Ultra Mono

Ultra Mono

“I want to get to that point where I can just write one lyric and people understand what I’m about,” IDLES singer Joe Talbot tells Apple Music. “Maybe it’s ‘Fuck you, I’m a lover.’” Those words, from the song ‘The Lover’, certainly form an effective tagline for the band’s third album. The Bristol band explored trauma and vulnerability on second album Joy as an Act of Resistance., and here they’re finding ways to heal, galvanise and move forward—partly informed by mindfulness and being in the present. “I thought about the idea that you only ever have now,” Talbot says. “[Ultra Mono] is about getting to the crux of who you are and accepting who you are in that moment—which is really about a unification of self.” Those thoughts inspired a solidarity and concision in the way Talbot, guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, bassist Adam Devonshire and drummer Jon Beavis wrote music. Each song began with a small riff or idea, and everything that was added had to be in the service of that nugget. “That’s where the idea of an orchestra comes in—that you try and sound, from as little as possible, as big as you can,” Talbot says. “Everyone hitting the thing at the same time to sound huge. It might also be as simple as one person playing and everyone else shutting the fuck up. Don’t create noise where it’s not needed.” The music’s visceral force and social awareness will keep the “punk” tag pinned to IDLES, but Ultra Mono forges a much broader sound. The self-confidence of hip-hop, the communal spirit of jungle and the kindness of jazz-pop maestro Jamie Cullum all feed into these 12 songs. Let Talbot explain how in this track-by-track guide. War “It was the quickest thing we ever wrote. We got in a room together, I explained the concept and we just wrote it. We played it—it wasn’t even a writing thing. And that is about as ultra mono as it gets. It had to be the first track because it is the explosion of not overthinking anything and being. The big bang of the album is the inner turmoil of trying to get rid of the noise and just be present—so it was perfect. The title’s ‘War’ because it sounded so violent, ballistic. I was really disenfranchised with the internet, like, ‘Why am I listening to assholes? You’ve got to be kind to yourself.’ ‘War’ was like, ‘Yeah, do it, actually learn to love yourself.’ That was the start of a big chapter in my life. It was like the war of self that I had to win.” Grounds “We wanted to write a song that was like AC/DC meets Dizzee Rascal, but a bit darker. It’s the march song, the start of the journey: ‘We won the first battle, let’s fucking do this. What do you need to stop apologising for?’ That’s a conversation you need to have when all these horrible people come to the forefront. I was being criticised for speaking of civil rights–whether that be trans rights or gay rights or Black rights, the war on the working classes. I believe in socialism. Go fuck yourselves. I want to sleep at night knowing that my platform is the voice of reason and an egalitarian want for something beautiful—not the murder of Black people, homophobia at the workplace, racist front lines. We were recording in Paris and Warren Ellis [of The Bad Seeds and Grinderman] popped in. He sat with us just chatting about life. I was like, ‘It would be insane if I didn’t ask you to be on this record, man.’ I just wanted him to do a ‘Hey!’, like on a grime record.” Mr. Motivator “[TV fitness guru] Mr Motivator, that’s my spirit animal. We wrote that song and it felt like a train. I wanted to put a beautiful and joyous face to something rampantly, violently powerful-sounding. ‘Mr. Motivator’ is 90% lethal machine, 10% beautiful, smiley man that brings you joy. The lyrics are all cliches because I think The Guardian or someone leaned towards the idea that my sloganeering was something to be scoffed at. So I thought I’d do a whole song of it. We’re trying to rally people together, and if you go around using flowery language or muddying the waters with your insecurities, you’re not going to get your point across. So, I wanted to write nursery rhymes for open-minded people.” Anxiety “This was the first song where the lyrics came as we were writing the music. It sounded anxiety-inducing because it was so bombastic and back-and-forth. Then we had the idea of speeding the song up as you go along and becoming more cacophonous. That just seemed like a beautiful thing, because when you start meditating, the first thing that happens is you try to meditate–which isn’t what you’re supposed to do. The noise starts coming in. One of the things they teach you in therapy is that if you feel anxious or scared or sad or angry, don’t just internally try to fight that. Accept that you become anxious and allow yourself the anxiety. Feel angry and accept that, and then think about why, and what triggered it. And obviously 40-cigarettes-a-day Dev [Adam Devonshire] can’t really sing that well anymore, so we had to get David Yow of Jesus Lizard in. He’s got an amazing voice. It’s a much better version of what Dev used to be like.” Kill Them With Kindness “That’s Jamie Cullum [on the piano]. We met him at the Mercury Prize and he said, ‘If you need any piano on your album, just let us know.’ I was like, ‘We don’t, but we definitely do now.’ I like that idea of pushing people’s idea of what cool is. Jamie Cullum is fucking cooler than any of those apathetic nihilists. He believes in something and he works hard at it—and I like that. When I was working in a kitchen, we listened to Radio 2 all the time, and I loved his show. And he’s a beautiful human being. It’s a perfect example of what we’re about: inclusivity and showing what you love. I didn’t write the lyrics until after meeting him. It was just that idea that he seemed kind-hearted. Kindness is a massive thing: It’s what empathy derives from, and kindness and empathy is what’ll kill fascism. It should be the spirit of punk and soul music and grime and every other music.” Model Village “The part that we wrote around was something that I used to play onstage whenever Bowen was offstage and I stole his guitar. So it had this playfulness, and I wanted to write a kind of take-the-piss song. I’m not antagonistic at all, but I do find things funny, like people who get so angry. I wanted this song to be taking yourself out of your own town and looking at it like it’s a model village. Just to be like, ‘Look how small and insignificant this place is. Don’t be so aggressive and defensive about something you don’t really understand.’ It’s a call for empathy—but to the assholes in a non-apologetic way.” Ne Touche Pas Moi “I was getting really down on tours because I felt a bit like an animal in a cage. Dudes are aggressive, and it’s boring when you see it in a crowd. Someone’s being a prick in the crowd and people aren’t comfortable—it’s not a nice feeling. So I wanted to create that idea of a safe arena with an anthem. It’s a violent, cutting anthem. It’s like, ‘I am full of love, but that doesn’t mean you can elbow me in the face or touch my breasts.’ We can play it in sets to give people the confidence that there is a platform here to be safe. I said to Bowen, ‘I really wish there was a woman singing the chorus, because it’s not just about my voice, it’s more often women that get groped.’ A couple of days later, we were in Paris recording Jehnny Beth’s TV show and I told her about this song. It was a nice relief to have someone French backing up my shit French.” Carcinogenic “Jungle was a movement based around unity—very different kinds of people getting together under the love of music. It was one of the most forward-thinking, beautiful things to happen to our country, [and it] was shut down by police and people who couldn’t make money from it. I wanted to write a song that was part garage rock, part jungle, because both movements have their part to play in building IDLES and also building amazing communities of people and great musicians. Then I thought about jungle and grime and garage and how something positive gets turned into something negative with the media. Basically, any Black music that creates a positive network of people and communities, building something out of love, is dangerous because it’s people thinking outside the box and not relying on the government for reassurance and entertainment and distraction. So then it got me thinking about ‘carcinogenic’ and how everything gives you cancer, when really the most cancerous thing about our society isn’t anything like that, it’s the class war that we’re going through and depriving people of a decent education, decent welfare, decent housing. That’s fucking cancer.” Reigns “This was written around the bass, obviously. Again, another movement—techno—and that idea of togetherness and the love in the room is always apparent. Techno is motorik, it’s mesmeric, it is just a singularity—minimal techno, especially. It’s just the beat or the bassline and that carries you through, that’s all you need. Obviously, we’re a chorus band, so we thought we’d throw in something huge to cut through it. But we didn’t want to overcomplicate it. That sinister pound just reminds me of my continual disdain for the Royal Family and everything they represent in our country, from the fascism that it comes from to the smiley-face racism that it perpetuates nowadays.” The Lover “I wanted to write a soul song with that wall-of-noise, Phil Spector vibe—but also an IDLES song. What could be more IDLES than writing a song about being a lover but making it really sweary? When I love someone, I swear a lot around them because I trust them, and I want them to feel comfortable and trust me. So I just wrote the most honest love song. It’s like a defiant smile in the face of assholes who can’t just accept that your love is real. It’s like, ‘I’m not lying. I am full of love and you’re a prick.’ That’s it. That song was the answer to the call of ‘Grounds’. That huge, stabby, all-together orchestra.” A Hymn “Bowen and I were trying to write a song together. I had a part and he had a part. Then my part just got kicked out and we wrote the song around the guitar line. We wanted to write a song that was like a hymn, because a hymn is a Christian, or gospel, vision of togetherness and rejoicing at once for something they love. I wanted to write the lyrics around the idea that a hymn nowadays is just about suburban want, material fear. So it’s like a really subdued, sad hymn about materialism, suburban pedestrianism. And it came out really well.” Danke “It was going to be an instrumental, a song that made you feel elated and ready for war—and not muddy it with words. A song that embodies the whole album, that just builds and pounds but all the parts change. Each bit changes, but it feels like one part of one thing. And I always finish on a thank you because it’s important to be grateful for what people have given us—so I wanted to call the song ‘Danke’. Then, on the day of recording it, Daniel Johnston died. So I put in his lyrics [from ‘True Love Will Find You in the End’] because they’re some of the most beautiful ever written. It fits the song, fits the album. He could have only written that one lyric and it’d be enough to understand him. I added [my] lyrics [‘I’ll be your hammer, I’ll be your nail/I’ll be the house that allows you to fail’] at the end because I felt like it was an offering to leave with—like, ‘I’ve got you.’ It’s what I would have said to him, or any friend that needed love.”

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