Daniel Kessler of INTERPOL - March 18, 2015
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Photo by: Jelle Wagenaar
There were no guarantees that Interpol would make another record. Following the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler at the end of their 2010 self-titled LP & more than 200 shows in support of it, the band’s remaining members—guitarist & backing vocalist Daniel Kessler, singer/guitarist Paul Banks & drummer Sam Fogarino took a break for most of 2012. For the first time, they all lived in different cities, providing both geographic & mental distance from all things Interpol.
Technically speaking, all things Interpol began at NYU in 1997, when Kessler recruited Dengler & Banks to form a band. "I didn’t care so much about talented musicians or having similar tastes in music as finding people with a certain sensibility," he remembers.
In 2002, with Fogarino on drums, the band signed to Matador & released Turn On The Bright Lights, which Pitchfork named the year’s #1 album. Over the next decade, they would go on to release a trio of records that found them cracking the Top 5 on the Billboard 200; earning rave reviews from Rolling Stone to TIME; headlining major festivals like Lollapalooza & touring with iconic bands including U2 & the Cure. They explored side & solo projects during their time apart, but ultimately found themselves drawn back together again, not by any expectations of returning to the studio, but rather by that same unshakable urge that brought them together in the first place, to let the music lead them where it may.
“Paul and I got together for a short spell in August 2012, which was the first foray into seeing if we should do something,” remembers Kessler. “We had no plans whatsoever. I certainly didn’t have anything in my brain saying we had to do this. It was just us playing music to see if there was something there.”
It quickly became apparent that there was indeed something there, something urgent & compelling, something revitalized & re-energized by their time apart.
“Paul started singing in that first day or two, which is great, because it doesn’t always happen like that,” remembers Kessler, who composes much of the music.
“I think he had the chorus melody for ‘My Desire’ right off the bat, so there was this good energy. It felt very exciting, like this was the beginning of something.”
Those hot August days spent sweltering in an AC-less rehearsal space belonging to fellow NYC band Battles proved to be the birthing ground for El Pintor, Interpol’s fifth & most exhilarating studio album. It’s a driving, relentless record, taut & epic in equal measure. It’s also an album of firsts.
“Carlos was a gigantic part of our band & he contributed greatly to our records,” Kessler explains. “So recording without Carlos was definitely a change. But we didn’t spend much time thinking about it, we just closed our circle & dealt with what was on the table.”
That meant Banks stepping in to write & perform the bass parts for the first time. With Banks on bass, “the songs started growing in identity,” explains Kessler, who frequently found exciting & unexpected counterparts to his guitar riffs in Banks’ bass lines during those early writing sessions. “It was sort of like a new band in that sense.”
Recorded at the legendary Electric Lady Studios & the brand new Atomic Sound in NYC, ‘El Pintor’ kicks off with “All The Rage Back Home,” a song that was actually born on the final day of the band’s last tour, as Kessler stood on a balcony overlooking Buenos Aires. It’s likely no coincidence, then, that the song signals a return to what Interpol does best, layering pulsing bass, bursts of guitar & driving drums beneath Banks’ instantly recognizable voice.
“My Desire” fell into place almost instantly during rehearsals with a throbbing beat & insistent guitar riffs that shoot off like flares into the night, while “Same Town, New Story” took on an entirely new identity in the studio, as Banks crafted up an unexpected melodic context for Kessler’s laser-sharp guitar lines.
Lyrically, there’s an air of darkness that weaves its way throughout the record. “This kind of shit don’t heal in a week,” Banks sings on “My Blue Supreme,” & titles like “Twice As Hard” and “Everything Is Wrong” hint at a struggle for acceptance during difficult times, to not be “beaten by the weight of it,” as he laments on “Ancient Ways.”
In contrast with previous records, Interpol took a step back on El Pintor and “let the songs happen,” as Fogarino explains, embracing the patience it took to see where the music would lead them in its own due time. There may not have been any guarantees that they would record again, but the result is as accomplished & thrilling a collection as the band has ever released.
ALL ACCESS MUSIC writer, NICOLE DEROSA had the pleasure of chatting with INTERPOL'S guitarist and backing vocalist, DANIEL KESSLER before the band jet off to South America.
Enjoy their chat below...
Hi Daniel! Where does this interview find you? What’s on the agenda today besides our interview?
Hi Nicole! Today I’m just getting ready before Monday when we leave for South America – we’ll be travelling to Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay & then in April & May, we come back around to tour the States including playing at Coachella.
For those not as familiar with Interpol and your music, how did you get your start in music Daniel? How did you know you wanted to form the band with one another?
I started playing guitar when I was about 14 years old or something like that, pretty loosely. It was right around the time I stopped skateboarding, I remember. (laughs) I never took too well to lessons so I just started writing my own songs & I really enjoyed it & it became really important to me.
