"Are you questioning the artistic choices we made? Are you questioning our judgment?” asks Interpol’s newly moustachioed bassist Carlos Dengler. An inquiry regarding the final song on Interpol’s third album, Our Love to Admire, catches Dengler in a funny mood.
"The Lighthouse” is quite easily the band’s biggest departure to date: a sparse number that features only Paul Banks’ remote call and some Latin-esque strumming for four of its five minutes. A poor choice in adjective finds Dengler and guitarist Daniel Kessler taking the piss asking me, "Were you incensed? Were you incredulous?” and suggesting I slap them with white gloves.
This is an Interpol not too many people get to experience: laughing, joking and pampering a rake-thin puppy. In a posh Toronto hotel on a brief rest during their first proper Canadian tour, Dengler, Kessler and Dengler’s sweater-vested companion Gaius the Italian greyhound are resting after playing their first three gigs in 18 months in Ottawa, Kitchener and London. They’re in good spirits, Gaius in particular, as Dengler allows him to survey the restaurant without much restriction, including using my back as a launching pad more than once.As humorous as the scenario is, Interpol’s music has never been anything of the sort. Their overcast modern spin on post-punk is nothing if not intense: uptight guitar duels offset elastic bass lines and skipping beats, while singer Banks articulates a series of cryptic memos. It’s a formula that neither the band nor anyone else has ever interfered with. As Dengler points out, that’s how it works with Interpol.
"We’ve always made it clear to anybody that we work with what the conditions are,” he says. "One of the main parts of our constitution is that we will not at all listen to any kind of comments, concerns or pressures to write this kind of song and meet some expectations. We are who we are as artists and we deliver that product — if you are interested in it then let’s have a working relationship. But that is the service we provide.”
This statement was directed mostly to their new label, Capitol, with whom they signed after their deal with Matador ended after their second album, Antics, in 2004. "It’s not really anything too sexy,” admits Kessler of their new major label digs. And he’s right. The four urbane suits in Interpol haven’t made that career-damning album some bands fall victim to. You could argue their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights, was a new band establishing themselves as something different from the pack of garage and no wave/disco obsessed bands materialising from the NYC home, and that follow-up Antics lightened up on the gloomy atmospheric vibe with vivid romanticism and opulent pop flirtations. That would then make Our Love to Admire, an album beaming with confidence, the work of a band progressing beyond the early barrage of comparisons and realising their potency as skilled, steadfast artists that can’t really seem to do anything wrong. It’s no wonder they’re one of indie rock’s marquee bands and a major influence on a number of up and coming bands.
In some cases calling Interpol an influential band so early on in their career feels absurdly premature, but like their neighbours the Strokes they’ve inspired a series of undeniable copycats: She Wants Revenge, the Cinematics and of course, Editors. Asked what he makes of the handful of Interpol "cover bands” that have appeared since their last album and Dengler smirks and replies, "Oh, you’re being facetious! I thought you meant actual Interpol cover bands.”
"With Editors I was spooked when I first heard it,” he says. "I thought I had gotten really wasted one night and forgot about those songs. I mean, I loved what I heard but... However, with She Wants Revenge, I never made that association. To me, if someone said these guys are going to be constantly pilloried with comparisons to Interpol, I’d say that is really unfortunate. I have nothing but sympathy for them in their plight.”
Interpol don’t jump to point fingers at suspiciously similar bands. It was only five years ago they themselves were labelled as a Joy Division tribute band due to the ominous cloud that hung over Turn On the Bright Lights. Does this sympathy stem from the experience they had defending themselves? It’s all apparent in Dengler’s smile when he responds, "Exactly. But who would — especially after this record — put on Bright Lights and say, ‘Oh, there’s the Joy Division cover band that I knew they were all along’? It doesn’t make sense any longer. Now you see what we were doing on Bright Lights and you see where we are now.”
Our Love to Admire doesn’t offer itself to any more 30-year-old comparisons. Interpol have gone to great lengths with album number three and they can’t hide their gratification enough. They brought in a producer for the first time (Rich Costey, who’s worked with Muse and Franz Ferdinand) and have integrated a new toy that Dengler admits changed their entire outlook. "Thank god for the MOTU Symphonic Instrument — which is a piece of software that Sam and I discovered very early on in the writing process,” he says. "Without it, the album would have been a completely different creature altogether. It’s a very user-friendly synthesiser that emulates the sound of a symphony orchestra and the single instrument responsible is called the oboe d’amore, an original version of the oboe that was used prominently during the Renaissance era.
"‘Pioneer to the Falls’ was one song where we realised the power of what we were doing with this instrument and a sequencer. The fact that we felt like this sound — which is a very particular sound not often associated in a rock band context — somehow felt natural and encouraged us for the other stuff. It made us feel like we were starting off on the right foot.”
Kessler also feels the use of keyboards, which have always been lying under the guitars, are now a main songwriting component. "The difference in our record making, besides the computerised efforts is the fact that… there are keyboards on all of our records, but the four of us — drums, two guitars, bass and vocals — we’d complete the song and then put keyboards in underneath to add texture,” he explains. "For this record we didn’t have to wait for that moment. Carlos could write the keyboard parts as we’re writing the songs, so rather than trying to fill up space, sometimes we could fill up that atmosphere without using guitars. That was definitely a big progression from previous writing efforts.”
Interpol have always been under the watchful eye of an eager music press — StylusMagazine.com once ran an article called "Top Ten Worst Lines on Interpol’s First Album,” Pitchforkmedia.com recently exposed the artwork for Our Love to Admire and its similarity to an album by folk rockers Ola Podrida, and The Guardian dug deep to reveal Dengler’s strict diet of classical music these days.
Knowing that, were there any new ideas they had to throw out of the door to avoid any sort of catastrophic backlash? "Our band is about the points that we agree upon in a lot of ways,” confesses Kessler. "Maybe Carlos would bring in a keyboard sound that he might think isn’t going to get accepted and then he may be surprised but what we all agree on for part of a song. We may also say, ‘Dude, you’re fucking nuts! That’s gonna die by the wayside.’ Where we all agree upon things is a large part of this band’s foundation.”
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