'Don’t do cocaine and work hard' Idles frontman Joe Talbot on recording and supporting Foo Fighters
Hot off an acclaimed debut album tour, Idles frontman, Joe Talbot, talks to Mandy News about his "heavy, punky, post-punky punk" band Idles, supporting Foo Fighters at the 02 Arena and Idles' first record, Brutalism.
Joe, if you wouldn’t mind introducing yourself and telling us a little about Idles?
Hello, I’m Joe from Idles. We are a five-piece, chubby dad band from Bristol that play heavy, punky, post-punk punk.
How did you guys form Idles?
I grew up in Bristol and Exeter and then went to Uni in Bristol, at UWE, an old polytechnic, with Dev. Then, me and Dev got bored of University and started DJ-ing, and then met Bowen along the way, who was doing techno nights. Dev and I then decided to have our own band because we decided we could do something better than all the s*** indie bands that were knocking about.
Loads of drummers left because they do that, don’t they? Drummers leave. Then, we found one that stuck. Our rhythm guitarist, Andy, who we met along the way, a very good friend of ours, didn’t enjoy our music anymore or didn’t enjoy our company, so he left. I got my friend Lee in, who I’ve known through drugs and alcohol for a long time, and the rest is history.
Were you always testing your material and gigging all the time, or was that something that you worked on specifically before hitting the road?
All of our songs are written with the live aspect in mind. So, that’s it. We practice all of our songs, a lot, and we used to practice about three or four times a week. Now we’re practicing and writing for 18 hours a week, getting album two in, so there’s a lot of practice there.
We write everything for the live show and we keep playing gigs throughout. Even in our quieter periods, we keep playing live. The only way you get good at being live is by unlearning performance, I think. You kind of unlearn everything that comes naturally when you perform, to be as natural as possible. You stop performing and you just play the music as wholeheartedly as possible. And that only comes with playing over and over and over again.
Your artwork and your imagery is strong as well. Does it come from you guys?
From me. Nobody else. I wanted to do it all myself because I think it’s important. To be fluent in your own artistic language, you need to have control over all of it. Unless it’s something that I can’t do, physically, because I don’t know how to or because I don’t have the facilities, I do it myself.
Lee is amazing with cameras so, when he joined the band, he started filming the videos with me now. It’s great, because it means we have even more control. I’ve made sure that I’ve done everything; T-shirts, posters, album artwork, EP artwork, everything.
I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to be in control of all of it if it’s not what they’re passionate about, but I am.
How did you go about getting a team around you?
We found our team organically. Our lawyer, our booking agent, and our manager were all there around us, we just didn’t know it. Our manager was a very old friend of mine, who wasn’t a band manager before. I think he managed one band before but stopped. I always had him in mind because I thought he was such an amazing person. I didn’t really know much about his managing skills but we don’t have anyone involved in our team – or family, as we call it.
No one in our family has been chosen for their skills. Although our booking agent and manager are among the best in the world, the reason they’re in our family is because they are absolute stunning human beings and I trust them with everything. I don’t envy bands that have these cut-throat, b****** managers, because it just wouldn’t very nice to be around. I’m not in it to make millions. I’m just in it to be safe, enjoy our art, be able to practice and express ourselves on a better platform, so that more people can see and hear us. I wouldn’t want to do that around people I don’t trust or like.
Our team has transformed us into a business. We are now able to pay ourselves to tour the world with the people we love and the only reason we’re there is because of our family. We trust each other wholeheartedly, and let each other breathe when we need to and apologise when we’ve f***ed up and it’s a really nice place to be. I don’t think many bands have that.
With the success you are getting at the moment, is it something that you’ve changed? Or is it perhaps a perception change in the minds of people who are seeing you now for the first time?
We’ve just got an album. An album is something that’s easy to write about. As an entity, it’s a bigger body of work, so it shows your artistic language more. And it shows your brand more if you’re a brand-y type of person. And it gives you more to play at gigs. But yeah, it’s just what all publications and blogs want to write about. Your EPs aren’t so exciting to write about because there’s not enough to see if you’re good or not.
I also don’t think we were good enough until this album came out, so it all kind of fell into place.
What have been the turning points, if any?
