Sunday, 7 December 2008

Turn Out The Bright Lights - An Interview With Interpol

This interview took place at T In The Park 2007 in Balado, Kinross. I spoke to Interpol's lead guitarist and songwriter Daniel Kessler in the press tent and he was visibly unimpressed by his surroundings. The article appeared on the front cover of Fest Magazine in August 07.




Lesson number one: Never ask a member of Interpol if he thinks his band sounds like Joy Division. Finbarr Bermingham learned that the hard way...

Before an all too familiar backdrop of summer rain, Fest caught up with Interpol lead guitarist and songwriter in chief, Daniel Kessler. "Welcome to Scotland. Have you had a chance to play in the mud yet?" It is put to him enthusiastically. "No. Not yet," comes the deadpan response. His tone of voice suggests playing in the mud is not a very Interpol thing to do.

Head to toe in black, black shades (no sun), perfectly coiffed (black) hair and sporting designer stubble, Kessler does little aesthetically to banish the "cool" image that has come to define the band. The very mention of Ian Curtis, however, hits an unexpectedly exposed nerve. "You know what? It has absolutely nothing to do with me. I don't know where that shit comes from, and I have no answer to that question." Lesson number one: never ask a member of Interpol if he thinks his band sounds like Joy Division. "I don't really care what people write about us," he asserts with his head tossed back against the wall, "I don't read our press, good or bad. If somebody told me there's a really great article, it's great, it's glowing, I don't read it because it shouldn't matter. I just do what I gotta do."


Three acclaimed albums and a major new record deal would indicate he does it rather well. The move to Parlophone Records came before the release of new album Our Love To Admire, but have the band been feeling any added pressure with the transition? "No... we wouldn't have made a move like this if we thought it was gonna change the foundation of our process. We don't have ambitions of grandeur for this kind of success or that kind of success; we just made a slight infrastructure change."

Their first "infrastructure change" was signing to Matador Records in 2002 and shortly after, their profile was given a massive boost when REM famously covered NYC from Turn On The Bright Lights in a series of live shows. After flatly rejecting any comparisons to Joy Division, this is a connection Kessler is more comfortable with. "It's very flattering, it's like, our first record and I've been listening to REM since I was 14, so it's amazing." And just as a smile threatens to invade his face, Kessler explains how the Scottish weather doesn't agree with him, launching into a fit of violent sneezing. "This is going to be a very good colour for your article," he offers, gratefully accepting a tissue from Fest.

REM's decision to write NYC into their post 9/11 manifesto indicates a jingoism that Kessler is adamant doesn't exist, not only within Interpol, but also in their hometown of New York. "New Yorkers tend not to be very patriotic; they're very resilient and have moved on since then. Personally, I don't even believe in countries," and for the first time removes his shades and adds sincerely, "I've lived in New York since I was 11, it's my identity but I'm not patriotic about it, or America." The suggestion that spending significant time in New York influences his music is also met with a sceptical glare, "I don't think it does. That's where we live, that's where we've written every single song. But we don't go out roaming the streets looking for life. That said, every time I go back the city looks a little different."

Whilst their surroundings are perpetually evolving, so too, it would seem, are Interpol's peers. Modest Mouse have recruited Johnny Marr. The Strokes have seen Albert Hammond Jnr. produce a decent d├ębut solo album. Can we expect to see any similar developments within their ranks?

“There will definitely be nobody joining the band. I think we're too tight for that, the name “Johnny Marr” is all well and good, but it wouldn't work for us. But yeah, everybody does their own individual things. Carlos (Dengler, bassist) has aspirations of doing film scores and is working towards it, Paul (Banks, lead singer) does his own music on the side, as does Sam (Fogarino, drummer).” Fest candidly reminds Daniel that he has not included himself in the rundown, leaving him visibly ill at ease. “You know what, I start all the songs... I do less of my own stuff because I'm so busy with the band. But whenever Interpol are together, every one of us is 100% committed.”

It's a defensive stance that Kessler has preserved unflinchingly throughout the interview, constantly obliged to vindicate his band and what he says. “I'm sorry, I'm just not feeling too hot,” he states apologetically, returning his sunglasses to his face. "It's been a little bit tough with all the travelling." The band played nearly 200 shows whilst touring the Antics album and the effects of a gruelling recording schedule are taking their toll on Kessler. But he insists he wouldn't change it for the world, "When you go out there, people really want to see your music and we're fortunate that people follow us and pay really close attention to our records, not just our singles. That's something very special in this day and age. When you go out there and play, that's energy, and whilst I'm pretty beat right now, I never get sick of it."

As a band, Interpol are not renowned for the hellraising antics, and Kessler admits they "do not seek unwanted media attention. We try to be very musically productive on tour." This tight-lipped privacy no doubt adds to the enigmatic shroud surrounding the band. Even the origin of the name is laced in ambiguity; "I bet you loads of bands with 'classic names' are for very silly reasons. Paul said 'Interpol?' We all said, 'yeah... that's our name.' It wasn't a great theory as to why." For the first time today, a broad grin breaks out on Kessler's face, "You look disappointed?" Fest assures him otherwise, after all, we could have been speaking to Electric Blue Peggy Sue and the Revolutionions from Mars.


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