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The Pasty Days of Summer

Can Interpol sweat out the decline of the New York band?


Interpol go fish in Dumbo: from left, Sam Fogarino, Paul Banks, Carlos D, and Daniel Kessler.  

Six summers ago, the rigorously stylish New York rock-band revival—skinny guys in skinny pants slinging vintage guitars and vintage attitudes—was exploding through the global music scene like a timed demolition. Today the idea seems almost ready for VH1. The Strokes have retreated into occasional mentions in real-estate columns (plus the guitarist’s solo project), while once-hot acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Walkmen float in a seemingly terminal spiral of diminished expectations. Meanwhile, the New Yorkiest musicians of the moment aren’t rock bands at all but post-punk pasteup artists (LCD Soundsystem), remixers (Girl Talk), folk revisionists (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens), and the kind of arch downtown trash (Scissor Sisters, Dangerous Muse) that the Great Rock Revival thought it knocked back behind the makeup counter. Products of the iPod/YouTube/ProTools generation, they’re more futuristic and oblique, music made mostly in bedrooms.

In this environment, Interpol returns with their third album, Our Love to Admire, at risk of seeming beside the point. Never the most original member of a fundamentally derivative scene—their first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, was knocked early and often for adhering a little too closely to the Joy Division playbook—they’re a surprising candidate for the last band left standing. “In 2001, we weren’t mentioned that much, in terms of New York City bands,” says guitarist Daniel Kessler, who assembled the group (which includes singer Paul Banks, drummer Sam Fogarino, and guitarist Carlos D) from fellow NYU students in 1997. “When the Strokes were becoming a worldwide phenomenon, people weren’t writing about us, and we’d been around for four years.”

It was, relatively, an extended slog in those tight pants. “Most New York bands don’t necessarily stay together that long—especially for four guys who weren’t friends, who didn’t meet at a concert or a record store, who are kind of together for unspecific reasons other than there’s something that happens when they work together,” says Kessler. “We didn’t have much in common. We got to know each other through the band. We weren’t rewarded for our efforts at first. We did three demos in four years before we even started recording.”

But while the Strokes were getting the magazine covers, the Saturday Night Live guest spots, and the celebrity courtesans, Interpol got their suit jackets stained with sweat touring incessantly in markets large and small—according to Kessler, 200 shows worldwide in twelve months before they started recording Our Love to Admire. But they understand what counts: It’s the music, not the haberdashery. “I’ve never heard a bad song by the Strokes,” says Banks. “I think they paved the way to get radio to play cool rock music.”

Not that the bands were, you know, friends. “We never felt there was a scene,” says Kessler. The New York band moment “was great, because there were a lot of great bands here and people hadn’t been looking at the city musically in a while,” he adds. “But it’s not like we carried each other’s gear and hung out after gigs.”

And they weren’t fated to be marooned in some post-Strokes tide pool. Even with songs such as “Public Pervert” and “Narc,” their second album, 2004’s Antics, ventured into the upbeat, which pleased critics. It went into the charts at No. 15, and did better than expected, outselling the follow-up by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, while the Strokes couldn’t match the glory of Is This It with their sophomore effort. For a band that never minded the mainstream, Interpol found success by toning down the alienating poses and focusing on the theme of alienation.

One hour before flying to Europe to kick off a summer of touring, Banks hunches into a patterned wing chair on the top floor of the Electric Lady Studios on West 8th Street, smoking of course. His cigarettes are ever-present, and rarely fresh; they seem to jump from the pack into his hand three-quarters spent. In all-black, of course, wearing two large gold rings and an understated gold chain, he looks like a sort of Presbyterian Michael Corleone. And he’s just as realistic about the business.

Our Love to Admire is the band’s first album for Capitol Records; they’ve moved on from hometown label Matador. Banks says the move went without drama or sales pressure. “We had done everything we could do with Matador,” he says. “We fulfilled the contract, and they did an amazing job. We’re friends with everybody there. I think a label likes when a band knows what they want.”

Which is what? “I understand what kind of music gets on the radio; I don’t know as a band if we can write that song,” says Banks. “We just write our music. If everybody responds to that, great. But we’re not going to change that due to any outside force whatsoever. I would welcome any degree of success at all, but we’re not going to change what we do.”

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