Throwback Thursday: Interpol Interview from 2002 | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, July 17th, 2024  

Throwback Thursday: Interpol Interview from 2002

Just Don’t Call Them The New Joy Division

Aug 28, 2014 Interpol Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

For Throwback Thursdays we are posting classic interviews from the Under the Radar print archives to our website. Under the Radar used to keep its print articles exclusive to the print magazine and so there are a lot of older articles that aren’t to be found on our website. For this Throwback Thursday we revisit our 2002 article on Interpol, our first interview with the band. It was in honor of their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights. The article appeared in our third issue next to interviews with other hot New York City bands also releasing their debuts at the time, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars. Under the Radar Co-Publisher Wendy Lynch Redfern did a photo-shoot with the band at the Troubadour in Los Angeles during their sound-check. Two years later Interpol appeared on our cover for 2004’s sophomore album, Antics, and they graced the cover again for 2010’s self-titled fourth album.

On September 9 the band releases their fifth album, El Pintor, their first to be recorded without founding member Carlos Dengler. Read on as guitarist Daniel Kessler explains why he’s filling in for Paul Banks, a recent band theft, the band’s beginnings, their songwriting process, and why there are 75 bands he likes better than Joy Division.

“Two of our guitars got stolen in Vancouver from our backstage area,” says Daniel Kessler with a bit of shrug. “It’s been a long day. Paul hasn’t gotten back to the hotel yet he’s just getting set up now.” Interpol’s guitarist Daniel Kessler has been pulled last minute to talk with Under the Radar since singer Paul Banks has been busy hitting music stores to buy replacement guitars for tonight’s gig. The boys have been in Los Angeles only hours and it’s been one problem after another since they’ve arrived but Kessler seems unfazed and jovial tonight as we sit at the Holiday Inn’s outside bar in Hollywood watching the limousines pour by toward the Latin Grammys. The band is set to take the stage at the Troubadour in an hour and yet Kessler finds it in himself to humbly apologize again and again for the mix up. “I’m sorry about Paul…I’m also sorry because this is actually one of the few times where I’ve been a bit rushed.” Welcome to Interpol’s national tour.

With their debut album Turn On the Bright Lights it seems this New York quartet has exploded onto the indie-music scene overnight. Every twenty-something-hipster-art student in the city tonight has talked up the show. It seems they all have tickets and if they don’t they’re scrambling to get their hands on a pair. Forget the Latin Grammys Interpol is the “IT” band in Los Angeles. They are the new for the now generation.

Of course this band hasn’t exploded overnight, “We started in ‘98 and it wasn’t cool to be a band from New York in 1998. We played a lot of empty spaces, I mean, we’ve paid our dues.” It’s true, in four years Interpol have gone from being four NYU students “looking to form a band. A real band, a democratic one” to releasing one of the best albums of the year. Through thick and thin these guys have had to fight their way to the top and it hasn’t been easy, especially for four guys who barely even knew each other when they formed. As luck would have it Kessler was the man directly responsible for getting the band together. He met bassist Carlos D in a class at NYU, and Banks he had known from a study abroad program in Paris, while drummer Sam Fogarino joined the band later after their first drummer left in 2000. “I didn’t care if someone was that great of a musician as much as their sensibilities about musical tastes and aesthetics was in a way that I thought was cool. It was just the way they carried themselves; it was something I really liked. To me it felt like it would compensate their ability to play an instrument, more than if they were some virtuoso.”

Those who have heard Interpol’s music know there is something that sets this band apart. Their music is almost a throwback to the early days of The Smiths and U2. There is an eerie quality to their songs, as if the ghosts who coalesced punk and New Wave were haunting the band members. Sometimes Paul Banks’ voice is so distant he sounds like he’s singing from 1981 into the present. “We all concentrate very heavily on rhythm,” notes Kessler. Concentrate on rhythm? No, this band is hell bent on rhythm. The songs drip with it as if intoxicated by the layers of guitars, pounding drums, and throbbing baselines. Listening to Turn On the Bright Lights from start to finish is to listen to a marathon runner’s heart beating faster and faster until it implodes under it’s own duress. Of course, there is another band from the late ‘70s that also concentrated heavily on rhythm, except they did end up imploding. When I ask Kessler about the rampant Joy Division comparisons he isn’t surprised, in fact he takes it in stride. “We realize people need to reference music when they listen to it in the modern age and we do it as well. It’s unfortunate because a lot of times I think it’s probably wrong. It’s not necessarily our personal influence. I think they were a fantastic group but I can name about 75 other bands I listen to a lot more hardcore than Joy Division and that really goes for the majority of the band.”

