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10 Years of FILTER: Issue #12 Cover Story: Interpol

By Staff on May 10, 2012


10 Years of FILTER: Issue #12 Cover Story: Interpol

2012 marks FILTER Magazine’s tenth year in print. To celebrate, we are looking back at some of our favorite magazine features, from July 2002’s Issue #1 all the way up to this coming November’s Issue #50.

Below you will find Issue #12’s cover story, in full, where we documented the journey into the world of Interpol. It all started with a cassette tape and ended with an insane asylum. Read on below to see how we got there!

Lost Days with Interpol: A Diary of Antics (Issue 12, Fall 2004)
By Gregg LaGambina

I’m at Randall’s Island. The Curiosa Festival. New York City. But I’m behind the whole thing. Nearby machines and the music backwards-sounding, blown around the wind like it always is at outdoor things like this—it’s all making me and it the rest of wherever I am seem submerged. Everyone has that voice from Peanuts, when parents and teachers speak in that indecipherable monotone. Wah. Wah. Wah. Wahhh. You can’t really hear who is playing what song to the crowd on the other side of the stage. In fact, the crowd isn’t even that impressive. Someone tells me to blame it on the “rough climate” for summer festivals this year. (The difference between this event and the doomed Lollapalooza apparently being “at least this one is half full.”) Every machine and bus and generator is buzzing and humming to keep things cool and there’s some speculation about the building off in the distance. Up and up this brick thing bends over the proceedings, menacing like you’re one inch tall and standing on the toe of Vincent Price’s boot. Some whispers “nut house,” but I’m lost to everyone else. Like I said, between the rumbling of some band behind me playing in the other directions and the pure vibrating industry of keeping the “backstage” air conditioned and supplied with power, well I might as well be underwater.

A bit later (two minutes, maybe 20) someone mumbles something about a “psychiatric ward” again and indeed it looks like there are bars on the windows of that building you can’t help but stare at if you’re back here and not out there, up front watching whomever it is who is playing. All I know is that it’s too early for the Cure, I’m a guest of Interpol who’s nearby, I just saw the Rapture mingling and Mogwai sitting in their bus chatting with Chloë Sevigny and pouring out drinks for whoever stopped by. In short, who knows who is playing? And who really cares? It’s too hot. It’s too bright. Who, in fact, is responsible for assembling this dark caravan of midnight music and packaging it up for the outdoors in the hottest part of the year to take place mostly under the sun for these kids who pretend to be sick when they’re picked to be “skins” in gym class? And then I find out the building in question is indeed a mental institution of some sort. That’s Ward’s Island, which is only separated from this here Randall’s Island by a sewage facility, which must be what was tickling my nostrils on the way in. Terrific. A scene this depressing couldn’t have been set designed any better than by one of Sybil’s multiple personalities. In fact, is that her up there in that window? I’m actually waving.

Two weeks earlier.
Alone in my car. 8:07 p.m. Los Angeles.

I have a cassette of Interpol’s sophomore release, Antics. I can’t remember the last time I’ve used a tape deck, but now it’s the only place where I can listen to their new record. Which means that I have to sit in my idling car outside my home at twilight, the sky that color blue which in summer means game over and time to come inside. The dog is staring at me through the window while I walk away, ears pricked up, head tilted as if to say, “What is that giant white furless upright thing with the thumbs doing now?” Well, apparently the cassette tape is everyone’s favorite old technology to prevent the new technology. I’m sure someone can upload a cassette to the Internet. I can’t and I don’t want to. But I do wish I didn’t have to think of a place to drive every time I wanted to hear these new Interpol songs. So here’s this relic of a plastic rectangle in my hand and the only tape deck I own is in the faux black leather dash of my four-door; so I’m already three steps across the lawn.

Breakfast with Daniel before the Cure,
Saturday, 2:14 p.m. New York.

