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If you are a person who goes to a lot of shows, you inevitably have a good “I saw them before they were famous” story. Here’s mine.
It was September 2002. I drove two hours to a small club in Milwaukee to see a band from New York City whose debut album had come out about two weeks prior. To call this club a hole in the wall would be disrespectful to holes and walls — it looked like a disabused basement rec room, with an extremely low stage that was maybe two inches off the ground. The kind of place that meth-head metal bands and terminal drunks gather. Not exactly where you would expect to see a band like Interpol.
But that’s precisely where I did see Interpol for the first time. And let me tell you: They had already achieved full Interpol, way back on the first national tour in support of what would later be considered an iconic record, Turn On The Bright Lights.
I can’t recall ever seeing a band that had such a strong sense of identity so early on. Typically, it takes an album or two — plus dozens of live performances — for a band to find themselves. But Interpol, love them or hate them, knew who they were right as the world outside of Manhattan and Brooklyn discovered them for the first time. All of the essential elements of Interpol-ness were already in place — the Reservoir Dogs suits, the goth-guy crooning, the mile-wide basslines, the cinematic guitar riffs, the propulsive drums that instantly dispelled incessant Joy Division comparisons. In time, Interpol would play theaters, even stadiums. But the essence of who they were and would eventually become was already there, right from the beginning.
Flash forward 16 years, and I find myself conducting a series of phone interviews with the three remaining members of Interpol: singer/bassist Paul Banks, guitarist Daniel Kessler, and drummer Sam Fogarino. (Original bassist Carlos Dengler departed in 2010 and is now pursuing acting and cultivating respectable facial hair.) The ostensible topic of conversation is Marauder, the band’s sixth album due out August 24, which doesn’t reinvent Interpol’s sound so much as demonstrate, once again, how reliable the group is at being themselves. This will sound like backhanded praise but I swear it’s not: Interpol’s brand is making music that sounds exactly like Interpol, and Marauder maintains Interpol’s monopoly on this very specific sonic property.