In a small but impossible to ignore flurry of bands currently worming their way out of Bristol, Idles stand alone.
Creeping into life somewhere around three years ago, from their first live performance Idles possessed more than that vaguest of attributes; potential.
At no point have the band seemed like kids finding their feet. Idles appeared as a fully formed group of men, a little rough around the edges perhaps, but entirely accomplished, and with the tunes to back up the self-belief. Kindly donating a drummer to the illustrious CSS – gaining the vital and exact power of Jon Beavis in return – they arrived at their current line-up; guitarists Mark Bowen and Andy S, bassist Dev, fronted by Joe Talbot. Having released a series of tunes (done a disservice in being referred to as ‘demos’) they are now preparing to release their debut EP, Welcome. And we, along with everyone else who has heard it, can confirm that it’s a corker.
Opener 26/27 is a broody, atmospheric builder, where glittery guitars hark at Les Savy Fav’s more measured moments, while the grandiose gloom and dark energy of Interpol permeates its entire body. The likes of Meydei and Two Tone, meanwhile, feature a jagged, terse urgency, undertones of repressed violence darting through in downstroked guitars and snarling, clenched delivery. On the former, a release of sorts bubbles through a swinging drum break at the song’s heart; yet all the while that tautness of rhythm remains, gripping and dynamic. It makes for captivating listening.
This heartfelt intensity spews forth as a key component of the band’s live existence. An unpredictable, thrilling and almost intimidating maelstrom of beards and spit and glazed, livid eyes, there’s no doubt that Idles mean it.
This Saturday in their hometown’s definitive sweatbox, The Croft, the band appear alongside local kindred spirits including the crunching pop of bass and drum siblings The Hysterical Injury, the grand noise of The Naturals and fiercely stripped back punk’n’rollers The St. Pierre Snake Invasion. In anticipation, we spoke to vocalist Joe.
Welcome to Idles.
While you’ve released recordings in the past, Welcome is your debut EP proper. Do you feel like it’s been a long time in coming? What is it about this set of songs that gave you the confidence to present them as the first proper Idles record?
We recorded a demo just over a year but we could only afford 100 copies so they went out pretty quickly. Considering that’s the only thing we’ve released in the three years we’ve been together, I think I speak for everyone when I say – shit yes, it’s been a long time coming. But we wouldn’t have done it any sooner, even if we could, as we wanted to feel 100 percent confident in our sound and also our live show. It’s no good having a great recording if you can’t back it up with a mad wicked live show. We decided it was time to record Welcome when we finished writing two songs in quick succession; the first was 26/27, which took a few months to get right but the boys finished whilst I was away and when I came back it had transformed into something completely different. It was the best thing we’d written to that date. This spurred us on to keep writing, which is when we wrote Meydei which was finished within a week. This was the start of us becoming a much more succinct band, in writing and in playing live. We suddenly felt like a well-oiled machine.
Do you see the EP as working together as a complete piece, to be listened to in a single sitting?
We had these two songs that we were proud of and saved up enough money to record a four-track EP, so decided to make it a concise exercise in conveying our sound and who we are. Two Tone was a song that we’d been playing live for a short while and loved it, we thought it was a perfect contrast to the other songs, giving the audience our spectrum. To make this spectrum work we wanted to write a song specifically for the EP that married the binaries of our sound smoothly. We decided to write a driving rhythm section track that lead the listener straight in to the wall of noise that is Two Tone. Germany is what we wrote, and I think it fits perfectly. The EP is an entity that works as a billboard for our sound and introduces us; hence the title, Welcome.
Lyrically, what does Welcome focus on? Are there any recurring themes?
The focus of Welcome is self-doubt and fear. I want to be as honest a writer as possible. I don’t want to be indulgent, but I feel that everyone can relate to those themes. A lot of my fears come out in anger, I feel that the writing process should be cathartic in some way and attacking my fears helps me quite a bit.
Do you enjoy the recording process? Do you function in the same way in the studio as you do live?
Yes, we enjoy recording, some more than others, but I love it. But fuck no, do we function the same in the studio as we do live! We go bat-shit mental live. Less so these days, as I think we were masking our inadequacies before, but now we’re tight and confident in our musicianship to be slightly more refined in our bat-shitness. We want to give something different to the audience live. In the studio we want to be able to offer depth in sound that our piss poor equipment can’t offer live. We want our live shows to be shows. Idles are in effect two bands, the ethic is the same but the experiences are different, but hopefully both exciting.