So what is it that’s sparking all of the Joy Division references? Sure both bands wore suits and ties while they played and both use a lot of minor chords but if you really listen to Interpol they aren’t quite as dark as Joy Division. Interpol doesn’t feel as doomed as Ian Curtis ultimately turned out to be. “I think there are parts of our music that remind people of them,” explains Kessler. “A lot of it stems from Paul’s voice. People are reminded a lot of Ian Curtis when they hear it because it’s similar but lyrically and also the direction of our songs isn’t in the same path as Joy Divisions.” It’s true, sure you can see it if you want to but in the end you may be ignoring the concentrated melody inherent in Interpol’s music; something Joy Division avoided like the plague.

Perhaps the other circumstance igniting all the Joy Division comparisons is Interpol’s timing. Joy Division came about when punk was starting to seem nonsensical and meaningless; that band took it upon themselves to take punk to another level by infusing the genre with art. At the turn of the millennium New York was the epicenter of a garage rock resurgence with acts like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Interpol has also been lumped into this category just as Joy Division was lumped into the punk category yet both bands seem like the black sheep in their respective genres. While The Strokes are busy singing about cops, booze, and girls, Interpol is more introspective. Their allure stems from avoiding issues of tangibility and focusing more on the transcendental aspects of the human condition through poetic word play and dense sonic texturing. There is more meat to Interpol than with the other bands coming out of New York. Yes, they do have a lot in common with Joy Division but Interpol is it’s own entity. Kessler concurs, “To a degree if we had been huge Joy Division fans and [we] created a band based on it I don’t think anybody would give a fuck about our music. People would just be like, ‘Oh, they just sound like second rate Joy Division.’”

This also raises another question: How does Interpol feel about being another “New York band?” “We’ve been around for four years and when New York City started to get a lot of hype last year we kind of took a step back,” Kessler says. “We knew we might be working with Matador and we knew we would be recording the record so we were like, ‘Well, we don’t really need press right now to get us more attention. Let’s just wait for the record to come out and put our faith in the record and we’ll do press for it as bands do when their records come out.’” This is another thing that sets Interpol apart from their NYC peers: altogether the band shows no desire to jump on the hype bandwagon. Instead the boys of Interpol have decided to put their faith into the music they make. They don’t seek attention for being rock stars; they seek acceptance as musicians. “I think it’s very important to be a good band and be comfortable with what you’re doing and just progressing with your songwriting and your live shows and anything else is out of your control and you should keep it out of your control.”

Interpol is first and foremost about making music. The band writes all of their songs together; there is no one specific songwriter. They write by jamming and picking out bits and pieces of chord progressions to fasten into songs like puzzle pieces. “It’s not an Interpol song until everyone’s contributed their part,” says Kessler. “It’s the sum of all of us that really takes it to what we know as Interpol.” The best song that illuminates Interpol’s song styling is “The New,” a schizophrenic number with so many tempo changes and multi-faceted guitar parts it will make your head spin. “That song was utterly conceived in the studio,” explains Kessler. “It was definitely a turning point in the sense of communication without words and just…no plan! We never have a plan. A lot of times it’s just feeling each other out and a little bit of telepathy. We’re really proud of that performance.”

But alas it’s time for Kessler to go. Even though there hasn’t been a soundcheck today he still has to get to the venue on time and ready to go. As far as new material is concerned Kessler says that writing on tour is “almost impossible.” Yet the band has finished off three new songs, although they don’t know what type of release they will get. After their national tour they’ll be heading off to Europe and Australia then its back to America to tour some more. Yet through all the touring, the theft, and mislabeling, always remember Interpol is about music no matter what else you may hear. “What brought us together was the desire to form a band,” Kessler concludes. “We didn’t know each other when we formed, musically or personality wise; we’ve just kind of grown together. But it’s kind of nice because the mixture of four different personalities is what makes us different.” They are different…let’s hope they stay that way.


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