On El Pintor, Interpol's fifth studio album and first in four years, the New York City crew flashes renewed vigor, if not a rekindled sense of optimism.
On El Pintor, Interpol’s fifth studio album and first in four years, the New York City crew flashes renewed vigor, if not a rekindled sense of optimism.
So while songs like the driving “All the Rage Back Home” and the buzzing, guitar-driven “Ancient Ways” sport a newfound, hip-shaking swagger, singer Paul Banks still comes across like a man being dutifully crushed by the burdens of modern living. “Feels like the whole world is coming down on me,” he moans in one typically moody aside.
“If you read the New York Times every day it’s like, ‘OK, great. Good. It’s all around here,’” said guitarist Daniel Kessler of the band’s perpetually cloudy perspective. “But I’m not really a downer; I never really have been. I use music not because I feel sad, but as a means of expression, and this is just the vibe of the songs that came to us.”
The quartet of Banks, Kessler, drummer Sam Fogarino and bassist Carlos Dengler first entered into the public consciousness in 2002 with its debut album Turn on the Bright Lights, coming on like the well-tailored alternative to grittier NYC rock contemporaries like the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In the years that followed, the musicians sharpened and refined this image, delivering moody, post-punk colored dirges as finely crafted as the pricy suits the bandmates still have a habit of wearing onstage.
In 2010, however, the first threads started to come undone. After recording sessions for the band’s fourth, self-titled album, bassist Dengler left the group (Kessler said the departure didn’t come as a complete surprise, and the musicians remain on cordial terms). An exhaustive 18-month tour followed, after which the band members retreated from the group, taking a bulk of 2012 off to allow time and space for whatever might follow to develop.
“After you tour that extensively you need to replenish yourself and sleep in your own bed a few nights. And the songs tend to begin with me, so I need to allow some time to … see what ideas come about,” said Kessler, who joins Interpol mates Banks and Fogarino for a concert at Newport Music Hall on Monday, Nov. 17. “It’s nice to take a break and see what can develop, because you’re a different person maybe than you were when you made the last record. Or at least you should be, right?
“I never take anything for granted when it comes to this band and this life. We all felt positive about what we’d accomplished with the last album, and we always thought we’d get together and see if we had new ideas. But I never take that for granted, and I can’t say, ‘I’m going to make another record because that’s what I do.’ You make another record because you still have something to say.”
Kessler and Banks eventually gathered for a week of writing late in 2012 — a session the guitarist termed “quite fruitful” — and then worked off-and-on with Fogarino, who no longer makes his home in New York, over the course of 2013 to build and amass songs as a trio.
“I would say after the departure of Carlos, you can’t just act like everything is going to be fine. There’s a process, and you have to see how it develops,” Kessler said. “It was helpful to play 200 shows and get quite comfortable [without Dengler], so when Paul and I first got in the room it wasn’t like he had left the day before. At that point it was already familiar territory.”
Working as a three-piece, the material naturally felt more spacious, open and urgent, and Kessler noted a determination was made early on to let the music exist in this raw form, saying, “It was pretty clear we didn’t want to just keep adding stuff to the songs.”
But even though there was a lingering sense Interpol had been reborn in some new form, Kessler insists the musicians never felt any pressure to prove itself to an audience all over again.
“I don’t look at rock ’n’ roll like this game where we need to go here and prove anything to someone,” he said. “It’s an artistic endeavor. I do this because I really like writing music … and when I have a new idea I feel euphoric. That’s the way I felt before the band, and certainly … it’s the same feeling I get when a song takes shape out of nowhere now. You always have to treat music like it’s alive, and then you get in a room and see where you’re at.”
Eliot Lee Hazel photo