New York is not an immutable thing. Even the world’s most iconic skyline—for reasons both tragic and mercenary—has changed in the last 30-plus years, to say nothing of the music, art and nightlife scenes which (somehow not having been completely gentrified out of existence) have profoundly shifted, both creatively and geographically. The subway is no longer “a porno”—though it’s rife with problems—and while the pavements can still be “a mess,” 2018 New York is a far cry from the NYC of Interpol’s “NYC,” the gorgeous, haunting ode to young adult changes that helped soundtrack the city’s last golden age of rock from their momentous 2002 debut, Turn On the Bright Lights.
The problem, of course, with great, impactful works is that they can become millstones around the necks of their creators. Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks and Sam Fogarino know—have known, for more than a decade—that the only way you’re gonna stop getting asked about the old stuff is to create newly memorable work. So while Interpol gave Bright Lights its due last year with a 15th Anniversary tour that warmed retrophile hearts (they even went further into the memory lane wormhole by appearing prominently in Lizzy Goodman’s acclaimed tome of the time, Meet Me In the Bathroom), the band also had its eyes fixed forward on the bold new chapter that is Marauder.
There’s nothing tentative about the trio’s sixth long-player. Working for the first time in a decade with an outside producer—Dave Fridmann, of Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips and MGMT renown—Interpol created a carpe diem work, impetuous, bull-in-a-china-shop, with all the band’s familiar elements kicking with a new vitality. Kessler’s signature wiry swirls and stabs are there in abundance, Fogarino provides the drive in spades, and Banks feels fully at home on the bass (which he took over on the band’s last record El Pintor, in a figure-it-out-as-we-go approach following a split with bassist Carlos Dengler). Lead single “The Rover” and the chiming, soaring “NYSMAW” (“Now You See Me At Work”) are as immediate and impactful as anything the band has ever done. Thunderous new single “If You Really Love Nothing,” lighter-touch moments (“Complications”) and noisier ones (“Number 10,” “Mountain Child”) all pack a punch.
Verbally and vocally, Banks seems to have found unprecedented swagger, too—his inner Marauder. The album is bookended by “relationship” tracks: “If You Really Love Nothing” is a breakup song that doesn’t wallow in sentiment, and closer “It Probably Matter” takes stock of one’s screw-ups but seems to conclude that what’s done is done. In between, there’s an office romance (“Number 10”), a reflection on life choices that’s not as dark as its title suggests (“Surveillance”) and “Stay In Touch,” a tale of near-infidelity that serves up the album’s title: “Marauder chained of no real code/ Marauder breaks bonds/ Marauder stays long.”
If the band members spend less time here now (Fogarino lives in Athens, Georgia) they’re proud to be indelibly identified with NYC. On Friday (Aug. 24), Interpol will play a record release show at yet another music venue that’s saying goodbye—Brooklyn’s cavernous skate park-cum-performance space House of Vans, which will shutter for good once Banks, Fogarino and Kessler call it a night. Another one bites the dust, probably to make way for seven-figure residences with concierge service and an on-site gym, but you know what, there’s no time for tears because time marches on in the big city. “Got to be some more change in my life.”
For all the things we’ve lost in New York, though, Interpol are still something we can call our own. A few days before their latest tour began, Billboard spoke to Banks and Kessler about embracing change in a new era for Interpol.
You guys have been back in the promo saddle for weeks now. Now on your sixth album, are all of the interviews something you look forward to at all, or are they kind of a necessary evil?
Paul Banks: I think I’m mindful of the fact that there have been possibly points in my career where I felt, “Oh, here we go again.” But now I’m in a place where I feel like it’s not a necessary evil, but more that it’s just a privilege to make music and have people wanna talk to you about it. So I kind of have a more positive mental attitude about being back. It can be a bit of a machine, when you get promo days that are really full, but I try to be mindful that, hey man, it’s a blessing to be in this position. And also, I definitely think that the way that I write, at least lyrics, nowadays, it helps me when I’m talking about a record, because I definitely conceptualize what was done after the fact in a much more clearly painted way than while I’m doing it. People really want a sound bite, and so it really forces you to try and find what the essence is. And I find that there is some truth about it—doing that. And so I learn about the music, doing that.
Daniel, the songwriting has always begun with you. Does that mean you’re the one who decides when it’s time to get back together and start rehearsing and recording new material?
Daniel Kessler: It’s usually, we tour and then after touring an album cycle, usually there’s a return to life, a getting back to routine, and then also for me it’s also a little about having neglecting writing, because sometimes I can write a little bit on tour, but I kind of don’t count on it. Touring is more about performance and kind of the trapping of it, and everything along the way. But then after touring, after ending a cycle, when I pick up playing guitar at home in a much more chill situation—usually I can kind of see a new chapter. It’s like a new chapter, versus a continuation, and I kind of like that. I like neglecting for a period of time and then there’s a new perspective to songwriting for me, at that point.
