Joe Talbot, growling lead vocalist for the British noise-rockers IDLES, knows that life can be horrible. There’s death, carnage, pain, abuse, and everything damaging and detrimental in between. But the philosophically inclined Talbot also knows there’s another side to that proverbial coin. In fact, he shrieks it on his band’s forthcoming album, CRAWLER. “In spite of it all,” Talbot sings, “life is beautiful.” But while it’s clear he wholeheartedly believes the line, it’s not one he thought up himself. It comes from the mind of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who wrote it in a journal while sitting at home in his garden well aware that Joseph Stalin’s military men were headed to assassinate him with an ice pick to the head. It’s these kinds of silver-lining realizations, these kinds of hopeful observations, that make IDLES a remarkable band—and the group’s new 14-track LP is rich with them.
“I don’t like the idea of getting an ice pick to the head,” Talbot says. “But if I was going to die for a cause, and I was picking my last days, it would definitely be with my daughter and it would be somewhere away from the mess and the noise, somewhere with a pint of Guinness and my father would be there and it would be a beautiful last time.” Talbot, who is recently a new father and who, after two years of sobriety, rekindled a manageable relationship with alcohol, pauses to think before adding: “Or maybe playing a show. The day before, I’d play a show, and the next day I’d hang out with my family.”
“I’ve learned to hold myself accountable for my actions and what I’ve done and where I’ve found myself because of my actions. I’m just fucking grateful. Gratitude is the main feeling I’ve had for the last two years.”
He adds that for his last meal he’d eat beans on toast, a bowl of porridge with brown sugar, and some mascarpone. Yes, Talbot has thought about it all. It’s the way he orients himself to the world, as one who inspects his surroundings while also feeling them very deeply. This process began for him, he says, around 16 years old. That’s when he started to question his life and what was around him—what he’d been accepting, like the music he was listening to. For the now-37-year-old Exeter-born vocalist, conversation became and remained supremely fundamental. “I’ve always been a very interested person,” he says.
On CRAWLER, the spotlight of that interest lands on a handful of topics, from death to survival, addiction to sobriety. Talbot says he knows addiction particularly well. He grew up with an alcoholic mother who died from the disease. Talbot identifies as an addict. When he recently went sober he managed to create a more vigilant, respectable relationship to alcohol, using it as an occasional medication and social dalliance. Gone, he says, are the days of rampaging drunkenness he (and other addicts) know so well. “I’ll never go back to that place again.”
Talking to Talbot, one thing is made clear: He seems to care most about taking care of other people these days. The responsibility comes up often, whether it’s his new daughter, his band, his family, or his audience. Talbot, whose first child was tragically stillborn, knows the severity and precariousness of life and death. So, he’s focused on lifting up those around him, those who he cares so much about. “Learning to be a father is a fucking dream,” he tells me. “It’s something that challenges me and I’m learning from it every day. The main thing I’ve changed [in my life] is my accountability. I’ve learned to hold myself accountable for my actions and what I’ve done and where I’ve found myself because of my actions. I’m just fucking grateful. Gratitude is the main feeling I’ve had for the last two years.”
“I don’t know if I’ve learned anything from the production of the album itself, but I’m definitely stronger because of it. Music is just the fucking bridge that makes you feel part of the universe, and that feeling is the best feeling in the world.”
Perhaps more than anything else career-wise, Talbot is most thankful for his audience. There would be no IDLES without his fans, not in any globally impactful way, anyway. The frontman goes out of his way to praise the people who push him up, too. It’s about them, not some corny idea of celebrity. “Our audience is the only thing that’s carried us through all of this,” Talbot says. “It’s everything to us. The conversation we’ve built with our audience is why I’m [on tour] in Asheville right now, living the dream.”
For the band’s new album, which was inspired by a near-accident between Talbot’s car and a motorcyclist, Talbot sourced from a broad range of material. Thinking about the title as a keyword of sorts, IDLES constructed an album about those who are barely surviving, those on their knees, those praying in desperation. We all find ourselves at the mercy of others at times, pleading or begging, on the ground, working to get up. This is the stuff that makes up CRAWLER, especially its raucous hit, “The Beachland Ballroom,” teeth-shattering opener, “MTT 420 RR,” and the sticky track, “The New Sensation.”
“It’s about working hard,” Talbot says. “I don’t know if I’ve learned anything from the production of the album itself, but I’m definitely stronger because of it. Music is just the fucking bridge that makes you feel part of the universe, and that feeling is the best feeling in the world.” FL