“Rather than stress out and worry about if the well is dry, we just accepted that we wouldn’t write songs on the road and we just became a better live band with each show. When we finally got off the road, you’d think the last thing I’d want to do is pick up my guitar, but the first day I was back home I got into the mode I always get into when I’m writing—with my classical guitar, just sitting on my couch. The next day, I was already writing. I think it’s because I starved this energy, which is the only reason I ever wanted to be in a bang. It was for this energy of writing and everything else just stems from that. I mean, I love playing live and I love playing our songs, but the reason is writing. So after coming back from all that touring, things just poured out.”

I’m lucky to be here with guitarist Daniel Kessler this early in his telling the world about his band’s forthcoming Antics. It means that I can ask him bad questions about the pressures of sophomore records and he’s full of energy describing the first days coming off the road after supporting Interpol’s hugely successful album Turn On the Bright Lights. But in fact, it may not be such a bad question, considering, fairly or not, Interpol was sort of lumped into that big rock renaissance garage savior clin when really they sounded nothing like the Strokes or the Hivers or whoever else. They may also prove their mettle by being the only ones to stumble upright and unscathed from the huddle—the band with the least to lose, actually delivering on their promise the second time around.

“When I have something written, the band is pretter good as far as attacking it and building it into an Interpol song and arranging it. Once we have things on the table,” he says (actually knocking on wood to illustrate his point or to please the ghosts of songs that haunt him, so they keep haunting him), “we’re good at working on them. So, instead of worrying about what to do next it was more like, ‘We’re already doing what we’re doing next.’”
First revelation of the day is that Daniel is the source for virtually all of Interpol’s music. There is no Page/Plant or Lennon/McCartney or even a Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe dynamic going on with Interpol. Over a late breakfast before his band plays the Curiosa Festival at Randall’s Island, I soon realize that it’s Daniel here who dangles a melody or a guitar line above the rest of them and the band bites or doesn’t, but everything that we end up hearing by Interpol starts from the man sitting across from me. He speaks quickly and specifically, with no ums or likes or pauses. In fact, he sounds like the parts he plays in his songs—these treble notes picked with precision, like he graphed them out of a patter on a piece of paper before he ever heard them come out of an amp. He’s deliberate and serious and the only one at dinner the night previous who specifically requested to do his interview today before he headed out to the venue—as much to get it over with as to just get it done so he could focus on the work ahead for the performance that night.

“I spent many miserable years looking for people and finding people who were not as serious as I was about having a band,” he says, digressing for a bit of back-story. “They were really casual about it and I just decided that if this was something I was going to do with my life, I would have to really try. I might fail, but I had to do this or else I would be really miserable. So, I had this class with Carlos. It was like a lecture course, but he was the only person asking questions. He was this really striking young man, really well-dressed as he is now, and I had decided already that I was going to drop this course. I’m not a very audacious person. I’m pretty shy especially back then. But when you want something, you have to ask for it, so I waited after class one day and I just went up to him and struck up a conversation about music. He told me that he used to play guitar, but he didn’t anymore. He was an academic. He was at NYU and he basically just wanted to be a philosopher. But he had just moved her and he didn’t know that many people, so he was like, ‘I’m interested in what you’re doing, sure.’”

Drunk with Carlos after the Cure
Saturday. 11:23 p.m. New York.

“I had given up playing music. I was a philosophy major and then I met Daniel and he was like, ‘I need somebody to jam with but I don’t have a bass player.’ He even had a bass, this piece of shit Ibanez thing. He was like, ‘Do you want to just fuck around and play bass?’ And I was lie, ‘Whatever, sure.’ I didn’t really care. I didn’t really think about it. I was like, ‘I’m not a bass player. If anything, I’m a guitar player. But what the fuck, I don’t care.’ So, I’ve always been sort of distanced from my own instrument.”

