It’s hard to believe it’s already been more than a decade since Interpol released its stunning debut album, Turn On The Bright Lights, bursting out of a vibrant New York indie rock scene that also spawned The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, and The National.
Since then, the group has released four other acclaimed albums of deliciously dark and melancholy rock, translating the influences of Joy Division and The Cure for a newer generation.
Interpol has weathered a few storms in recent years, both literally and figuratively—the group’s tour bus was trapped for two days in a November 2014 blizzard, and original bassist Carlos Dengler abruptly quit the band prior to the release of its self-titled 2010 record.
After Dengler’s exit, singer/guitarist Paul Banks, guitarist Daniel Kessler, and drummer Sam Fogarino elected to place Interpol on a brief hiatus. Each of the remaining members delved into his own side project—Fogarino formed EmptyMansions with Brandon Curtis of Secret Machines and Duane Denison of Jesus Lizard, Banks released a solo album, and Kessler launched Big Noble.
With batteries recharged, the guys reconvened Interpol and created El Pintor, as Banks handled bass duties himself. Released in September 2014, El Pintor has been praised by many critics as the band’s strongest work since its early albums.
Interpol has toured hard in support of El Pintor, including sets at Glastonbury, Coachella and Austin City Limits, but nowhere is the band more embraced than on its home turf of New York City. The next homecoming gig takes place on July 21, as the group performs in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
The Aquarian Weekly recently caught up with Fogarino as Interpol prepared for its summer tour. The affable drummer gave us his thoughts on battling the blizzard, the merits of El Pintor, and wearing suits during hot-weather concerts.
Your show at Celebrate Brooklyn is coming up—for a New York City-based band, are these hometown concerts considered extra special?
Yeah, I think they are. It’s always nice when you can find a different approach to a show, in a city where you probably have more fans than anywhere else. When we started touring for this record, we played a show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. And now to do Prospect Park, which is a beautiful place and quintessential Brooklyn, it’s exciting.
Interpol is a band with a definite sense of style, and always wears suits onstage. But when you’re playing outdoor shows in the summer, and it’s 90 degrees out, do you ever think, “I should be wearing shorts and a T-shirt right now?”
Sometimes I wonder, what the fuck are we doing? (Laughs) What is this art that we’re suffering for? Years ago, I remember doing a show at Bowery Ballroom, and I ended up taking off my shirt, and I had a sleeveless T-shirt on underneath it. A friend of mine told me, “You can’t do that anymore, man. You’ve got to stick to your presentation.” At this point, it’s kind of like putting on a uniform, in the best of ways. This is what we wear, it’s like putting on a second skin.
I’ve seen Daniel mention in interviews that he doesn’t just wear suits onstage, it’s what he wears every single day.
Yeah, I don’t think he owns anything else. He’s like Mickey Rourke in 9½ Weeks—when you look in his closet, it’s all black suits and white shirts. That’s Daniel’s wardrobe (laughs).
El Pintor has been out since last September. Now that you’ve lived with these songs for a while, where do you think the record sits in terms of Interpol’s career?
I think it’s done rather well, in terms of its place in our body of work. I think when it first came out, there was a notion of a comeback, in a way. And I don’t think any artist likes that phrase associated with him or her and any kind of art that they do. But in a way, I kind of agree, in terms of the transition that the band went through. You don’t always want to place so much weight on it, but we did lose a pivotal member. As a band, we just did what we had to do and kept moving. But you do have to realize that people will have questions—Carlos was in the band for all these years, and now he’s not there, what is that all about?
That’s kind of how I viewed the comeback notion, is as a return to form, in a way. Because we did kind of dial down the indulgences he did. Carlos got very much into keyboard textures and lost his appreciation for bass guitar, and was way more into layering keyboard sounds and fake symphonic sounds. I’m not saying that was good or bad. It just so happened that he took us in that direction, and then we were able to decide that we didn’t want to go there anymore. People have drawn parallels between the first few records and El Pintor, and I kind of agree. I think the notion that “the band is back” is kind of a compliment. So, I’m pretty happy with how things turned out.
After you released the self-titled LP, four years passed until the release of El Pintor. I know that you guys toured extensively for the Interpol album, and also had some solo projects going on. Did you also feel you needed a break?
Definitely. You always need a break. And we had such a big change too, with Carlos leaving the band. He left when we were mixing the self-titled record, and we really didn’t have time to process that whole thing because we needed to go on the road to promote the record. We didn’t get to do that until well beyond a year after he left. And getting away from everything, doing outside projects and whatnot, just kind of clears the air. And by the time we got back together in the same room, it was easier to just think about the music, and not about how people are perceiving us, and what happened and why. It was all sorted out. The laundry had been done. At that point, there’s nothing left to do but to make some music and write a great record.
