“I’ll mend, I’ll mend, I’ll mend,” reassures Joe Talbot of Idles on the lumbering and tender track ‘June’, repeating the words until they stick. It’s a meditation; a promise. Recent years haven’t been easy on the 33-year-old Brit. In the beginning of producing their second record, his daughter, Agatha, died during birth. And as a result, Joy As An Act Of Resistance is a spiralling, aching, and heart-warmingly hopeful record.
“Our music, it’s all supposed to be diegetic to what I am living in, and what we are living in. So our ethos as a band is to be as honest as possible,” explains Talbot over a severely delayed phone line. It’s not the first time he’s been struck with loss. Following his stepfather’s death, the recovering alcoholic spent his late teens caring for his mother after a stroke left her co-dependent.
The responsibility weighed on him, and consequentially, their debut album Brutalism tackled the NHS and the anger he felt at a system that failed her, whose life might have been elongated if public health policies weren’t governed under conservatives. An increasingly cohesive and refined sound began to take shape in Brutalism; Idles’ songs became more propulsive, guttural and structurally distinct, yet still full of Talbot’s tongue-in-cheek, snarky witticisms that call out racist ideology and homophobia.
In the advent of Brexit, Trump’s election, and Australia’s growingly conservative government, it feels like there’s a growing pocket of artists around the world who are becoming increasingly open to baring their wounds to their audiences. “Beyond what’s happened with my life, and my daughter, and my mother or whatever, there’s a lot of trauma going on ideologically and emotionally all over the place.
Watch the clip for ‘Colossus’ by Idles
“I’m not saying I’m special in any way … People don’t really know what’s going on at the moment. Brexit was a trauma. I don’t mean that in a melodramatic way, I’m not feeling sorry for myself with it, but it was traumatic,” he explains.
Asked how his community has helped him along his road to healing after their daughter’s death, he attributes the heft of the work to his partner. “I thought I was open and honest before, and I wasn’t really,” he says. “The way I was dealing with grief was quite caustic really. It’s a silent killer. I was becoming more and more reliant on alcohol and drugs. I would start to talk about my habits, and talk about my rage towards friends. I’d start clamming up.
“I was like, ’I don’t enjoy admitting when I’m a fucking bastard at times’ … [When] it came to criticism, I was like, ‘No, no, I’m alright. I’ll get there you know. I’ll cut back on my alcohol. Don’t worry about it.’ And that’s not being vulnerable, that’s the opposite.” The way his partner got Talbot to open up was to let him in on her own struggles.
The musicality of Idles points to a self-destructive, internalised aggression that can so often be found in white-boy punk rock that’s infused with rage – but Joy is an absolute critique of holding onto that aggression. In the soulful, yet gritty ‘Cry To Me’, he sings: “Here I am boy, cry for me … loneliness is just a waste of time … I will hold you and tell you everything is alright.”
“[Our music is] not just about us unravelling, it’s also about the audience feeling comfortable in unravelling [too],” explains Talbot. “We’re getting a mirrored thing where [the audience are] going, ‘Thank you so much for sharing, here’s my shit.’ And we’re like, ‘Thank you for sharing, here’s some more shit’.” He laughs. “With the second album, now I’ve got heaps of more shit and I’m like, ‘I’ve got you family, that’s cool.’”
Watch the clip for ‘Danny Nedelko’ by Idles
Each show starts with Talbot giving his bandmates a friendly smooch, and he’s spoken out before about wishing for wall of deaths to be replaced with walls of hugs. “[Our music is about] the dissolution of the ego. None of us abide by the rules of the rock star, [that’s] fucking dead, and archaic, and misogynistic, and boring,” he says. “[We want to do] something way more important than just us wanking on stage.”
The conversation often takes a few swift turns without needing much to push Talbot along; he moves onto online manners. “If I go on Youtube comments, it’s like being in a male toilet cubicle. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one. There’s just loads of angry men scrawling on the walls writing disgusting shit; it’s just fucking vile because they have no emotional outlet. It’s just a little coffin of anger. They just get in and start scrawling weird shit on the walls and you’re like, what’s wrong with these men?” he says.
In ‘Samaritan’, he sings, “I’m real boy-boy and I cry / I love myself and I want to try.” He’s committed to challenging what it means to be masculine and tough, and part of that means communicating honestly. “Through counselling and everything that me and my partner have been through, I’ve realised that being open and talking about grief, and talking about pain, and talking about sadness and anger is the key to a more fruitful and progressive life.”
Asked what advice he’d give to young men who are experiencing grief and loss, he says to find a safe space to sit with those feelings, and to feel them in full before approaching anyone. “Accepting sadness, accepting anger is a key,” he explains.
And stay off the piss and drugs. “That isn’t ever gonna help, ever. It’s a sure way to not be you anymore … I’m still grieving for my daughter, but it’s a lot more manageable now … Just be proactive and just learnt to love yourself a bit more. Keep yourself well-groomed and eat well and have little practices of being nice to yourself through hard times. It’s a nice little reminder that you’re still important.”
Joy As An Act Of Resistance is out through Inertia. Read another interview, with Melbourne punks Pagan, here.