Back In Black: Interpol

Interpol reconvene for their fifth LP—but they’d prefer separate interviews. Thanks.


It’s a steamy June night when I meet Paul Banks at a Brooklyn café, but the Interpol frontman is pin-sharp in a suave black suit, seemingly unfettered by the heat. We’re here to discuss the evolution of Interpol’s fifth album, El Pintor, but first, Banks wants to know if I’ve ever been surfing.

“Well,” he says slowly, when I confess that I haven’t. “There’s a Zen thing that does happen. You get this feeling of ‘If some shark wants to fucking eat me, then he’s the asshole; I’m just out here trying to enjoy the ocean.’ You lose the fear, and you don’t have that panic you have as a kid, you know?”

Banks could easily be talking about the process of making El Pintor, Interpol’s first record in four years. A fearless collection of cinematic rock songs imbued with energetic, layered guitars, taut melodies, and Banks’s exquisite baritone, El Pintor (Spanish for “the painter” and an Interpol anagram that Banks jokes “won out over Proltien”) saw the frontman take over bass duties for the first time, after Carlos Dengler quit in 2010.

In the years since Dengler’s departure, Banks and bandmates Daniel Kessler (guitar) and Sam Fogarino (drums) toured extensively, released solo material, and in Kessler’s case, opened a Brooklyn restaurant, Bergen Hill.

Despite their genuine affection for one another, Interpol conducts all of their interviews separately, because, as Fogarino puts it later while sipping a martini in the café’s courtyard: “We’re horrifying. We’ve done it in the past, and we talked over each other, we’d get angry. Even if you’re trying to be complimentary about another person, it’s hard to be honest if they’re sitting right there.”

That morning at The Bowery Hotel, Kessler explained how the group reconvened in the summer of 2012: “We hadn’t really discussed doing another record, but we got together in a friend’s space and started working on songs that would eventually become ‘Anywhere,’ ‘My Desire,’ and ‘Same Town, New Story.’”

Interpol formed in 1997 in New York, where Banks, Kessler, Dengler, and original drummer Greg Drudy studied at New York University. (Fogarino replaced Drudy in 2000.) Their debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, released in 2002 amidst the rabble-rousing of fellow New York bands The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, became a post-punk touchstone for dark, atmospheric rock. Follow-ups Antics (2004), Our Love to Admire (2007), and Interpol (2010) cemented their status as elegant art rockers with a knack for enigmatic melancholy; their penchant for bespoke suits set them apart from their scruffy, Converse-clad contemporaries.

“I was annoyed by all of the attention on fashion in the early days,” says Banks of Interpol’s dapper aesthetic, “so I swung the other way and dressed down. Now I feel like the original concept of our band was to have a strong visual identity, so I’m back on board with that.” While his fashion has returned to form, Banks says that he changed things up lyrically on El Pintor: “fewer sex themes, more love themes,” he says, adding that the songs come from “a more positive place.”

For Fogarino, the only member of Interpol who no longer calls New York home—he decamped to Athens, Georgia, in 2008—the goal is always to convey honest emotions. “A lot of our sound is based on feeling, and that can be detrimental sometimes because we’re very sensitive individuals,” he says. “We are emotive as friends, too. We have immense love for each other, and that comes with riding the rails of ‘I fucking hate you! I love you!’” he says with a laugh. “It’s that very brotherly thing.” He shrugs, swills the last of his martini, and orders another. “We might all be coming from different directions, but the focal point is always, ‘Well, what’s the fucking song?’”

Words By Lucy Brook. Photographed by Jimmy Fontaine.