Do you guys still keep in touch with Carlos at all, or have any relationship with him at this point?
No. I haven’t talked to him since he quit the band. I know that he’s been an actor and done some stage stuff. If I saw him on the street, I’d say “hi,” but it’s kind of like a breakup with a partner. I have no ill will, but my life has to keep moving on. And you ultimately move in polar opposite directions. And at the time, I also became a father, and I didn’t have time for band drama, as I needed to be a dad.
The band had quite an interesting experience last year when your tour bus got stuck in a blizzard near Buffalo, New York. How long were you guys trapped out there in the snow?
It was two days. More than 48 hours stuck in the snow, outside of a fire station. The firefighters let us use the bathroom, and they gave us walkie talkies, in case they needed to reach us. And I think our bus driver actually helped out the firefighters, because people were trying to go down the street that the firehouse was on, thinking that there would be an outlet, but it was a dead end. And they asked our bus driver to kind of block the street. But otherwise it was just kind of a waiting game. We weren’t in any danger. We had plenty of water and burritos (laughs).
There’s nothing you could really do. If we had to, we could have walked a couple of miles to downtown Buffalo. And we didn’t have to do that, because like I said, there was food, and there was water. It was kind of weird getting a lot of attention, when other people were really in dire straits, and probably in close proximity to us. People had no electricity. We were fine; we were on a generator. It was better than what other people were going through.
You must have gone a little stir crazy though, being stuck in there for so long.
We watched a bunch of movies; we read books. You could just pretend that you were on a really long ride.
The band could have written a double-album while it had all that time together on the bus.
Yeah, a missed opportunity!
I’ve heard that you’re also a talented chef. Is that true?
I’m reluctant to say yes. I like to cook sometimes. But especially in this day and age, when everyone is a food critic sometimes, I tend to shy away from the term “chef.” I like to cook when I can. I guess there was a time when I was doing it a lot. It’s kind of hard to do it on the road. But when I’m in the mood, I’ll just go to town and cook a lot of things from scratch. Typical Italian food. But I’ve kind of shied away from talking about my culinary prowess. Now it’s more of a secret.
Although now, this interview will be revealing your secret to the world. You’ll have fans asking you for recipes after Interpol concerts.
Right. I guess I shouldn’t tell a secret to a journalist (laughs).
The band made some interesting music videos for El Pintor. I know that Paul Banks directed the boxing-inspired clip for “Twice As Hard.” You don’t normally think of boxing when you think of Interpol, but it works really well.
Yeah, he co-directed the videos for “All The Rage Back Home” and “Everything Is Wrong” too. So, he revealed other hidden talents. But “Twice As Hard,” he went and made that on his own, with his own money. And it wasn’t the single or anything like that. He just wanted to see that project through, and he did a really good job. He’s been into boxing for quite a few years now, and it does kind of translate rather well with the song. The “human condition” aspect of that video kind of shines through for me. The whole thing of will and perseverance, I find it quite beautiful.
And it’s kind of cool to break away from what’s expected of the band, like “All The Rage Back Home” having all the surfing clips in it, and then doing the boxing video. It’s nice to finally break away from what would normally be presented to the band in terms of a video treatment, which would usually be kind of dark and dour and mysterious. It was nice to change that and still have the same impact.
You’ve played a lot of huge festival shows in the past year, and I know you previously opened up for U2 on their 360° Tour, in massive stadiums. What’s it like to play those types of gigs? Is it a challenge to project yourselves in such an enormous setting?
You really can’t think about it too much, you just have to do what you do. It’s almost like an autopilot type of thing—you can’t overthink it. If people see you being natural, despite the fact that you’re playing to 10 times the amount of people that you normally play in front of, I think that’s what does it.
Opening for U2 and playing festivals, it’s not your show. U2 has that massive stage setup, and at a festival you’re sharing the stage with many other bands. You can’t rely on nighttime and a dynamic light show and projections. You have to rely on the fact that people will like it because you enjoy what you’re doing.
It’s great exposure for the band. You’re playing to people who might not be familiar with Interpol, and you might gain some new fans.
Exactly. As established as we are, we still have a chance to be new to a lot of people. That’s a good thing. Hopefully it expands your career a little bit if you end up turning some people on at festivals and whatnot. The next time that you do a headlining tour, hopefully it grows a bit.
Where do you stand in terms of the next Interpol record?
I think it’ll be a little while. It’s kind of hard to say. We don’t write together as a band. Everybody kind of collects their inspirations, and stockpiles ideas and concepts. I think after this tour, there will be the obligatory break, and then the process will start again. I don’t think it’ll be four years again that people will have to wait. We’re all looking forward to it, I can say that.
Interpol performs at the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, NY on July 21 and Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia on July 25. El Pintor is available on Matador Records. For more information, go to interpolnyc.com.