Saturday Afternoon Artist - Interpol

photo by Gregory A. Perez

On first hearing Interpol, they seemed to be just another group mimicking the sound of alt-rock legends Bauhaus.  And as a dedicated Bauhaus fan, every song of Interpol’s sounded to me like a light version of only one of Bauhaus’s variety of styles. Specifically, I think they mimic the one used on the Brian Eno cover “Third Uncle”:

But because the band was new and sounded like Bauhaus, I still played them on the radio. And a few songs started to grow on me... Then one sunny day while walking down Broadway in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood someone was blasting the 2002 record Turn on the Bright Lights from my favorite coffee stand.  I got a cup of joe and sat and listened to the rest of the album. Watching the colorful Seattle folk go by and relaxing into the fuzzy guitar darkness and distant, compelling emotional light that this band was putting off.

I still think frontman Paul Banks sounds like a less dynamic Peter Murphy. And they will never be the musicians that Bauhaus are.  But there is a poetry in the Interpol lyrics that is totally unique.  In fact the new album has some gorgeous words on it.

And it’s now the writing that makes me an Interpol fan. In fact the lyrics in the song “Lights” are seriously artistic... and the depth of Banks’ darkness is haunting.

All that I see
show me your ways
teach me to meet my desires... with some grace

All that I fear
don’t turn away
and leave me to plead in this hole of a place... what if I never break
estuary won’t you take me
far away
far away

All that I seek
please police me
I want you to police me
but keep it clean
uhhh...

now that you mean... my day
now let’s take them away
(that’s why I hold you)
Strong as you’ve seen
bold as you behave
(that’s why I hold you)
you will always obey
(that’s why I hold you)

The writing is so well done it reminds me of one of my favorite poems, T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J Alfred Proofrock”:

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

This New York band started when guitar player Daniel Kessler met bassist Carlos D at NYU in 1998.  They then took up with lead vocalist, guitarist Paul Banks and drummer Sam Fogarino. This past year, Carlos D left the band, so Interpol is now a trio, using “hired guns” for drummers and keys.  As a live band they are very, very stoic, like vampires almost -- in slow motion, as if they all just crawled out of their respective coffins. When I saw them I kept wishing Peter Murphy would bust in and make them do something, anything! They barely move at all when they play, maybe because the personal feel of the lyrics is plenty spark for most Interpol fans.  So dig out your black clothes and get ready to sway to the beat and bliss out on fuzzy guitar sound when these guys come to Seattle on January 28 at the Showbox SoDo.

Michele Myers spins every Saturday on KEXP from 3-6pm.  It’s a high-energy show that is geared to ramp you up for Saturday night... Every week she plays 3-in-a-row from the Saturday Afternoon Artist. She is the creator of KEXP Documentaries and hosts Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 6-9am on WNYE 91.5FM in New York City.

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4 Comments

  1. Jay
    Posted January 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I always thought they had a big dose of Joy Division in them, as well, and was initially unmoved. But, yeah that darkness, that voice: it eventually gets inside of you and speaks for you. I will be out of town when they play the Showbox, but I love this band, and am glad they are hanging in, for the time being.

  2. Nick Thacker
    Posted January 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Not Bauhaus. More like Joy Division, thank you very much.

  3. Laurie
    Posted January 23, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Michele.

    Can I add my 2-cents? Stripping away direct comparisons to other bands, think of them rather as a reflection of the kind of post-punk “Manchester Sound” Tribe. As if their collective DNA creates the association to that kind of sound as the starting point of their Interpol journey and eclectic influences as individuals. e.g., My visceral memory when I first heard “Slow Hands,” from their 2nd album “Antics,” took me straight to the Chameleons’ song “Up the Down Escalator” even though they were different songs structurally. The rhythm of the guitar riff, emotional intensity - the energy behind the song, demanded a response.

    Paul Banks’ vocals, a baritone who has been improving his technique and vocal strength, can put emotion and focused intensity behind his lyrics better than any poetry reading I’d experienced. He holds back just enough, lays low, lets the story build. In the new album, “Lights” takes me to dark back alley of an old Broadway theater, then step by step through the interior clutter, onto a center stage with only a spotlight and echos of an empty house.

    Interpol also has an underlying rhythm section that is one of the best of any band I’ve heard -- Sam Fogarino. He’s been described as “a drummer’s drummer” with technical precision, respect for the instrument, and like Mr. Banks, knows when to hold back just enough, lay low, and let the story build. He’ll underscore the lyrics and drive the sound forward. Listen to “Take You on a Cruise” from “Antics” for an example of what I mean.

    With bassist Carlos D gone from the line-up and doing other things now, I expect the dynamics of the whole to shift again, and I’m curious how the live experience will be.

    Can’t wait!

  4. dj michele
    Posted January 28, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Well-said Laurie! And I have to disagree with the Joy Division comparison. Joy Division has a frinetic energy that is nothing like Interpol. But the guitar sounds are similar, I’ll give you that.

    Thanks for your thoughts everyone. Keep em coming. M

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