“We love it, we’re very grateful, and we give everything we have every night.”
They have a sound that conveys the styles of punk and post-punk, but don’t tell the guys in Idles they belong in those genres or they might give you a strange look. Regardless of classification, these Brits from Bristol have an intense approach to music that resonates with an abundance of energy and vigor. It’s evident in both their records and live performances, with the former begging for more volume and the latter inviting you to a mosh pit.
Idles has been touring in support of their last two albums, 2020’s Ultra Mono and Crawler, which came out last November. This expedition will stop at Roadrunner in Allston on Sept. 17 with Tempe and Arizona alternative hip-hop act Injury Reserve opening things up at 8pm.
I spoke with vocalist Joe Talbot and lead guitarist and keyboardist Mark Bowen, who jumped in at the end, about the peculiar situation the band has found themselves in these days, working with one of their heroes on a music video, creating an allegory for addiction, and always moving forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic put Idles in a unique circumstance last year due to the band promoting both Ultra Mono and Crawler. How would you describe this situation for you and your fellow bandmates and did touring in support of both albums have any major effect on the setlists for the shows?
Joe Talbot: It just gave us more ammunition, the narrative of each show was definitely more dynamic because we had more to choose from. It gave us more to play with, literally and figuratively speaking. Yeah, all the pandemic did was serve us more time to make another record and allow us the breath of space to realize just how lucky we are. We’re here now and our shows are as fueled as ever. We love it, we’re very grateful, and we give everything we have every night.
The music video for “Model Village” off of Ultra Mono was directed by Michel Gondry and his brother Olivier, which has these pig-faced people rolling up in a ball, traveling in rockets and spaceships to drill in a hole in a moon made of pills and other things. How did this collaboration come to be and did you have any input on the video itself or did you just lend the song to Michel and Olivier while seeing what they would come up with?
JT: Obviously when you write a wishlist of directors you’d be happy to work with, Michel Gondry is at the top of the list for us. WeTransfer offered us money to make a video and we accepted because we use WeTransfer and it’s a company that we were happy to lend our name to. Michel was totally in, he was enthusiastic, and I had a few creative meetings with both him and Olivier. We went through how they interpreted the song and they wanted to do it animated because that’s what they were doing at the time and obviously animation was rife during the pandemic because it allowed people to work from their own home. It was a beautiful storm that allowed us to work with one of our heroes.
Off of Crawler, the music video for “Crawl!” is a claymation one that has a guy who looks like Joe riding a motorcycle in the desert with his skin being peeled off until they’re a skeleton. It looks pretty gnarly with a lot of blood, it’s fairly realistic, so who had the idea to have the video be presented in this way?
JT: That was my idea. I wanted the video to be kind of like John Carpenter style b-movie effects but obviously we didn’t have the budget or the time. A super-talented claymation artist named Edie Lawrence offered and we were super keen, but my idea is an analogy of self-neglect through addiction and affliction. “Crawl!” is all about me convincing myself and the world around me that I’m alright, which I shout and sing in the chorus. The video itself is inspired by the one for “Speed Demon” by Michael Jackson, the famous pedophile.
I always thought it would be cool to have it be one shot where I’m riding a motorbike and I get faster and faster and faster and it’s that thing with self-projection, it’s often too late when you realize you’re not alright. If you don’t reel it in, slow it down, become mindful, have conversations with the people around you, treat yourself with respect, lean on other people, understand that you’re an addict or that you’re lost or that you’re scared, you’re sad, whatever, it can become too much and you end up in a bad place. That was my idea, it’s like an allegory of slow down, kid before it’s too late.
Idles are known for their rambunctious performances while engaging with the audience and even having some of them sing songs with you guys. As the singer, Joe, do you always get a rush of energy from the crowd during a show? Has it been a process for you to engage with the audience or do you consider it to be natural for you?
JT: I’d say for me, I’ve learned to understand that there are certain repetitions in my performance because when I think about what I’m doing sometimes I’m like, Oh, I did that yesterday, but you just have to allow that because the songs are the same. I allow my body and I allow my feelings to be engulfed by our music so that’s what I’ve gotten used to because it’s not performative, I don’t want to pretend. If I’m in a bad mood, you’ll get me in a bad mood but I’ll just give it everything. You’ll always get 100% or my energy, but how that’s channeled and how that feels, looks, sounds, and smells changes every day and that’s a beautiful thing. To kind of allow yourself to fully let go with an audience is one of the most beautiful things, that symbiosis is one of the most magical results of allowing each other the breath to be yourselves.
That space is fuckin’ electric and it’s one of the most magical things that can happen. A group of people being so present that they unthink and they’re not there but they’re still together is a really beautiful thing. I’ve learned that, I’ve learned that you just can’t think. Don’t think and magic will happen.
After this run of shows that has Idles touring the United States and Australia, do you guys plan on heading back into the studio to work on a new album?
Mark Bowen: We’re always planning on moving forward so I think that we’re going to have time off coming up and we’re going to use that time productively.
JT: You’re going to make some belts.
MB: I’ll make some belts, I’ll make some beats, make some bangers, some sausages.
JT: I plan on becoming a pickpocket, did I tell you that? People will be like “Oh it can’t be Joe Talbot, he doesn’t need the money,” and I don’t but only if they’re assholes.
MB: I would say you should only pickpocket people for being assholes.
JT: That would be my superpower, I only pickpocket assholes. We’re always working on new stuff, always, always, always. We’re hungry and we’re grateful, I think the gratitude as artists who have the gift of being able to work full-time is that we get to work full-time. For us, we’re always going to go and if you allow us the space to go and we’re going to go every time.
More info and tickets for Idles @ Roadrunner here
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.