"You're like a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon" -- New York Dolls, "Personality Crisis," 1973
"We spies, oh yeah, we slow hands" -- Interpol, "Slow Hands," 2004
It's been a strange couple of years for Interpol, years in which the natty NY scenesters have witnessed their audience's exponential growth from a small initial gang of Bowery Ballroom hipsters to an international legion including what bassist Carlos D bemusedly identifies as "a lot of accountants, housewives and jock types." He pauses to reflect on his band's outrageous fortune. "At first the shift was a bit of an identity crisis for me, personally, but I'm fine with it now. It's not at all what we set out to do, but if it turns out that guys who totally would've tried to beat me up in high school happen to like our music, that's okay. I mean, this is my job."
Perhaps not surprising for such a young band (the oldest member by a long shot, drummer Sam Fogarino has reached his mid-thirties), high school seems to be a useful reference point when discussing Interpol. For instance, regarding the much-echoed criticism that the combo is transparently derivative of a handful of '80s British post-punk acts like Joy Division, the Cure and Psychedelic Furs, Carlos sniffs, "There's no way our influences as a group could ever be that one-dimensional. I mean, if this were high school, the four of us would be in totally different cliques just based on our musical tastes. What's interesting to me is the process of getting those four sensibilities in one room and then seeing what happens. That's really what Interpol is: the end result of that experiment." He goes on to add that one of the most humorous aspects of reading the reviews of the band's first CD, Turn On the Bright Lights, was the sheer number of so-called obvious influences that singer-lyricist Paul Banks had never even heard.
The other ax relentlessly ground by smarty-pants journalists about Interpol is the band members' sartorial splendor; namely, the fact that they all wear jackets and ties on stage. "It's not like we're trying to say, 'Hey check us out, we wear suits,' " explains Mr. D wearily. "At the same time, I'm not gonna be a hypocritical curmudgeon and claim that we don't care about how we present ourselves visually. The fact is our music is all about carefully constructed mood, atmosphere and structure. And that sensibility is just reflected further in our clothing choices. It's all of a piece. If our music was as meticulous as it is and we dressed all sloppy, it wouldn't really make sense."
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Far from anyone's idea of a sophomore slump, Interpol's second disc, Antics, builds solidly on its predecessor. Clearer sound and road-toughened musicianship don't hurt, and Banks in particular seems to have hugely increased his palette in terms of wit, emotion and technical range. The meticulousness referred to above can seem a little icy at times, but for a group of youthful, self-conscious East Coast hipsters, that's only right and natural. As for lack of originality, even if one were to cross-examine all four members of the band and create a footnoted flowchart of their musical, um, interpolations, it likely wouldn't be any more or less derivative than, say, the New York Dolls' early-'70s Rolling Stones-plus-the-Shangri La's mélange or Sonic Youth's mid-'80s Creedence-meets-Glenn-Branca shtick, to name just two of Interpol's NYC scene forebears. As with Turn On the Bright Lights, nothing here sounds overtly designed to be commercial, and yet "the people" seem to be digging it. Lots of people. Even lots of really, really young people. Dare we suggest, high school-age people?
"Yeah, we've had profiles done of us in, like, Teen Vogue and Teen People," affirms Carlos D, "which is cool, I guess. So far we haven't been marketed to the Tiger Beat boy-band crowd. It's a thin line, really. I don't know how we'd go about dealing with that." He pauses thoughtfully. "Still, one band that I believe to be perfectly credible and who were pretty much considered a boy band of their era is Duran Duran. Seriously, John Taylor is one of my all-time favorite bass players. If they could handle it, I'm sure we could find a way."
Just think: If they play their cards right, in a couple of decades' time they could find themselves following in the footsteps of the double-Duran and have their latest comeback album featured as the soundtrack to the 2025 edition of NBC's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search. There are plenty of worse ways to go.
Interpol appears Thursday, February 24, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Blonde Redhead is also on the bill. For more information, call 713-522-4501. Later, Carlos D will DJ the afterparty at Union, 202 Tuam. For more information, call 713-529-5296.