The time Paul kissed the microphone

I have never had the chance to see Interpol live, although living in South Africa, no one really has so I can console myself with that. This is my all-time favourite video which my friend Stef alerted me to.

It’s everything you want from a live performance of Stella: the quality is perfect and at around 3:56, Banks kisses the microphone in an uncharacteristic PDA (geddit? I’m sorry). They like us, they really like us.

Interpol: Stella was a Diver and She was Always Down Live in Milan, Alcatraz (November 07)

Rocket Bar, St Louis : Sep 02

Maybe it’s because I didn’t really expect them to come back after 2010 and so I immersed myself in their early days out of longing, but I enjoy seeing how far Interpol have come. It’s surreal to see them playing such intimate venues when it would be unheard of now. I also love how this footage is in black and white. A commenter points out at 2:55, Banks’s knowing smile: “This is what I was made for.” You can just see how complete he feels, relieved that it’s all paid off. The camera then pans out perfectly to reveal the three of them together, blowing the roof off of that venue. I wish we saw more Sam though.

TOTBL nostalgia tracks

The track listing for TOTBL is premium and it is damn near impossible to find an error in these songs. I love each and every one; as you do when you have listened to one album in its entirety for days, left it alone for months or years, and then revisited it again to abuse the repeat button. I walk a lot around Cape Town and, often, it’s great to tune into the harmony of these arrangements.

I will only talk about a few of my favourites here (even though the whole album is my endless love) as some others will be discussed in the lyrics part of this series. 

Untitled

The shimmering Untitled is one of the best introductions to an album I have ever heard. A YouTube comment I read stated that he/she liked the song because it “sounded like the end but it was only the beginning.” Expressive agreement. This simple song leads into Banks’s mournful appeal to someone or something. The bass quavers with the reverb working overtime and 

I will surprise you sometime

I’ll come around

I will surprise you sometime

I’ll come around when you’re down

I like this statement. It speaks volumes about personal intention versus action. My friend’s band loved using this song for a good warm-up. It’s very much something to sway to. 

NYC

I am not a huge fan of Interpol’s videos but this one captures the essence of the lyrics well. An ode to a city and its people that is contributing to someone’s frustrated despair but who realises not all the blame can be stacked onto his surroundings. Change comes from within –classic Interpol pragmatism. They sound gloomy but don’t you ever think they’re depressed. Despairing yes, depressed no.

PDA

The golden child of this record for me is this song; which is not very original, I know. However, I almost never pay attention to the lyrics but when I listen to this song, the outro is as close to an out of body experience that I will ever get to. The adrenalin of this song starts with the drumming in the beginning that just picks up the song and runs with it. Banks is not a fan of this song or the lyrics. He wrote it when he was 20 and felt it didn’t represent his skills as a lyricist once they got to record the album. I agree as I find them strangely adolescent compared to the rest of the album. It’s almost like you just need to hear Banks’s voice and you’re fine. The outro starts when Banks stops singing and Kessler just shreds the shit out of it before the second guitar makes its appearance. Then, Kessler magically opens his mouth. He needs to sing more.

There’s nothing else to say

There’s nothing else to do.

Except listen and turn to jelly.

Full disclosure: thisand Roland are on my running playlist. 

Roland

My friend Stef and I really love Roland –again the outro is beautiful as well as the stop-start guitar that builds up the beginning to the point where Banks starts singing. This short ditty is packed with so much emotion as it tells a story of Jewish persecution that is out of place but when you think about, America was founded on European immigrants who were mainly Jewish. 

The New

This song was a complete surprise to me as I never paid much attention to me (it was my friend’s favourite). For the first time on the album, you clearly understand what Banks is singing about because the lyrics are very obvious. The song starts out very much like any intimate love ballad but then it takes a classic Interpol turn down this dark corridor. The guitar gets super creepy and gives me this shiver that I realise was the underlying tension the bass had been laying down the entire song. It’s a shining example of Kessler and Carlos D’s synchronicity. 

