Interpol guitarist Daniel Kessler sat down with SalonTV earlier this month to give an inside look at the band’s recording process for their new album “Marauder,” out today from Matador Records.
The New York City rock band, which made its initial mark on the post-punk revival scene in the 1990s and early 2000s, took a throwback approach to creating their sixth studio album—recording to tape.
This transcript has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
There was a lot of overlap between writing this new album and doing a 15th anniversary tour for your debut album "Turn on the Bright Lights." What was it like working on all this new material while also reliving the 15-year-old album in that way?
Well, when we decided that we’re going to do the anniversary tour, we decided that about seven months before, at the moment where we had to start beginning rehearsals for that. So, by the point of acceptance when we wanted to go do this tour, we’d already started writing the songs that ended up on "Marauder." In the subsequent months, we kept on writing, leading right up until the moment when we put the songs away — neglected them, kind of, in a good way for us. At that point, the songs were 90 percent finished. We put those aside because we were rehearsing for "Bright Lights."
What it did I think that helped us more than going out and doing the "Bright Lights" tour — that was amazing — but I think a huge component for us was just leaving the songs alone for four or five months then picking them up, to only rehearse them for like a week after thinking about something we wrote 20 years beforehand.
By the time that we went back to see how we felt about the songs, and then a week later subsequently we were in the studio, it added a little bit of distance, and the songs came running back to us. So by the time it was time to start recording, it felt like this is a next chapter for Interpol. This is what we want to capture.
This was new for us, in the sense that we always tour for a record, then we disappear for three years, we write, then we reappear. Interrupting the writing process to do a tour informed more of the preparation of making this record.
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"Salon Talks" with Interpol's Daniel Kessler
It’s been now 16 years that you’ve been putting out records and you’ve had six. How do you keep the fan base alive in all that time?
I think we’re just really fortunate; we have these really wonderful, diehard fans. Somehow they’ve followed us along in our story. It’s really fortunate that they actually try to discern each record that we release and put out there. I don’t know if it’s really by effort as much as it's just a really incredible situation. I think we’re really grateful to have fans of that nature.
I don’t think you can really calculate those things or really plan upon them, but I think it’s something you should appreciate and feel very privileged to have.
When you guys first debuted, it was during the early 2000s/late '90s New York rock resurgence, particularly that post-punk sound. You got compared a lot to bands like Joy Division. How do you feel like your sound has evolved since then?
I don’t know. I’m not the greatest at analyzing how our sound has evolved. It’s hard for me to put my finger on those sort of things. In some ways, as a person who's a part of it I don’t know if it’s really for me to analyze it or put it into a bottle, so to speak.
I think we’re still evolving. I think we're still moving forward.
We wrote the last few records as a trio. The way we wrote "Marauder" was kind of, it felt like we knew from doing the last record as a trio that we could do it, and it felt good, how that record came to be.
Now, we know we’re going to go about this process with this confidence and enthusiasm, but at the same time it still feels like a new process for us because we’re still learning a lot about how we can write music as a trio. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like we’re short for ideas and I think we're still moving forward.
I think we’re in a moment of, when writing music, we're able to hold that moment a little bit longer and figure out what it is that we’re trying to say. Maybe when you’re first starting out, the moments happen so fast, it's a little bit harder to control them. I think experience has served us well. I think we’re getting better and better at it.
But I don’t know exactly, as far as in the context of how people used to reference us to other bands, where we fit in now.
We’re just doing our thing, and we’re just answering to ourselves at the moment and just trying to push ourselves, trying to move forward as a band and try to make a better record than we made previously.
That’s how it really happens for us. So, we think in those terms more than the grander context of where we fit in and so forth.
I’ve read that your recording process for "Marauder" was a little bit different from some of your previous records, involving the use of tape?
This record we made with the producer Dave Fridmann, who's incredible. He's worked on so many incredible records and with amazing artists for the last 20, 30 years. We'd sent him essentially rehearsal recordings, not even demos, but from that he could see that the songs were moving forward and that they were actually quite complete. They weren’t songs with a lot of holes in them.
Sometimes going into the studio, you leave things open and you can sort of figure out what you’re going to write, like for the bridge, there and then.
We tend to go to the studio with the songs very much complete, for the most part. Maybe there's still some vocal moments where Paul's still figuring out our lyrics and so forth. But from hearing these rehearsal recordings, I think he could see, OK, here’s an opportunity that we could use two-inch tape to record this record.
We’ve always used two-inch tape to some capacity in making our records. We usually only do it with drums and maybe bass before moving into Pro Tools just for more expediency and ease.
But by doing two-inch tape and committing to that way of making a record, it sort of limits your options, but also it can be limiting you in a good way, where it’s going to be about you making a very in-the-moment kind of record.
So, you have to say what you want to say in one or two tracks.
It forces you to be less precious about . . . making the perfect record.
Consequently, I think where we came out . . . the record sounds like us playing together. It has a liveliness to it, an urgency to it, but it’s also kind of minimal throughout. There’s not tons of things in that record. It’s kind of a minimal, just an honest human kind of record, in that sense.
It’s like —
Old fashioned. No, I’m just kidding.
It’s old fashioned.
