Interpol interview: "It feels like a new chemistry for the band."
Even on their sixth album, Marauder, long-standing alternative heroes Interpol are finding new ways to challenge themselves and create something that excites both themselves and their fans. After taking their revered debut album Turn On The Bright Lights on tour in 2017, to rave response, it might have been tempting to some to go back and try to recreate an album like that, but not for Paul Banks, Dan Kessler and Sam Fogarino.
Instead, they’ve pushed themselves to make their noisiest, most diverse and most challenging record to date. Working with producer Dave Fridmann has certainly given them a new clarity, but most of the songs just come from the trio’s natural chemistry and desire. We called up Dan Kessler the day after Interpol had finished their two-date opening salvo of the Marauder tour in Mexico city, to get more detail about how this album came into being.
You guys recorded Marauder pretty much straight after the Turn On The Bright Lights tour, and you've said it was 90% written beforehand, but do you think the Turn On The Bright Lights tour had any discernible effect on the final product?
I would just say that just that we were playing live, that was the main thing that lent itself. Just being tight and comfortable and relaxed in studio, but nothing really per se, because it was specifically a Bright Lights tour. Doing the tour was something, and also leaving the songs alone for 4 to 5 months was something new for us to do and probably had an impact, but nothing from the aesthetics of Bright Lights had an impact, I'm 100% sure about that. We looked at it like "let's leave these songs aside, go do Bright Lights, not overthink about the next album and just go have fun and be in that moment." So I don't think it had any impact at all.
You decided to work with an outside producer in Dave Fridmann for the first time in a while, what precipitated that decision?
I think it was just trying to do something a bit new. We were pretty enthusiastic about how the songs were coming together, but we thought maybe we should be open to working with someone who could make these songs even better than we could on our own. We co-produced our third record with Rich Coffee, but we've never really done a producer producer in that sense, so it was just something new to do. We're all big fans of the records he's worked on for the last 30 years, and we thought "what would a Dave produced Interpol record sound like?" and that sealed the deal to work with him.
Are there any particular moments or sounds on the album that you can say wouldn't have happened without his involvement?
Yeah, for sure. We were also very mindful of not handcuffing him, we wanted to see how he would impact or influence what we were doing. We still arrived in the studio with all of it done, and able to play all of it live, which is something that's not a rule but is just something we've been doing since before we made our first record. Vocals are the only area where there might still be some openness, and maybe some keyboards and stuff like that. But everything else is just there, and we were open for Dave to add some things.
We shared some of those rehearsal recordings with him so he could think about if anything needed changing or taking in a different direction, or expanding on the detail. For the most part he felt that the songs were complete, he liked the direction of the songs. It was a different thing, he tried to shape it. We were really well rehearsed, but when it came to actually recording them we were pretty relaxed, and if something sounded good he was like "that sounds alright, that's the right tone," we weren't really precious about it. It was a different thing. He had so many other ones too, he never forces his hand, but if he has an idea he wants to explore it and you want him to explore it because he never steers down a wrong turn, I think that's to his real credit.
Even when we got to the mixing process - usually when you go into mixing you give them a little bit of space, you come in 6 hours later, and see how it's going. Maybe sometimes the direction's not what you had in mind, or not quite right, but with Dave when we walked in and heard the playback of 'If You Really Love Nothing' and we were all just kind of like "yeah! that sounds right!" In the history of Interpol I don't think we've ever been so sure, I don't think we made one adjustment to that mix. It's pretty pristine and detailed song, and he did such an incredible job. It's a really great collaboration and I think he understood what we were doing and never forcing us, just trying to enhance what we're doing, which is making something lively and urgent.
So you're in Mexico right now, where you've just played the first couple of dates of the Marauder tour, your album announcement press conference was in Mexico, and the video for 'The Rover' was set in Mexico, so what is the connection between Marauder and Mexico?
I think it's more Interpol than just Marauder; Interpol and Mexico have a connection. Personally I love it, it's my fourth time here in like 9 months. I don't need much of an excuse to go to Mexico, I love spending time down here, I love Mexicans, I've got good friends, there's so much culture and history, the food - so much to overall to learn from and take from, it's a really soulful country. Mexico City in particular, we've played numerous times, and we've got incredible, loyal fanbase here. It's something else. We've been speaking for a number of years about launching a record in Mexico, maybe for almost a decade, and then Marauder felt like the occasion so we plotted it and shot the first video for ‘The Rover’, and it all came together. It's just a great place.
How did you end up with the title Marauder - he appears in 'Stay In Touch' - but how did it end up as the title?
