Debauchery behind it, Interpol still thriving as the band heads to Vancouver

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      It’s a striking photograph: a long shot of a man in a suit seated alone at a table flanked by potted plants, an array of microphones in front of him and tape recorders on the floor. The image, which adorns the front cover of Interpol’s latest album, Marauder, is legendary photog Garry Winogrand’s shot of a press conference by former U.S. attorney general Elliot Richardson, who in October 1973 announced that he would resign from his post rather than obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

      It’s a picture of a moment that resonates powerfully in the present day, when the United States can only hope for someone with Richardson’s resolve to stand up against a corrupt administration. When the Straight reaches Interpol’s Sam Fogarino at his home in rural Georgia, the drummer says that harking back to the Watergate era was, in part, a way of reflecting on contemporary America.

      “It was, inadvertently,” he says. “Because we initially just saw it as an image. Of course, there’s no way that current events can’t resonate when you see that photograph. You don’t have to know anything about it, but something serious is going down. In this grand era of the apology, of coming forward, it seems as if this person has something really awful to reveal about himself. The beautiful thing is that he was the good guy. He was the one who said ‘Fuck this. I’m not going to be a criminal for you. I’m out.’ ”

      No one would ever mistake Marauder for a Rage Against the Machine record, mind you. Winogrand’s photograph was no doubt chosen more for its evocative visual qualities than for its content; Interpol has always avoided making obvious political statements. The band’s sixth LP deals less with what’s happening in Washington than with what’s going on inside the mind of singer-lyricist Paul Banks. As usual, Banks’s songwriting is hard to parse, but his weary baritone implies regret at roads taken and wistful agonizing over those untrodden.

      Musically, the record, which the band recorded with producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips) at his Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York, expands upon Interpol’s signature palette of early-’00s indie rock and jet-black postpunk. The focal point is the interplay between the guitars of Banks and the band’s main composer, Daniel Kessler, but on the rhythmic end of things, Fogarino peppers his solidly propulsive drumming with beats that swing in unexpected ways.

      Since the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler in 2010, four-string duties in Interpol have been divided between Brad Truax, who holds down the bottom end on tour, and Banks, who does so in the studio. Fogarino says he and the frontman make such a potent rhythm section because “We just understand each other. The thing that really works—for my ego, to be blunt about it—is that he loves what I do behind a drum kit. He values my sensibilities and always tries to figure out what I’m doing and translate that on the bass. He’ll hear stuff I’m doing that I don’t hear and lock into it. It’s exciting, even at this point in the game, because he has an invigorated approach to nailing some bass lines.”

      Interpol, "If You Really Love Nothing"

      That Interpol is still going, let alone thriving, in 2019, is impressive in itself. Along with the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the band rose out of the fabled NYC music scene at the turn of the century, a milieu documented by Lizzy Goodman in her book Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011. Certain members of Interpol had a serious taste for debauchery in the group’s early years. When things got especially decadent around the time of Interpol’s second album, 2004’s Antics, Fogarino—a full decade older than Banks and reputedly the most mature member of the crew—almost reached his breaking point. Goodman quotes the drummer as saying “Mentally, I was quitting the band every week.”

      Fogarino opted to stick with the group, although he did eventually pull up stakes and relocate to Athens, Georgia. He has since moved to nearby Winterville—a small town best known to alt-rock cognoscenti as the onetime home of the Butthole Surfers.

      “Around the Our Love to Admire period, I just decided that I wanted to get out of the city and have more space,” he recalls. “There was no real fear of losing the New York edge, because the band was still based there and ultimately I’d be travelling back and forth. Now I have a kind of duality. There’s Interpol life and there’s home in Winterville, which is definitely a contrast.”

      As for those chaotic early days, he has no regrets. “That time was awesome,” he admits. “But would I want to be doing that now, at 50? I don’t think so. But you get to revisit that on tour. There’s ultimately moments where we’re all stuck together, and thankfully we still like each other. So everybody can make one another laugh at any given time—or really angry. So we still have that little gang mentality, if you will, like ‘The rest of the world does what they do, but we do this.’ That little bit of us-against-the-world, romantic rock-star notion.”

      That mentality should serve Fogarino well in 2019. He’ll be spending much of it on the road in the company of Banks, Kessler, Truax, and longtime Interpol touring keyboardist Brandon Curtis. Fogarino confesses that he doesn’t always love touring, which is a life that can breed homesickness and exhaustion. What he does love, on the other hand, is playing his drums for an appreciative audience night after night.

      “What’s never work is performing,” he says. “But there’s the downtime, away from home, that can sometimes make you go, ‘What am I doing? I’m in the middle of nowhere.’ And you don’t want to go to a museum or an art gallery, you just want to be at home. But then on the other side of it, you get to travel the world playing your music for people, and then you get a couple of years off. So it all balances out.”

      Interpol plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday (January 31).