Stay In Touch: Exploring Interpol’s Creativity At Sub-Zero

Daniel Kessler on the band's triumphant new album...

It gets pretty cold out in New York state.

Over in the western half the mercury can dip to imposing levels, while the snowfall makes it one of the most bitter regions of the United States. It’s here, though, amongst the snow and the ice, the blocked roads and frozen hinterlands that Interpol set down some roots, and began to record their best album in a decade.

First, that album. Out now, ‘Marauder’ is a daring, atmospheric, biting return, the work of a group utterly at ease with themselves, yet also eager to push themselves past previous heights, to surge beyond previous boundaries. In short, it’s a pretty good listen – and it owes a debt to those sub zero temperatures.

“You have to understand this is one of the harshest winter environments in the United States. It’s daunting. It’s a rugged, blue collar, wintertime environment,” smiles the band’s Daniel Kessler, as the sun beats down behind him.

Taking time off in London, we meet by his hotel, a short slot in between record shopping and catching up with friends. Words pour forth, his relentlessly positive, excitable tone turning each sentence into stuttering gasps of musical wisdom.

“We’ve written every record in New York City,” he continues. “but you could put us in a nice setting in California or somewhere and it would still have the same energy. It’s just in us a little bit.”

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‘Marauder’ is unmistakable as an Interpol record, in style and execution. Post-punk influences mingle with yearning songwriting, creating a potent brew that can even rival their celebrated debut album ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’ – in fact, the two records share a similar production trick.

“We normally record parts of our records on tape, but we usually stop after bass and drums,” he explains. “And then for the ease of expediting things we switch to Pro Tools just so we can do multiple guitar takes and pick the best one. It makes things move a little bit quicker. But here we did the first record we’ve done pretty much since ‘…Bright Lights’ where we did it all on tape.”

Matching their incisive guitar attack to the warmth of analogue tape is a masterstroke – ‘Marauder’ brims with energy, that sense of a band locked into an icy studio, with only their music for comfort. “The way we write is that we usually don’t go into the recording studio until we’re finished,” he insists. “We don’t leave things. It’s finished.”

“It’s almost like we’ve carried over an approach which we had since before we even had a record deal, which is we would write new songs so we could play them live at the next gig, as that’s the only thing we had to look forward to.”

The choice to record largely in the studio, and predominantly on two inch tape, came from producer Dave Fridmann, a probing, inspired presence throughout the making of the album.

“I think it was because he could partially hear the directions of the songs,” the guitarist muses. “It wasn’t like we needed to redo the middle section, it was like: here’s an opportunity where we can capture this band from start to finish.”

“It was a good thing for us because as much as we love being in the studio, when we did a guitar take you didn’t have a choice to see if you could beat that track because the opportunity wasn’t there. It was like, do you want to keep that? Or do you want to move on? If the tone was right, if it sounded good, then we’d just move on,” he shrugs. “We became less precious, so you’d bet on the music, and bet on yourself to make it as good as it is.”

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Interpol were already a tightly-wound entity before they entered the studio, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. “We worked on these songs for like a year and a half, and we rehearsed it in this OCD way where you just play ‘em over and over again and get tired and tired and tired,” Daniel gasps. “You don’t know exactly when you’re going to be finished. That served as practice for when you’re in the studio and you’re doing these takes.”

“There are a couple moments where we thought: is it a perfect take? No, but it’s a very human take. There are definitely a couple of happy accidents. But you know what? They’re charming! If we had make it mechanical people wouldn’t have noticed, but with this there’s a warmth, a presence that’s been captured there for sure.”

Undoubtedly a very human record, Paul Banks’ lyrics are riddled with a desire for common humanity, taking a probing eye to difficulties both personal and societal. It’s often dystopian in tone, with the political climate in the United States overshadowed by the presence of that other New York institution, Donald Trump.

Paul’s lyrics are his own domain, but it certainly draws from the same well as the music. “Right now we’re living in a really heightened time… it’s really insane in so many capacities,” the guitarist comments, slowly shaking his head. “I think we’re all… not dumb-founded but it’s a bizarre moment in that sense. We live in very unpredictable times.”

This chaos has given added impetus to the writing sessions, underlining the chemistry inherent in the band’s work. Even after all this time – Interpol were founded in 1997, ‘Marauder’ is their sixth full length – it’s still a relationship that works.

“The songs usually originate with me,” the guitarist explains. “I wrote quite a bit after our last record ‘El Pintor’, so I collected those songs for about a year or so. And Paul would have the vocal melody from the very first rehearsal.”

“Those moments are reminders of why we are a band, because I would arrive with something and all of a sudden it would go in a different way,” he smiles. “Those moments are what I’ve always wanted from this band – I can’t help but have my own ideas about where something should go, but this is why it is a collaboration.”

“And those moments are exciting,” he continues. “It excites me in much the same way we wrote the songs on our first record, and that’s why I know we’re still a band – so I could have this desire, this need, this chemistry. It’s undeniable, and we get great satisfaction out of it.”

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As thrilling as it was to record, ‘Marauder’ can sometimes be a foreboding listen – the band put it all on the line, the clipped, incisive performances pinning added tension on Paul Banks’ often coruscating lyricism.

“Some parts of this are heavy,” Daniel Kessler admits. “And when I say heavy I don’t mean… bombastic. I mean heavy as in emotionally heavy. For me, art is an opportunity to express yourself; when I’m writing a song it’s about getting something out of me, making me feel better about life. It’s not because I’m feeling low or anything like that, it makes me feel lighter. It’s cathartic.”

Ultimately, the conversation continually returns to New York – it’s Interpol’s base, a place both of inspiration and consternation. It’s changing: space is at a premium, meaning that rehearsal rooms and studios are being squeezed out.

“I feel like New York has always been a claustrophobic place – it was almost founded upon it,” he muses. “It’s been that way since the end of the 19th century. It’s built on that, and that’s what is wonderful about it.”

“I think what has changed drastically is that, say, in Manhattan – which was a small island, and you had blue collar, white collar together. There wasn’t much separation, the whole thing was egalitarian – it didn’t matter who you were, it was shoulder to shoulder. That’s disappeared now. It’s definitely more of an affluent island. And as far as the arts… it’s not a great place.”

“Even Brooklyn, to an extent, some of the neighbourhoods who – not so long ago – were viewed as being bad neighbourhoods have been gentrified, and they’re pretty costly,” he continues. “So you won’t find a rehearsal space. I think certainly for musicians it’s hard.”

There’s still something that keeps Interpol coming back – both to make new music, and to explore the city itself. “I think the thing about New York that people have to realise is that it’s never loyal to anyone, and you need to accept that,” he says, before that wry smile breaks out again. “If you’re not into it any more then you should just leave.”

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'Marauder' is out now.

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