“WE'RE COMPLETE PEDAL GEEKS!”
Total Guitar|October 2020
“WE'RE COMPLETE PEDAL GEEKS!”
WITH A NEW IDLES ALBUM, ULTRA MONO, JUST RELEASED, THE BRISTOL BAND’S GUITARISTS LEE KIERNAN AND MARK BOWEN DISCUSS THEIR LOVE OF FENDERS, WALLS OF AMPS AND GIANT PEDALBOARDS, BUT THEY ADMIT: “ALL OUR GUITAR PARTS ARE REALLY SIMPLE”
Jonny Scaramanga

There’s a rock ’n’ roll cliché about musicians achieving stardom and immediately becoming insufferable. By any standards, IDLES have earned the kind of success that can send egos out of control. Their last album, Joy As An Act Of Resistance, broke their label’s record for most pre-orders, earned them a top 5 chart debut and a stack of awards, and led to a Glastonbury Pyramid slot. Their 190-date 2019 tour climaxed with a headline show at Alexandra Palace that sold out in 24 hours. It’s a relief, then, that they still talk just like the band who used to gig around clubs in Bristol. Their songs rail against sexism, racism, and toxic masculinity, so it would’ve been disappointing if they’d rocked up to the interview full of rockstar pretensions. Still, it’s refreshing to talk to musicians with feet so firmly connected to the floor.

When we ask guitarists Lee Kiernan and Mark Bowen about the giant amp rigs they now get to use on a nightly basis, they sound genuinely grateful for the opportunity. “They are sick!” exclaims Bowen. “We get giddy every time we look at them.” Lee still can’t quite believe it: “You always dream of having such huge setups, and for most of our career and for most people you just can’t use this sort of thing. It’s ridiculous. We’ve somehow got to a place where we actually can, and now the feeling of those amps hitting me on stage every night is incomparable. The actual feeling of those speakers kicking you is insane.”

Lee is similarly unassuming about headlining Alexandra Palace. “I’m dancing around, I’m like ‘Yeah, yeah; this is great!’ Then the lights flashed on the crowd. I looked up, and I’m like ‘Jesus Christ, that’s a lot of people!’ And then I played the song wrong.”

This lack of ego manifests itself very obviously in Ultra Mono, their new album. As Bowen puts it, “We’re all IDLES now. We’re all one machine, so it doesn’t matter whose bit is louder or who’s more prominent. It’s more about ‘How can we make this work? How can I help Lee’s part along?’”

“For this album, we’ve learned to make the moments count,” says Lee. “On the last album, we learned to hold back where necessary. This one was ‘When should the guitar be the most prominent thing?’” This approach is exemplified on first single Grounds, where the thunderous guitar riffburies everything, but drops out entirely for the vocals. Bowen says it’s a lesson the band has learned painfully. “If you listen to [IDLES’ debut album] Brutalism, Lee and I are playing like we can’t hear each other or don’t care what the other is playing, because we’re both scrambling around trying to be the lead guitarist. Like ‘Yeah, my bit’s sick!’”

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October 2020