Posted on 21 April 2011 by dubs
Interpol changes players but sticks to plan
Words by Adam Saake – Photo by Jelle Wagenaar
Over the past 11 or so years, Interpol has gracefully carved out and remained married to a sound and aesthetic that others might have abandoned long ago. They did this over the course of four full-length albums. Take a look back and it all makes sense, beginning with the band’s haunting New York City underbelly-of-a-record Turn on the Bright Lights. From the imagery of the album art to the band members’ bespoke attire, it was clear that Interpol was set on molding themselves into something unique.
Their sophomore album, Antics, brought them to rock stardom in 2004 with singles like “Slow Hands” and “Evil” that exemplified the Interpol sound and visually reminded audiences of the look and feel they sought to communicate. It also showed their loyalty to the small indie label Matador, who signed the band in 2002 and also released their first record. While some wondered why the band didn’t jump ship for major label support then, what seemed like the inevitable happened in 2006 when Interpol left Matador and signed with Capitol Records to release their third album, Our Love to Admire. By this point it was clear that these gentlemen weren’t going anywhere. Well, at least all but one of them.
Interpol fans were aghast when the band announced in a May 2010 post on their website that bassist Carlos D would be leaving Interpol indefinitely as he had “decided to follow another path, and to pursue new goals.” The news came just months before Interpol was slated to release their fourth and most recent studio album, the self-titled Interpol, which arrived in September 2010.
Interpol would prove to be the band’s most intelligent, mature and well-crafted album to date. Carlos had a heavy hand in writing and orchestrating the album and the effort shows. What at first might sound like another classic collection of Interpol songs at last reveals the band expanding upon their sound while at the same time tightening what they’ve always done well. Old school Interpol fans need not fear, as long as you’ve made it this far. Interpol’s drummer Sam Fogarino agrees that they aren’t what they call “a first-listen band” with the kind of albums that are easy to get into right away. It takes time to warm up to each recording, and to them that’s a good thing.
“Historically it’s always been those bands that have the staying power…that are not automatic,” says Fogarino. “Hopefully, it’s challenging. People do like to be challenged.”
Prior to embarking on the road to support the new record and familiarize crowds with the songs, there was still the task of filling Carlos’ place. The band knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“To give credit where it’s due, bass lines in Interpol songs are not light. It’s not just playing root notes, there’s a lot going on. Carlos was a great writer of a bass line and a great player,” says Fogarino.
Turns out there was not one, but two up for the job. Dave Pajo, a true talent in his own right, held down the low end until his very amicable departure in February. Interpol continued on, employing buddy Brad Truax to take over where the others had left off. What would seem disruptive to a band like Interpol, whose individual members have played such a strong part in forging its identity, has actually had little effect on the group.
“We don’t feel that there’s already been a third bass player. It just doesn’t feel that way. And I think, from my perception, that the audience doesn’t feel that way either,” says Fogarino.
The audience in Sacramento can be the judge of that when Interpol hits the Crest Theatre stage on April 14. Drummer Sam Fogarino joined us via telephone from London where the band was finishing up some shows before heading to Russia.
How far off do your records end up sounding from what you originally set out to make them?
I think we’ve been fortunate to where it’s never been too far off the mark. The thing that’s changed the most is the approach to writing and recording. It comes a little more learned and a little more confident. Being able to really shoot for an idea and hit it on the mark is what we’ve become pretty good at. But I think we’re fortunate in that area to where it’s like, “That shouldn’t have sounded like that. What the fuck were we thinking? I was way off the mark.” We’ve actually started playing some material that we haven’t played in years. Referencing earlier recordings, which most haven’t done in quite some time. It’s kind of nice to hear that it all holds up. Because usually to the artist, they’re the first one to go, “Oh my god that’s shit. That sounds so dated, what was I thinking?” I think it’s been a very good run the past decade.
What are your feelings on playing the older songs from, say, Turn on the Bright Lights? Has it become tough to write a balanced set list that includes the new material you’re excited about, mixed with the old favorites that you know fans want to hear?
