It’s hot enough to brown a crêpe on the sidewalk outside the Brooklyn café Ted & Honey, where Interpol’s guitarist, Daniel Kessler, has arrived, pristine and natty and seemingly impervious to the swelter. Not content just to be overdressed, Kessler, in a black three-piece suit, chooses to sit directly in the sun. “I like the heat,” he says. “I say, bring it.”
Intensity, atmospheric and otherwise, might as well be another member of Interpol. This week, the band releases their self-titled fourth album, the long-time-coming follow-up to 2007’s critically drubbed Our Love to Admire. The reaction to the single, the plaintive “Lights,” has been very positive; most fans consider it a return to form after the messy, self-indulgent Our Love. But that good news was quickly followed by two losses: an opening slot on U2’s upcoming 360° tour in the U.S., to Bono’s injured back; and Carlos Dengler, Interpol’s mustachioed goth-girl-heartbreaking bassist, to other projects. (Dengler did not respond to requests for an interview.) The band’s collective response to all this? Bring it. “We’re not going to let anyone wallow,” says drummer Sam Fogarino. “It’s just like, buck up.” To Dengler mourners, front man Paul Banks suggests, “Make a Carlos T-shirt.”
Though they package their music in moody atmospherics, the brainy, drily humorous, and aggressively sophisticated members of Interpol are notably dispassionate. With their artful scowls and bespoke suits, they can come off like characters in a Whit Stillman film. But it would be a mistake to say they are unmoved by Dengler’s departure. All three speak of him with sincere reverence. “His persona is so big that I worry people aren’t aware the guy is insanely gifted as a bass player and composer,” says Banks. “He’s a rare genius.”
Carlos D, the band’s de facto mascot, was a key architect of Interpol’s tense formality—an approach that worked spectacularly well when the band released their 2002 debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, on venerated indie label Matador. Interpol, along with the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, were credited with launching a New York–centric sound—artsy, smart, urgent—that kicked then-dominant nu-metal to the curb. (The negative buzz: They were maudlin Joy Division clones, with Banks trying too hard to sound British.) The second album, 2004’s critically acclaimed Antics, extended Interpol’s fan base nationally; they sold out Radio City and toured with the Cure. The band’s response to fame didn’t break any new ground, though. They partied like degenerate rock stars. “I was a pretty sleazy person,” says Banks. “I liked a raunchy, uninhibited nightlife.” And they wanted more. In 2006, the band left Matador, pissing off core fans, and signed with Capitol Records. “We went with a major label just to do it, to be a little fearless,” says Kessler. It all seems rather quaint, given how little labels matter anymore; Interpol may have been the last ambitious, indie-forsaking band to bear the Judas tag. But the move was a mistake, as evidenced by Our Love; then Banks released his solo album, and a once-thrilling band seemed to be dissolving.
Fans were heartened to learn otherwise last year, when Interpol announced they were not only going back into the studio but also re-signing with Matador. And “Lights” confirmed that the band were producing their best material since Bright Lights. Which made Dengler’s defection shocking. For many, Interpol without him seems impossible—Guns N’ Roses without Slash. “It’s hard to think about [Carlos being gone] now, because his efforts will be represented onstage—we’re playing everything that he’s done,” says Fogarino. For the band’s upcoming tour (beginning October 18), Dengler has been replaced by David Pajo of Slint on bass and Brandon Curtis of Secret Machines on keyboards. “We can hold our own, there is no weak link, and if there were, it wouldn’t work,” says Banks. “That’s what defines us.”