When I was in college I started realizing more that if I don’t try to play music & achieve forming a band I would be pretty miserable or not trying at least. So, I just started approaching everyone in the band, individually & somehow we had a band for about 4 or 5 years making demos & not having many records labels too interested in us & then we finally had the chance to make our first record in 2001.
We were definitely a part of the old way of doing things back then. We were in the minor leagues & it was tough. Sometimes you may think you want to quit before you might have had a chance to make a record & then you don’t & you decide to persevere & hopefully it makes you a better band. It made us a better band.
You guys released your fifth studio album, El Pintor this past September. What did you guys learn between albums that you felt you wanted to infuse into El Pintor?
Ya know, I never really think too much about what would be cool to do next. I never really sort of make a conscientious effort. We tour pretty hard after we release a record & with that, I find touring to be more about touring & less about writing, which is great. I love playing live & I love being able to play our catalogue now to people all over the world. It’s a real privilege.
What is your writing process like?
The good thing I discovered when I’m on the road is that even though I write more when I’m at home, I can also write when I’m on the road too. But the good thing about being on the road is that it gives you time to enjoy new experiences & grow as a person so when you finally get back from touring & take a little break, you have a new approach to writing music and writing songs. Something gets planted from that & it kinda grows from there.
I don’t really know what I’m trying to do when I start writing songs. They just kinda come out. I never really knew I was trying to write the songs that I wanted to be on El Pintor, but I think I was kinda in the mood to do it & some of it kinda came out of left field. Some of the parts of the album are kind of conceptual in parts, which is great where you can challenge yourself. It’s a very organic process, for lack of a better word.
Interpol is one of those bands that are unique in the sense that your songwriting methods include all of the band members, rather than relying on any given chief songwriter. How does that all come to fruition to create a cohesive song?
The songs tend to begin with me & then I’ll take them to Sam & Paul & then we start dressing them up as an Interpol piece. It works out really nicely especially as Paul has now assumed bass & bass guitar duties. It works really well & no one gears one person to one direction & that’s what is important to us. I might bring something to the table but then Sam might start playing a beat but Paul might start being more influenced more by Sam’s beat then my guitar part & start going in that direction. We don’t know what it’s going to sound like at the end & that’s what makes it so exciting.
What was the first album you purchased for yourself?
I grew up in a small town in England & France with my family & it was the early ‘80s when my brothers were all punk rock kids & that was their religion, so I was always around incredible underground music.
I think the first album that I bought for myself was probably U2’s Unforgettable Fire. I was maybe like 10 years old, I think? I was really young & for me to go buy an album for myself was a mission. The closest shopping mall was about 45 minutes away from where we lived.
There was like three music channels in France & there was one music channel that would come on at like midnight & we would record the show overnight & watch it the next day & I remember hearing about that record on that show & getting excited because I knew I wanted it when I heard when it just had come out.
Photo by: Jonathan Baker
Do you remember the first song you fell in love with?
I think the first song I fell in love with was “Come On Eileen”. I was really young…I was like five around that time & living in England. And I thought anytime that song was playing on the radio, it was for me! I would hold up an invisible microphone & sing it!
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
That’s too hard! I can’t….(laughs) that’s not fair, come on! I mean, Hendrix is one of my favorite guitarists. I would love to sit around with Hendrix for sure. I mean he is my favorite guitarists. He was a virtuoso guitarist & if not just a league of his own, he was on a planet of his own! He was so fresh. His singing delivery & his melodies & his guitar playing were just incredible. He was one of a kind.
Who has been your favorite band to tour with?
There are so many bands...that too hard! I can’t pick…that’s impossible. I think one of the best parts of when you do festivals is that you don’t really get to see a lot of your friends back home ironically because they are always touring. At festivals though, our lines luckily do cross.
Who is in your current playlist?
I’m excited about the new Mogwai record. I’ve know those guys forever, like since their first record. Also, I dig the new TV on The Radio record.
What’s on tap next for you Daniel? What are you most excited about in 2015?
Well, I’m definitely excited for the Interpol South America tour & going to Europe & then back to the States.
For me personally, I have this other record that I just put out. It’s my debut album called, First Light with my side project, Big Noble with my collaborator, sound designer, Joseph Fraioli which came out on February 2nd. It’s probably the opposite end of the spectrum from Interpol in that it’s all instrumental & almost like music for film. That was fun to do. And also, making videos for each one of those songs was fun too & those are now online for you to check out. I think doing something with your friends fuels your fire for things & with Interpol too. I think it's healthy & fun.
It’s a very different project & a little more left of center, if you will. I would love to do soundtracks, but so far it's really just music for music sake with my collaborator & friend & not really having a specific plan for it, but rather just working with someone else & seeing what happens when you work with someone for the fun of it.
Nicole DeRosa for All Access Music, March 18, 2015