The last few years have been ones of drastic change for Interpol. The college radio superstars’ move to Capitol records proved short-lived, yielding only one record in more keyboard-leaning (but perhaps not as consistently lauded as their early work) Our Love to Admire. Since that time, the band made their way back to their original indie label home at Matador Records and released a self-titled record, leaning even further away from the sound of their mostly guitar-filled first two albums.
However, they came out of the sessions for Interpol minus a core member: bassist, keyboardist, and co-composer Carlos Dengler. Since then they’ve shuffled through bass players, after original replacement David Pajo (of Slint and Papa M fame), left to attend to family matters. A string of planned U.S. opening dates with U2 were cancelled last year after Bono suffered a back injury.
However, after the European U2 dates that went off without a hitch and Interpol managed to solidify a long list of headlining dates over the spring and summer (they’ll be appearing at Bogarts here in Cincinnati on July 6th), the band seems finally back on track and ready to take their new circumstances as they come. Guitarist and founding member Daniel Kessler recently spoke with Each Note Secure about this important time in Interpol’s career.
[Each Note Secure] Interpol has certainly carved out a name for itself with its records and touring history, so what was it like opening for a band on the level of U2? Did you have any moments of finding yourselves out of your element?
[Daniel Kessler] It’s different any time you’re not playing in front of your own audience. We seldom open up for another band; since the beginning we’ve always done our own tours, besides festivals of course. I didn’t really over think it though, maybe from playing so many shows at this point. I just kind of went up there, and at the end of the day it’s nothing more complicated than playing your own songs. Obviously, though, it’s someone else’s stage and you’re playing for a crowd who’s there to see the band after you.
It was a great experience, though. Their fans were very kind to us and very receptive. It was a lot of fun night after night.
[ENS] I remember reading interviews with Interpol as far back as the press coverage for Turn on the Bright Lights in 2002, and I remember being struck at the time by how important you all stated it was to keep things equal and democratic when it came to the function of the band. Now that it’s been a while since Carlos has left, have you found a new balance or direction with only three decision-makers?
[DK] Bands are always going to be complicated when it comes to making decisions, especially when you’re trying to make it democratic. You want everyone to have a say on something, but when you’re coming up with a consensus sometimes it’s unanimous and easy and sometimes there are different viewpoints. It never changes that we have a lot of discussion about anything that we do or something that’s on the table.
Since it’s been the three of us, we’ve just continued that way. There’s a lot we discuss and if someone’s really not feeling something we usually don’t do it. Or if someone has questions about something the other guys were really into we try to have a dialogue about it. I think it’s important – everyone’s invested in this thing and is putting in the time and energy so you want to make it so everyone feels ok about everything we’re doing.
[ENS] To my ears, Interpol has never been a band that has made a severe change to its sound from record to record, although there has been a slow organic shift. Do you feel there will be a more drastic shift going forward after losing an original member?
[DK] I think it’s my nature to be more of a natural-growth person – I don’t like forced changes, I like things to happen naturally. And that’s the way it’s been thus far. We have natural changes as we advance in our lives as people and we want our art to grow and change with us. Some people might have a different approach where they’ll want to rip everything up and do it totally differently.
I feel like whenever we go back to the board with a fresh palette we try to do something differently but it’s never forced – it’s more of a desire to have a different approach. I think all of our records have certain traits that will remind people of our band but each have their own growth and sense of progression, and [Interpol] is no exception.
Moving forward, I don’t know what it’ll be like yet. One thing that’s been consistent in the band is that we never make too many plans. It’s never been something that’s worked well, in terms of making grand designs when you’re not there yet. It’s one thing when you’re actually at that table and you’re ready to go, but we’ve still got a few tours ahead of us before we get to that point, and we’ve already toured quite hard over the last year. And I like that – I’d rather wait and see what we want to say at that moment rather than saying, “Here’s what we want to see four, five, six months from now…” We’ll want to know what we want to say when we start saying it: that makes more sense.
[ENS] Interpol has always seemed to have an intentional aesthetic with your dress, album artwork, stage settings, and videos that has been . . . I don’t want to say “monochromatic,” but probably “dark.” I recently caught your most recent video, “Barricades,” and it seems to have been shot with a lot more vibrant color, with even a few bursts of what looked like a color test pattern. Was this simply a choice by the video director, or does it reflect any aesthetic changes you’re making going forward?
[DK] I feel like there’s the outside perception of our band as being dark and macabre and so forth – I don’t think of our band that way and I certainly don’t think of the individuals in the band that way. I see Paul [Banks] often wearing very colorful shirts – I’m probably the one who wears the darkest clothes. I like to wear a black suit and a white shirt and it’s kinda my uniform. It’s not really dark so much as a classy kind of thing for me.
For something like “Barricades” the director pitched us on the treatment and the setting and we liked it. Even a video like the one for “C’mere” isn’t such a dark video. I understand that most of our videos have an introspective setting because that’s how the music is and it makes sense. However, I don’t feel we have limitations to the aesthetics of what we put out there. I realize we’ve put things out there that have been more dark in nature, but I don’t think that it’s because it’s how we want to be completely represented to people; that’s just how it’s been here and there.
[ENS] Do you have complete control over all the artwork and video aesthetics, or do you let others take their own ideas on how to present the band visually and run with them?
[DK] No, man, since day one we’ve had 100% control over the aesthetics and recording and anything that gets out there. And anyone who works for us understands that. It doesn’t mean that every single thing we’ve done has been created by the band entirely, but everything we’ve done has been approved or worked on or molded with someone else. We obviously don’t make our own videos but everything that’s out there aesthetics-wise pertaining to the band has been through the band’s process.
[ENS] I think Interpol’s an interesting band in that you were really a leader in the first generation of bands that had a major presence in the blogosphere world of indie rock that’s developed over the last ten years. As a band who’s so intentional with your aesthetic and output, how do you feel about existing in this more open-source environment?
[DK] First of all, I accept it. I think that’s important. I’m not going to sit here and talk about “the good old days,” . . . that’s silly. I think we came out at a very interesting time. For our first record, obviously the internet was already quite prevalent but people weren’t downloading the way they are now – people still bought records. I think the way people found out our band was a bit more of a slow-paced word-of-mouth manner, closer to the old way – through college radio, independent record stores, and just people telling friends . . . you could really tell during the touring cycle.
By the time we put out Antics [things had changed]. It leaked ten days after we finished the record and two and a half months before the release date. So it was the beginning of how things are for bands these days, for the most part. It was an interesting time.
That said, I’ll always look at the great side of where we’re at in terms of a band being able to communicate directly with an audience and an online community. That [represents] freedom and that’s great. There are opportunities for people all over the world to be connected to communities worldwide. If you live in a small town you’re not punished for not having a really great record store. Even if you have a really specific taste in music you can go [online] and find music and other people and have a conversation – you’re not isolated. You’re also not at the direction of all the people between you and the band, meaning record labels and radio stations. You can have a direct connection, and to me that aspect is really exciting. I’m sure twenty years ago we couldn’t have had an understanding of really how quickly we’re accelerating towards this direct connection.
Interview by John Crowell @terriblesounds