“It feels like there’s been a little bit of luck,” says Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino on the band’s 20-year run of success. More than any other band in New York’s illustrious early-2000s rock scene, Interpol — composed of Fogarino, singer and guitarist Paul Banks and lead guitarist Daniel Kessler — has had staying power.
That sounds strange to say until you start going down the list of major bands from that era. The Strokes haven’t put out a proper record in six years. Ditto for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. LCD Soundsystem “broke up” for more than half of the decade. The Walkmen have been on hiatus since 2012. Even TV on the Radio, one of the most consistently great groups of the era, has not put out a record since 2014. That makes the nattily attired threesome an outlier having released two projects in the last 12 months: 2018’s Maurader and this year’s companion EP, A Fine Mess.
If the latter feels like a continuation of the former, it’s because, well, it is. Fogarino says the band worked on the whole body of songs, knowing some might not make the first record. “We thought what got left over won’t just be outtakes, it will be its own entity,” he says. “It [A Fine Mess] just continues with the same raw atmosphere.”
That sound, previously unheard on an Interpol record, is the result of working with Dave Fridmann, the engineer behind some of the biggest records from Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, at his Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York.
On paper, it’s a strange pairing. Fridmann has an affinity for grand, psychedelic bombast, and how exactly he would fit into Interpol’s world was something the band members were mildly concerned about.
“There was this fear of ‘what if he wants to do Interpol’s version of The Soft Bulletin?’” Fogarino says, referring to Fridmann’s work on the classic record from the Flaming Lips. “But after having a number of conversations, we were fully comfortable with him producing the record.”
The resulting songs on both Maurader and A Fine Mess are a departure for both parties.
Fogarino says Fridmann told the band to strip away some of the layers in their work. “There was just a rawness to the songs that was new and exciting for us,” he says.
He’s not wrong. Both Banks and Kessler’s tinny guitars scratch and claw at one another like a pair of feral cats fighting over food, which you can hear on the title track to A Fine Mess, while Fogarino’s steady snaps on percussion hold everything in place.
Outside of the production, there are a few interesting songwriting morsels that find the band reaching outside of their comfort zone. On “Stay in Touch,” Kessler opens with his closest approximation to a blues riff and ends the track by evoking African highlife. Lead single “The Rover” is possibly the grooviest thing the band has ever recorded. And, whether intentionally or not, “Mountain Child” is reminiscent of peak Franz Ferdinand. However, Fogarino recognizes that the new sound might not be for everyone.
“You really can’t win,” he says. “If we were to make Bright Lights 2 [referring to the band’s critically acclaimed debut, Turn on the Bright Lights], there would be a backlash against that, and when we’re too distant from that sound, the same thing happens. It’s just funny that they [the critics] seem to think they know what’s best for us and our sound.”
Fogarino says regardless of anyone else’s thoughts, the trio is happy with the record. “We all love it. Plus, the process of making the record was just so relaxed and easy and fun,” he says. “We’re at the point where my bandmates don’t question what I’m doing. They just say ‘oh, you’re going for that.’ It can get a little vicious here and there — that just comes with being in a band — but it never gets ugly.”
“That’s what’s great about having a good producer,” he continues. “You don’t have to over-bet yourself. You have another person backing you up.”
As much as he loves the new material and touring to support it, Fogarino, who recently moved to the countryside outside of Athens, Georgia, is looking forward to a little time at home to recover.
“It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting; there are only 1,100 people,” he says of the area, adding that the relaxed atmosphere gives him a chance to disconnect from his surroundings and work on his musical ideas unencumbered.
“It’s so good to be out of sync with your surroundings because of the clarity that it gives you,” he says. “I’ve found that I’m able to make choices that are more informed by not wanting to second-guess any vibe … It allows me to remain open and figure out whether a concept is actually good or full of shit. Or, at least, that’s what’s happening in my head.”
Fogarino says it also gives him time to sit back and listen to his increasingly eclectic record collection, which includes Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Philip Glass, early Nine Inch Nails and Motown.
I ask him if he thinks Interpol will be in that realm of great bands one day.
“I’m not sure,” Fogarino says. “We still feel like we have to work for every bit of attention we get today.”
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