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Intercontinental Interpol

You may have read my interview with The Delgados in the past issue, and if you had, you would know that opening for their show the night of the interview was an ’80s influenced band – Joy Division inspired to be exact – called Interpol. I have to admit I wasn’t knocked out right away but I was after all, waiting to see the coolest and most progressively entrepreneurial band from Glasgow. I am on the balcony watching Alun and Stewart (members of The Delgados) looking over the handrail down at the band they just took under their wing, being their fukd i.d. series which is the baby of their hugely successful record label, Chemkal Underground. The series releases a random collection of singles/EPs on both 12″ and CD. All come in deluxe packaging – black sleeves with silver stickering and Interpol got to be their third in the collection, released on December 11, 2000. I can’t really say if it’s done them much good except get them noticed in Europe, and hell yes, the Delgados connection can’t hurt. Nevertheless, the drones of the music industry have yet to take serious notice of this band since they’re not selling tits and ass and they don’t come on stage with needles dangling from their arms in torn t-shirts. They’re in search of a record label and I’m hoping some moron of an A&R person at an indie label will take notice and give listeners some music made by talented musicians who actually know how to dress. The most elusive thing to an A&R moron? They’re smart.

There I am watching them rock out – in very stately fashion.  They are akin in performance to The Delgados, the kings of intellectual Scottish mellow rock so it was fine; because of this I couldn’t imagine them opening with a band like The Mekons. I guess I bitched about that. I then noticed that the singer, Paul, sounds exactly like Ian Curtis of Joy Division.  Right after that, I realize that they’re music sounds like Joy Division. They’re a Joy Division knock off! But I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Formed in 1998, as students of New York University, Interpol designs requiems using uncluttered, exquisite disciplines with a dint of repetitive prose and music moves. Paul is hypnotic and dejected when in the doldrums, drones eerily evocative of Ian Curtis, but confident and triumphant when pushing forth his somber meditations. There is something monotone about that voice, despite any high, that says there is never a release to this depression. Never a true crescendo. Never a heart-stopping moment.  Nothing will ever work out, it seems to channel. Didn’t Ian Curtis hang himself? I do believe he did.

City Search.com states boldly that Interpol is “nominated for best local unsigned band, this downtown guitar quartet is the closest Americans have gotten to the spirit of the late Joy Division’s Ian Curtis”. They are one of the best British-sounding bands in the country, but they shower. I guess you could call them American-Brit-Pop.  Didn’t Bob Pollard sing with a British accent for fifteen years?  On stage, after the initial shock that you are not watching Joy Division, you will be captivated by their intensity. Their music is not opaque, it’s multi-level see-right-through-you rock, and perhaps that is the magic of the repeated chorus. You hear something over and over again, you begin to believe it, not unlike affirmations, for good or bad. Luckily Interpol is fighting the forces of evil by detouring through hell. Someone once told me that a good therapist is someone who will hold your hand on the journey to the abyss of the dark netherworld, and guide you back up till you see the face of God. If you listen to Interpol enough, you will find your way back. I am always suspicious of liking music on the first listen.  Those songs get old fast.  As with Interpol, if you listen to them three four times, you’ll be hooked.  I promise.

Fast forward –

We agreed via e-mail through several cancellations to meet at M&R Bar in the now obnoxiously fashionable Nolita (North of Little Italy) section of New York. We were waiting for each other in two separate rooms so, of course, I thought they were irresponsible brats trying to be bad-asses by being late. Oooo… they’re late… how original! But out comes Carlos, the band’s bassist and keyboardist, and I recognize him and introduce myself and he tells me they’ve been waiting for me in the other room for a while. After removing my foot from my fast-talkin’ illusions, they come out to meet me and order some drinks – a bands best friend, and my favorite elixir to pry the good stuff out of ‘em.

Paul , the lead singer no less, is conspicuously absent.  Not good.  I was actually a bit pissed off about this, since the lead singer is clearly pivotal to a band’s image… with him absent, the image was a bit blurry.  Daniel, the lead guitarist, has cozied up and the drummer, Samuel, is warming up to the interview.  Carlos is conspicuously quiet (Samuel says his tongue is forked and to watch out – boy was he right!).   He’s also dressed like he would be on stage – which is to say, he looks great.  There’s a refinement to him that seems surprising for a rock-star.

