“We’re driven by reaction, and have been since day one,” says Daniel Kessler, the architect of Interpol’s ever-widening guitar sound. The band has been expanding their musical language for 20 years, since their hallowed debut in 2002 Turn on the bright lights established the New York post-punk troupe’s distinctive blend of emotion, weirdness and intensity. Their extensive work includes the ostentatious 2007 Our love to admire2014 stripped The Pintorand 2018 Marauder who, in his best moments, managed to bottle the thrill of visceral and impulsive musical creation.
Now with The flip side of pretending, Kessler and co – vocalist and bassist Paul Banks and drummer Sam Fogarino – veered into an even darker realm. The trio’s songs usually come from the London-born player’s guitar sketches. When did he start dreaming up ideas for the band’s seventh album?
“After completing the tour Marauder in November 2019, I finally went home,” Kessler tells us. “In those moments, I start writing songs. I write less on the road. I tend to write more when one chapter is finished and another begins. I love space because it gives you this separation between things. It’s healthy to let all the touring experiences from the previous record inform who you are as a person, and then you see what’s next. So, with no travel plans, I just started writing songs.
Kessler still writes like he did when he was a teenager – often on the same guitar. “It’s just a shitty classical guitar,” he says, “but it speaks to me. Normally, I have my first pot of coffee, watch a movie and come up with new ideas. It’s kind of subconscious most of the time. Sometimes, even at the very beginning, I to know if the mood is good. I knew there was a different vibe when writing the first set of songs for this record, compared to writing for Marauder.”
Something has changed
Although many of the roots of the new songs were discovered before the pandemic, the lockdown shattered plans to build the material together. “We kind of had to figure out how we were going to do this,” says Kessler. “We had wanted to make a new record and I knew we had a good batch of songs, but the three of us were then in three different countries with no possibility of being in the same one anytime soon. We had to be a bit more innovative and send song ideas through the internet.
Although shocking to a group accustomed to hammering new cuts in practice rooms, web-based ways of working quickly started to click. “It wasn’t my ideal way of doing things,” says Kessler. “I was hoping it would work, but I wasn’t sure. But [remote collaboration] was the only game in town if you wanted to make music. We would share projects among ourselves and add our parts, then we would discuss them and what we had done, and maybe go back. It started to feel a lot like a rehearsal, where you progress with a song via small changes. It didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice to be apart. I never felt like the songs lost because we weren’t in the room. Each time the trails have been improved, we have felt more connected to them.
Interpol finally got into the rhythm of the remote writing. “I would wake up and hear something that Paul had added to the track, and then I’d put my headphones on and go for a walk and listen to it. It was pretty exciting – it confirmed why we were a band, because our chemistry didn’t depend on us being in the same room.
Always in shape
Among Interpol’s strongest new songs are the painful opener and first single Tony, Renegade Hearts with its dueling riffs, and the propellant Passengerone of the first tracks to find shape.
“[Passenger] sounded like a different kind of song than what we had done before,” Kessler says. “Once we get to the first part of the chorus, it takes eight chords before we finally get to the second sequence. It’s like a story in itself that came out quite intuitively. I was a little excited when I came up with this one, it was a little different but interesting. There was a good juxtaposition between the verse and the chorus.
Another highlight of the case, Fables, came from the dawn of chaos. “I think I wrote the guitar lines for Fables right at the time of the lock. There’s a weirdness to the verse section that I found quite unsettling in a good way, but also emotional. I think Paul got into that with singing as well. I wanted the chords to be a bit more gelled, so people could really bounce off them. The guitar line has these two different vibes. The song really shifts gears by the chorus. Then you get to the post-chorus progression, where Paul and I lock ourselves into these little guitar moments and it’s like we’re trying to deliver a shot of adrenaline, but at the same time maintaining the melody and the repetition .
Closer take it easy came early and became a central guideline for the band throughout the writing of The flip side of pretending. “It’s meant to be a mantra, kind of a repetitive thing,” Kessler says. “It reminds us of the first song from our debut album, Untitled, where I play the same thing over and over again. It’s something I’ve always loved – saying so much with so little, framing everything else, creating the illusion of scene changes but the main theme remains the same.
Post-lockdown and after a series of in-person sessions to further heighten the songs in a rented house in the Catskills, Interpol traveled to Battery Studios in north London to work with much-admired producers Alan Moulder and Flood.
“They’re both legendary,” says Kessler. “It’s great to work with them. Alan had already mixed two of our records, so we had a friendship and we knew he understood us. On albums four and five, which he mixed, he was able to find the right place for every little detail. You never have to give it notes, you just trust it will find what the leads need. It gives you a lot of confidence and comfort in the studio knowing you’re working with someone who has a similar mindset to yours. Flood has made so many amazing records that you’re excited but not sure what it’s going to be like.
When the band entered the studio, the The other side of the imagination the songs were all prepared. “We could pretty much play a live show of these tracks, but you have to leave space,” adds Kessler. “It became very clear that [Flood] had listened to these tracks again and again, which gave us great confidence. He is a seeker of truth and he captures the DNA of the songs.
Kessler kept his Epiphone Casino handy throughout the registration process. “I’m a creature of habit,” he says. “I don’t use the Casino bar much. Paul mainly uses Les Pauls and occasionally a Strat. I simply relied on my Epiphone Casino the whole time. On other records, I used my Gretsch G6117T Anniversary guitar. It was quite dominant on The Pintor. But to be honest, once I discovered Epiphone Casino, my search was over. I love and admire many other guitars, but the Casino makes me feel like an extension of myself.
Another Kessler feature, atmospheric digital delay, pops up everywhere The flip side of pretending. “I have an old Boss DD-5 pedal which is a bit broken but operational. It creates a weird balance which I really enjoy. It’s not something I think I can recreate anywhere else. Obviously a proponent of effects pedal-based, Kessler also favors Eventide’s Space reverb and the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb.”I like to control effects with my feet,” he adds. “It’s almost like talking with the There are a few things we’ve done on disc, but personally I avoid the software stuff. Although these days it’s often hard to tell the difference between a plugin and the real thing, I prefer that these things come from the pedals – it’s more inherent to me. I have no principles at all, I just like the sound of the record to match what I do live.
With The flip side of pretending around the world and a tour to follow, where could the band’s third decade take them? “I’m very grateful for those times when we wrote a lot of songs and I still feel the same excitement I had when I was a teenager writing songs,” Kessler says. “You might take that for granted, and sometimes I don’t have that feeling. But I’m happy to still feel that investment. If Interpol lacked ideas and inspiration, it might be different, but every time we’re in the room, it’s never an effort to make music – as soon as it looks like a job, it would definitely be time to stop.
The future of Interpol is therefore a blank canvas. “It’s never really scripted, we never plan what we’ll do next. As long as we have that chemistry, we’ll keep making music. We don’t know what’s next, and I appreciate the time to to experience, to travel, to inspire and to meet new people.It all becomes information that feeds you and the writing.
The flip side of pretending is out now Matador Files.