Turn on the Bright Lights

I hope you are all enjoying the posts so far, this next one is going to be a gargantuan Interpol sandwich. Please do message me for opinions/gripes/comments, would love to hear what you agree or disagree with or we can just chat about Interpol! @prettyintights

When Turn on the Bright Lights (TOTBL) came out, Interpol had been playing as a unit for five years and were well-known by those in the New York music scene, notably playing at the famous Luna Lounge with other hard-working fledgling bands just trying to crack the plastic mould of awful millennium music.

Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights

In an interview with Spin on their ten year-anniversary TOTBL reissue, Fogarino recalled the digs Interpol got for playing and dressing how they did. Initial criticism was that they were a jumped-up Joy Division reanimation with Banks as the Curtis figure. However, Interpol got the last laugh as Fogarino quips, “people thought the way we dressed was a gimmick. Well, here we are still talking about an album that’s ten years old.” 

Put that in your hookah and smoke it, indeed.

It wasn’t just the sleek appearance of Interpol that set them apart. They weren’t garage or indie and they weren’t one trick ponies –they definitely weren’t The Strokes. TOTBL –which I like to think of as the saga of a young, vice-ridden protagonist fumbling his way through big-city life one lonely, moonlit walk at a time – serenaded you with stadium-sized melancholy that wrenched at your heart and yet warmed you like an old lover one minute (NYC, Untitled, Leif Erikson) and then got you wanting to dance and sing like a vampire in Fangtasia’s basement (PDA, Say Hello to The Angels, Obstacle 1). What was great was that both bands (The Strokes being the second) gave us differing views of the same city and provided a way to enjoy and celebrate something, anything authentically New York post-9/11.

Spin, in the same interview, described the album as nervy and taut: “They didn’t swing, they throbbed.” The result of five years of hard work and replacing Greg Drudy with Sam Fogarino had paid off, resulting in an album where you could hear that each member shared an equal part in its journey to completion.

Banks did sound Curtis-like at times, although to pigeon-hole him as such is a lazy armchair criticism. This was further disputed by Antics, their second offering, where I personally feel he evolves as Paul Banks, the baritone vocalist. Listening to the original recordings of PDA on the anniversary issue, there was a huge chance that without the guidance and reworking of certain songs, they would have ended up sounding even more like Manchester in the early 80s. On this record, you feel it all: the risk-taking lyrically and vocally, the interplay between Kessler and Carlos D, the professional drumming and that reverb, man. 

Released in August 2002 by Matador Records, the album was a slow-burn release, gradually building up popularity that has been so potent, the album is now certified gold. 

 In one of the best music descriptions of a guitarist I have ever read, Spin says of Kessler on TOTBL:

“Conceptual mastermind Daniel Kessler plays gorgeous, downcast lines, as if his notes were made of the light thrown from streetlights at three in the morning.”

Swoon.

While recording this integral piece of NYC culture in suburban Connecticut (because, of course), Carlos D remarked that the album should be renamed to “Celebrated Bass Lines of the Future.” To some that is arrogance, for Carlos D, it’s simply the truth. One which I have to agree with. 

After TOTBL, perhaps the issue people find with what Interpol did next was the lack of pure unification of youth, time and contribution? We shall never know. What we do know is that TOTBL is a star that burned bright enough to launch Interpol into the world and has stayed up in the sky with other glowing debuts forever.

Interpol on their debut album’s 10 year reissue

The men in the suits

For those who are unfamiliar with Interpol, it is only polite that I introduce the four main actors of this story. Fogarino described them once as “same book, different pages.” (SPIN, 2005).  The gist you got from the four when reading features on them post-TOTBL is one where you realise these aren’t so much friends as they are dogged creatives who recognise that each one of them has something individual to contribute. Often, the interviewer doesn’t even get them in the same room for most of the feature.image

The kind of aloof attitude the band exhibits is seen to some as egotistical but, for me, it comes off as a self-preservation mechanism. Interpol have often expressed that they want their music alone to speak on behalf of them.

