Interpol open up
American trio Interpol often seem to be as secretive as the international criminal police organisation of the same name. Drummer Sam Fogarino says that they're not the miserable brooding characters they are often portrayed as, but are instead "a bunch of goofballs".
In 1994 Fogarino was in Florida group The Holy Terrors. He was part of a scene that spawned Marilyn Manson and The Mavericks. Led by Brian Warner, Marilyn Manson already had a cult following. Warner invited Fogarino to join the group but he turned him down. Fogarino's dad was sure he'd wasted the best opportunity he was ever going to have.
"I was playing in The Holy Terrors. For lack of a definitive term it was punk rock in a Pixies or Sonic Youth way. We were going nowhere but there was a CD release and we were about to hit the road. If I had taken up Brian's offer I would have ditched the band; it wasn't me. I couldn't join him, it would have been a big mess," Fogarino explains.
"But my father got pissed off at me. He said 'why are you kissing away an opportunity? What is wrong with you?' I said, 'What is wrong with you? What sort of father wants his son to join Marilyn Manson? Are you going to shave my eyebrows for me, dad? Are you going to pick my actress-slash-serial-killer name, dad?' If only my dad had played the drums, he'd have had a job."
Fogarino was sure that, although it was "weird and awkward" for him to pass on Brian's invitation, good things come to those who wait.
"I stuck it out and 10 years later Interpol arrived."
Emerging politely and discreetly in a manner befitting their name, Interpol was one of several groups in New York in 2000 channelling the post-punk revival. They are often labelled as Joy Division wannabes, by hipsters in sneering tones, but circa 2010 I'd say they are more a cinematic version of British group the Editors. Maybe, Editors lite.
After signing to Matador Records they found global success with Turn On the Bright Lights in 2002, and the less successful Antics followed in 2004. A move to Capitol Records spawned 2007's Our Love to Admire.
"I joined the band in 2000 and in 2002 we had an album on Matador records and were touring the world. That first six months of touring I was nicknamed Hurricane Sam. I was living the rock 'n' roll reality - sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. The biggest f... off to it was Interpol was not that. We were the stoic brooding individuals, so everyone thinks. As dark and mysterious as this band can be, we are more than that."
Now they are back with their self-titled fourth album Interpol, released through Matador Records in the United States and Co-operative Music in other territories.
Bassist Carlos Denger worked on the album but decided to leave the group. Denger has been replaced in live shows by bassist David Pajo and Brandon Curtis (The Secret Machines) on keys and vocals.
"Carlos was disillusioned with being in a band and all that a band has to suffer. He didn't want to uproot his life for another year to go on tour. It took a lot of courage for him to make that decision and it is admirable."
In typical Interpol style, their album release was a closely guarded secret. Advance copies of their album were sent to press around the world with the nom de plume "agreeable eds".
"The first round of press we did in Spain, I was sitting down with the journalist and I saw the title. I just thought 'what the f . . . is that about?' Someone was obviously having a joke. We once did a secret show under the moniker of Cuddleworthy . . . everyone knew what was going on. We played at this small bar in New York and we really thought it was going to be an intimate thing of 50 people but people were packed out into the street."
Interpol were intent on getting back to what they started with debut album Turn On the Bright Lights. "We grabbed the reins this time around and steered the direction and were more deliberate with things. We all have equal input, it's always been that way. But we are a group of alpha males, we ride each other you know. To date this is our most realised record."
With the departure of Dengler, Fogarino says they were initially concerned about how they were going to present the songs live.
"Especially Paul [Banks] has this neurotic concern about how we're going to interpret the songs live. We're like, 'this is a f...ing record', let's cross that bridge, it'll be fine. I think it is interesting that we are not redefining the songs, we're creating a live atmosphere. In the past our biggest criticism has been that we're too replicating, especially during Our Love To Admire. People don't go 'this is not how it is on the record'. It becomes something visceral instead."
The addition of Curtis was crucial, he says, offering his theory on keyboardists who sit.
"The ones who stand up, they do a lot of one finger application. When a keyboardist sits down you know he's the real deal. We used to have this massive keyboard rig which allowed us to reproduce a lot of the sounds off the album. Brandon wanted to strip it down to the essence and that's what the audience is getting this time around - five people playing their hearts out."
The group spent eight months arranging the album so when it came time to record with engineer Claudius Mittendorfer, it was simply a matter of playing it straight. "It was so relaxing . . . Sometimes you don't always need stress to create good art."
Interpol have plans to play New Zealand early next year.
"Our plans aren't definite but as far as I know we're coming in the new year. If plans are not made I will throw a hissy fit."
A Marilyn Manson-style hissy fit?
"Yes, I'll get my eyebrows shaved and everything," Fogarino laughs.
Interpol's album is out now.