Before we started going live, we were talking about Brooklyn and New York, and how much it’s changed in the past few years. . . . You guys kind of came up at a time when it was a lot more affordable to live in New York City for young struggling musicians.
What would you say to young people now who are trying to become musicians and get into rock music and are finding places like New York and San Francisco have really been priced out of what they can afford?
I think when we were starting out too, it was a different time with the internet and so forth, it was pre-social media. People did tend to move to New York, to LA, if you had a band, to try to give yourself the best opportunity. It would be harder to do things on your own.
I feel like nowadays, it’s a different world. I don’t think you have to move to New York or LA. You can be . . . I don’t know, all over the U.S. doing your thing. The internet becomes the outlet for possibly sharing your music and so forth. The location doesn’t really matter so much.
When we were starting out, I did have this certain notion that — you got to do it for yourself, first and foremost. You got to do it because you really need to. You really feel like, “Well, if I don’t do this, it will be kind of miserable in a weird way."
You have to do it for those reasons, not because you hope people are going to like you and so forth. Regardless of whether there's an audience or being in a band results in you making a record, you got to do it because you just like playing music and that pleases you.
Things didn’t really happen that easily for us in our early days. We were a band for like five years before we put out our first record. But what kept us a band is I think we were getting something out of it for ourselves. We never had any great assurance that we'd actually get to make a record one day.
The bonus is in this day and age being wherever you are isn’t so important. You have this outlet [online] that you know people can hear your music. I still do believe that if it’s good and if your heart's in it, it will find its way to an audience in some capacity.
Unfortunately there’s no one way, there’s no solution . . . there’s no secret to it. If you’re doing it for yourselves and you gain something out of it, that should be the motivating factor.
Let’s talk about this record a little bit. There was a lot of drama around the release of the album — you guys hinted to it for a while in the press and then had a big release announcement in Mexico City. I thought that was an interesting location. Why Mexico City?
We really love Mexico; we love Mexico City. For one, I love going down there personally. It’s one of my favorite places to travel to. I can learn something new each and every time I go down there on many different scales.
As a band, we also have an incredible, incredible audience down there, really a wonderful fan base, and it’s something to really appreciate. I think we really want to go down there and celebrate Mexico. We’d been talking about doing something to launch an album for, I don’t know, almost a decade and just came to be for "Marauder" that this was the time.
That was the main idea, really: Let’s go down to Mexico to celebrate our fan base. Let’s celebrate in Mexico because we’re great admirers of that country and in Mexico City because that’s one of the great cities in the world.
We didn't really overthink it beyond enthusiasm, first and foremost. We just felt that was a great place to reveal the artwork and announce the record and start things off.
By the artwork you mean the cover of this record?
I really was impressed by the cover. It’s a man sitting at a table and there’s mics and it looks like tape recorders around him. Tell me about this image?
It’s a photograph by Garry Winogrand. He’s one of my favorite photographers. When [there] was a discussion about maybe possibly using that image as a cover, I was just enthusiastic as a fan of his, as an admirer of his work. I didn’t know that it would be possible to license one of his images to be on the cover of an Interpol record. I was really excited about that.
The image itself . . . just the aesthetic of it, it kind of draws you in. But the subject matter, it's the attorney general, Elliot Richardson, under Nixon, and it’s him reading his resignation letter. Essentially, Nixon had ordered him to fire the special prosecutor who was investigating what would become Watergate, and he refused to. It was against his principles as the attorney general and his oath to his office. So that’s him saying no and resigning [instead], and subsequently, the assistant attorney general resigned as well. Then the events unfolded as we know them as Watergate.
It’s a huge moment and one that kind of mirrors a lot of things that are happening in this day and age.
Just because that happened then, who knows where we’re heading? It’s a very unpredictable, moment-by-moment moment . . .
It’s still an interesting choice to put out an image of somebody facing similar situations and deciding to do the honorable thing.
For sure. It’s like a man that’s incredibly principled and just taking a stance and not bowing to an order of the president of the United States and being like, “No, my oath is to the office and not to you, and to what’s right.”
Obviously now, looking back at hindsight it’s an incredibly important moment in American history.
So, you guys have two singles out on this record. The second single of the album is called "Number 10." Somebody described it on your Twitter account as an office drama. The narrator is tired of the supervisor Ella breathing down his neck. She’s a tough boss but there’s also love there, a secret attraction, a mutual secret attraction. First of all, that’s a cool little story there. But also I have to ask how you feel about putting a song like that out now that #MeToo has become a thing and the politics of sex at work are an issue now?
Well, OK, that’s an issue one.
Not to throw a big curve ball at you.
I mean, it’s obviously a very sensitive age and so forth for many capacities, and I’m very happy for that because I think it’s time that we all sort of have this bigger conversation. And if we're going to try to change the way things have been for way too long, then it’s going to take a moment. It’s going to take a great upheaval in general. So, that’s sad.
As far as within this tale, I mean, it’s hard for me actually to address it because I don’t write lyrics, and I don’t know if I feel comfortable, you know, taking that standpoint of explaining this or kind of giving a rationale because I might not do a good job; I might not do a faithful job. I think it’s too important of a discussion to have to not represent it from that capacity.
That’s fair. I don’t mean to throw you a big curve ball.
No, that’s a good question.