Anyone who spent time listening to indie rock in the ’00s has, on at least one occasion, asked themselves, “what exactly does ‘subway, she is a porno’ mean?”
That odd yet resonant line is one of just many moments on Interpol’s classic debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, that continues to linger in the mind more than a decade and a half later. The New York band has done its share of looking back as of late. Last year they did a 15-year anniversary tour for the debut, and the remaining line-up participated in Lizzy Goodman’s recent look at the ’00s New York rock boom, Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011, which charted how the band helped define the dapper look and the elegantly morose sound of the city, and how departed bassist Carlos D. became one of the era’s most notorious figures.
But with their upcoming album, Marauder, Interpol are now looking ahead. The core trio of drummer Sam Fogarino, guitarist Daniel Kessler, and frontman, guitarist, and studio bassist Paul Banks recruited producer Dave Fridmann (known for his blown-out productions for everyone from Sleater-Kinney to Thursday to the Flaming Lips) and embraced a more pared-down and off-the-cuff approach to both the recordings and Banks’ lyrics. It’s a loose and lively set, debaucherous and witty at one moment and epically revealing the next. After launching the album with a press event in Mexico City (which Banks calls the group’s “second home”), Interpol has begun preparing for a busy year that will see them play Riot Fest and Madison Square Garden. We recently called Banks overseas (he still lives in New York but travels often to Central America) to talk about why Interpol decided to change it up for their new album. Today also brings the release of the new video for Marauder track “The Rover.” Shot in Mexico City last month, it depicts the birth of a cult leader played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Girls) and is directed by Gerardo Naranjo (Narcos). Watch below.
STEREOGUM: When you guys went into making your new album, did you have any plans or goals for how you wanted to approach it? Because it definitely seems to have a different kind of feel for the band. It’s a lot rawer and, for lack of a better term, spikier.
BANKS: Interpol never really approaches anything with a concept as a whole… Daniel just writes a bunch of songs and introduces those to Sam and I, and then we kind of do our thing with them. So it’s within Daniel’s mind, he might have a core concept that he’s trying to explore with the bundle of songs that he puts together, I might have things that I want to approach on bass and lyrically, but whatever I approach on bass is kind of subject to what Sam is bringing to the equation. There is no conversation that says like “let’s do the Drive soundtrack” kind of thing, it’s just a lot more, I think, visceral and inarticulate than that. Though, I think as a general thing, we liked the idea of less keyboards, because we wanted to replicate what was happening in the rehearsal room. On some of these songs, we almost flirt with the idea of “let’s just leave me on bass and have it be a three-piece.” I think some instances on this record, my guitar part’s a little more sparse, possibly as a result of that urge towards minimalism, or it’s just sort of like if we’re getting the point across musically, let’s not add anything. That was an ethos that I think that we did have in common.
STEREOGUM: For this album you got to work with Dave Fridmann. How did you guys end up like connecting with him?
BANKS: He is someone that Sam has had his eye on — since the first record we recorded together, he’s been talking about Dave Fridmann. I think Daniel’s a big fan of a lot of his recordings, and when I was told he did MGMT and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots I was like “OK yeah, I will work with that gentleman.”
STEREOGUM: This is the first album on which you’ve worked with an outside producer in a while. Before that, the band self-produced the last two albums. It’s a different sound for you. Were you guys conscious that you need to shake things up?
BANKS: Yeah, we were. I think that took various degrees of convincing and reflection from each member of the band. I was game, but there were different degrees of… you know there was a little resistance, a little reluctance at first, and then I think we all got on board. I think Fridmann really did sort of become the fourth member for this record. And it was an interestingly light touch that he had, because I think unlike a lot of bands… I mean I know for a fact that some bands will go to him with just ideas for a song and then they’ll work together under his care together and write a song, whereas we’re the kind of band where we wrote all the songs and rehearsed the shit out of them and basically are ready to go play a live show when we go to the studio, so we had sent him demos of songs when we were working on them. But it wasn’t the kind of arrangement where we were like “help us write the bridge or help us do this.” It was more like “these are the songs, what do you want to do with these songs?”
It’s not such a dramatic change for us to work in that process, but it was cool because there were moments where he said “I think we should speed this song up.” And there was a moment where he “uh your bass lines suck, so why don’t you write a good one?” He didn’t say it in those terms, but there were a couple moments of “why don’t you rework this part of the song?” and I think his touch was always sort of dead-on. It was little things, like “why don’t you omit a hi-hat here?” as opposed to “why don’t you guys write a disco song?” It’s like the little detail-y type things that really make all the difference.
STEREOGUM: Was it tough for the band to open up and let someone else have a say?
