Mark Bowen on the Bands That Could Take on TANGK and an IDLES Movie (Coming Soon?)

IDLES Photo by Daniel Topete, courtesy of Grandstand Media
Imagine you’re about to enjoy the IDLES concert experience in the climate-controlled comfort of a modern movie theater, buttered popcorn in your lap and nestled into a plush recliner with a seat warmer. You’re ready for your favorite British rock band to have their Taylor Swift concert movie moment, one that would bring the band’s larger-than-life brand to glorious life on the silver screen.

It’s just a dream (for now), so instead we’ll see you on the lawn at White Oak Music Hall when IDLES brings its Love is the Fing tour to Houston Wednesday, May 22. You can daydream about air conditioning and pillowy cushions while dancing/moshing to songs from the band’s new album TANGK in hundred-degree heat. According to IDLES guitarist and songwriter Mark Bowen, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unless, of course, it was on celluloid.

“I think that would be cool. I think it would be interesting,” Bowen said when we proposed an IDLES Eras-like tour film and asked who the band would trust to direct such a project. “There is something, there’s a nuance to all our shows that would be really great to capture. I’d love to watch back our shows, I’d love to watch the experience of the audience. Who could do it? That’s hard. Our favorite joint director amongst everyone would be Paul Thomas Anderson.

“I don’t know who would be appropriate. I’m trying to think,” Bowen said, a smile wide across his face on our Zoom meet as he pondered the possibilities. “Shane Meadows maybe. Shane Meadows would maybe pick up on the catharsis and violence. Shane Meadows’ stuff is both cathartic and violent.”

“Catharsis” and “violence” are themes to IDLES music, the knitting needles that thread songs from their back catalog like “Mother” and “Never Fight a Man with a Perm” to TANGK favorites like “Gift Horse” and “POP POP POP.” We ask Bowen about the wildly emotional reactions those songs evoke from listeners.

“I mean, it’s a really intentional thing, that kind of visceral, physical, very kind of cathartic thing around the music is entirely our USP,” Bowen said. “That’s what we search for, it’s all feel, you know? I’m not a great musician, I’m not a great guitarist. But what I bring to it is a real sensation of feeling. And I think on our best songs there’s a united sense of feeling amongst the members of the band, and we kind of express that in our own individual ways. And that’s just what we’re striving for, we’re looking for that.

“Initially, on earlier stuff, it was about getting that from bombast - raw, cathartic, very heavy kind of stuff,” he continued. “Increasingly, on the newer stuff, it’s about finding that same emotion, finding that same feeling through more reserved, introspective, self-reflective kinds of moments, and also from exploring the sonics a bit more differently.

“It never gets old seeing people latch onto that, seeing people find something for them in it,” he said. “I think even from our very earliest shows when the songs weren’t great, there was always that. And I think that’s why people latch onto us and I think that’s why people enjoyed coming to the IDLES shows, because they could feel something that they maybe weren’t getting elsewhere and feel something that they understood. And, so, they felt understood.

“That’s a big thing at our shows that I really enjoy, I see people feel understood and I see people feel validation in a shared experience and it’s beautiful,” Bowen added. “More so in the States than anywhere else actually, I would say.”

Because TANGK released just a few months ago, Bowen and IDLES vocalist and songwriter Joe Talbot have been doing a lot of press and delving into their songwriting process. We wondered if they’re tiring of breaking down all the intricacies that formed some of our favorites from TANGK, tracks like “Dancer” and “A Gospel.”

click to enlarge
Bowen (L) said Mitski, Danny Brown, Paul Thomas Anderson and Shane Meadows could all capture IDLES' essence
Photo by Tom Ham, courtesy of Grandstand Media
“I would say in the writing process there is a lot of discussion. Some of my favorite artists, the thing I enjoy most about them is their considered approach. The first person that springs to mind would be Nick Cave, or PJ Harvey is a really good example, where everything is considered, to a point, and then you give over to the feeling, you give over to the expression. But you have to do your homework first,” he said.

“We do like talking about it. It’s not completely true that it’s hard to intellectualize it because we do that in the writing process and we do that in interviews afterwards. And, it’s often very cathartic to do it in interviews because you receive someone else’s interpretation of it, which is great. I love hearing people’s interpretation of what we’ve done.”

Speaking of interpretation, we picked up on a line of questioning Bowen and Talbot answered on a recent episode of the brilliant Broken Record podcast. Host Justin Richmond keyed on the ‘50s and ‘60s music IDLES says informed TANGK and there was some discussion on how bands of that era would sometimes have the same song on the Billboard charts, their respective versions vying for audience approval, almost competitive in nature. Bowen said he’s happy that doesn’t exist in today’s music landscape, so of course we asked him to imagine it did. Which acts would he like to see take on songs from TANGK?

“I think Mitski would do an incredible job with either ‘A Gospel’ or ‘Monolith.’ I think Mitski would do an amazing job on something like that. Who else? At the minute we’re on the road with Protomartyr, who are heroes of ours and they’re supporting us at the minute. It’s just amazing to watch them, so that would be interesting. I’d love to hear Danny Brown’s take on something like ‘POP POP POP,’ I think that would be interesting. I’d love a bit of cross-genre pollination going on. I think that’s what the beautiful thing in the ‘60s was. A lot of British white pop bands would cover soul songs and gospel and it was cool. It was beautiful.

“I mean, there’s a lot of fucking problematic stuff in people like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin stealing lots of that music, blues especially. But I think it’s all about that shared human experience, isn’t it? So yeah, I’d love to hear a cross-pollination across the genres.”

Back in the real world, we told Bowen that the Houston show moved from a smaller capacity space at White Oak to the lawn and asked if the band has an ideal venue size, one where IDLES and the audience truly connect? Bowen said they do not.

“Recently we did a tour in Europe and we started playing arenas. You’re talking like 6,000-plus people in an arena and we were like, ‘How are we going to do this?’ An important aspect of an IDLES show is the intimacy. But it always felt right. I think a big part of it is this ramping up of our persons that we do onstage. It comes across and it works in an arena. It’s big and it’s bombastic. The massiveness can come across but then what’s personal and introspective can really be put across, as well.”

Bowen’s no stranger to Houston. He said his wife lived here for a while and he’s spent time here.

“It’s a cool place and it’s been on the box to tick off for some time,” he noted. “Houston’s got one of my favorite spaces. It’s like a non-religious cathedral with the Rothkos, the black Rothkos. It’s one of my favorite spaces I’ve ever been in.”

Rothko Chapel has something that movie theaters also have, namely air conditioning. But Bowen said coming to the show and sweltering with IDLES will create something unforgettable, something bigger than you can fit on an IMAX screen.

“Hot and sticky is great, I would say. When you’re playing in that scenario when there’s an even further element of shared experience with it, it is hard to go through, but if the audience are in it and the band are in it, we’re sharing that with them. We’re going through it with them. So, it’s great. Some of our best shows have been in very humid, hot and sticky environments.”

IDLES, Wednesday, May 22, on the lawn at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main. Doors at 5:30 p.m. for this all-ages show. $45.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.