Interpol charts a new course
Meg Wilhoite likes Interpol. That’s not unusual; after all, the New York–based band has developed a healthy following since releasing its first long-player, Turn On the Bright Lights, in 2002. Wilhoite’s interest in Interpol, however, borders on the obsessive. Since 2007, she has operated a blog called Music Theory & Interpol, on which she posts detailed analyses of the group’s songs. As of this writing, her latest upload is a nine-minute video dissecting “Always Malaise (The Man I Am)”. Wilhoite’s crowning achievement, however, is her in-depth essay on “NARC”, which is just over 1,500 words long and describes the track’s progression through the aeolian and phrygian modes.
According to Wilhoite, Interpol’s music is distinguished by its unorthodox use of polyphony and counterpoint, but what makes it truly addictive, she writes, is that it “influences a fusion of intellect and sensuality in us as listeners”.
The existence of Wilhoite’s Wordpress page is news to Daniel Kessler, and it elicits a chuckle when the Straight reaches the Interpol guitarist in Milan, Italy, where he’s enjoying a short break from touring. “That’s pretty funny—and flattering, I would think—that somebody has a blog called Music Theory & Interpol,” he says. “It’s not surprising to me, based on how our band writes songs, that there are quite a few things that are a bit unconventional, just by the nature of who we are as individuals and the nature of how the songs come to be at times, and what we bring to each song and so forth.”
It’s Kessler himself who has always generated most of the band’s musical ideas, and last year’s eponymous Interpol was no exception. Often in collaboration with since-departed bassist Carlos Dengler, the guitarist came up with the songs’ basic templates, to which drummer Sam Fogarino and singer-guitarist-lyricist Paul Banks then added their contributions.
Carrying on in the vein of 2007’s Our Love to Admire, which took a step away from the spare postpunk of the quartet’s debut, Interpol is a sonically rich affair, brimming with harmonic layers and well-thought-out arrangements. Kessler says that in the past, things such as keyboards were afterthoughts, window-dressing added on after the songs were written. This time, though, they were conceived as integral parts of the compositions, and indeed it would be hard to imagine “Summer Well” or “Try It On” without the insistent piano parts that propel them. Kessler says this approach helped set the band on “a new trajectory”.
It doesn’t hurt that the songs are driven by one of the most accomplished rhythm sections in indie rock. “Success”, for example, opens the album with ferocious kick drum and bass guitar that sound telepathically linked, while “Memory Serves” lopes along to a stuttering, bottom-heavy shuffle that might well have turned disastrous in the hands of players less skilled than Dengler and Fogarino.
Kessler gives the drummer top marks for his eagerness to explore new ways of creating beats. “Even a song like ”˜Summer Well’, I think his first instinct when we were writing that was to actually create a bit of a drum loop,” the guitarist notes. “He had that in place early on in the writing process of that song. That’s one of the songs Carlos and I got together with, and one of the first songs we started working on as a band. We did a demo of that song early on, so I think that helped give Sam a bit of time to think about it, but then by the first couple of rehearsals with all of us in the room, he brought forth this drum loop, and he played on top of it very much in the manner that it is on the record. I think that was sort of telling of where he was at as a musician, and also it was very much in sync with where I’m at as a musician. I just liked the fact that it was quite minimal, but then it was adding something quite different and really sticking out. And the way we mixed the record, those little rhythmic moments really pop out.”
Given the striking tightness of Interpol’s rhythm section, it came as a shock to fans when the band announced last May that its resident four-stringer and fashion icon Dengler had quit to pursue other interests, such as composing film scores and, one would guess, cultivating new and fascinating hairstyles. David Pajo, known for his work with the likes of Slint and Tortoise, is now taking care of bass duties as part of Interpol’s touring configuration (which also includes keyboardist Brandon Curtis)—but as for the future, who knows? Certainly not Kessler.
“In all honesty, we haven’t really spoken about a plan of what we’re going to do as far as how we’re going to go about writing once this campaign winds down,” he admits. “But that’s not really surprising to me, because we’ve never been a band that’s really made plans beyond the immediate future. During Our Love to Admire we never made a plan for how or when we were going to go about writing, and after Antics we never really made that plan either. We got off the road, got a bit of perspective, and then figured out when we were going to tend to the next album. So, to me, that’s just sort of par for the course.
“I know there’s probably a lot of questions and a lot of things to think about, but sometimes it feels quite healthy to live in the now, in the moment,” the guitarist concludes. “We have a lot of great things lined up, and we’re going to be pretty busy for the most part of this year, so I think we’ll figure that out in due time, like all things.”
Interpol plays the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday (January 27).
Feb 9, 2011 at 8:44am
Hi John, thanks for mentioning my blog in your article! I'm not sure I would call my appreciation for Interpol's music "obsessive," but then, we music theorists are a misunderstood bunch ;) And thanks for bringing the blog to Daniel's attention---I've been trying to let them know about my blog for ages now, to no avail!