It's the usual process of going back and forth with what could be title contenders. That song is a very special song to me; 'Stay In Touch' was a song that musically turned out great, I'm really pleased with it. Paul has a different voice on that song, a different approach, and whenever he was singing "marauder" when I was hearing the tape I kind of new in myself that Marauder might be a great album title, and he threw it out there and it was just "this feels right." Also Paul has his own take about the “marauder” in the context of that song, but there’s also the greater of the context in the definition of the word and how it applies to the record at large. If you go back to the original meaning of the word, it's obviously someone who takes and robs and pillages without much remorse or consideration, but now a politician can be acting like a marauder, or someone you know who committed some kind of transgression. It can take on many different applications.
Do you discuss the lyrics with Paul much or do you like to let them come to their own meaning for you?
A little bit of both. Sometimes we'll have a conversation, but I also like having my definition, and I think that's a pleasure you have from teenagehood onwards; what you take might not be what the author intended but it becomes reappropriated as your own, and I like that.
Did you always know that 'The Rover' would be the lead single?
I think it just came together when we were in the studio and it felt like it made sense. It's often the case when you're doing stuff, you don't know and then all of a sudden something appears that makes sense.
One of my favourite tracks is 'Complications', particularly the ending of this song when it gets quite sinister and it turns this innocent seeming line "sidling up the street" into something different, how did that all come together?
I had the progression of the song from start to finish before we started working on it, but all bets are off - you have your own ideas, but when it comes to the table it often goes in a different direction. But it felt really good when Sam walked into the rhythm of it, his approach brought the song together really interestingly. Then the outro, we had the groove with Sam and I making more of a rhythm section sort of vibe, and then when Paul stumbled upon this gnarly in-your-face guitar bit, which is what happens at the end, it sort of created a whole other side.
That just comes about from us playing together, as much as I write and arrange at home, as soon as you put them in the rehearsal room to play them together we have to find an approach that works collectively suits us in the song. So with an outro like that it just comes from playing over and over again, but it's not forced, this is what we do, and when you stumble upon something like that it's just having fun.
This is the second album where Paul is playing bass, and the first where it was actually planned, has he become more confident and affected the sound?
Wow, for sure! I thought he was pretty impressive on El Pintor; I had no idea that he was that proficient on the bass. Now knowing that he could do it, we were really looking forward to it on this record, and it felt like a new process. While we've been a band for 6 records, it still felt like a whole new thing for us to explore, the possibilities seemed endless. For him, knowing that he was going to pick up the bass made a big difference. We initiated the writing process where I played him the songs and he had a bass set up and a vocal set up, and he had the basslines within the first 3 days, we weren't overthinking it, but we were excited by what was happening. I think he's definitely more confident playing the instrument, and I think it helps him that we want him to be on bass. It feels like a new chemistry for the band.
You mentioned that 'Stay In Touch' is an important to you, why is that?
It's become one, I really love the way it came out on the record, and the immediate atmosphere that it has, it's more of a nocturnal song. It was also one of the songs that you have a bit of a concept of - the way I wrote the progression felt like I was stumbling onto something new - sometimes you have these ideas in your head, but to realise them and hear them come to life in the room is something else. I think that song, if it had been 5 or 10 years ago it would have been harder, but now you have this experience to help you flesh out what you're trying to say and express and make sure they come to life on the recording. I think my bandmates and found it together, and Paul found a great line from a vocal standpoint as well.
There's a subtle synth in 'NYSMAW' that I really like.
There's very little keyboards in this record, actually. There's some subtle “atmospherics” in that song. That's Dave Fridmann; this is where you want him to do his work and bring out more from what we had. I think it's pretty consistent across the records he's worked on - if you work with Dave Fridmann, that's the kind of thing you want.
Let's finish on 'It Probably Matters', which is the final track and sounds quite markedly different to what Interpol have put out in the past, how did it come about?
That was the one that actually took a minute. We were playing on it, and we had ideas for it, but it wasn't coming to life in the rehearsal space. It took working with Dave for us to realise that song, especially in the bridge and the outro. We had been playing it together, and Paul had the vocal from day one, but it didn't really find its form as you hear it until we got in the studio. Some of the other songs we had in the rehearsal space, and then Dave just found a way to capture them on the record, but 'It Probably Matters' was one where it was really great to work with Dave, where you have an idea you're trying to express that isn't finding it's form, and then working with him it found its form and became very exciting.
Interpol’s new album Marauder is out now on Matador Records.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 10th September 2018.