Earlier this month, we unveiled IDLES‘ raucous post-punk banger Danny Nedelko as our Song of the Year. In celebration of the song and its brash undertones, Jack Parker sat down with frontman Joe Talbot to dig a little deeper.
We’re here to dig deeper and get to the root of the song Danny Nedelko. What it’s all about? Its construction, its background. Could you outline this?
So, I can’t remember writing the music. We wrote it together in a room, as we write every song. It was written at some point. Then, I went away and I wrote the lyrics, which came about because Danny [Nedelko] and I are very good friends and we promised that we would write songs about each other, as a bit of fun. And then I realised that he is a great example of why immigration is a lot more complicated than generalising a group of people that moved to one country from another. I wanted to focus on the individual, and remind people of the human behind the concept of immigration. He’s a very rambunctious, enthusiastic and loveable human that I care about a lot, and I found that he was the perfect example of innocence and youth. He’s often positive, brings out the best in me, and makes me feel good just by being around him. I thought: “Yeah, that’s going to be a fucking easy song to write”. I kind of married the two ideas, the allegory and the friend. And then I wrote it in one sitting, as I do with every song.
Was it the intention to write a song about him just because of the agreement to write about each other, or was your first thought to write a song about immigration?
It was on my mind a lot because of Brexit and its backlash. This resurgence of xenophobia and racism because of Brexit, or at least as people are more out in the open with that than before. But I don’t know which came first, I can’t remember.
You were already friends with Danny himself. Was this because of Heavy Lungs or did you guys already know each other?
Nah, Heavy Lungs haven’t been a band very long. I met Danny years and years and years ago, when he first moved from Brighton to Bristol. He started working at a pub our bassist, Adam, was managing. Then we just became friends and he was always trying to start a band. I just tried to encourage him to keep going and not stop until he found the right people.
I want to talk about the song’s wider role in the context of Joy As An Act of Resistance. When you listen to it, it’s quite a key piece on the record. Does it serve a particular role in the wider scheme of things for you?
All the songs kind of were considered to create a palette around the concept of ‘joy as an act of resistance’. Some are darker, some are about the darkest side of honesty and getting to a better place as an allegory for therapy. Danny Nedelko was intentionally a brighter part of the album. We wanted to be resistant to the idea that people expected us to be dark and angry and volatile. That trope of bullshit punk, that stereotype. We just wanted to write a cheery and happy post punk song and piss off the dickheads. And then the tone of that made me realise that there is a different kind of resistance there, adding to the debate of immigration by just starting a conversation with a point of what I love. Not attacking people that disagree with me, not starting with the negative, not calling somebody a name, not defining other people at the start of the debate. Just me saying: “I love immigration, I love the immigrants that have come to our country, also the ones that broke the rules and fucked it, because they are all part of our infrastructure that makes multiculturalism a viable and tangible and beautiful thing”. There was lots of joyful resistance there, so in a way Danny Nedelko is probably the most concise song to the brief of Joy As An Act of Resistance; it sums it all up. I think it’s kind of like the chappy mascot of our album and it works.
You also mentioned Freddy Mercury, Malala and Mo Farah as important British immigrants.
The song, lyrically, was a conversation. I said to Bowen: “I want to be really naive and childlike in this song.”
In what sense?
Just really innocent lyrics. ‘I like my friend, why can’t he stay here?’. You have to do that in a politically naive way, where I say: my blood brother is Freddy Mercury. It’s an obvious thing to say, and it opens you up to criticism. It’s really cliche and simplistic and almost childlike. I’m leaving myself open, but why should I not be childlike? These people are human beings.
So was the song itself an outing of frustration at the British immigration policy, or was it more the intent to make a impact or statement of yourselves?
Yeah, we tried to add to the solution instead of the problem by writing a song that was in our minds and do it in a mindful way. And I guess the joyous tone made me decide to write it about Danny, because he’s such a joyous and innocent man.
The second half of the sing is very straightforward and brash. Is that simplicity a literal reflection of how easy it is to accept somebody for who they are?
It’s a celebration of him. The first part is obviously a pretentious thing, using something that you would put on a picture of a wolf and post on Instagram. I wanted to do something like that, using really over clichéd cultural references, turning it into something even more cliché and naive. But also something that’s true which you can’t argue with, something which will infuriate the pretentious and then turn it into what the song is about, an individual.
In the last few weeks there’s also been this huge shift in Brexit proceedings. What’s your take on that?
Brexit is a clusterfuck, no one knows what’s happening. You can tell they’re pretending to know, badly. You can tell from a mile off that they don’t know what’s happening. They are employing thousand of lawyers to try and figure out how to really structure the courts and get everything in place, which is not going to happen for a long time. We’re fucked. The shift in immigration policies, whether it goes through or not is disgusting, archaic, problematic and will be regretted if it does goes through. Both for the people behind it now, and for the government which will surely be voted out. You cannot fucking touch immigrants or the health service, the people will turn on you. We were built on socialist, post-war ideas; we need to rebuild the country together. We’re turning back to fascist ideas and we’re going to regret it.
Do you have any opinions on what is going on in the US right now?
No. I don’t know what’s going on right now, you don’t know what’s going on right now. What you see on the fucking TV and in the papers is not what’s going on. It’s a fucking circus, a dangerous fucking place. When you go there and do a tour, and you meet the people, they are exactly the same as us – disenfranchised, disillusioned, disrespected, discounted. America is more fucked than we are, but not by much.
Did you get a chance to interact with the locals a lot over in the US? What did you notice?
Yeah, it was amazing. The US is like a lot of places, in the cities you meet a lot of open minded people who understand that multiculturalism is a beautiful thing. You go to the countryside, and that’s where they want to protect their lands. They’ve been fucked by post-industrial capitalism, they have no money, no industry. They’re slightly more xenophobic and racist. They’re scared, as they’ve been told it’s the immigrants’ fault that their farms aren’t making any more money. It’s kind of the same everywhere. In any country, the government blames the other; often the minorities. They blame those groups as a quick solution: ‘Vote for us, we’ll get them out and solve the problem’. Socialism takes a lot longer, they are for long term plans and open minded solutions, and understanding and listening to each other. Not just chucking people on a boat and sending them home.