Beneath a lacquered veneer of black suits, hip coifs, and oblique lyrics, Interpol poses a conundrum to fans and foes alike.
Interpol -- singer/guitarist Paul Banks, guitarist Daniel Kessler, bassist Carlos Dengler (a.k.a. Carlos D), and drummer (and Fort Lauderdale ex-pat) Sam Fogarino -- have been deemed both innovative rockers and derivative neophytes since infiltrating New York City's music scene in 2000. With only two full-lengths under their skinny white belts, the band's ability to appeal to today's indie kids and yesterday's postpunk sentimentalists has nonetheless ensured success. Turn on the Bright Lights was an atmospheric debut bold enough to arch the most seasoned critic's eyebrows. It defied garage rock revivalist and rap-metal hybrid trends, taking its sound instead from the darker days of late Seventies/early Eighties Manchester. Driven by a voice exhaustively compared to Joy Division's ill-fated helmsman Ian Curtis, Bright Lights articulated the ennui of a hyper-stimulated generation. It nimbly tailored its earnest aesthetic to the new century and generated radio-friendly hits "Obstacle 1" and "PDA."
Then along came Antics. Released this past September, the record instinctively feels like a departure from its predecessor. Illustrated by the first single, "Slow Hands," Antics retains Bright Lights' tight dynamic and atmospheric conceit, but channels less of its brooding, minimalist tendencies. Though it may sound more commercially viable, its complexity also marks a maturation for Interpol. They even rise out of their perma-mope with Antics' opener "Next Exit," which is just doo-woppish and achy enough to inspire listeners to imagine Audrey Horne selecting it on the Twin Peaks jukebox.
"I'm extremely flattered by that reference," says Carlos D, who is on tour in San Francisco with fellow New York luminaries Blonde Redhead. "I think every band should try to expand when they make another record -- it should always be about pushing your own boundaries, testing your own limits."
But has Interpol truly perked up? Au contraire. According to Carlos D, they weren't that cranky in the first place. He insists that the two albums participate in a continuum, with about half of the new songs -- including "Next Exit" -- workshopped during the Bright Lights tour. Antics' more upbeat numbers, he says, "are very old songs, but we never really played or fine-tuned them enough to make them compatible with Bright Lights, so we just said, öYou know what, we'll tackle that problem on the second record.'"
Regardless of timeline, the boys seem to have glitzed up the glamour on Antics, no doubt with a boost from their home, Matador Records. "We honed our production skills," says Carlos D, "and I think all the tones and colors and textures are a lot crisper and brighter, and that gives the material the appearance that it's a little bit more optimistic or light-hearted."
Accompanying Interpol's enhanced musicianship are the myriad challenges of a grueling 2005 world tour. From February to April, they will play more than 41 cities and sell out large theaters such as Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. Going global, Carlos D explains, comes with its own postmodern complications.
"Europe can be a bit awkward if you're flying around all over the place, because you're constantly changing," he says. "There are many times when I've had to think to myself, Which language are people speaking right now? German or French?
"It's exciting on one level," he continues. "You get this pan-cultural kind of experience within a very short period of time. But when you're on the road, creature comforts take such prime importance that [other] challenges such as culture shock, for instance, aren't often received sympathetically, to put it euphemistically," he laughs.
Hassles aside, Carlos D seeks a different kind of solace during the band's regular after-parties, which take place about every other show. Off-stage, he proves deft on the decks, spinning primarily, in his own words, "darky, postpunky, New Wavey type stuff" such as Tones on Tail, Bauhaus, and Joy Division, natch. "That's the axis that my DJ sets revolve around," he says. "But then I do things like öPush It' by Salt-N-Pepa, öPaid in Full' by Eric B & Rakim, then I play metal, some Led Zeppelin."
"DJ'ing has always been a pastime for me," he says. "I can't really go to sleep at a certain time, so I tend to go out, and I've developed a fascination and appreciation for that sort of energy you feel when the right song comes on and everybody's loving it."
It remains to be seen if this mix can withstand the pressures that lurk beyond the current tour. Antics may be a noteworthy followup to an arresting debut, but Interpol's survival is contingent upon its ability to remain innovative. To that end, when the tour concludes, the band is eager to pursue its "little pet agendas," from Fogarino's interest in opening a recording studio to Banks's pursuit of his solo material.
Though some might consider the band's Icarus-like rise to fame a sure-fire route to an early demise, Carlos D sees things clearly. When asked how their careers' trajectory might affect their growth as artists, he gives a well-worn, pat response.
"All the other things that accompany this lifestyle," he explains, "in the way of attention and press and comparisons and influences and themes, we consider extraneous to what we're really concentrating on, which is our music and our fans. Those are the only really important aspects for us ... because then it becomes just about the music [being] as good as possible. By filtering out all the other stuff, we prevent it from contaminating the mix that we've got going."
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