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Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino looks beyond comfortable in a shirt and tie. So do vocalist Paul Banks, guitarist Daniel Kessler, and now-departed bassist Carlos Dengler. The New York band's GQ, stiff-upper-lip aesthetic has arguably helped heighten its noir postpunk beyond leagues of other acts inspired by Joy Division and the Cure in the early '00s. Just for a moment, though, picture Fogarino, now 42, in a ragged T-shirt and hair dyed the same shade as cherry Kool-Aid.
What a difference a change of scenery makes. The mention of South Florida takes Fogarino back to 1992. "It was a good time in life and a good time for music," he says. At that point, he lived in the Victoria Park section of Fort Lauderdale and destroyed drum kits on the regular for the raucous avant punks the Holy Terrors. Three years prior, he had received an audio engineering degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.
"The mixing console I have at home is similar to what I learned on," he says from an Interpol tour stop in Boston. "There is a ton of stuff that was at its infancy when I went to school. Fundamentals never do change."
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As much can be said for the development of Interpol: The material found on the band's fourth full-length, a self-titled affair, never strays fundamentally from recordings that lubricated its initial forays beyond New York's East Village — 2002's self-titled EP and the critically adored Turn on the Bright Lights. Both releases, as well as 2004's Antics, were issued via premier indie label Matador, and after putting out 2007's Our Love to Admire on a major, Capitol, the men in black are back.
"We saw more of a reaction from the public when we went to Capitol than the one that we felt," Paul Banks says via phone from New York. "Not a big deal for us to try and shoot for the moon with a major at that point in our career. [Now] it's like going back to old friends; it's going back to a business that we like and respect."
Interpol had consisted of the same four gents for the past ten years (Greg Drudy was the drummer before Fogarino joined in 2000), so it proved to be a much larger challenge to handle Dengler's resignation after the recording of the new album, due out in September. "We were wondering, 'Do we just bury it now?'" Banks says. "We had to go promote the record. We're all aware that [Carlos is] an iconic presence on the stage and in person."
An icon of a different sort came into the picture soon after in the form of new touring bassist Dave Pajo, best-known as guitarist for the Louisville postrock pioneers Slint (Interpol also added the Secret Machines' keyboardist Brandon Curtis for touring). Fogarino confirms the rest of the band "geeked out" at the prospect of performing alongside a hero like Pajo. "I always thought that Carlos's bass lines were the most intricate thing to an Interpol song," he says. "It only makes sense that the guitar player from Slint has the ability to articulate those bass lines just as well as Carlos did. It's a little scary at times."
Interpol's initial plan for touring this year was to play some solo dates with the shoegaze trio Twin Tigers from Athens, Georgia, and open for U2 on its 360 Tour (including a stop locally at Sun Life Stadium), but Bono's bad back forced a different plan of attack. More than the band's inconvenience, Fogarino's recollection is of the public's response when U2's tour was canceled, which he calls crass. "You should go have back surgery and then talk about it," he says with frustration. "Just because he's a household name and this big rock star doesn't mean he's not going to suffer as a human being... Things realigned; here we are."
Since Interpol's headlining trek began in July, about four songs each night are pulled from the new batch — generally "Success," "Summer Well," "Lights," and "Barricade." "There's a lot of good shit happening there with orchestration behind the tracks," Banks says of the Interpol LP. "There are parts, our hooks, that are really subtle. I've thought you have to listen to the record five times before it's going to get you."
The live offerings representing the album, which was mixed by Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails), are its most accessible. All of ten seconds of curtain time is required to expose Kessler's ominous guitar progression on "Lights," and Fogarino's precision stick work launching the cavalcade that is "Barricade" is a reminder of what got everyone constantly checking the band's "PDA" eight years ago.
More complex new material such as "Always Malaise (The Man I Am)," based upon a piano part by Kessler and orchestral dollops by Dengler, brings out the side of Interpol that has less to do with one runaway riff and is more like a lens slowly coming into focus. Aside from Moulder's mix ramping up the atmospheric tension, he turned Banks's vocals into a glistening hood ornament of this sleek, expensive sedan of an album. "Typically, I wouldn't let my vocals be that clean and up front, but it's Alan Moulder and it's cool," Banks admits. Still, this release won't stop detractors from labeling the guys as a bunch of hyperserious dudes in well-tailored suits grasping at darkness.