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The Story Behind The Song: The grisly backstory behind Interpol's 'Evil'

Between the years of 1971 and 1987, Fred and Rosemary West, a seemingly ordinary English couple, murdered at least nine women, including Fred’s daughter, Charmaine. Based out of Gloucester, the couple would lure young women into their home and systematically rape, torture, and dismember them, mostly to indulge Fred’s sadistic sexual gratification.

Fred killed himself in prison, while Rosemary remains incarcerated to this day. There’s really only one word for those kinds of people: evil. A number of years after the couple’s infamous killing spree, a young man who was born less than 150 miles away but would eventually settle in America by the name of Paul Banks, would be inspired to write a song detailing the horrific mindset of a monster.

‘Evil’ reads as a conversation of sorts between Fred and Rosemary, promising redemption in heaven for their actions on earth in a demented, fucked up bit of arrogance. Much in the same way that serial killers have a morbid, fascinating pull on the general public, ‘Evil’ drags you into its darkness because it seems bouncy and harmless on the surface.

A major part of that allure comes from the song’s opening bass line. There remains some debate as to who specifically is responsible for Interpol’s signature blend of snaking guitar lines, melodic bass, and gothic atmosphere. Guitarist Daniel Kessler, another English-American export, is usually cited as the main composer of Interpol’s music, including the stark bass line performed by Carlos Dengler on ‘Evil’. However, writing credits are shared between all members of the band, so until Kessler directly confirms it, both he and Dengler can fight over the ownership of such a fantastically written low-end rumble.

Whoever wrote it, Dengler imbues the bass line with a steady drive that provides a rock solid foundation for each additional element, including Sam Fogarino’s dry and deceptively tricky drum patterns, Kessler’s hypnotic power chords, and Banks’ singular baritone drawl. Antics, Interpol’s second LP, is the last album where Banks’ rough and ready vocal style is at the fore, retaining the thornier and less refined aspects that come with still being young and drunk a lot of the time (Banks would later embrace sobriety, and boxing, by Interpol’s third album Our Love to Admire). It serves Banks well on ‘Evil’, as his vocal takes on an unsettlingly dark quality, filled with deviousness and lasciviousness when he beckons “You’re coming with me/Through the ageing, the fear and the strife.”

When it came time to make a video for ‘Evil’, the band decided that they had grown tired of the traditional performance visualisers that they had favoured up to this point. Instead, they wanted something as creepy and unnerving as the song itself. Enter Norman the puppet.

Opening on the scene of a car crash, the song’s vocals are performed in the video not by Banks, but by a life-size animatronic puppet that fans would later christen “Norman”. Constantly dancing in a twitchy and disconcerting way, Norman takes us from the accident to the hospital, only to flail around in nightmarish fashion while reciting the song’s disturbing lyrics. In its own way, it’s the perfect accompaniment to the song, bringing all the bizarre and off-putting elements of the track without being too on the nose about its central subject matter.

Everything about ‘Evil’ is ever-so-slightly spine-chilling, whether it’s the opening bass line, Banks’ deeply intoned narration of Fred’s inner thoughts, or the uncanny and eerie video. However, ‘Evil’ wouldn’t have become one of Interpol’s signature songs without the kind of power and arena-ready catchiness that the band were sometimes loathe to admit they were great at. ‘Evil’ cemented Interpol’s reputation as the darker edge of 2000s indie rock, taking listeners to depths that other bands couldn’t, or wouldn’t, touch.

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