There are bands that have an immediately recognizable sound. When you hear the first riff of an AC/DC song, you know it's AC/DC. When you hear a new Yo La Tengo song, you know it's them right off the bat. There's not a thing wrong with that. As we're exposed to more music through more outlets than ever before, it's pretty cool when a band can stamp their particular style so emphatically that they're instantly identifiable.
Manhattan's Interpol has spent the last couple of decades becoming one of those bands. When you hear Paul Banks' sweet-and-sour yowl over top of a mountain-crushing wall of guitar and a minimal-but-propulsive rhythm section, you know you're hearing Interpol — whether it's a song from their best-selling debut album, 2002's Turn On the Bright Lights or their soon-to-be-released new EP, A Fine Mess.
At least that's the way it seems from the outside. Lead guitarist Daniel Kessler says he really has no way of knowing if there's such a thing as an "Interpol sound" because he's a little too close to the music to make that distinction.
"I don't know if I'm a good judge, because I don't really think of it like, 'Is this our sound or is that our sound,'" Kessler says. "I think of it in terms of writing new material, and thinking, 'Oh, I like this song because something feels fresh or different. I'm looking for the next chapter, so to speak. So I'm not really thinking in terms of 'our sound' and so forth. It's hard for me to say."
And in fact, it's something Kessler isn't particularly interested in finding out.
"I don't really want to have a knowledge of what our sound is," he says. "I'd rather just try to keep it interesting for myself and not worry about those things. A third party might have a better perspective on it. I'm more about thinking forward and thinking about the things that we will do."
What the band will be doing is releasing A Fine Mess on May 17, which is an interesting development because there's typically a three-plus-year gap in between Interpol releases.
Part of the reason A Fine Mess is following so quickly on the heels of their 2018 album Marauder is that they wanted some fresh material to work into their heavy touring cycle.
"We tour pretty hard when we go out there," Kessler says, "so we figured it would be cool to do something new."
But the new EP also exists because Interpol was in one of the most fertile creative periods of their career while writing Marauder.
"It was pretty apparent that we had more material than most of the time in our history," Kessler says. "Before, it was like, 'OK, we've got 12 songs total, let's put some on the record and have a couple of B-sides. This time we had a lot of material that we were super into, and it was just a matter of parsing out where we wanted to put it."
Both Marauder and A Fine Mess were produced by Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT), who captured Interpol with a visceral, in-your-face feel, largely because they hit the studio right after a month-long tour where they played their gold-selling debut Turn On the Bright Lights all the way through.
"We'd never really done a tour during an album cycle before," Kessler says. "That felt like a good challenge in the sense of going out there when we were focused on new material. It felt like a novel idea, because we weren't really thinking about playing live shows. We were super focused on new material and in a different head space. It was a real wake-up call and it felt kind of vulnerable. I wasn't eager to go back on the road and move away from writing, but that vulnerability, I think, was good for us. And by the end of the tour, we were a tight live band."
And nothing makes for a good recording experience like a band that's tight, crisp, and firing on all cylinders.
"That definitely informed how we went about recording the Marauder album," Kessler says. "We made pretty much the entire record on two-inch tape with no overdubs. It was really exciting, and I think Dave heard a lot of urgency in the songs, and he thought we should try to capture that rather than recording 12 guitar tracks and choosing the best one. It made a lot of sense and we were really happy with it."