At this point, I am unfortunately shithouse tanked from “filling” the long and empty spaces of this day in this park at the foot of the asylum, and the air I’ve been breathing in those confined trailers and buses (and small spaces where I’d have gone to walk upfront to look for a steering wheel just to make sure I was in a large automobile instead of a small suite in the asylum on the hill), is full of exhaled cannabis and recycled oxygen and in short, I’m not feeling well. Carlos D., one of the last in a dying breed of celebrity bass players, seems fine. He’s full of energy and when it finally came time for us to formally talk at the end of the evening, the gaggle of youthful, darkly garbed females (who follow him around in an awkward flight pattern, rearranging themselves when he’s just gone two steps and turned around abruptly as if he’s forgotten something, or speed up when he’s off and running) are excused with a flourish and sort of sadly drift away so their hero can come chat with little anonymous me. In fact, once he’s settled in this back room of the Interpol tour bus, I’m struck by how lonely he looks—not like he’s frowning or sad, but that this probably the first time I’ve seen him today not surrounded by a cloud of admiring estrogen.

“I have lots of interests that probably don’t have much to do with the group.” He’s talking about his gradual inclusion in the band at a time when he wasn’t thinking much about playing in one. And as the energetic, outspoken and oft-seen out-and-about dark figure of Interpol, you wonder if this is just a brief stopping point before he ends up pursuing what he left behind the day he met Daniel. “I don’t like to think about things like that. For me, right now, I acknowledge those impulses, but what we’re doing at this moment is so important—not for music is a general sense, but for us as people. This is what we need to be doing right now. I try not to think about too much other stuff. I want to focus in on what the job at hand is.”

Carlos is a lot less arrogant than you’d think he is. (Let me explain, Carlos. This is going to be a compliment I promise.) Here is a man who wears a par of empty gun holsters and whose dyed-black, angular hair is the closest the band comes to looking like they sound. He’s what the rest of the band should also be, but it’s as if Interpol has concentrated all of its dark, gothic tendencies into this banshee of a bass player who hops and jerks around on stage, the only seeming purveyor of showmanship in the entire quartet. It’s amazing, really, that he’s outfitted himself in all these components you think you’ve seen somewhere else and if he wasn’t “Carlos D. of Interpol” and he told you he was a bass player in a band, you’d think he wouldn’t have half a chance, that he might be trying too hard. But he’s not. When you’re at an arm’s length from him you begin to realize it’s you who’s the asshole for making those assumptions. He’s charming and kind and I must just have to join that admiring huddle outside and circle around him a bit to drink in some of his charisma (and I might blame the recycled air if you call me on this). He’s compelling, not because he’s wearing gun holsters because he has that kind of energy you want to be around for fear of missing something. It’s why Daniel didn’t stop the course before he talked to him.

“The thing that I love about what’s happening right now is that I’m still learning so many lessons. The first time around, it was like, “Woo! Take me on that rollercoaster! Do you want to interview me? That’s cool! I’ll just say a bunch of fucked up shit! Let’s just rid on our first album, everybody loves it!’ It was just a total adventure. Now there’s been time to reflect and it’s not just about the adventure anymore. Even if this album tanks, it’s really not the issue. We did it. We did our second album. This is who we are.”

Two weeks earlier.
Alone in my car. 8:46 p.m. Los Angeles.

Sitting here after listening to Antics and I’m really getting the sense that if people don’t this proper time, they’re going to condemn it prematurely. Sure, you have the instant gratifying foot-stomp disco of something like “Slow Hands,” which is going to cozy itself right up next to a song like Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” (and do the bizarre backwards thing of being a second-record band inadvertently capitalizing on a first-record band’s barnstorm). But whatever it takes, I guess. The really odd appeal of Antics is that it unfurls itself over the course of infinite listening and like all great records, never stops evolving. The rare criticism of the mostly praised Turn On the Bright Lights was an unfairly unified cry of Joy Division dags. But that was just an easy shot at Paul Banks’ calculated baritone delivery. This time, you can hang up the Ian Curtis references and begin to think of Banks as an altogether different kind of crooner—one with melodies and movement and much less monotone. Touring, confidence or both has brought the voice upfront and should serve to choke the naysayers on their own smiles. The real surprise being that this record sounds less like Unknown Pleasures than U2’s Boy or even elements of Regatta de Blanc by the Police—without sounding exactly like either. Songs like “Not Even Jail” and “Narc” and “Take You On A Cruise” move around like mini-suites, with multiple parts that never come back around, leaving you with a b it of amnesia as to what song you just heard. It’s probably why the whole thing sounds like something else as early as the next day. It feels epic without trying and important without asking to be. And the drums…

With Sam before the Cure.
Saturday. 5:42 p.m. New York.