‘Well Done’ was a big step forward for us. I think people liked the basic-ness of it, sonically and lyrically, and I think singing about Mary Berry pricked people’s ears up. Not that I chose it to be. I didn’t really want it to be the lead single but it did become that and I think things like that helped us along the way. The album as a whole was a turning point because it was very stark and brutal, excuse the pun, and stood out in a world of not stark, brutal and honest records.
As for gigs, I think it would be unfair to pick out one gig. Every gig that we’ve worked hard on, which is every one of them, has made us a better band live and has grown our audiences, by the person at least. All gigs are important. Our attitude towards gigs in general is what’s been a turning point in our career. If you work hard for each one and see one with only two people watching as just as important as supporting the Foo Fighters, then you’re going to do well in the long run.
How do you recreate the energy and feeling that you have, as a live band, in the studio. Did you find that difficult, before the album perhaps?
It took us loads of mistakes to get to where we are now, in the studio. It’s expensive as well. It depends. Some people probably say that we haven’t quite captured our live show yet. We gave ourselves three takes for each song. I drank during the recording and just got live and didn’t panic too much.
Nothing too sterile.
Yeah, we just kind of went for it and didn’t overthink it. That’s the kind of music we are. I think some artists should overthink. The intricacy of their music is what makes them so special, but for us, it’s not intricacies, it’s the mistakes and the nuances of that humanity in the music that makes it interesting.
How did the Foo Fighters support come along? Has that been another big change for you?
I think changes were happening before that but maybe there were people that were there to see if we could handle a big stage or something? I don’t know. For us, it was just a huge privilege and an honour to do something on that scale. We enjoyed it like a holiday, really. It was just like going to a museum, seeing one of the biggest rock bands in the world, but on the same stage as them. To see and play in a venue of that size is insane.
It was just a beautiful experience. We were lucky to be there and it was great.
How did it come about?
I think the Foo Fighters put us on a shortlist of bands and then we contacted them. We sent them a jigsaw puzzle with a photo of our bassist in his pants and we covered the box up and said ‘if you build it, they will come.’ And they did built it, and we did come.
That’s the thing, you’ve got to stick out, really. We wanted that gig a lot and we wanted to show that we wanted that gig. I doubt that were many other bands in that list that thought ‘Oh, let’s show them we really want to play that gig.’ Maybe because there’s not as much kudos behind the Foo Fighters as there are with bands like Iceage or Metz or f***ing Protomartyr or something.
But playing with the Foo Fighters is a once in a lifetime experience, so we wanted to show them that we thought it was once in a lifetime. I’m sure they appreciated the band standing out and doing that. If you love something, why the f*** would you pretend you don’t love it?
What’s the sound like on the O2 arena stage?
It’s amazing. It’s not as echoey as you’d imagine. The f***ing Ritz in Manchester was echoey, but the 02 was just awesome. They’ve got the best f***ing gear and it sounded great. It felt quite wombic. The architecture of it, the crowd kind of comes in on you on the top. It felt quite safe and cozy, in a way. All your senses are closed in. It’s not like ‘Christ, people are miles away.’ It felt great.
What’s next for Idles?
Album two. We’re almost finished writing and then we record in January. We’re just cracking on and writing as much as possible to see what else comes out. We’re playing gigs here and there. We’ve got a German-French tour, which is f***ing sick. I love France and I love Germany and it’s great playing there.
It’s just nicer being in Europe. No point in lying. If you lie, no one will realise how s*** it is in this country.
Why do you think that is?
Maybe it comes down from schooling, and how the arts and creative sector retreated in the education system, and that breeds into your ideology of what’s important in life. I think nowadays people are obsessed with progresses, financial, whereas I think there’s nothing more tragic than putting money before art.
I think there’s some mental health and health in general that comes from expression. Most people these days wouldn’t know where to f***ing start, and that’s tragic. It’s down to governments. They subsidise creative people in other countries. It’s the whole attitude towards art, in general, that’s f***ed in this country.
Could you give us any advice for upcoming musicians and bands?
Find something that you love first. If you don’t love it, then there’s something you will love, so do that. Don’t avoid mistakes. Make loads of mistakes and just remember them.
Don’t do cocaine and try not to carry people who are dead weight. People that don’t give a s***, that just want to do it for the glory or whatever, will just drag you down and make you f***ing waste time and energy on their egos. There’s no time for that. Just do what you love, work, and make sure that you’re the hardest working person in the room. Always make sure you’re working the hardest and then you can expect the hardest from everyone else.
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