The very first time Daniel Kessler stepped on stage at Madison Square Garden with his band Interpol, the guitarist and serious Knicks fan immediately thought to himself, “Wow, look at all those rafters!”
Underneath the banners that hang in tribute to basketball legends such as Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Interpol—New York City legends in their own right—will return to the Garden this month for another homecoming party. They’re in town to support their splendid new sixth LP, Marauder, and for a band that has played on nearly every stage imaginable in New York City—from the heady days of the Luna Lounge, to the grander digs of Radio City Music Hall—the specialness of being able to play MSG is not lost on the band. “It’s one of the most incredible things for any band from New York City to do,” says Kessler. “I think for any band, for sure, but I think for a band like ourselves, and where we came from, it’s as humbling as it gets and it’s an incredible moment. You really want to savor every minute that you’re up there.”
Kessler is friendly, talkative, and gracious—much like his bandmate, drummer Sam Fogarino, who I interviewed when I covered Interpol for The Aquarian in 2010. At that time, the band’s future was somewhat up in the air, as original bassist Carlos Dengler had just departed the band after completing their self-titled fourth LP. Dengler and the band had decided to part ways amicably during the recording of Interpol, so the trio of Kessler, Fogarino, and singer-guitarist Paul Banks enlisted fellow musicians Brandon Curtis on keys, Dave Pajo on bass, and jumped right into an extensive tour schedule without making any big plans for the future.
Soon after, Kessler started working on foundations for the songs that would end up on 2014’s El Pintor. “When we got together,” he explains, “it was like, ‘Ok, let’s just get together and see what happens.’ We didn’t have any sort of plan. We hadn’t discussed who was going to fill in on bass. It started with Paul and I playing these songs I had, but that didn’t really work out. So, at the end of the first rehearsal he was like, ‘I think maybe I should bring a bass with me tomorrow, because I think having some bass lines will help give us a little bit of foundation.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, ok, cool.’ It was the first time that we actually discussed how we might go about who would play bass.”
Banks’ intuition proved to be correct, and a few days later, he and Kessler had arrangements down for several of the tracks from El Pintor. At that point in time, the group still weren’t making long term plans, but it became evident pretty quickly that Banks was the man to take over on bass. “It spoke to the fact that we still had a lot of chemistry together, and it felt like we now were tapping into this new approach, and it felt very invigorating,” says Kessler.
Kessler and Banks fell into a similar groove when it came time to work on Marauder, a record that Kessler professes was exciting to write and record. “I think it’s high up there,” he says, when speaking about where the album fits in within the band’s discography. “To me, I feel Marauder holds its own and it’s one of our best records. I really do think the songs have a progression and depth to them, and I feel like the record as a whole has a weight to it that’s pretty balanced. I’m as proud of it as anything else we’ve done.”
Interpol rose to fame at the turn of the century, just as rock ‘n’ roll in New York City was experiencing something of a renaissance. Along with Interpol, the scene that gave life to the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, and the National was dubbed a “post-punk revival.” But these groups would ultimately go on to critical and commercial acclaim by developing distinct sounds of their own, reaching outside of the box they were placed in. In truth, the bands that didn’t evolve beyond the post-punk tag eventually fizzled out. Perhaps this is why Kessler isn’t overly nostalgic about the band’s early days. “I think part of it is that we’re still doing things and moving forward, so I sort of have those blinders on my eyes and stay very much in the moment.” He does note that “I did know at the time that incredible bands were coming out, but I just thought “Oh, wow, these are great bands—it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, wow, this is New York City rock.’”
As it stands today, Interpol is officially a trio, with Banks taking over guitar and bass duties in the studio, while bassist Brad Traux, who replaced Pajo in 2011, assists the group on tour. (Curtis remains a touring member of the group and has contributed in the studio on tracks for both El Pintor and Marauder). It’s an arrangement that suits the group well and allows its core members to explore new territory with a focused and deliberate approach. So, when Interpol toured in 2017, celebrating the 15th anniversary of their seminal debut Turn on the Bright Lights by playing the album in its entirety, Kessler did his best to remain grounded. “Certainly, in rock ‘n’ roll, I can understand why people, for instance, feel very strongly about our first record,” he says, “because it’s like the first time you fell in love with something, and it’s an introduction to the band. But as far as looking back, I’m not really there.”
If Marauder and the comfort of Interpol’s current line-up are any barometer, it’s very likely that looking in the rearview mirror may never become an issue.
Interpol will rock Madison Square Garden on February 16, with special guests Snail Mail and Car Seat Headrest. Visit interpolnyc.com for more information.