Interpol’s debut album was a game changer. Their brooding masterpiece became a soundtrack for the post 9/11 indie rock generation. P4k talked to the band about the making of Turn on the Bright Lights which you can read here in full. I’d recommend reading the whole article, but to get you started here are some choice insights below:
DANIEL KESSLER: We all moved towards a model, which was: I play something, then Paul does something, then Carlos does something, and then Greg chimes in, and so forth.
PAUL BANKS: We take the look seriously, and I think every band should. To phone-in any facet of the artistic idea is contrary to my overall philosophy.
CHRIS LOMBARDI [co-owner of Matador Records]: That’s how they rolled, and it wasn’t a bad look– it’s not like they were wearing clown suits. They were well-behaved gentleman, which was refreshing.
PETER KATIS [producer, Turn on the Bright Lights]: They pulled it off because they were comfortable in it. Carlos had one alternate uniform, which was tracksuit pants and a black Duran Duran T-shirt. That’s all I ever saw besides their regular snazzy outfits.
CHRIS LOMBARDI: I remember hanging out with Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastianaround this time, and he asked us, “So, all the good bands are in New York these days?” He wasn’t joking. There was this idea that New York was– no pun intended– the ground zero for all the creative juices that were flowing in America. It really was all these indie rockers hanging out, pouring drinks. It was a total scene, for sure, and Interpol were a part of that.
PAUL BANKS: Although other bands were happening– I know Daniel and Sam were bros with [Nick] Zinner before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I was in the same bars with the guys from the Strokes– there wasn’t a group of people being like, “We’re part of the scene.”
CHRIS LOMBARDI: At the time, I don’t think they were anyone’s favorites in the city.
PAUL BANKS: It really wasn’t until the Strokes broke that anybody started talking about the New York scene. There was some protection in the idea that there was this romantic moment happening among musicians, but that didn’t really exist. But still, alongside the Strokes, there was TV on the Radio, the Walkmen, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs– that shit’s all real and it was all coming out at the same time. So, historically, it was definitely a scene, but not the kind of scene where we were all feeling it at the time.
CARLOS DENGLER: We were always surprised about how much the New York label was attached to us because we never saw ourselves as a New York-style band– we saw ourselves as an inspired band.
Interpol made self-released demo EPs between 1997 and 2000 in the hopes of catching labels’ attention. Meanwhile, the roles of each member began to form.
DANIEL KESSLER: Those first couple years we just tried to climb the ladder, opening for other bands, starting a mailing list. We got to open for Mogwai at Bowery Ballroom in early ’99, and that was a big deal.
PAUL BANKS: Basically, every band that makes it has some dude with some sense of business. I don’t know if our band would’ve been so successful were it not for Daniel’s insight into how things really work.
PAUL BANKS: I was sort of in la-la land: “Let’s get wasted and make rock music.” That was as far as I thought about it. Daniel was the one who was diligently saying, “We should make a demo, send it out, play shows but not too many shows, get on shows with touring bands that are coming to New York.” I was just like, “Cool man, that sounds good.”
PAUL BANKS: When I say I had a cosmic confidence that we were capable of writing good music, I’m speaking about that time when we met Sam. Greg is actually a really great drummer and a great guy. I never want to sound like I am belittling his contributions in the early days, but when Sam joined, there was an immediacy of, like, “Here we go.”
DANIEL KESSLER: When Sam joined we were reborn and became a much better band.
PAUL BANKS: It could have everything to do with the fact that he was a guy who had been in rock bands for a decade, and he was cooking food off of a gas grill in a fucking empty warehouse because he was a lifer. And that was something I was keenly aware of: Now, we were all giving everything for this.
In April, 2001, Interpol traveled across the Atlantic to play a small UK tour and record a session for legendary BBC radio figure John Peel, who had caught wind of their demo tape.
CARLOS DENGLER: The UK tour was an epic conquest, but it was the epitome of the DIY experience– we were staying on people’s floors. But that’s when I signed my first autograph.
The Strokes had already become the NME media darling, so we were there in the wake– little did we know that we were piggybacking on something that would ultimately propel us to similar heights..
Signing w/ Matador:
CHRIS LOMBARDI: The first thing they sent me [was their demo]. I had been sent it a couple of times, it was not a pressing thing. Then I brought the CD-R with me on a family trip and I cracked it open in the car, and I came back and called [Matador co-founder] Gerard [Cosloy] and I was like, “Let’s talk about Interpol.”
CHRIS LOMBARDI: It was different than any meeting we’d ever had before. It felt like I was in a board meeting, like they were four businessmen who happened to be in the business of making music, and who were very serious about their art.
CARLOS DENGLER: The songs were written before 9/11, but the unintentional meaning they take on isn’t any less of a meaning; we were holding the cards to a certain message that was about to become relevant. It’s insane. It’s like the universe is taking care of us, even in the form of a horrific event.
PETER KATIS: The band came in super ready, and it was really more of a question of trying to get a really cool, good, solid, overall sound.
PETER KATIS: There’s something grand about the record. It’s an odd mixture: kind of crappy-sounding and lo-fi and sludgy in ways, but it also sounds great. People talked about the luscious sound of the reverb, but it’s fucking literally almost the cheapest reverb sound. Those guys came in with their little Alesis MicroVerbs– cheaper reverbs have a sound that is darker and messier and cooler. And that’s part of what gives the drums such a spank. Without that little $50 piece of gear, the record would’ve sounded totally different.
PAUL BANKS: I hated the sound of my own voice so much on one song that I couldn’t wait to put the distortion on after the fact. I was like, “I don’t want anyone to hear it unless we are distorting it out of my mouth.”
CHRIS LOMBARDI: The first tour sold out before they left. And by the time they flew out to Los Angeles to play at Troubadour, you felt like you could get trampled to death, it’s a pretty tight place. At one point, every show I went to I could always see Paul, and Paul could always see me. I’m a pretty tall guy. And I remember there was one show where he couldn’t see me anymore. I was like, “Those guys are on their way.”