‘The release of‘ 26/27 was accompanied by an engrossing video; what was the story behind it, and how important do you think music videos can be as a representation of a sound?
The video was my idea. I grew up on hip-hop and loved everything about it, there is something ridiculous about hip-hop and its grandiose visual presence, especially in the videos of directors such as Hype Williams. But recently I’ve noticed an influx of hip-hop artists such as Kendrick Lamarr, ASAP Rocky, Freddie Gibbs, Odd Future and Danny Brown that are embracing the low budget-style, gangster party videos of the G-funk era. I thought this looked amazing and interested me, as it embodied the punk ethic that we appreciate but it also seems like a stand against the lavishness of hip-hop in recent years. This fitted in with the idea of a recession, stripping back the bullshit and doing something interesting. 26/27 also has a hip-hop beat, so we went with it. We wanted girls to do it because we felt like a display of misogyny and brute masculinity doesn’t suit us. We wanted to portray strong women. Felix Drake from The Naturals loved the idea so filmed it with our friend and photographer Theo Cottle.
There’s a tightness about you guys on and off stage that comes unmistakably from being genuinely close friends. Does having such a personal investment in the band ever make things hard, or are you friends first, bandmates second?
That’s a fucking good question … they are my best mates, and were so before the band, but we have put our friendship on hold, in a way, because whenever we’re together it’s for the band. This isn’t a problem because we all love music, and at the moment we need to put other things behind us to try and turn this into a career. Not hanging out together and getting pissed is no sacrifice for writing and performing together, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and what better than to do it with your best mates? I love them all like brothers and that won’t change, so we’re friends first that all put the music first …? I think!
In the same vein, how do you find operating and writing as a five-piece? Is it a democracy, or do you have to find ways to crowbar in all your separate ideas and influences?
We work on a democratic voting system for everything. This means sometimes things go slowly, but you can’t argue with a fair system.
Idles are always immaculately turned out – do you think the way a band presents itself is important?
If someone claims that the way someone looks in any walk of life doesn’t matter they are talking shit. If someone really disagrees with the ‘social constraints’ of dress they could just walk around naked, but that’s still making a visual stand within a system. We like to dress smart and did before the music, but now we make more of an effort as a small way of showing that we appreciate people coming to watch us. It’s that simple. It doesn’t in any way make our music better but I like to feel good about myself.
Do you feel that Bristol is a strong and inspiring breeding ground for guitar music? Do you feel a natural affinity with any other bands in the city? How about the bands on the bill for your EP launch on Saturday?
Yes. I used to think Bristol was a black hole of ambition. I had way too much fun in Bristol and it showed. But since I started the band I’ve discovered a new drive in the mornings to get up and do shit. Bristol is exciting at the moment, there’s a feeling of camaraderie and rivalry that’s pushing people to do some really interesting things, especially in music. We picked the bands to play at our EP launch because we feel a strong affinity with them and what they’re doing. We’re pleased to be surrounded by so many bands that are supporting each other. We’ve been good friends with Yes Rebels, The Naturals, Gumm, The St. Pierre Snake Invasion and Frenetics for a while now, and we wouldn’t want anyone else to be there. There are other bands we love but couldn’t make it, but we’re delighted with the line-up.
Away from your hometown, what other bands excite you at the moment? Do you hear new music that gets you going, or do you tend to look backwards?
We all love music of old obviously but we equally get excited about discovering new bands. Bands we’ve discovered recently and loved are The Men, Ty Segal, Traams, DIIV, Bass Drum of Death, Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Rocky, Crocodiles, The Antlers etc. But we always go back to The Walkmen, Radiohead, The National …
What would be Idles’ dream gig/support slot? Is there any aspiration the band could achieve to make you say ‘yeah, we’ve made it’?
Support slot – Radiohead. Defining moment – a good slot at Glastonbury or playing on Jools Holland. In reality, we’re pretty humbled at where we are now, but we’re ready for so much more.
Idles release their Welcome EP on Fear of Fiction this Saturday, August 4th, at The Croft, Bristol. For details, go here
We also have a free Sly One remix of Idles’ 26-27 available to download here
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Words: Geraint Davies