That’s a theme that threads through Lee’s story, too. The easy-going, self-confessed Kerrang! reader in the ranks discovered his favourite bands within the pages of this magazine growing up, and considers IDLES being on the cover as a “dream come true”. But it wasn’t so long ago that he was living in a waking nightmare. As everyone else around the table cheers with a palate-cleansing round of sake, he opts out, explaining that it’s been seven years and two days exactly since he last touched a drop of alcohol.
“I’ve never loved life more than I do now,” he smiles. “In my past, I did so much: I felt that taking drugs and drinking was my everything. And the moment it stopped – it had to stop – my life got better. When I look back, it was actually a hellhole, and there was nothing for me there. I had no life whatsoever back then. I didn’t ever want to feel; I wanted to die; I hated life.
“I’ve done a lot of work on that over the years,” he continues, rightly feeling proud of his recovery. “I don’t feel like, in public, I’m quite ready to share the reasons why I ended up in those holes. But I’m getting there, and I need to do more to help others, because I had a lot of help building me up and pulling me out. If I think, ‘I’m having a terrible day, I’d love to do a gram, some crack or get drunk,’ I just look back and go, ‘Nah, you’re alright,’ because everything looking forward looks amazing to me.”
In the process of addressing the problems within, IDLES found a way to look outside of themselves and connect to people on a mass scale. “We needed Joy… first,” admits Joe. “We needed it to get out of the fucking shithole that we were in.”
Not that the process was an overnight exercise, or indeed a simple one. They relied on each other as a gang of mates, first and foremost, to form a bond that would eventually become more akin to that of family.
“I wanted to improve my life as an alcoholic drug addict. I wanted to come out of this horrible black cloud and be a better human being,” the vocalist says of his own salvation. “That meant that these guys had to talk to me, and my partner had to tell me that I was being a dick – to myself and to my friends. Our perseverance brought us together. If we’d given up, it would have made us resent the situation and each other. In the middle of our career, we’d hate each other. I was a piece of shit, a lot of the time. And we were all best mates before we started. The hard times tested our friendships, but now we’re brothers.”
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That support network still helps, as does their collective determination to stay on track, but it remains a challenge. The last time they came off a three-month stint on the road, the exhaustion left Joe feeling “broken” and the experience forced a re-examination of what they were doing and how they were doing it, ahead of another busy period this year.
“We fell into unhealthy behaviour and unhealthy attitudes,” Bowen admits. “Now we’ve had time for self-reflection, we’ve made a conscious decision that we’re going to monitor our relationship with alcohol, to exercise every day, to eat healthfully, and improve our mindset moving forward.”