Just before the end of an evenly matched game of pool at a bar on Clark Avenue near the Cabaret Metro, Paul Banks, the lead singer of New York City's Interpol, says, "Shit, I'm gonna lose." Although he lost during this pre-concert ritual, the band's performance didn't falter in the least on Sunday, January 13. Interpol powered through all the hooks of their songs without losing any of their atmospheric hum. Their current tour comes at the start of rocketing critical success. Within eight months after releasing their first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, they've been mentioned consistently in big magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin, but it doesn't seem that the band's recent success has altered them much.
Paul says that he feels "no negative aspects" about [their recent success] because it's been everything that they wanted it to be. Critics have shown very little disapproval of their first album, so one would expect their current notoriety to be a fun ride. A common take on the band is that they're a lot like Joy Division. Although both bands are recognizable for their attention to atmosphere and baritone vocals, Interpol's sound is entirely their own. What makes them exceptional is their ability to take their good taste in music and--instead of relying on it--blend in cool new sounds. Interpol's songwriting never feels like it belongs with another band, only that there are traces of the best features of some great bands. Interpol had been together for three years before the release of Turn on the Bright Lights and Banks says that he thinks they have a "well-developed approach to writing songs."
Turn on the Bright Lights opens with "Untitled," a cascading guitar drone played along heavy bass and drum lines. Like the entire album, the song is somber with a touch of muscle. In fact, all of the songs sound like one another so much that it is hard to discern one track from the next. This is by no means a bad thing, but it often seems like the band is exploring only one type of sound. The album is very good and we can definitely expect Interpol to make great music in the future, but at the present, Interpol seems overtly vague. Rarely do you really know what a song is about or whether or not it makes any sense at all. Nevertheless, for a first album, Bright Lights is truly remarkable and ambitious.
The band derives much of its ambition from some of the great bands that they all listened to growing up. Dan Kessler, the lead guitarist, listened to bands like Fugazi and the Clash while lead singer Paul Banks and drummer Sam Fogarino listened to the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Interestingly, the bassist, Carlos Dengler, listened to a lot of classical and early '80s music. According to Banks, songs usually start with bass lines and guitar hooks and quickly get blended with words. On the album, it definitely feels like words are being derived from music. Therein lies the problem: the lyrics often sound like mumbo-jumbo over cool riffs and guitar interchange. All the songs are about everything and nothing, and the album is less than memorable when you stop listening to it.
Performing live, however, all of the cool things about the band were highlighted. You would rarely find a guitar, bass, and simple keyboard band with as much depth as Interpol. Kessler and Banks's guitar work meshed together with the same mellow groove heard on the album. The best part about the performance was the band's ability to create so much atmosphere. The one unreleased song that they played that night, which will probably be titled "Angels," sounded like their other stuff, only with more conciseness. Other highlights included the songs "NYC," "Leif Erikson," and "Stella was a diver and she was always down."
For a bunch of college kids on their first attempt, Interpol seems to be on a winning track. When asked what the next album might sound like, Banks said "us." Because of the many comparisons to other bands, Banks wanted to make it clear that Interpol has their own unique sound, and are not trying to be like anyone else. This is definitely a good attitude to have before undertaking the construction of their next album. With their foot in the door and a good attitude, Interpol won't be losing any time soon.