In Conversation: Interpol

Paul Banks on ‘El Pintor’…

Formed in New York City in 1997, Interpol’s breakthrough came with their 2002 debut album ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’, a record with such zeitgeist-defining appeal that it would become acknowledged as one of the most highly regarded and influential releases of the post-9/11 rock scene.

Twelve years later, and after the inevitable media backlash, line-up changes and stocktaking hiatus, the indie stalwarts are back with their fifth album, ‘El Pintor’. Singer and guitarist Paul Banks took time out of the band’s European festival tour to talk about their career to date and the forthcoming release of ‘El Pintor’ in September (8th, in the UK).

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‘All The Rage Back Home’, from ‘El Pintor’

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Those who have already heard ‘El Pintor’ are saying this is the best music Interpol has made since your debut, not only in quality but also in delivery and energy. Do you agree with that?

I’m not going to agree or disagree because it’s all opinion. We always set out to make the best record we can and hope that people respond to that. ‘El Pintor’ is definitely a more immediate rock record than the previous one, and I concede that it has a lot more in common with ‘Turn On the Bright Lights’ than, say, our third album. ‘Our Love To Admire’.

It is the curse of every band with a highly acclaimed and much-loved debut album that each release that follows will be compared to that first statement. How has that affected the way you’ve approached your subsequent work?

We’re fiercely proud of the first record and realise that it has a very special place for a lot of our fans in our catalogue, but we never judge our other material against that. It’s great that we have a record that’s special to people and it’s understandable that some people don’t come along with us on our journey when they’re so beholden to that. I mean, that’s cool, if that’s what you love about the band then keep listening to the first record – but we need to get out there and make new stuff.

To what extent did the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler after the completion of 2010’s ‘Interpol’ LP influence the return to a more urgent and immediate sound on ‘El Pintor’?

The fact that ‘El Pintor’ is more direct is not a reaction to Carlos leaving the band in the way that we thought, ‘Okay we’re free of the complicated stuff, let’s get back to basics,’ because we never go back, and we never try to replicate. If Carlos’s departure has influenced anything on this album, it’s the fact that we had to work out what we were going to be like as a band without him – and we discovered an exhilaration in that, an excitement from working out how to be a three-piece. So, of course, we’re a different band now, and we’re creating a different energy. There is a different dynamic in the studio, because of that. Three is a good number for debates, because unless someone always sits on the fence, two are going to have to come down on the same side of the argument at some point and shit gets sorted easier that way.

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What we are now is a rock band. As we grow, perhaps we can become something indefinable…

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How has the dynamic changed, musically?

To start with, when Carlos left, we had this initial thought of, ‘Shit, you know, we’re going to have to start auditioning for bass players if we’re going to make this new record.’ It was only because I’d played bass on both my solo records that I felt capable to step up when Daniel (Kessler, guitarist) suggested it. I don’t think I’d have been keen to do it had I not had the experience before, but I really enjoyed it and I play bass on all the album tracks.

Otherwise, it’s much like it was before: Daniel comes in with what he’s been working on, and we work on that as a band, feeding into that and seeing where we can all take it. Usually what develops is just based on feel. It organically develops from Daniel’s vision. We start with the raw material of Daniel’s ideas and then listen to each other as it starts to grow. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and our music, so we trust in that spark of creation and let it develop, let it build. It always finds its own way.

You’ve been reluctant to discuss Carlos’s departure in great detail in the media, due – by your own admission – to past betrayals by certain members of the press after confiding in them. Within your own set boundaries, would it be correct to say that the parting of the ways was an amicable one?

That’s fair, yeah. Look, I’m his biggest fan and I think Carlos is a genius, but I made a decision very early on in this band that I was willing to put up with a whole lot of crap from people if they were what I considered to be a genius. The benefits that come from that level of creativity far outweigh any annoyances that can arise from someone being an asshole. So I will say that I miss Carlos, I miss the energy that he’s taken with him. But it was a departure that was more like the ending of a marriage where one person says, ‘It’s not working, and I have to leave,’ rather than a brother betraying you.

You mentioned the ‘complicated stuff’ when talking about 2010’s ‘Interpol’, presumably in reference to the complex arrangements that appeared on that album. Its experimental approach alienated some fans and led to some harsh reviews. Do you feel that it suffered from over-complication?

I’m really proud of that record but it’s quite out-there – it’s not a lightweight album and I think people are still taking their time to get their heads around it. Daniel came in with some really experimental stuff, a lot of electronics and leftfield orchestration, and then Carlos took Daniel’s stuff and pushed it another five degrees. Carlos always took the experimentalism that little bit further, going into really sophisticated orchestration. That last album was like f*cking math! But that’s not a criticism of Carlos or that approach. We just felt like we had to do something different after ‘Our Love To Admire’.

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‘Ancient Ways’, from ‘El Pintor’

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On the subject of 2007’s Our Love to Admire, your one and only album on Capitol Records, its less-than-favourable reviews led to a reassessment of your relationship with the media. What’s the current state of play between you and the press?

I stopped reading our press after I saw something bad about the third record. I was always really disappointed about what people said about the band at that time. I think they really missed the mark. A critic is given the record and expected to churn out an article to a strict deadline – which means they maybe listen to the record once. I said a couple of years ago that our music requires repeated listens for people to really understand it, and I stand by that to a certain extent because there’s a lot going on in there that most people won’t get from hearing it once. So to dismiss it so quickly is a little insulting.

So, for me, the press became something we just had to tune out because the negative stuff was a little harsh, in my opinion. The ultimate barometer for us is the reaction of the crowd. When the crowds at our shows are bigger and they’re all singing the songs, that’s the critique that matters. As long as the fans are satisfied and I’ve expressed myself the way I wanted to through that music, then little else matters.

When Interpol first made its breakthrough, you were described as post-punk revivalists. How would you like the band to be viewed now, 12 years and five albums on?

Nobody was wrong when they said that we were post-punk revivalists, but it was a simplistic label, a reduction of what we are as artists. I’m honoured in a way that people took the time to try and define us, but definitions change. What we are now is a rock band. That’s what we are and what we do. We’re happy with that. As we grow, perhaps we can become something indefinable.

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Words: Nick Amies

‘El Pintor’ is released on September 8th. Find it reviewed here, and the band online here. See Interpol live as follows:

February 2015
6th + 7th – Roundhouse, London (sold out)
8th – Albert Hall, Manchester (sold out)
10th-12th – Olympia Theatre, Dublin (only tickets for 12th available)

Full, worldwide dates here

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