Before we get into the record, last year you guys were included in Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In the Bathroom, which was such an essential read for anyone who was around in that time. When you took part in the book, did you have any idea it would blow up in the way it did?
Banks: I did. And that might seem counterintuitive because I feel like—and I haven’t read it, but I have a suspicion that I was extremely candid in a way that it might bother me to sort of go back and read, some of it. But I felt—and I said it to her at the time—I had a suspicion that she might be making the authoritative, that hers might be the version of that history, because she was there, she’s super bright. I could sense she was really disciplined about hitting me up, and we did multiple interviews, and I just had a sense that it was gonna be the document of that period of time, and so for the sake of history that I should just be very candid.
Kessler: I think for me, if it hadn’t been like Lizzy, I don’t think I would have done it. And when she reached out to me, it was a long time before the book actually came out. But it was more like, “Yeah sure, I’ll go sit down and have a conversation with Lizzy and talk about this stuff,” because it’s Lizzy, and I wanted to help her out, but didn’t overthink it, and it was just more about the context. I wouldn’t have guessed that it—I guess in the sense of like, I don’t know. I hadn’t really analyzed that that thing was actually more than within that time. I didn’t know if it was gonna age well, or if people were gonna be necessarily interested in it, at this point.
That book, and this band’s come-up, was so much about being in New York, and you guys would probably make the top 10 of a list of quintessential New York bands, which means a lot to me, as a longtime New Yorker. But Daniel the other day I think I saw one interview where you said like, “Well, New York is really where we just work.” That killed me!
Kessler: I think the question was more like, “Do you guys all still live in New York?” or something like that. Sam doesn’t live here anymore and Paul and I travel a lot. We’re not here all the time, so it’s more of like—I think the question might have been “Why New York, still?”
But surely you’re happy to still be associated with the city?
Banks: I think we’re extremely proud to be associated with the city. I think always been almost intimidating because of the enormity and the history of the place, culturally, that when we were associated with it we were like—you, know that’s a heavy mantle, but it’s also, we came here for the same history that you’re talking about. We all moved here and gravitated to the city because it’s “The Big Apple” and everything. And so I don’t know I guess it felt like we’re participants rather than representatives. And then if you get portrayed as a representative of that city it’s like, wow, that’s a daunting honor, but I think that we’ve all carried that with great pride. Like, “Fuck yeah, we’re a New York band!”
Kessler: I’m sure people we all three know have moved to L.A. You know, L.A. has momentum—it used to be every few years it would go back and forth. But L.A. has been getting more wind in its sails lately than New York. But I fucking love when someone—a friend yesterday was like, “Yeah, New York’s actually feeling better to me. Whenever I’m back here, I’m feeling New York more than L.A.!” And I’m like—I love hearing that. Because I love coming to New York, but I also think at the same time I don’t need to be here all the time. I really don’t. And also I’m curious about the world. I like being other places and being like, “What’s this place about?”
A long way from the city but still in New York is Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Studios, up in Cassadaga, where you guys made Marauder. And you worked there in two-week stints?
Banks: Yeah, I would rent a car and drive Sam up. I don’t think Sam did any driving there or back, cause I was just—I just got my license last year for the first time. I had one when I was young and then like lost it for 15 years. But it’s about a seven-hour drive, seven and change.
And so that’s how Fridmann works—you go up there, to his place?
Kessler: Yeah, and he’s got multiple ways of how he works. One is like he does two weeks on, then he takes a week off, then he has another band come if for a two-week session, then he takes another week off, and you return. That’s his routine. So that was different. And he also likes to do a whole song at a time. So rather than do, for the record, all the drums for every song, or all the bass, or those two combined, and then all the guitars, there were days where we’d do pretty much all the drums, vocals, guitars, all in one day. There was a couple times where we did that. And it’s an ambitious thing, we’ve never done something like that before.
And you effectively finished a song in a day?
Kessler: Pretty much. Maybe went back and re-did a few things but for the most part, we didn’t. And it was cool. Certainly it yielded great results, and it made you less beholden to one guitar sound.
Fridmann’s got one of the most impressive CV’s of the past 20, 25 years, but it had been a decade since you’d worked with an outside producer, on Our Love to Admire. So what prompted you to do it this time?
Kessler: I think it was basically that we were making good headway with the songwriting—we usually go into the studio with the songs pretty well-prepared—and we just discussed, did we want to go back and kind of do things how we’ve done on the last two records? Or do we want to work with a producer? Paul was definitely open to working with a producer, and so was Sam. And at first I was kind of like, “Uhh, I kind of like the way we’d been doing it!” but then it’s true, it felt like a good time to be open to this kind of thing. And I think when his name was proposed, it felt like something that was—you know, an Interpol record produced by Dave Fridmann—what would that sound like?
And you guys worked in this process called “destructive recording.”
