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Music

Far Out Meets: A weekend with Interpol

It’s somewhat unbelievable to think that Interpol’s debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights, came out 20 years ago this coming August. It’s an album that is still pulling in new fans all across the world with its unique and mysteriously dark energy. I had the pleasure of discussing the impact that record had on contemporary music with Interpol’s drummer, Sam Fogarino, while the band were promoting their new album, The Other Side of Make-Believe.

When I brought up Interpol’s debut and the fact that it is still talked about 20 years after its release, Fogarino replied: “I couldn’t be more ecstatic over the fact that it has such staying power. There are other bands that put out a couple of records that nobody really cares about until maybe their third or fourth when they finally get this credibility. That would kind of suck. It’s like it’s part of your effort, which is ignored because it wasn’t perceived as good.”

Contemplating for a moment, Fogarino added: “But then when you put out that kind of powerful debut, that becomes a benchmark, right? And it’s like, that’s not a burden. It’s a beautiful thing. And just the fact that it’s still being celebrated and still considered relevant. I mean, we’re still being accepted as a current band.”

Interpol are indeed a current band; they have consistently delivered excellent full-length albums, which is why it makes it all the more surprising that they started up some 25 years ago when many of their peers have either gone on hiatus or split completely. Any band with a career as decorated as Interpol’s must surely view themselves as a professional outfit. I was curious as to how things had changed since the band’s early days.

“You know, the real party times are over,” Fogarino said. “It’s like, I still want to have fun, but it’s easy to become aware of what you’re missing. You know, the youthful kind of lust for it. In the early days, it was like the party’s coming to me every night. I mean, for the first couple tours, until I had a child, it was like kind of full on. I was dubbed Hurricane Sam! But it was justified and almost warranted that you just go, you play the show, and then it is just elation.”

“It was just being realised, like, this is really happening,” he added. “You’re stoked to meet people with this thing you’re doing, and I really enjoyed that. But I guess just like everything; it changes to something else. I think now, at this point, there’s such a concentration to the performance. Not that there wasn’t then. It’s just a new approach, a different approach, and I think it comes with the natural trajectory of things. But of course, we’re the Interpol that has always been doing it. There’s that energy of the early days, but now it’s way more informed. And I feel like it’s been kind of harnessed, and it’s more dynamic. And that’s just how it translates, to finally realise, like, you’re doing it, and there’s a greater reason than just having fun.”

Interpol were in London to celebrate the release of their new album, The Other Side of Make-Believe, playing a string of three dates across London and turning up at an exhibition at the Truman Brewery, which showcased photographs documenting the recording of the album, taken by the acclaimed Atiba Jefferson. Like most bands who have released records in the past two years, much of the writing process naturally occurred remotely.

On the process of writing an album under such peculiar circumstances, Fogarino felt that Interpol would most likely look at using a similar approach in the future. He said: “Interpol has always operated like, you know, a punk band in a basement, dingy surroundings and just feeding off the energy of being in person together. But it actually proved to be liberating. The band has been following the same process for a couple of decades. But Paul said he could explore different timbres of his voice as he wasn’t battling the loud drums and amplification. So that was great for him. And I could kind of do the same thing. Where I could really explore something without worrying.”

“It’s normally a lot harder for me because it’s like, I’m trying to look for the brilliant part on the spot. But when you have a whole day to yourself, just to record what you’re doing, you can go until you really feel like you want to share something. That was priceless.”

Album of the Week: Interpol prove the lights are still bright with ‘The Other Side of Make-Believe’

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After sharing ideas for new songs with one another online, the band met up in the Catskills mountain range in upstate New York to properly construct the album, firstly in a normal house before heading to a recording studio built by Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes, armed with a top-quality German mixing console.

“It was fun. It was totally romantic,” Fogarino said. “Like, just being in the middle of nowhere. Of course, you know, you’re sharing this house that’s big enough for three people. And then every day, you wake up, you make your coffee, and you go to the studio.”

The Other Side of Make-Believe was recorded in London with Alan Moulder and Flood — famously, Moulder had previously mixed Interpol (2010) and El Pintor (2014), the band’s fourth and fifth studio albums. I found it interesting that Interpol decided to celebrate their album launch in London rather than in the States. However, I discovered that the band has a special relationship with England’s capital and the UK in general.

“Immediately, it was England and London,” Fogarino said. “Mainly. That put us on the map. Yeah, and Chemical Underground out of Scotland. Years ago, they released a limited edition EP. I think 1500 copies, CD and vinyl. And that’s how we got signed. It led to a John Peel Session, and then that’s what Matador heard. I think I remember reading that Interpol is England’s American band.”

“I think there’s a certain musical sophistication here, but not in the way music is made or whatever. But in the way it’s perceived. Yeah, it’s far more important culturally and supported culturally than in the States. There it’s kind of like, the rest of life doesn’t care. It’s an escape. But here, it’s engrossed as the main thing. It’s not looked upon like it’s something, you know, dirty kids do. Do you know what I mean? It’s different. A different appreciation.”

The first night of three live shows in London took place at St. Johns Church in Hackney, a beautiful 1,800-capacity venue, perfect for the mystique and aura surrounding a band like Interpol. I was fortunate enough to attend the show, which showcased a band still in the depths of true love for playing live music, though now with the aforementioned professionalism of a group with a long history.

On playing a smaller, intimate venue, Fogarino said: “I imagine it might piss off some people because they can’t get in it. But we always need to do some intimate shows. Like, I don’t think it’s ever left our DNA. And I think it’s kind of for the people who are really hardcore. Yeah, intimacy. And, as much as I like playing in front of big crowds, the smaller shows always had more intimacy; they’re closer to the crowd.”

Having spoken to Sam Fogarino, I discovered what it was like to be in a band that, having had such a long and glittering career, had been viewing themselves with the professionalism that can only come once the excitement of the first ten years of being in a touring band, the partying, the drugs, etc., had, not exactly yet died down completely, but changed into something different.

Interpol are a band whose sound is consistently their own; it’s moody, dark, ethereal, and undoubtedly ‘New York’. Going through their catalogue, from 2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights right up to the brand new The Other Side of Make-Believe, you will find a group of artists who have never doubted themselves, who have found joy in every moment of their career, whether in the hedonism of ‘the early days’ or in the focused professionalism of the now.

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