“I’m pretty spastic in my taste and they let me get away with a lot.”

Sam Fogarino, Interpol’s drummer, is so agreeable he just asked me if it was okay to smoke in his own tour bus. We’re talking about whether Interpol is the exact band he’s always wanted to be in. See, he’s a few clicks older and this isn’t his first outfit.

“I don’t know what drummer would not be satisfied in this band. Probably a really dumb one. The dynamic in the songwriting is the thing, and that’s pretty understood. That’s the band. It’s only going to exist with the four of us.”

All over Antics, once you’ve parted the curtains past the melodies and all the upfront things that make up a rock song, you begin to really hear that Sam isn’t full of shit right now. A drummer talking about songwriting is usually your cue to stand up and pretend that you have a phone call. But inside these songs there’s Sam, sitting there, doing something very close to writing…in a song. You can hear that precise thought that made him tap a tambourine, or the pause before a decision to pedal the bass drum for an extra pair of hits the second time the verse comes around, but never does it feel dry like math. It’s inspired composition that few drummers ever bother with. Thing is, I don’t remember him this well from Turn On the Bright Lights. And it’s cementing my small theorem that Interpol might be developing into the last real band. I don’t know who is to blame entirely for Interpol, or who to pin the whole idea of them on. I’m doing my best to secretly interrogate these gentlemen separately (I was supposed to have two at a time) and my guess is it’s Carlos, but I haven’t heard from him yet. (He’s not even at the venue and they go on in less than two hours. Some people who are paid to worry about these things pacing. Apparently this is far from the first time, but he always shows in his own time and on time in way because it’s known that that’s when he’ll be here, or so they tell me.) But Sam is here early, smiling and making a strong case that he’s another 25 percent just like the other three and what’s so surprising about that?

“There’s always this line between kind of mapping it out and just letting it happen. That makes it difficult. It almost contradicts itself in a way. I mean, how do you do that? You pain over a part and you do obsess over it but if it doesn’t sound natural, we just stop. It’s a weird line to walk down, but we do I think it’s within the band—the balance kind of goes into affect Carlos—he’s a very learned musician. He has theory behind him. Daniel and I are a little more punk rock roots, with a little more abandon. And Paul. Paul is [pauses and smiles]…fuck man, he’s just—Paul is his own thing, man. I don’t know. I don’t know where the fuck he came from…”

Philosophy with Paul after the Cure.
Saturday. 10:06 p.m. New York.

“I prefer to address meaning tangentially. And what that just reminded me of it is the uncertainty principle, which is you can never know at one time the exact location and the exact velocity of any object. And this old hat modern philosophy or whatever, and it probably sounds utterly pretentious, but meaning is a such a fucking slippery issue in my opinion. Any song, unless you’ve got a great story about like, ‘My bitch caught me having sex on the floor’ from that song ‘It Wasn’t Me’—that’s one meaning that’s very locked. If you want to find metaphors in there, maybe you can, but that’s not what that song is actually about. It’s just about getting caught having sex. I feel like our songs are much more resonant. Like, if you really try to pinpoint it, which the uncertainty principle refutes in terms of object and space and velocity, it doesn’t lose it’s meaning, it just becomes another sort of indefinite thing.”