I feel that sometimes they did act a little cocky –which band hasn’t? –but found there was always one member (normally, Sam) who would make sure they didn’t come off as too dickish (with the exception of Carlos D, who was opinionated at best and dismissive at worst). I believe that the only time we will ever see Interpol at their most organic and relaxed would be as an invisible guest in their recording studio, away from the Dictaphone and the press badge. This further emphasises their unique make-up –never do they give too much away, further cementing that you will never get to look behind the curtain. I respect them for this as a band as I believe that keeping something for themselves has, in a lot of ways, helped them to retain their identities, sanity and longevity –all of which I am most grateful for. The public and press often need to realise that bands, while still being regular people, do not owe them anything other than the music. Besides, I’d rather they shut us out and let us enjoy the benefits of a good album than try to be accessible. 

Paul Banks: vocals, guitar and bass guitar 

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Banks is the baby of the band, with the angelic face to boot. Based on his appearance when Interpol started, you would have expected him to be on his own, trying to make it as an emotional coffee-shop guitarist who worked as an Abercrombie and Fitch model by day. In interviews, Banks comes off as an introvert whose body language and sometimes awkward behaviour clearly demonstrate the fact that he would rather be anywhere else.

Banks is the epitome of an old soul –someone whose vision transcends things like age, experience and position. Banks’ anchor seems to be the constant creation of music judged by his constant solo work (Julian Plenti Is…Skyscraper, Julian Plenti Lives… and Banks). However, he often shows off his eclectic tastes and mischievous side –the slogan of his website, “Everybody on my dick like they supposed to be” is from a Rick Ross song and is the name of Banks’s hip hop mixtape. He also used a Gibson Flying V with the word “breasts” spelled out in white tape during the Our Love To Admire's era, although I shockingly cannot find photographic evidence of this.

Banks fluent in Spanish after living in both Spain and Mexico as a child, it’s a real trip to see him all of sudden start speaking in Spanish during interviews. 

Paul Banks and Sam Fogarino interview: Primavera Soundfest 2011

Daniel Kessler: guitar and vocals

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Kessler and his ever-changing yet lustrous hair is the ultimate Renaissance man. Along with the sartorial, he has a deep love for food, even owning his own upmarket seafood restaurant, Bergen Hill, complete with Le Cirque alum chef. Kessler is sphinx-like; his even tone and placid manner of speaking puts you instantly at ease and almost hypnotises you along with the extremely intelligent conversation pouring out of his mouth. Despite this, there is a sense of self-effacement –Kessler may be well-read and sharply tailored, yet you don’t feel like you want to punch him for being smug about it; you want him to take you to get the best meal of your life.

When he’s onstage, no one could be more limber and less self-conscious. He manages to pull off such a unique way of dancing and playing guitar, which shows just how much the music is it’s own world which cannot be put into words. Kessler jamming away while letting his feet do the electric slide all over Glastonbury’s stage this year was a highlight I felt glad YouTube made happen.

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Kessler’s happy dance at Primavera Sound Fest 2011

Sam Fogarino: drummer

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When I was at school I was happy to get involved in drama classes. I enjoyed the fun side of filming, playacting and mucking about. I knew that it would never be my path in life –securing my parents’ relief. Fogarino is a rock “lifer.” This is a man who first picked up drumsticks at aged thirteen and never stopped or thought to. Fogarino is seen as the genial older brother of the band and has been the most approachable to media, although he isn’t above telling it like it is as you will see this week.

After playing multiple bands around America for ten years, Kessler approached Fogarino, then working in a vinyl store, to replace drummer Greg Drudy in 2000. Even though Fogarino has hit the big time, he is still the coolest guy and now lives in Athens, Georgia, where he participates in a range of musical collaborations. His love for Interpol is definitely one you can feel with every drum beat.

