INTERPOL as part of V Fest on the Toronto Islands, Saturday (September 8), from 1 pm. $76-$138. www.virginfestival.ca. Rating: NNNNN
Historical revisionism is a funny thing.
By all accounts, the process of recording Interpol's second album, 04's Antics (Beggars), was fraught with agonizing tension. The band, which had spent half a decade playing modest local clubs, was suddenly faced with living up to international buzz. Interpol were desperate to avoid the trauma of a sophomore slump.
But now that the NYC quartet who led the vanguard of dark, brooding post-punk revivalism are celebrating the release of this year's Our Love To Admire (Capitol/EMI) - their first disc for a major label, which entered the Billboard charts in an impressive fourth place - that Antics agony seems to have been spun into relative bliss.
"Antics I don't remember being ." begins guitarist/founder Daniel Kessler, before trailing off into silence. "It's not like it was necessarily intra-band dynamics that made those sessions difficult. We never enter the studio till we're ready to record. We're not ones for, y'know, jamming, like, 'Hey, let's try this bridge!' Those discussions happen in the practice space. In the old days, we wouldn't even play a song live until we could feel it.
"Recording a song for an album, that's your life on the line," he insists.
So the memory of Antics anxiety wasn't the reason Kessler and bandmates Paul Banks, Carlos D. and Sam Fogarino decided to scrap their usual MO of escaping to rural Connecticut to lay down tracks in relative isolation?
"We toured for so long that we didn't want to add the burden of being away again. It seemed like it could sorta balance out the tension of the studio."
If you sense a bit of issue-skirting in the fast-talking guitarist's answers, you're right. Like his bandmates, Kessler is a man with an almost fanatical investment in maintaining his band's image, down to the group's dark tailored outfits.
He argues that the foursome's artistic chemistry has been hard won. "There's a difference between a band started by four good friends or four dudes who worked together in a record store," which Interpol are not, and keeping it together because you met with the purpose of starting a band and wanted to play music together," which they have done. It's clear that Kessler and co. have created a tight-knit inner sanctum few are able to penetrate.
So it's quite remarkable that, after sticking with pal Peter Katis for their first two releases, the group teamed up with producer Rich Costey (the man responsible for the epic sound of anticipated follow-up albums by Muse and Franz Ferdinand) for Our Love To Admire.
It was a smart move. Interpol's latest disc abandons the oppressive claustrophobia that had become their aesthetic cliché, even on Antics. The songs have breathing room, stretching out along more expansive arrangements of keyboards and shimmering guitars.
Hardcore fans jonesing for a carbon copy of Interpol's debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, may not be happy. But on tracks like Rest My Chemistry, a sweet cocaine hangover love letter set to music-box keys and a protracted pulse of guitar and drums, or the proudly poppy piss-take Heinrich Maneuver, on which Paul Banks's snarly jabs at the West Coast are often mistaken for an unironic celebration of OC culture, you hear a vulnerability in Interpol's music absent before now.
Kessler maintains that he's clueless when it comes to public reception of their work.
"It's good that we had all those years as a band before the Internet when nobody cared what we did. People don't always realize that we paid our dues - I mean, we got rejected twice by Matador alone before they signed us.
"We're one of the last bands still around from that time in some ways. I mean, I'll do press, I'll do TV appearances, but afterwards I don't think about it," he continues with a tone of blasé professionalism.
All of a sudden, for a second, Kessler's veneer cracks. "A long time ago, maybe back in 97 when we were starting, I remember telling Paul I didn't know if I'd be able to write songs if people started actually caring about us. I was really scared it'd fuck with my brain. So it seems really amazing to me that I can still block it all out, go home and sit with my guitar and write songs exactly the same way I always have. I'm so glad for that."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Daniel argues (a bit defensively) that signing to a major label had no effect on the fuller arrangements, new producer and bigger sound of Our Love To Admire
How Rich Costey (Muse, Franz Ferdinand) came on board as the producer for Our Love To Admire
Daniel explains how he's grown to the point of being open to others' input when it comes to Interpol's sound? though he won't go with something he doesn't "feel."