Interpol: Brighter Still

interpolFROM THE PLAYBACK:stl ARCHIVE: I wondered how the reserved Japanese reacted to the reserved members of Interpol. “Very politely,” Fogarino laughed. From the moment we picked up Interpol’s debut disc, there seemed to be this buzz around the band and how they were different—a throwback to some early ’80s gold standard. Turn on the Bright Lights, by many standards, was a classic debut album that allowed for multiple playings with little wear on anything but your psyche. Its songs even ended up as part of the national consciousness: Album opener “Untitled” played during a climactic episode of Friends in which Joey and Rachel first kissed.

The band solidified itself as something special when we saw them at the Rocket Bar in July 2003. The small stage seemed to barely hold them, but the limited space did not stop them from creating an intenseness that you could cut. The band appeared to be on a mission of deliverance and the audience members seemed to understand this. They were oddly quiet and attentive; the usual chatter in the background was not there.

October of last year and we are once again in an attentive crowd of nearly a thousand more people at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Once again, the band seem to hold the crowd in its hypnotic sway. This time the stage is bigger and Carlos D. can slash away at the air with his bass and play up the band’s more military beats in all their glory. Guitarist Dan Kessler moves back and forth as if on tracks that help him to find the perfect sound. Sam Fogarino’s muscular drumbeat features an efficiency that is succinct and calculated. Finally, there is Paul Banks, moving only to play his guitar and move to the microphone. He is the brain and perhaps the soul of the band. He is the bleeding heart that allows for oblique lyrics and haunting visions. The crowd is not quiet tonight; they eat the band up and are left wanting more, despite the band’s covering much of both albums.

Antics was recorded under a flurry of pressure to prove that Bright Lights was not an anomaly. The group hunkered down to come up with the follow-up and were surprised to find themselves actually excited about the prospect. “I think we were excited to get back into that mode of writing and recording again after being on the road for so long,” said Fogarino, “which kind of made it easy to block out the pressure that was kind of swarming around us. We didn’t let it into our process, which was a good thing. We went and recorded the record as we did the first one.”

That process is built around first finding the music. “Daniel will come in with an idea that we will all have our way with until it becomes a full-fledged song. Paul will have been coming up with lyrical ideas during the process and will complete the song with his vocal melodies and lyrics. Everything is laid out first at our rehearsal space and we simply go in and play live in the studio, do some overdubs, and that’s it—a pretty straight-up process.”

Antics was released in September 2004 and the strong buzz (as well as numerous leaked copies on the Web) helped make the album an almost immediate hit. The album proved an able extension of Bright Lights, while offering growth from the band in both confidence and technical capability. While Bright Lights could probably never be bested, Antics offers an able addition to the catalog.

One carryover from the band’s first album is the moody darkness for which they have become known; when questioned about this trait, Fogarino searched for an answer. “I think it is just what’s there. Nothing is really pained over, like, ‘Oh, is this too dark, or is this too happy?’ It is whatever works well at the moment.”

By the time of the release the band was already on tour again, this time as part of the Curiosa tour, which featured The Cure and bands handpicked by Robert Smith. That was followed almost immediately by a full headlining tour of the U.S. and Europe that will run through the better part of 2005. (At press time, the band had announced a February date in Lawrence, Kan., with a rumored March date in St. Louis). First, though, Interpol will visit Japan. The band had two previous visits with the Summersonic Festivals in Osaka and Tokyo. I wondered how the reserved Japanese reacted to the reserved members of Interpol. “Very politely,” Fogarino laughed. “It is pretty intense. Their social skills are so honed in. They are respectful and polite, yet they want a piece of you. They go about it in such a demure way. People would hang out in the lobby of this hotel where a lot of bands were staying and would wait to be approached…kind of like girls at the school dance. It was kind of pleasant; nobody really got in your face. It kind of made you want to go up and meet these people waiting for you.”

This acceptance seems universal. Besides selling out halls here in the States, Interpol has a large following in Europe, where they receive a fair amount of attention in the press (including one of the U.K.’s premiere music magazines, New Musical Express). Fogarino almost seemed taken aback by the idea that they might have found bigger acceptance across the Atlantic than in their native country. “If anything, it is proportionately equal. I might even venture to say we do better here in the U.S. We do well over there, sure, but there is always that misnomer: You take the American band out of the U.S. and they are going to do better over there in Europe, then America will follow.”

With all their touring I wondered what the band listened to on the bus. Fogarino admitted that he saves up all the new stuff he collects on the road and instead, when band members climb into their bunks with their iPods, leans toward listening to more familiar music. “I tend to want to listen to that stuff because every day you are going someplace different, so its nice to hear an old song that makes you feel like you are bringing a little piece of home with you. I tend to listen to the Fall.” This band certainly gives the drummer a wide selection to choose from and is the completist collectors’ greatest challenge. You can never have a complete Fall collection, I pointed out. “And you never will,” Fogarino affirmed. “Probably after Mark E. Smith dies they will just keep releasing stuff—B sides and live tracks…”

In the fall of 2004, the band took part in a project called Interpol Space. Space was a short-term project in a half-dozen major cities that featured Interpol-related items. “It was kind of a way to promote the record, yet not something that just screams out ‘mass marketing,’” said Fogarino. “It is work we did with Shepherd Fairey, the guy behind Obey Giant. He took some preexisting photographs to create these limited edition posters.” Fogarino admitted that he hadn’t been to the New York City shop. “I did look into the window,” he said with a laugh, and admitted he had visited Fairey’s L.A. Space. “Shepherd and his wife have curated the whole thing—kind of Interpol’s aesthetic interpreted by another artist. It is the first time that we weren’t totally involved in the process.”

With all this talk of success, it was notable to take an assessment of Interpol’s definition of the term. Do they think they are successful? Fogarino answered exactly as you would expect a member of the world’s most reserved band to answer. “I think, considering being on an independent label and doing things on our own terms, we’ve been pretty lucky. People have been asking me, ‘Are you on cloud nine?’ I’m like, ‘No, no, there is plenty more work to be done; my feet are firmly planted.’ Somebody said, ‘Well, can’t you just lift a toe up?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that, because we have another year of touring ahead of us, perhaps more.’ [I] just don’t let that kind of creep in to what we do.”

Interpol’s work esthetic will put them on the road for at least the next year. After that, Fogarino predicted a nice break, and then back in the studio for a new album.

If and when he has time for a vacation, the drummer admitted a fondness for travel—which seems an odd thing for someone who is always traveling. Fogarino qualified the statement with, “It’s always nice to see the places you are traveling to.” Sure enough.

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