I think it finally became easier because of the even number of albums. Four albums. You can be super mathematical about it. You’re not getting into fractions [laughs]. I think it has become easier to measure. I think we’ve already tried to ride the line of not doing a greatest hits show but not oversaturating the set with new material that people just haven’t had enough time to live with. You know what I mean? We always start out really slow. When we’re touring for a new record, we always start slow–debuting the material live just to give people a chance to get to know it. I think it’s important when you go see a live band to have that little sense, ah that’s familiar. I kind of like that. And a great way to do that is to just throw it in, mix it in with a bunch of material that people already know. You’re lubricating the whole environment. You’re making it safe in terms of…not alienating people.
March has seen the band playing with yet another bass player, Brad Truax, after Dave Pajo stepped down in February. Has this change been any different than after Carlos D left the band? You guys gelling so far?
Actually, God love him, man. He’s the fucking trooper. The question should be for him. It was one thing to step into where Carlos once stood and David conquered that challenge with a talent so adept that it’s kind of fucking scary. The guy is a true virtuoso. I wouldn’t even imagine that Carlos wouldn’t have been proud. Now, he had to leave the band for the reasons of family. There was no rift. He wasn’t bored, there was no prima donna incident. It had to end. It was perfectly amicable. But Brad was really the one who came in and picked up the pieces. Brad didn’t have as much time as David did to sit down and learn this material. Yeah, I think Brad had a month to listen his ass and jump in. We did three rehearsals before the first show with him.
Yeah it’s truly insane. Brad is more along the lines of us as musicians. We’re not virtuosos. We’re very specific at what we do. We’re good at what we do where David can do anything; he’s a chameleon. I think Brad is more like us. He definitely has talent and is good and he fits in well with us, but he’s not that kind of monster that’s going to attack some strange music. I’m not, Paul’s [Banks, vocals/guitars] not, Daniel’s [Kessler, guitar/vocals] not. Brandon [Curtis, keys] might [laughs]. No hiccup. It was great. It worked out perfectly and now it seems kind of seamless.
From reading the updates on your website, you’re returning to some of these cities on tour that you haven’t been to in some time. Do you notice a different kind of pent-up anticipation in those cities that’s different than in a city where you’ve played a number of times?
Yeah, it kind of happened last night in Leeds. Here in England. We haven’t been here since 2003, and they were just off their rocker. It was just a show of abandon by the audience. So yeah, that does happen and it’s very exciting. Considering that you’re probably not playing in front of a lot of the same people that originally came to see you that many years ago. Maybe there’s a few of them but people, 10 years later, just don’t want to go back to a rock show. Maybe that’s not the case 100 percent, but it seems that it’s a lot of younger faces. I think that’s really important. You’ve got to communicate to the next generation. Without kowtowing to anybody, without talking down to them or trying to sell yourself short–that’s a great feeling. When it just automatically translates without doing much different.
The Creator’s Project, a collaboration between Intel and Vice, is working pretty closely with you guys to develop visuals for some upcoming live shows. What can fans expect from this visual experience that will debut at Coachella this year?
We extend some trust to those who deserve it. People don’t come and tell us how to write songs, we’re not going to tell them how manipulate their own technology. We know what we want, though, when we see it. We definitely work closely with our collaborators and for the most part they appreciate it because they don’t want to go blind either. They want to have an idea and they need a springboard as well. So there’s always a good rapport that we build and a good relationship. We don’t hold on to too much control but we’ll definitely pull the reins if it’s not right, if it doesn’t feel natural to us. We kind of have a clue to what’s going to happen, and I really can’t say too much about it because it would just blow the whole surprise.
There’s always been this very particular tone to your cymbals. Was that something you always had in mind for the sound or has that evolved over the years?
It evolved. I really didn’t see the potential of cymbals being a dynamic instrument. I was very much a rock drummer in that vein. And then it just happened upon me to be a lot more dynamic. To go from a light ping to big swell on a ride has so much power to it. You can make it so it’s not going to get in the way but it’s going to enhance a transition or enhance the tension of what’s going on; or the release. And our engineer Claudius Mittendorfer who did Our Love to Admire and the newest record–he brought that to my attention. He said, “You know you do these one-handed crescendo things that are fucking great.” I was like, huh? I do? Then I was like, oh…I do! And I will do it. I grasped onto it, and I try to evolve it as I move along. Good ol’ Paistes are very good for that. When the cymbal has a dynamic range you can play with the dynamic range.