“There’s an irony in that at a show we did once in a festival in France recently and of all the bands that were playing we were the only Americans, yet we sounded the most British,” Carlos says.  Daniel adds, “If there were more labels in the US that were interested in us on a level we require as well it could work out, but in Europe they get the sound.  The industry and scene is more open.  We even got more radio-play.”  It sets the stage for a conundrum that can’t be overlooked.  The fact that they sound like Joy Division cannot be denied.  That they dress up, as did the British bands of the New Wave (i.e. Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, etc.), gives  credence to the mistaken identity.  Most local bands sport the heroine chic, somebody pump my stomach look.   They also get comparisons to Wire and The Chameleons.  “That’s the timeless stuff of the 80’s so it’s fine.  It’s not nostalgic.  It wasn’t intentional.  I think that’s great.  That’s when I started liking music myself,”  Samuel says justifying their image.  Luckily for them, the 80’s resurgence is upon us and they’re poised to ride the Neo-New Wave.

Their biggest coup was getting picked by The Delgados for their fukd i.d. series.  It’s a limited edition run but it got them immense coverage in Europe and probably put them on the music map, so to speak.  Daniel, who worked at a label, had access to the Scotts and when in Germany at a Mogwai show, handed it over.  Emma liked it a lot and got the rest of the band to take on Interpol for the series.  Hence, they opened for them at the show I was at.  “It was a fun show,” says Daniel.  Time Out New York claimed it was on their top ten best shows of 2000.  Impressive indeed.  Carlos chimes in, “Their aesthetic, to be candid, is not what I look for in music, but I found myself sitting by the stage mesmerized.  For a band that I normally wouldn’t pick up to do that to me…”

The word Interpol does not exist in the dictionary.  But the International Criminal Police Organization is referred to as INTERPOL.  Their objective is “to help create a safer world. Our aim is to provide a unique range of essential services for the law enforcement community to optimize the international effort to combat crime.”  However, when you ask the band how they got that name, you get the answer you get when you ask every band.  Daniel confirms, “We got it by going through some seriously bad names.  It’s embarrassing.  We’ve played shows with no name.”  When asked for some of the “bad names” I get a speedy retort from Carlos who’s talking now:  “It’s Classified.”  How governmental.  We laugh.  “It was Paul’s idea.  His story is that he was teased by a friend of his who used to say: Paul Paul Interpol.”

We’re toasty by now.  The subject of the current musical state comes up.  The boy-bands and pop-princesses are talked about vehemently.  We all agree that it will eventually crash, though Daniel seems frustrated.  “It’s been going on a long time now.  Longer than most styles usually last.”   Samuel cites that the Sex Pistols came about when music was in a similarly pathetic state.  “There were sanitation strikes.  The local politics, stuff that was going on.  Music sucked.”  It’s prime for revolution.  “It goes back to why we’re doing business in Europe.  It’s like, that whole openness is prevalent there.  There are some great independent labels in this country, but they’re not open to us yet.  It’s timing too.”

The conversation drifts away from music and we are now fairly inebriated and just talking bull-shit.  Somehow John Malkovich comes up and Carlos lights up.  I ask if he likes him and he sarcastically replies, “No, I hate him!  Hello???  I do have some taste!”  Yes, the booze is working.  When I told him that I recently interviewed Willem Dafoe he adds, “Oh my God, another god!”  The time together now is spent talking  about our love lives and day jobs.  Carlos realizes this lapse in professionalism and says, “Is the interview still going on?”  They don’t know that this is for the “In the drink…” series we do.  That is to say that we take a band out to drink and write about it.  I reply, “No.”  We just keep talking about stuff until the momentum wanes and it’s time to go home.  We bid our adieu’s and they say they’ll keep in touch, which they have.

On my walk home I think how unlike INTERPOL (the governmental organization) they are.  There weren’t any real secrets.  There weren’t any code words.  It never felt like an interrogative interview from what I could see.  They’re a young band with a fast-growing and loyal following here and especially abroad.  It’s a matter of time when the labels here will catch on… not unlike the Brit bands they’re always compared to that inevitably made it here.

I consider Interpol expatriates in their own land with their hearts on their sleeves, guitars on their backs.

-Ty Wenzel

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