Interpol are a quartet from New York perhaps best known for their color-scheme. Their first two LPs featured red/black/white artwork, and the band themselves are forever clad in a black wardrobe that borders on Hitler Youth Chic.
This visual representation suits their sound: a moody, gloomy brand of rock heavily influenced by English post-punk acts like Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Cure, but still sounding distinctively like Interpol.
“I think that we have a sound,” vocalist/guitarist Paul Banks told Pitchfork, in 2007. “I think that you can always hear when it’s Interpol, and I think that’s because of the personalities in the band.”
In 1998, when attending NYU, guitarist Daniel Kessler “individually approached everyone who is now in the band,” including Banks, who he’d met at a summer program in Paris. “I had a pretty good feeling that he was someone who could contribute greatly to what we were doing.”
The ‘we,’ in the beginning, were Kessler and original drummer Greg Drudy. Kessler first invited Carlos Dengler to play bass, and then approached Banks, who was, at the time, performing as a Neil Young-inspired singer-songwriter.
“I was never in a rockband before Interpol, and I only joined Interpol because it was really good s**t,” the never-modest Banks told me, in a 2004 interview. “Daniel was the only person I’d met who was writing compelling, original music —other than me— so, I was sort of pulled towards him in spite of the fact I wasn’t looking to work with other people.”
Initially, the calm Kessler and brash Banks butted heads as Interpol set out on the slow path to discovering their identity. Banks “became the singer because [he] happened to be the guy with the lyrics.”
Initially playing under an array of names, they eventually settled on the name Interpol. Their early recordings and shows had, Banks would later offer, “monotonal qualities,” because he “wasn’t really a singer in a rockband, [but] just someone shouting lyrics.”
“It was always therapy, just rehearsing with the band and making a lot of noise,” Banks told me, in 2003. “I think it prevented me, through my college years, from smashing a lot of things in fits of rage. If I hadn’t been able to go and play with the band and turn the guitar up really loud, I think I would’ve had a lot of repressed anger.”
Playing around New York between 1998 and 2001, Interpol set out to follow “good kinds of career strategies.” Meaning, though they self-released early EPs, they were holding out for a big label to sign them. Diligently sending out demos whilst endeavouring to build a local following, they discovered very few labels “were even interested in the slightest.” “We just didn’t want to sign with a bad label, or a label that couldn’t promote the music,” Banks recalled. “The majors certainly weren’t knocking down the door for us at that time, because rock wasn’t really a marketable thing in ’99, compared to as it is now.”
Their first official release, the Fukd ID #3 EP, came out on Scottish indie imprint Chemikal Underground (home of Arab Strap and the Delgados) late in 2000. After its release, Drudy departed Interpol, and was replaced by Sam Fogarino; whose experience and skill served to ‘tighten up’ their sound moreso.
Eventually, New York mega-indie Matador Records signed the band in early 2002, but only after the label had already turned down Interpol’s first three submissions. “Being on a label like Matador in the US, this great label filled with great artists, that was enough for me,” Kessler said, of their early ambitions.
By the time their debut LP, Turn on the Bright Lights, was released in 2002, Interpol had been together for exactly four years. The recording took the band “a long time to be even remotely happy with it,” and their hopes for it were of the ‘solid’ variety. “If we had been angling for some sort of massive fame,” Banks would offer, to Pitchfork, in 2007, “we would’ve written different music.”
Turn on the Bright Lights was released to a bold critical reaction, internet behemoth Pitchfork anointing it as their album of 2002. Even the most positive critical plaudits, though, were tempered by the caveat that Interpol obviously owed a huge debt to Joy Division, the Cure, etc. “You don’t think of yourself in comparisons, you don’t think of yourself in reference points, you just like to write songs,” Kessler told me, shortly after the LP’s release. “But the worst thing you can do is try to convince people that you may not be influenced by what they hear. You just write the songs, play the shows, and let other people talk about those other things.”
Interpol’s second album, 2004’s Antics, capitalized on the following that had slowly built up after Turn on the Bright Lights. Staying true to the same singular ‘Interpol sound,’ Antics gave fans more of what they wanted. In the UK, the LP was a huge success, going gold and birthing two Top 20 singles (“Evil” and “C’mere”).
In 2007, Interpol made the major-label move to Capitol Records, and their third album, Our Love to Admire quickly became their most successful, debuting in the Top 10 in ten countries, including the US and UK. With its increasing reliance on keyboards and noticeable ‘slickness,’ reviews were far less positive than with either of their first two records.
In 2008, Interpol were on unofficial hiatus; time-off Banks filled in by prepping a solo album under the name Julian Plenti. With its release, in 2009, Interpol announced they were hard at work on their fourth album.
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