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Interview: Interpol guitarist Daniel Kessler

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

When Interpol took the stage at Lollapalooza earlier this summer, it turned in a set that was heavy on songs from the group's 2002 debut, Turn on the Bright Lights. After a series of albums that weren't well received, it was tempting to believe that the New York trio was getting back to its roots. The group's latest record, El Pintor, isn't so much a throwback as it is a step forward. Recorded after a long break from touring, Interpol sounds revitalized and ready to let a little sunlight shine through its sometimes dreary songs. We spoke with guitarist Daniel Kessler about resting and planting new seeds.

Interpol went on hiatus nearly three years ago. Did you ever think that might be the end of the group?
We never looked at is as going on a hiatus. We put out our fourth record and then we toured for almost two years. Obviously after that, you take a little bit of time and get back to life and do other things. I don’t ever take it for granted that there will be another record. It’s not because there’s anything ominous going on, you just never know. As long as we have something new to say, then we owe it to ourselves to get together in a room and pursue that.

When did work on El Pintor begin?
We took most of 2012 off and did other things. When Paul [Banks] and I got together in late 2012, we hadn’t really made any plans or had any discussions about how we were going to do things. We borrowed a friend’s rehearsal space and by the end of the first day, Paul decided to play bass because he usually sings to the bass melodies. At the end of the second rehearsal we’d made some headway and I felt excited. When you leave a rehearsal with a little bit of a buzz because of something that has transpired, it’s a really contagious feeling. When Sam [Fogarino] joined us a few days later, we felt like we had a few songs that had an identity to them.

When you’re not on tour or recording, are you always trying to write Interpol songs?
I’m not the kind of guy who writes 100 songs a year. I try to write something every day, but I don’t force it. Something comes to me or it doesn’t, and that’s the way it has always been. At some point during our last tour, I began writing some little things on the road and when I came back home in 2012 I started recording my ideas. I also started working on another musical project called Big Noble, so for the first time I was differentiating between what would be appropriate for Interpol and what would be appropriate for Big Noble. It felt like a very healthy thing.

The press around El Pintor has cast it as a “back to basics” record. Is it strange to constantly have your current work compared to music you made more than a decade ago?
I think it’s just part of rock and roll. I never expected that Turn Out the Bright Lights would reach as many people as it did. My endpoint was being able to make a record with Matador. I expected that we would sell a handful of records when it came out, but the fact that it actually had an impact was great. There’s something very special about the first opportunity that people have to hear a band. I don’t take it personally at all—I love playing songs from all of our records and I stand behind everything we’ve done. Every record has its purpose, but when you’re comparing what’s better, that’s always going to be a debatable subject.

Paul has expressed a desire to spend more time creating music and less time touring. Do you feel like that’s something that is possible for modern artists?
I think he likes playing shows, but we work hard—we play a lot of shows and it’s difficult to build a regular life when you’re traveling all the time. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t enjoy playing shows and meeting people. Economically, I don’t think that a band can exist without touring. You’re pretty fortunate if you have people who want to see you. I enjoy being able to present the record to our fans in person and I like the break from being creative. It lets me plant new seeds and find something new to say.

Interpol plays at the Riviera Theatre on November 12 at 7:30pm.

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