This is Paul Banks. He’s been relaxing with some botanicals after Interpol’s set. In fact, he looks like he may never get up from the couch. He’s so uniquely interested in everything that you just want to sit here unnoticed and catch him in a reverie or a discovery, to not disturb him while he takes himself around an idea and warms to it. You tell me, I’m in here breathing these fumes too, so I might not be the one to trust, but when Paul speaks, he speaks in easy measures phrases, never rushed, he almost always has a grin with just a bit of teeth showing and he eyes are always looking at you and at everything else at the same time. He seems hyper-observant without the distracting movements. And this is not purely a result of the cigarettes he altered before he launched into a paraphrase the whole of uncertainty. He was like this last night when the only things consumed were a bit of sake and a few raw mackerel. This is his role in Interpol. He’s the one who speaks over the songs. He’s the one who needs to always be looking as if the idea that just loped on past might be the last idea ever thought and has to be captured right now, excuse me. He is the band’s language—what we all I hear first, all those slippery things that we pretend to know or want to know, or keep watching and listening in case they’re ever revealed.

“I’ve totally felt stifle by my sense of other’s people’s perception of me. I can’t speak publicly at all.”

[Did I just mention that I’ve just asked him if he cares what other people think about him? It’s a bit thick to breathe in here. That’s what I asked him: Do you care about what people think of you? It seemed like a good thing to ask at the time. Don’t ask me.]

“But I also have this sense of temporality of life. It’s a one-off deal. I’ve always asked thought that reincarnation was such a funny concept because if you remember what you were before, then what the fuck does it matter? It’s not really worth living with that kind of social awkwardness. Why would anyone not like another person? The only evaluation you owe to anyone is to yourself. The other guys in the band will say that I’m very sensitive, that I can hold grudges. But I really don’t give a fuck what someone else thinks. But as socially awkward and socially conscious as I am, I’m still like, so? You can’t be worried about what everyone’s going to think if it’s really coming from your soul. I’ve always liked music that I’ve felt was coming really deeply from someone’s soul. I feel a song like Bob Dylan’s ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ is written only for the sake of beauty. It’s such a beautiful and melancholy love song, that the only motivation to do that—that I can see—is to make the most beautiful thing that has ever been. That’s all I need.”

Los Angeles. Now.
Sadly, I’ve grown up and forgotten a bit about what made me so excited to be on the other side of that stage, watching, wondering a bit about what exactly went on in back, the place I get hover and lurk and be a nuisance nowadays—the mystery of it all examined and drained. All I know is that once I had some longing to be these people I get to meet, that I used to show up early and see all the bands, and revel in the ringing of my own head when it hit the pillow, smelling of cigarettes I’d yet to try myself. Now it’s different and the intrigue has shifted. Mostly I’m interested in my own life and how I’m going to get from this sentence to tomorrow and just carry on in this large expanse that Paul Banks refers to as our “one-off deal.” And not get all Wizard of Oz on you, but after swirling out away from that island of mental patients and sewage, I’d like to thank Daniel, Sam, Carlos and Paul for reminding me why I ever cared at all. Because the four of them are out there trying to make sense of a place like Randall’s Island and the pople convened there. And that’s still a noble thing, almost a sacrifice. They’re sharing the discoveries they’ve made themselves, through songs and words, and resting in these big air-conditioned machines, taking sips and drags from things to alleviate a bit of mind’s ache and crank. I’ve got this tiny cassette marked Antics and it’s got 10 beautiful songs on there, made by these four people who doing a bit more of their share of legwork to make a story out of the orbit of their lives. They have volunteered to literally stand halfway between that crowd who came to see them and the people confined up there on that hill too sick to mingle with the rest of us. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to leave you here. It’s 2:29 a.m. and I’m going outside to listen to this tape they made. I’m going to sit in my car while dog makes wet marks on the front window with her nose, wondering in her own dog way why I’m out there again. I’m going to move that seat back a bit, crack the sunroof, close my eyes and pretend for a second that life isn’t as short as it seems to be. For about a 45-minute interlude during this “one-off deal,” I won’t be lost. And to be grounded that long in such an empty space like your own life, accompanied by this pure and solid thing made of arts that calls itself Interpol, well, I might be here a while because in these moments when you finally know where you are, you’re reluctant to ever find your way out. F