Served with a gravy of glee, Bristol five-piece IDLES focus their crosshairs on nationalism, class inequality, immigration and other contemporary social issues on their new album Joy As An Act Of Resistance. We spoke to vocalist Joe Talbot.
The album’s separately-published manifesto begins with the line: “Joy As An Act Of Resistance is a parade.” A parade is traditionally a performative thing, but you describe this parade as absolutely everything real and raw including “all the sh-t haircuts [you’ve] ever had.” How long did you ponder on this allegory before you wrote the piece?
I write everything on the spot. It is exactly what the album is – it’s a parade of the self, really, including all of your flaws as well as your good bits. The darkest part of your brain, the part where you say and wish horrible things on people that you love. Jealously and greed and everything. It’s a parade to celebrate that and to find difference as a beautiful thing, instead of trying to whitewash people into what is conceived as normal these days, which is utter bullsh-t, as you well know. I wanted this album to encourage people to love themselves as a witness, just seeing us love ourselves, or learning to love ourselves slowly.
Part of that bullsh-t is the nature of masculinity, which you address in Samaritans. What do you say to men who feel they shouldn’t (or are unqualified to) participate in the gender role conversation?
Well, I think it’s a very complicated set of conversations. But when a guy approached the head of the Black Panthers in the ’60s – and he was a white man – he said, “What can I do for your cause? I’m not black, but I want to help you.” And the guy said, “Start a White Panthers.” I always thought that was a really cool thing. Just f-cking do what you can, in your own skin. Don’t be an apologist for not being a woman. Feminism isn’t an attack on men; it’s leaning towards a woman’s perspective because empathy needs to happen as a point of equality. This new wave of feminism has been a long time coming.
The main melody in I’m Scum – over the line “For a long, long while I’ve known I’m scum” – is an extremely playful sing-a-long. It sounds almost like a football club song. Did you write it to be as such?
The melody just jumped out at me. I’m not a good enough musician yet to really understand it, but I like to chuck in melodies that are chirpy. It’s a contradiction to the subject matter, which… keeps [people] on their toes. Like Scorsese. I can’t remember what song or film it is, where he puts this really nice ‘60s pop tune over the top of the fight scene, and the contrast really works.
I like turning things on their head. I never want our audience to feel comfortable. Well, I want them to feel comfortable a little bit, and then I switch it on so they have to think again.
Can you tell me more about your friend Danny Nedelko, for whom you wrote (and titled) a song about immigration and community?
Danny is a Ukrainian-born British citizen that lives in Bristol. He sings in an amazing rock and roll band called Heavy Lungs. They have bits of Thee Oh Sees in there, and The Beatles, and f-cking all sorts of amazing stuff – Ice Age, Black Sabbath.
He is this wonderful guy, super enthusiastic. He is one of those dudes that’s a bit like a puppy. ‘This is the best thing ever. This is so good. I f-cking love this.’ He gets you pumped up about things. I’ve always just had a real affinity with people that are enthusiastic and work hard. Since I’ve met him so many years ago, like eight or nine years ago, he’s been talking about starting a band. He’s constantly meeting up with people and then saying, “They’re just not into it.” He never gave up, and now the band he is in is f-cking amazing.
We promised we’d write a song about each other. They’ve just finished Joe Talbot now, which is exciting. But I didn’t want to just write a song about my mate Danny, because I don’t see any merit in writing songs that are just about something as selfish as a personal experience. The idea of writing something and putting it out into the public sphere is that you can use your audience as part of the art. I wanted to use this song not just singing about my mate Danny, but singing about someone who is a British citizen who was born in a foreign country, and he’s a beautiful person.
Joy As An Act Of Resistance is out August 31 via Partisan/Inertia.
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