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Idles' New Album Holds Music For A World In Turmoil



Idles, sonic powerhouse band from Bristol, England, has built its reputation on songs that are really rallying cries. They roar pro-immigrant anthems, call out white privilege and toxic masculinity, often with a signature humor, as in "Never Fight A Man With A Perm," off the band's last album.


IDLES: (Singing) A dulcet man with a Dolcet tone from a dulcet town and a Dolcet home. He hates me.

SIMON: Idles maintain that edgy tone in their new album, "Ultra Mono." And the frontman of Idles, Joe Talbot, joins us from Cardiff, Wales. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOE TALBOT: Absolutely. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Our pleasure. Let's try and get this out of the way first. We've made a list of the way your band's been described - punk, punk rock, post-punk, hardcore punk, post-hardcore indie punk. And then we saw you quoted in an interview as saying you're not a punk band at all. You know journalism - we're pathetically dependent upon labels. What's the label for Idles?

TALBOT: (Laughter) Oh, whatever you want us to be. My comment was really on the idea that if we allow labels as artists, we disallow ourselves the freedom to do whatever we want to do. But as far as conversation around musical art goes, it's not up to the artist to tell the audience what genre they're in. That's just a category thing, so you can find us in the shops. It doesn't matter beyond that.

SIMON: Let me ask about the power of your sound. Let's listen to a little bit of "Ne Touche Pas Moi."


IDLES: (Singing) This is a sawn-off for the cat-callers. This is a pistol for the wolf whistle 'cause your body is your body, and it belongs to nobody but you.

SIMON: That's almost like a revving engine. Tell us about how you come up with that sound.

TALBOT: What we wanted to do - we got a couple of complaints from fans, you know? The biggest show we've ever had to date, which is Alexandra Palace, we had 10,000 people there. And a couple of people felt unsafe, so I thought we could write an anthem. It's just about encouraging people to respect each other's space in order to make people feel safe for our shows.

I'm glad you mentioned engine, though. That's, like - that's something that we worked on from the very start of the album. The album - I pictured it as an engine, you know, of the self in order to move forward, to kind of plow through self-doubt that comes when you listen to what everyone else thinks about you. So an engine it is.

SIMON: Do you think music has a special role these days in the times in which we're living?

TALBOT: Not comparatively, no. I think music's always had a special place no matter what era. Music is the untold magic of our existence. It's the one thing that we don't understand but we understand the most. It gives everyone a platform to feel part of the world but also to feel. And there's something magical about music that is not understandable but completely humane, which means it's just in us. It will always be a platform to feel, and it will always be a platform on which to be and experience the world.

SIMON: U.S. and U.K. are both going through what's often referred to as a cultural awakening, cultural reexamination. Let me ask you about the song "Reigns."


TALBOT: (Singing) How does it feel to have blue blood coursing through your veins? How does it feel to have blue blood coursing through your veins?

SIMON: No need to ask you what you're trying to say in that song. Tell us where it comes from in your heart.

TALBOT: I mean, where do I start? In England and Britain, there's a real cancerous history of class division. And there's a class war going on in this country and in yours. It's the same. The poor are dying at the hands of the 1%, and they're being ignored. And the fact that there's a royal family in our country that exists in a time where people are making charities in order to feed the poor in a developed country is insane. The idea of a royal family is, in my eyes, insane that they still exist.


IDLES: (Vocalizing).

SIMON: Let me note for our listeners that you've been through a lot in recent years - loss of your mother and the loss of your first daughter. I understand you have another daughter now in your life. How are you doing?

TALBOT: I'm all right, thanks. Yeah, I'm good. I think in times like this, it's important for people like myself who have a lot to be grateful for to kind of sit back and really take stock of how lucky I am.

SIMON: I want to ask you about your song "A Hymn."

TALBOT: I guess it was written around a shift in understanding of what I was trying to build in my life through shame. I felt a lot of shame from my past - my addictions and whatnot and my mistakes. And I wanted to kind of focus on what religion and praise we have now, which is obviously monetary.

And I fall into that category. And I just wanted to write a song of the exploration of self-loathing and seeking comfort in distraction rather than embracing myself and enjoying myself for who I truly am, which is what this album is all about. It's about self-acceptance, self-belief and self-care.


IDLES: (Singing) I want to be loved. Everybody does. I find shame in the crack-like corpse un-cadaver reign.

SIMON: You know, there might be people turning to your music now for encouragement, for inspiration. Where do you find yourself inspired? Where do you find yourself uplifted?

TALBOT: Well, that's a beautiful question. The whole album is around finding self-belief by being present and really believing in yourself and accepting who you are in the moment and now. All you will ever have your whole life is now. You'll never have the past, and you'll never have the future. I guess what I'm saying is if you want to find joy at the moment, it's not fighting the situation. It's accepting that it's OK to be depressed. It's OK to be angry. It's OK to be sad. But how all those feelings manifest can change your life forever.

And I'm just lucky enough that I found something that I can be angry, violent, depressed, sad, confused, lost, happy, in love in. That's the medium. That's what it is. It's exorcising your feelings and putting out into the world. And that reflection when you get it back - it's one of the most beautiful feelings in the world.

SIMON: Joe Talbot is frontman for Idles, and their new album is "Ultra Mono." Thank you so much for being with us.

TALBOT: Absolute pleasure.


IDLES: (Singing) Teletext has a place in my heart. Ten percent discount - I'll show you how. Gregory's birthday in a... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.