BANKS: We’re all different people in the band. For me, I would say personally no. I’ve worked with other artists and other producers. I’m kind of loose. I’m warmed up to taking feedback. I think as a band, yeah, it was a step. But I think that’s the benefit you get — you make five records together and I think finally everybody gets on the same page like “yeah why not, let’s try something new.”
STEREOGUM: In the few years since El Pintor came out, Interpol was heavily featured in Lizzy Goodman’s book Meet Me In The Bathroom, which focused on your rise in 2002. You also did a 15-year anniversary tour for your debut Turn On The Bright Lights. Did you worry that if you didn’t mix it up soon, Interpol might become a legacy act, too closely tied to the early aughts for comfort?
BANKS: It’s tough. I think when it gets real ugly for a band is when you run out of creative juice. I don’t think it gets ugly because your time has passed or music has changed. I think it only gets ugly when you just are forcing it because you don’t have the juice, but you need to go on tour and make some money. I think that’s when it’s just kind of embarrassing and sorta sad. I think as long as you have juice, I don’t think it matters whether or not you reinvent yourself or don’t reinvent yourself or are aware of what’s going on.
As long as whatever was there in the first place that kind of generated interest among the musicians in the band to make something that was sort of pure and authentic to those individuals, I don’t think it matters. And I feel like we still feel like it’s fun to write songs together and I think we still have the juice, so it’s not so much like we gotta reinvent ourselves and do something completely different, I feel like that’s a little contrived. That to me sounds like a kind of conversation you’d have in the absence of inspiration, and we aren’t there yet. So it isn’t really a matter of like “guys we got no fucking idea what to do, so let’s get a producer and try and figure out how to stay relevant.” It’s not that. It’s more like we’ve got these great songs and it’s not like this producer is gonna hear us and say like “fuck your sound, let’s go in a different direction.” It’s kind of like hopefully he just digs what we’re doing and then we can all work together to make it the best record possible. But we’re not functioning under the intention of we gotta modernize what we do sonically or anything like that. I think if anything this is just more stripped down. Like we just doubled down on traditional rock production, as opposed to sort of tried to catch up to whatever was going on in pop culture.
And I don’t really feel like I felt the nostalgia element as far as the tour we did for Bright Lights. I probably would have been not as comfortable with that if we weren’t so deep into making a new record when we did it. That kind of balanced it for me. I think if we were not actively writing new music and we’d gone to do a sort of commemorative 15th anniversary tour, I might be like “fuck you know, what’s up with the future? Why are we just looking back?” But because we were 80% done with a record by the time we did that Bright Lights tour, it kind of felt like “nah this is cool, like let’s go get back on a stage together, let’s remember what it feel like to play live together and then that’ll translate back into finishing recording this record and it’ll be good, engage with our fans.”
STEREOGUM: It does seem like lyrically, it’s a bit looser and you’re trying some different things. On “Party’s Over,” I laughed out loud the first time I heard you sing the line “rock ‘n’ roll bitch/ I’m into it.” Are you more comfortable working in different modes these days?
BANKS: It’s sort of just about taking drugs and perving on Instagram and being a fucking loser as well. I think it’s probably a looser theme than other things that I’ve done. I don’t know man, I guess I’m learning about the record by talking about the record, and I do think that there’s maybe in some instances a less abstract language that I’m using, some people have said like is it sort of more honest and more open? I wouldn’t say more honest, because I think I’ve always tried to be more than honest… I feel this compulsion to say it’s not like I was dishonest before, and now am honest, I just think it’s somehow a little more direct, and I don’t know if that comes from wisdom and experience or what it comes from. I guess looser too, probably. But I never really felt pent-up before… It’s just now maybe a little more direct.
STEREOGUM: The album is called Marauder. Are you the marauder? Are you writing about yourself with that title?
BANKS: Yeah, or I’ve been that character; that character’s like a facet of me. It’s basically my unmitigated id. It’s that facet of oneself that, you know, everybody knows him. The guy who eats a cheeseburger at four in the morning at the beach, shit-faced drunk. That’s the marauder. Just acting without regard for consequences in a somewhat hedonistic manner. I think that’s where it comes from. I think there is kind of some themes about accountability on the record, and marauder is the guy that existed with a faulty sense of responsibility and accountability. And that’s definitely someone that’s been in me, so that character kind of appears in some of the songs, but like it is with everybody in their life, he’s not always at the wheel, he just pops up sometimes.
STEREOGUM: Yeah we all have a marauder inside.
BANKS: That’s what I’m saying. He’s the gimme-gimme guy.
Marauder is out 8/24 on Matador.