the people around her for not helping her out – the adults around her when I was a kid. My step-father was good. I never got to the bottom of her alcoholism because she lost her speech before I could be adult enough to sit her down and ask her ‘Why do you feel the need to drink yourself into a stupor everyday?’ I’m sure it’s down to insecurities, isolation, two divorces, lots of things. But I can’t answer for her because she’s dead now, because of kidney disease. I resent the fact that she didn’t feel safe enough to talk about her problems. If she was in therapy and she had good friends around her, a good support network, and an awareness of what it was doing to her – she would’ve been able to stop drinking.
I don’t have any resentment towards alcoholism, I hold resentment towards my mum’s situation. I don’t have any resentment towards my situation and my alcoholism because I’m on top of it. I’ve got a great network of friends who individually sat me down and told me I’ve got a problem. I’ve got a father who’s allowed me to make mistakes and who’s always told me he’ll be there for me no matter what. This allowed me to make my own decision to stop drinking. In the kitchen, on my own. No conversation was had. It was a Monday – and it was the first Monday I hadn’t been hungover in a long time. I felt good and I hadn’t messed anything up. There was nothing wrong with my life at that very moment. I wanted to sustain that idea of equilibrium where nothing’s wrong. I can’t control everything in the world but I can control my drinking. I remembered all the good conversations with the people who told me I needed to stop. So I stopped drinking and I stopped doing drugs. It’s not easy. I’m 34, I had been in that cycle for a long time. I worry about having conversations about alcoholism because I don’t want make it sound like ‘Yeah, just stop’. If it was that easy there wouldn’t be any issue, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.
The Mind Map – please note that alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures. If you are affected by addiction and are looking for sources of support and advice please see Mind’s addiction and dependency support service here.
What do you eat to stay healthy?
On tour you get a rider. We’re a bigger band now so we can be specific with our rider. We have raw green spinach and kale, broccoli, blueberries, peanut butter, bananas. We make a smoothie out of all the green stuff with ice cubes and mushroom powder. I’ve been fasting in the mornings and day time and for mental health because it really makes me feel better. When you get in the cycle of it, fasting is incredible for your mental health and your physical health. Me and Bowen [IDLES guitarist] talk a lot about diet as a way of treating yourself better and looking after yourself.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My partner, my friends, the AF GANG community. It’s on Facebook, there’s 10,000 members and they built it up around our music as fan club type thing. Our music is a catalyst, I wouldn’t go further than that. After a while that subsided and it turned into a community of people supporting each other. Their motif is ‘All is love’. People go there with their problems and they go there with stories. One dude was agoraphobic, he wouldn’t leave his house. He made friends through the group and they encouraged him to come to a show. When they met him, they realised he needed help and they got him a job. Stuff like that happens all the time. One person tried to commit suicide and put a call for help up on the group page. Two people figured out where they lived and called an ambulance. It’s the best thing on the internet. The people that built it should be proud of themselves because it’s amazing.
What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?
I’d wake up next to my fiancé. I’d make us breakfast and we’d go for a walk through Westonbirt Arboretum. Then I’d have beans and toast with cheese on it. Then I’d meet up with he boys, we’d have a pint in Dublin, then we’d play a show and my fiancé would be watching.
Your lyrics are complex. Moving seamlessly from hilarious to bizarre, to angry. Is there an intent to be funny in songs that discuss serious topics around mental health and politics?
Yes it’s meant to be funny. I don’t go around crying all the time. Everything’s funny if you look at it in one way. Like – I’m not laughing at the poor. I’m not going ‘haha – that’s funny’. I’m laughing in a sense that it’s ludicrous. The cycle that we’re in is a wheel of absolute archaic rubbish that needs to break. We’ve got more money in our country than we need, yet when I was working in care homes, you had to not quite ration their food, but you needed to be careful. There’s just not enough facilities for the care system or for working class families. When you see pockets of it – it is funny, yet most of it is a tragedy. I’ve written about the worst times in my life, but there’s hilarious parts to it that would have only happened if I’d have been an utter toe-rag. Tragedies and comedies are one line away from each other.
What music lifts your spirits?
The album Astral Weeks by Van Morrison always cheers me up.
What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed
If you feel like you’re unhappy then you’re going through cycles of behaviour. The worst thing you can do is accelerate those things with alcohol and drugs. You need to talk, you need to open up and you need to make yourself vulnerable to the people around you to learn about yourself and be able to progress forward. If you don’t have anyone you can trust around you, or you don’t feel you can talk to about your innermost problems, seek counselling. There are lots of charities all around the country that offer free counselling via different networks. I think it’s the best thing anyone can do. People aren’t talking enough and isolation is the thing that leads people to the worst behaviours. So I think the sooner people talk, the sooner people feel connected and the sooner people heal.
Idles are currently on tour – keep up to date with them here.