And our contentious Carlos D: former bass player

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If there was anyone who tried to be more mysterious but ended up more transparent than ever, it was Carlos D. The member most unlike anyone else in the band –at times it felt like he wasn’t like any other human being –Carlos D had a penchant for the extreme and the dramatic. One moment he was a matador-inspired party monster in favour of losing himself to concrete as far the eye could see, groupies and substances, the next he was advocating healthy living and making videos of his dog. Interpol were and are moody, atmospheric and dark, but they did not court the romantic notion of fame like Carlos D did. Carlos D went from wanting Interpol out on the world stage to excluding himself completely from the band, leaving before the fourth album had been completed. Kessler and Banks have been diplomatic about his departure when pushed by the press. Fogarino, true to his beliefs, saw it as personal considering the rest of the band’s commitment and love for what they are.

I do very much love Interpol as the foursome they were, especially when confronted with the lacklustre self-titled album of 2010. However, this is not going to be a series of posts devoted to Interpol before and after Carlos D. If you can interpret the signs, his departure was not unprecedented and it was the best decision for Carlos D himself. This is not to say I don’t miss him in the band, I just have more faith in the adage of getting back on the horse, which I feel Interpol always has. 

Interpol: pre-TOTBL

An Introduction

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For those who know Interpol, whether it’s with love or aversion, the last few months since the announcement of their first album in four years (read: without bassist, Carlos D) and the release of said album, El Pintor, two weeks ago, have been a time of  revisiting past records, performances, articles and lively discussion with like-minded fans.

In the coming week, I am going to try to lay out what makes up Interpol, how far they have come as  a band and their place in music history –or at the very least –their place in mine. Whether you are an avid fan who felt an instant connection with them, if you’re unfamiliar with them or if you relegate them to one-album-wonderdom, I hope to do the band justice.

A hearty thanks to Hendrik for taking me up on this suggestion, especially now with Interpol’s tentative foray back onto the music scene after the huge turning point they faced four years ago.

My introduction to Interpol started, like most of the bands I learned to love in my teen years, inexplicably and by dumb luck. Along with Interpol, The Strokes, The National and the rest of those cooler-than-blowing-multiple-smoke-rings bands to come out of the heady early 2000s night, it is also a love that has lasted a lifetime.

Many who are younger than me may find it hard to believe, but MTV was the only real source of mine and many of my peers’ musical education back then with the exception of my parents’ collection and international music magazines; only available at a chunk of change from Exclusive Books. The internet was not yet as ubiquitous as it is today, especially in South African homes. I had long given up on the radio and, one day, while watching MTV in 2005, this stark, weird video appeared.

Interpol: Slow Hands

The lack of colour was immediately what drew me in, from the shiny grey floor to the black-suited guys with pale faces. Rewatching the video now, I can see it’s indicative of Interpol as a band while the actual song isn’t. The song is fast-paced from start to finish and adheres to a basic verse, chorus, bridge structure.

Yeah well nobody searches, nobody cares somehow.

It’s a rare type of song from Interpol and one that I feel is most unlike them. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it’s their most recognisable for those unfamiliar with the band and they are guaranteed to play it at any performance. Such is the power of Slow Hands.

 You make me wanna pick up a guitar and celebrate the myriad ways that I love you.

The cold, synthetically-lit warehouse seems like the type of place where you would have to give the bouncer a secret, obscure password to before you could get in but it’s perfect for an Interpol show– strangely intimate and not a natural element in sight. Instead, you get a ramping effect that is rewound backwards and forwards as technical equipment is smashed to the floor by Banks.

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At one point, it’s as if Banks’s hair has grown a life of its own and is trying to caress his face as he remains characteristically impassive. The pragmatic guitarist Daniel Kessler’s famous, fancy footwork is on show here with the effects working wonders to make him look like a marionette. Carlos D remains stoic with signature rock star jumps and swinging his bass like a gun until the short bridge where he can demonstrate why he is a bassist no one will forget. The whole song is, as usual, tied up in a neat bow with Sam Fogarino’s steady, tight drumming.  On my first viewing, I saw everything as so professional and serious. These guys weren’t screwing around, evident even to a clueless teen like me. 

