- 20 Jun 19
Interpol's Paul Banks on the band's formative years as contemporaries of The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, their decision to tour with Morrissey, and more. Interview by Ed Power
Interpol are one of those rare modern rock bands that have burned brightly but refused to fade away. With their crisp suits and even crisper pouts they've cut a moody, mercurial dash since their quietly blockbusting 2002 debut, Turn On The Bright Lights - one of those records that seems to grow in stature with each passing year. Their healthy creative state is underscored by a new EP, A Fine Mess, which arrives a little over 12 months since stonking sixth studio album, Marauder.
That they have stayed together, and stayed interesting, too, is even more impressive considering the fate that has befallen many of their early 2000s New York peers. Some - such as The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs - continue to tour whilst stuttering as creative entities. The rest - The Walkmen, Longview etc - have long since imploded or vanished without anyone noticing.
Not that frontman Paul Banks sits around all day ticking off Interpol's accomplishments. He's a restless sort, just this side of nervy, and doesn't believe in slapping himself on the back. Still, he was reminded how important Interpol are to so many when interviewed in 2017 by music journalist Lizzy Goodman for her definitive oral history of the early 2000s NYC rock scene, Meet Me In the Bathroom.
"I haven't read it because reading back quotes is definitely something I do not want to do," he says. "But I knew someone was going to write that book. I participated because IÕve known Lizzy for a long time. She was the one who should do it. She's a really strong journalist and a cool person. It felt like a really interesting time in New York."
That period - which (very roughly) runs from the release of the second Jonathan Fire*Eater record to the crashing and burning of the Strokes' Room On Fire in 2003 - is today looked back upon as one of the last great era-defining music scenes. Living through it, Banks didn't really have a sense the world was changing around him. At least not at first.
"You're in the echo chamber of your own youth and your own life. In my life everything felt big at the time - everything felt important. I certainly felt I had something to prove. I was very excited about my band. We didn't look on it as being part of a scene."
Wait so Banks, Julian Casablancas and Karen - didn't all live, sitcom-fashion, in the same Friends-style apartment and row about whose turn it was to go out for milk? We've been lied to!
"I didn't hang out with The Strokes and LCD," he nods [Banks is so unflappably cool he can abbreviate LCD Soundsystem and not sound like a twerp].
"We rubbed shoulders with TV On The Radio. And we knew The Walkmen from playing shows with them. The romantic notion of everyone being in one place, like Studio 54, there were little bits of that.
"But it wasn't as interconnected as you might think. I will say, when The Strokes broke through and we were recording our record - then it felt like, 'Fuck man, something is really going on.'"
Not everything Interpol have done since has been universally beloved (their audience remains divided over 2010's Interpol, released in the shadow of the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler). But the new EP will thrill Turn On the Bright Lights devotees. It isn't a pastiche of their early output. Nonetheless, it radiates the same dangerous energy that have made favourites such as 'Untitled' and 'Obstacle One' so timeless.
Thus it's arguably surprising to discover that, as with Marauder, A Fine Mess was recorded not in the dingy depths of the Lower East Side but in upstate New York by hippy-whisperer David Fridmann. How curious these sharply-dressed gloomsters should hit it off with the godfather of leftfield pastoralism.
"If you want to go psychedelic, Fridmann will go psychedelic all day," says Banks of the Flaming Lips/ Mercury Rev collaborator. "He ultimately reacts to whatever the source is and what the artist is going for."
Interpol stress A Fine Mess isn't an odds 'n' sods cobbling together of material that didn't make the cut for Marauder. It was recorded during the same sessions - but always intended to stand alone as its own entity.
"Our MO has typically been to put out an album and then tour. Typically there are four years between releases. We like the idea of serving music while we're on the road in the middle of a campaign Ð to give something back to our fans."
Interpol have received a more mixed response to the announcement that they are to go on the road in the US with Morrissey this autumn. Some corners of the Twittersphere are unhappy that the band are sharing the bill with an artist accused of proselytising unacceptable views.
"It#s easy for me not to support Morrissey, as his solo output is garbage," tweeted Chris Marron of London indie outfit Hanabi The Band. "But I'm also willing to not support any of the acts who work with him or tour with him."
"We thought it would be a good show for our fans," says Banks. "That's how I'm looking at it. I don't get too much into the other stuff."
A Fine Mess is out now.
This article was updated on Monday, 1st July, in response to a request made on behalf of Paul Banks. This article explains why