Ahead of Ultra Mono’s release, he’s penned a short essay explaining the themes and thinking behind the third album from his band, completed by guitarists Mark Bowen – who joins Joe today – and Lee Kiernan, bassist Adam Devonshire, and drummer Jon Beavis. The essay, which Joe describes as “a little guide for the hoi polloi”, finds him unleashing such potent admissions as: ‘[Ultra Mono is] a big fuck off ox that carries us through the sludge and doubt and backhanded fuckery, delivering us to all that we love: us/we/you.’
Presumably, K! ventures by way of an icebreaker, this was a way for him to head off at the pass some of the more obvious lines of questioning the band would have to face? Joe nods slowly in reply. After a lengthy silence the words come – and rarely let up from that point onwards.
“Part of the process is being able to vocalise, reimagine and repurpose what we’ve made, because it’s about reflection, isn’t it?” he begins. “It’s like free therapy, only the therapist has an agenda, to tell a story through [our] name. And we’re aware of that, we’re not stupid; it’s part of the game.”
It’s not surprising that Joe should need such an outlet. Not only have IDLES’ three albums, Ultra Mono included, showcased the startling marriage of punk rock and passionate poetry that’s made them the most exciting break-out band in Britain, they’ve all been characterised by traumatic episodes in the singer’s life. During the making of their debut, 2007’s Brutalism, he lost his mother. She suffered a stroke that left her paralysed when Joe was a teenager, with him becoming her chief caregiver after his stepfather’s death. As if that wasn’t painful enough, Joy… examined the grief of losing his daughter during childbirth through the song June: ‘A stillborn was still born / I am a father’.
Ultra Mono, meanwhile, has acted as a vehicle for Joe to process the pressures and insecurities thrust upon him by sudden success while reeling from bruising losses. “[Ultra Mono] came from writing my way out of it,” he explains. “It served as progress out of self-doubt and addiction.”
Those twin adversaries, which are rarely if ever mutually exclusive, gained strength as Joe’s fear of impending fatherhood grew (he missed IDLES winning Best British Breakthrough Act at the 2019 Kerrang! Awards in order to be at the birth of his daughter, now aged one). “My relapse was an amalgamation of not wanting to be a terrible father and being watched by more people than before. To me those people weren’t thinking ‘Wow, these songs are great!’, but instead, ‘I want that fat one in the middle to make a mistake.’ It felt like being a caged animal, touring in a zoo, so I drank and did drugs and got myself into a spot of turmoil.”