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Back to the video. Who the fuck was this icy blue-eyed man who may have been Ian Curtis if Curtis had grown up away from industrial, grey Manchester? His dry, wry voice seemed nonchalant until, suddenly, it imploded in a desperation and frustration that shook your shoulders.

Interpol, like other bands of its time, not only gave me aural pleasure and expanded my knowledge and appreciation for music that wasn’t from the eighties, they gave me an insight into New York City; at least what it meant to them. I’m a sucker for a good narrative.

Coming up: Interpol

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Thank you, Alex!

Next week, we’re going to discuss New York City rock rapscallions/sunglasses aficionados Interpol.

Taking you through this week will be Kezia Swanepoel, whose blog you can enjoy here, and who you can follow on Twitter and SoundCloud at @prettyintights.

It should be a fun week — see you tomorrow!

Josh Ritter Lightning Round & Wrap-up

Hey guys, I’m almost done rambling about Josh Ritter, I promise. I wanted to make one last post to wrap things up and include some tracks I never got to talk about.

- If you’re into covers, check out his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.” If you want something a little rockier, he does a great cover of Modest Mouse’s “Blame It On the Tetons.” For the John Prine fans among you, you’ll be interested to know that Josh has covered “Mexican Home.”

- Josh’s EPs/B-sides don’t get enough love, and I know I short-changed them this week. “Tokyo” from To the Yet Unknowing World is such a great, upbeat tune, and it makes you feel like you’re fighting giant dinosaurs. “Love Is Making Its Way Back Home” (off Bringing In the Darlings) has one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen, made out of 12,000 individually cut pieces of paper. Badass. I had a post about "Darlin’" but it disappeared in queue limbo. In terms of B-sides, “Peter Killed the Dragon” (from The Animal Years) is a lovely tune, and “Wildfires” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter builds slowly and is made of magic.

- There are a few excellent remixes of Josh’s work around; check out the Hesta Prynn mix of “Rattling Locks,” which turns this song into a space odyssey.

- I wish I could’ve talked about “Monster Ballads” and “Lillian, Egypt,” both from The Animal Years; really, I think if you liked any of the tunes I talked about Wednesday, you’ll love these. You’ll love the whole album. “Lillian” is a lot of fun when done live, too.

- I could also write reams regarding the entirety of So Runs the World Away, but I missed out one of my favourite songs of all time: “Lantern.” Listen to it when you’re feeling down and in a rut. There’s also this glorious live video from Tarrytown where the audience surprised the band with a bunch of glowsticks. It’s amazing.

- Josh’s book, Bright’s Passage, is a historical tale about angels, World War I, and angry goats. It’s a song in long form. If you like historical magical realism, by all means, please check it out. He has another book in the works, although what that’s about is anyone’s guess.

Thanks for sticking with me this week, guys! I had a lot of fun writing about Josh and I hope you enjoyed the music. Special thanks to Hendrik for letting me ramble on about my favourite singer/songwriter for so long. Additional thanks to my friend Kristen who helped a lot with these entries and let me bounce ideas off her. Hope you found something new that you liked! And if you have any questions or comments, feel free to message me or tweet me :)

"Showboat" // Josh Ritter // unreleased track

Last night, I saw Josh live for the fifth time. He did not disappoint. He’s been doing a few shows where he plays a whole bunch of new material, which is a slightly strange experience—Josh shows are ones where you normally go to sing along. Having said that, he played fifteen new tunes last night and never once lost the audience. Although this video isn’t from last night’s performance, it gives you a flavour of what’s to come. These songs are fun. There’s also a wide range of dark songs to bright, happy, in-love songs to the story songs we all love him for. Already it sounds like he has enough material for a double album!

Be on the lookout for “Devil In His Eye (Henrietta, IN),” “A Place Like This,” “You’ll Be Seein’ Me Round,” and “Cry Softly.” Those were a few of my favourites from last night, and I hope that they get recorded!