A few months ago the weekly U.K. music tabloid, NME (which is conjointly viewed as an arbiter of hip and curator of gossip), compiled a list of the "50 Coolest People in Rock." It was a trivial, cheap and predictable compilation of contemporary rock poster boys (and girls). Among the ordained were Jack White, the Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, current Mr. Drew Barrymore and Strokes skin-beater Fabrizio Moretti and Interpol's distortion dealer Daniel Kessler.
Such superfluous compliments are nothing new for NYC's Interpol. Since the media has already frothed over their music, critics have moved onto the band's non-aural appeals in an attempt to keep a deserving band in the headlines (and milk their cool factor for advertising dollars).
Since the release of their full-length debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, the media has primarily honed in on two aspects of the band:
1) Their fashion sense.
2) Singer Paul Banks' tendency to sound like Joy Division's Ian Curtis.
"As far as being a cool guy," drummer Sam Fogarino says of the NME list, "well, they have good taste, within something that's really fucking ridiculous. I mean, the NME is a weekly, and obviously they had to fill space. So they probably just said, "Let's make another list.'
"As far as the Joy Division thing goes, we let it go. On a personal level, thank god it's Joy Division and not some crap band. But the whole clothing thing, I think that's more annoying. Like we're made to feel defensive-we're almost defending that it's not a gimmick. "These clothes are mine, no fashion meeting.' It always looks like you're bullshitting it. It's just a decision to wear what you wear."
Fogarino, Banks, Kessler and bassist/keyboardist Carlos Dengler, though quite snappy in their suits, created a dark, brooding yet powerful masterpiece with Turn on the Bright Lights. From the driving melancholy of "Obstacle 1" to the ascendant psychedelia of "NYC," each song paints a vivid picture of life in New York. The characters and street corners may change, but the city remains the same.
Some songs, like "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" show off the dapper cool guys' literary side, letting poetic imagery and memorable figures tell their stories.
"Literature is definitely a source, as well as film," Fogarino says. "For a lot of the album I think daily existence in New York played a big part. Every two blocks could be different city. [Paul] always has his feelers out. He's very susceptible, so to speak. He's very aware, which has a lot to do with why I think he's a good lyricist."
Interpol's stellar lyrics, angular guitars and resounding rhythms brought them all the way to continental Europe and back to New York, where the four-piece recently performed on Late Night with David Letterman.
"It's definitely been a surreal experience," Fogarino says. "Doing Letterman, it seemed like I was having an early morning dream that I was on the Late Show. I'm just playing and staring at his back, as he's watching on a TV monitor. The lights are so blinding and all you can see is a silhouette of an audience. It's basically a whole day packed into three-and-a-half minutes. We were rushed in and rushed off.
"And then a week later, we'd say, "Did we just do that?' It was weird seeing him hold up the CD and say, "This is Interpol everybody.'"
With all of the hype, popularity and placement alongside the hip elite, Interpol have made a name for themselves among the new rock royalty. But if they're the rock stars everyone says they are, one would think there's a salacious, drug-addled anecdote lurking behind the minor-key melodies and tales of Polish knife-wielders. Unfortunately, Sam Fogarino isn't about to turn the bright lights on their shady down-time antics.
"I can't incriminate myself," Fogarino says, "or I don't want to incriminate Carlos, how about that? Or the people we victimize.
"There was a hotel room, and there was stuff in that hotel room and we did stuff with it," he jokes, holding back from laughing hysterically. "Fill in the blanks. Use your imagination."
Imagination isn't something that a non-stop touring band like Interpol has much leisure for. Though the strict, hype-capitalizing road schedule has left the New Yorkers with very little personal time, Fogarino finds the positive.
"It's very exciting," he says. "Oddly enough, it's strengthened the band. At the beginning, it could have gone either way. It could have been a big implosion or not. It's taught us how to take things with a grain of salt day by day, not take things to heart too much. We're growing closer right now, or at least more tolerant of each other.
"It's all a big blur," Fogarino concludes, "but it's a pretty blur with a lot of layers to it."