Banks: Yeah, so what that means is when you record on tape, whatever was on tape is gone. So if you started a song well but didn’t nail the outro, you either do an all-new take from top to bottom, or you just go over what was there. Whereas if you’re in ProTools, you can grab great parts of songs or great performances by members, but when it’s tape like that you might fit like three takes of a song on one side, before you’ve got to change the reel. Which means that sometimes you’ve got to say like, “Okay well we’re pretty sure that the first one is not a keeper, so let’s just record over that.” So it’s working without a net, in a way, relative to most recording techniques today.
Did Dave kind of push that approach?
Banks: I think he kind of dared us in a way. I think his motivation was that he could hear from our demos that we could play these songs down. So I think he kind of floated it and we were all sort of stoked to meet the challenge.
Kessler: At first I was a little bit frightened, when he was talking about two-inch tape. But then I think it was really great for the process, because it made you less precious. And ultimately all that work you did rehearsing the songs kind of led to that moment that you could be like, “Yeah that sounded pretty good, let’s move forward.” And I think the thing I really love about Dave too is that he’s quite punk rock in that way. He’s not afraid to say, “Cool, let’s do it, that sounds great. Let’s move forward.”
Six albums now in sixteen years. Do you give much thought nowadays to how much you can—or should—change things up, musically? Or whether it’s best to stay “on brand” Interpol?
Kessler: The fourth record [Interpol, 2010] did its own thing, it’s different in the arc of our records, and took us a little bit to the left. But this time, approaching the record knowing that Paul was going to be writing the bass parts, to me it still felt like, “Okay, this is a new process.” And then the fact that within the first few days making promising headway with what would become “The Rover,” and “If You Really Love Nothing” and Paul coming up with the bass lines for both those songs pretty quickly and the vocal melodies kind of in tandem, I remember leaving those rehearsals being really, really excited, and feeling like this is a new era for us, and you didn’t necessarily know where it was going, and it felt like a new collaboration in a sense. It’s not really answering whether it’s a new musical direction, but it feels like we’re only scratching the surface as far as possibilities. It feels like something new for us, with new ways of working, and new possibilities.
You guys have called Mexico City a “second home,” you had a press conference there earlier in the year, part of which ended up in the video for “The Rover,” you start the tour there….
Banks: And I graduated high school in Mexico City! Senior year I was there. And I had a lot of close friends that moved from there, the same year that I moved to New York, they all moved to New York to study film, and…so there’s a literal sense of it being a second home. And maybe people don’t know that it’s a sort of wonderfully international cultural hub. Maybe a lot of people just see it as this one thing that’s portrayed in whatever media outlet or in an immigration situation. And I’m like, “No man, there’s a very rich fucking culture there that has so much to offer.”
And it’s timely considering who’s president. This is the first Interpol album of the Trump era. Paul I know you’ve said the idea of a “marauder” refers to a part of your own personality—but there are no doubt MAGA bros who consider Trump a marauder who’s shaking things up in his own right.
Banks: I think there’s themes that can be looked at on this record in a personal sense and then you can zoom out and look at them as political. I think “The Rover” too has elements of it there, this figure who’s spouting kind of very definitive, crazy shit [“Come and see me yeah maybe it’s time/ I’ve been holding these pyros til they could fly”] and a group of people saying, “Yeah I like that, I feel that, I identify with that,” and then—it’s kind of frightening.
You’re doing a lot of the fall dates with Sunflower Bean, and then next year you’re playing Madison Square Garden with Car Seat Headrest and Snail Mail—all exciting, young indie rock artists. What do you think of the challenges they’re facing, compared to when you were coming up? With rock so marginalized and hip-hop so dominant, how likely is it that a young rock artist starting out now will headline MSG in fifteen years?
Banks: This is not new. I remember with the first interviews we ever did for Bright Lights, talking about how I thought hip-hop felt like the vivid genre, the living, breathing, culture-shifting thing. And that was sixteen years ago. I feel like the writing has been on the wall of that shift for a long time. But I would wonder whether it’s not a question of where rock will be in fifteen years, but also, will A$AP Rocky be able to play MSG in fifteen years? Or will Travis Scott? Or will ScHoolboy Q, or even Drake? Maybe it’s people’s attention or loyalty or allegiances—that’s what has shifted. And also I will say someone like XXXTentacion, he would cite bands like Linkin Park as influences. There’s some exploration going on in that genre that is exciting and so I don’t feel like rock is dying, or on the way out. I think the culture changes, and people’s focus changes and attention spans and the media of delivery are changing, but—you never know, man, rock might switch back the other way, and then hip-hop starts to assimilate rock and rock might come back to the fore. There’s such an over-saturation and people receiving music in new ways, who the fuck knows what it’s all gonna look like in fifteen years?
Interpol’s Marauder is out now. The band’s release day show, the last-ever concert at Brooklyn’s House of Vans, will be live streamed here.