Music

'Love is the fing': IDLES frontman Joe Talbot on what's at the heart of new album TANGK

IDLES singer-songwriter Joe Talbot has seen the nation turn away from love, which has only made him more determined to embrace it on new album TANGK

IDLES from left: Mark Bowen, Adam Devonshire, Jon Beavis, Joe Talbot, Lee Kiernan. Image: PR supplied

“I feel our nation’s turning away from love… moving into a wilderness of spirit so intense we may never find our way home again. I write of love to bear witness both to the danger in this movement, and to call for a return to love” – bell hooks, author and activist (2000). 

A return to love is all I want for me and for all I see in front of me. My cycles of addiction and of loss are at a junction. I’m looking back and I see why I was lost, and I just want to hold myself and emphasise the importance of the words, “Everything is going to be OK.” I don’t have a time machine but with forgiveness and gratitude I hold the future firmly in my hand. TANGK is my declaration of love to everything and everyone I hold close and firmly to myself.

This album is driven by gratitude and the power of being held and carried by the beautiful force of our audience, and more importantly, the energy force created by IDLES’ and our people’s exchange. Our exchange is a cosmic collision of all the turmoil and fuckery we put up with and sling on our backs with the incredible beauty and grace of pure love fused in a room of people that give themselves to the music and the moment. Our shows are magic because of that connection, but that could not be forged without the people and THAT is what I’m grateful for.

Recently I was taken aback by the phrase freudenfreude – the very opposite of schadenfreude: Feeling joy from other’s joy, how beautiful a notion! A notion that could be the building blocks of something fuelled by empathy and love… a just and joyful FUTURE!! 

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I started this band to be a Trojan horse. I’ve always wanted to use our music and vulnerable presence to open the hearts of our audience and create a positive change; one in which empathy and grace are both vitally important. We hide those quantities behind a big old veil of violent art and music in order to cut through the noise, and to offer a humane alternative to the right-wing tirade that’s smashing through the walls of our homes.  

Like Aesop’s fable, The North Wind and The Sun, I soon came to realise that if I want empathy and grace, I have to first emit empathy and grace. I realised with TANGK that I wanted love. I needed love. So I had to make love and emit love. If I want to be part of a conversation, then I have to listen. And so to listen, IDLES can build a safe place that houses listening, empathy and love. 

I realise with each cycle of an album that, in reflection, I have a long way to go. I can be more vulnerable, I can work on my craft, I can evolve as a songwriter. Writing and making TANGK, we soon learned a lot about how to manifest gratitude. We realised how lucky we are to be able to make music and to share our worldview through our art. We need to always keep moving forward with a real sense of purpose. We work hard on our craft by challenging ourselves to be better for our audience who got us here. Sometimes that means exposing our vulnerabilities for the world to see, or sharing opinions that we know not everyone will agree with. It can be scary to share those things that we’ve made in private with the outside world but no matter how scary that challenge it’s a privilege. 

David Bowie once said: “I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfil other people’s expectations, I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that.” That is very true in my experience and one we took with us throughout the course of making this album. We know now that what we need to do is what is best for the song and the song alone. We show our gratitude in our songcraft, we’re always striving to improve ourselves to benefit the songs that we make. We are our songs and we need to write for our own improvement or our demise and that transparency is what will carry our songs and our audience to a new place. 

When I was a young boy, I thought I was nae good at writing stories, so now I’m telling mine. I’ve wanted to be a poet since I was a child, so now I write poetry. I’ve always wanted to be a soul singer too, so now I write soul songs. It’s a life-long learning process. I had to let love in and challenge myself to write what I needed, not what I wanted. TANGK is gratitude manifest. I’m grateful to be able to do this, so I will do this as well as I possibly can, and I will do it brightly. I will write songs that scare me and challenge the band for as long as I possibly can, with love. 

As she so often proved to be, bell hooks was right. Our nation’s seemingly turning away from love. I’m not sure to what degree, but there is a sense of lunacy and panic in the air. I started the band to make people feel like they are part of something greater than themselves. Art can bring you to the magic of existence by unlocking the feeling, the warmth and the magnitude of love.

I want TANGK to make people feel what I feel when I get on stage. I want them to dance. If you give people everything on stage, they’ll give you everything back. There’s no bullshit in our crowd, no lack of lucidity. I wanted to bring that to a record. I’ve got more strength in me than I ever have, and it comes from love. 

I want love. Love is the fing. 

Joe Talbot, October 2023 

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