Interpol's Latest Album Carries an Uncharacteristic Optimism

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(L to R): Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks, and Sam Fogarino of Interpol. Ebru Yildiz

Interpol is on the road again this summer for the first time in three years, and they've just released their seventh studio album The Other Side of Make-Believe on Matador Records. After years of COVID-19, Trump, general social collapse and now war in Ukraine, the usually somber and dark post-punk group sounds a little...hopeful?

According to Paul Banks, the group's lead singer/rhythm guitarist/bassist, "It's a little bit less melancholy, a little bit less so depressing lyrically, because I just felt like there's no space for that really—we're saturated with bad vibes at the moment. What spoke to me was going the other way with a little bit more of an uplifting kind of attitude."

Drummer Sam Fogarino says about the shift in lyrical direction, "It's like Paul went from a very angsty, disillusioned young man to a very firm-standing mature man that isn't crying for help, but says that help is there. Along the way, it informs the music, too."

"Our songs are full of emotion," adds lead guitarist Daniel Kessler. "Where someone might be like, 'It's dark or gloomy,' to me, it's more like, 'No, we put our hearts into everything we do.' It's also part of the path forward, peeling away to the core of honesty."

The lockdown in 2020 initially forced the band to work remotely and send each other parts via computer rather than collaborating together in person. Eventually, they regrouped in the Catskills in upstate New York then completed the record in England with producers Alan Moulder and Flood (Mark Ellis), whose collective credits include U2, Depeche Mode, the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails.

Kessler says the initial long-distance collaboration was surprisingly intimate."The effect would be similar to me leaving a very exciting rehearsal—when a song finally gets its footing and you're euphoric: 'Oh man, this is why we're a band.' And so it proved to be a really useful process not that dissimilar to being in the same room."

The first single from The Other Side of Make-Believe is the reflective "Toni," which features lyrics like, "It's going in the right direction." According to Banks, "The song to me actually evokes a fever dream of somebody having a bit of almost a narcotic psychedelic experience...somebody's sort of having their own trip, but it's ultimately a positive one."

Like "Toni," the album's other single, the introspective and atmospheric "Something Changed," features piano and this time a hint of jazz in Fogarino's drumming "It's like the rock drummer's version of playing jazz," he says. "It's the closest I could get."

While the rocker "Fables," which the band is performing on its current tour furthers the lyrical optimism, the new approach doesn't mean Interpol has gone soft. The moody and turbulent Interpol sound is heard on the tracks "Gran Hotel," "Renegade Hearts" and "Into the Night. "

Interpol got started 25 years ago in New York City. Kessler, then a student at New York University, recruited Banks and bassist Carlos Dengler to form a band. "I was very miserable that I couldn't find anyone to play with," Kessler says. "I met Carlos first. He was dressed similar to me, very sort of mod-ish looking, and I just had a feeling... And then Paul I met in a similar situation and he belonged in a way that was very rare. I was like, 'Huh, this guy is really distinctive.' When we actually just played music, something special was happening."

Fogarino was the last piece of the puzzle joining Interpol in 2000. (Dengler left the band in 2010.) At the time, Interpol struggled to get noticed during the New York post-punk revival that saw the emergence of The National, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes. "I only dreamt as far as, 'I hope we get to make a record,'" remembers Kessler. "Just having that invitation [from label Matador] to make a record was like, 'I can't believe we're making a record.' That feeling is still very, very real to me because everyone rejected us."

Interpol's first record for Matador was Turn on the Bright Lights, which got rave reviews and marks its 20th anniversary this August; a number of its songs such as "Untitled," "PDA" and "NYC" remain part of the band's setlist. Kessler recalls, "We had no one coming to our shows in New York. You just have the same 10 friends every show until we put out that record. So something resonated. When we play "NYC" and things like that, it resonates with me, too." Fogarino says, "It just kept moving [copies]...when you see us starting to hit these parameters that are usually measured in the pop world, that was freaky and amazing."

As for The Other Side of Make-Believe, Banks considers it the band's finest work. Fogarino adds, "You look back on the catalog and it shines a good light. It serves as a really good contrast to what we've done."

After 25 years the bond between the three band members remains strong. "It's just there," Kessler says. "Both Paul and Sam as musicians are evolving and getting better. We still like each other. So it's crazy, seven records, to feel this way and also to see that they feel the same way and that they're equally invested."

"I'm very fortunate and proud that we're still a functioning collective of artists," adds Banks. "I think that if it was starting to feel like just a job, we would probably hang it up. There's still a lot of enthusiasm and creative inspiration happening, which makes me feel very lucky."

Further Listening

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Further listening from Interpol. In this combination image from left to right, Antics, 2004, Our Love to Admire, 2007, Interpol, 2010, El Pintor, 2014 and Marauder, 2018. Matador/Capitol

Antics (2004, Matador)

How does a band follow up a hugely successful debut? "I didn't want us to overthink making the second record with that whole stereotypical sophomore slump kind of thing," recalls Kessler. "I was definitely trying to encourage the guys, 'Let's write in between individual tours.' ... The idea was just to write the second record ahead of having any perceptions about any attention on it."

Our Love to Admire (2007, Capitol)

Interpol's third album was the band's first and only record for a major label. On the road this year, the band is performing "Pioneer to the Falls" from the album. Fogarino says, "It's a little quintessential in that first mode of Interpol, with a heavy lyrical content and very weighty emotionally, with little rays of hope coming through. But it's a pretty sad track. It's a really fun song to play live."

Interpol (2010, Matador)

The album was the last to feature bassist Carlos Dengler. Banks told Vice in 2018, "I was a little confused with some of the music we were making, though I think what ultimately wound up on that record is some of our best stuff."

El Pintor (2014, Matador)

Now a trio with Banks taking up the bass alongside vocals and rhythm guitar, Interpol released El Pintor, which was hailed at the time as a return to form led by the driving "All the Rage Back Home" and the intense "Everything Is Wrong."

Marauder (2018, Matador)

Interpol turned in another strong effort, graced by the aggressive and urgent numbers "The Rover," "If You Really Love Nothing" and "NYSMAW." Marauder also marked the first time the band worked with Dave Fridmann, whose credits included Spoon, the Flaming Lips, and Sleater-Kinney.