Do not believe what you've probably already read elsewhere: Interpol is not -- repeat, not -- the next big thing. In fact, the name probably doesn't even register outside of certain record shops and magazine offices. You won't hear your co-workers humming the band's songs -- unless you happen to work in one of those offices or record shops -- and widespread commercial-radio airplay is even more remote. Interpol is bound to repeat the endless loop that many of their influential forebearers knew all too well: famous in the underground but unheard of anywhere else.
Sure, the band has received substantial college-radio airplay since forming in 1998, been hyped by every doofus-hipster rag on the planet and extensively toured the U.S. They recently returned to the States after playing a series of shows in the U.K. on an eclectic-as-hell bill that included up-and-comers the Thrills, Polyphonic Spree and the Datsuns. Additionally, their 2002 debut recording on Matador, "Turn on the Bright Lights," has sold the very non-indie amount of approximately 250,000 copies. (Yes, that's four zeroes on the end.)
"That's punk-rock platinum," laughs drummer Sam Fogarino. "I would have been thrilled if they turned around and said, 'Guys you did 35,000 copies.' It just kept surpassing that. You really don't want to put too much into it as far as that it has to be the impetus for anything."
While the band's sales figures seemingly launched them into the upper-echelon of the indie-rock kingdom overnight, they have nonetheless remained virtually anonymous to mainstream audiences, a situation that isn't likely to change. Why? Well, the group's recasting of the '80s post-punk aesthetic with goth overtones isn't any less tense -- or even terribly more accessible -- than it was 20 years ago.
Built on a bed of dense rhythms and muscular basslines, Interpol adds fiery guitars lacquered with dissonant shoe-gazer textures and the baritone vocals of Paul Banks. The recorded material is raw though definitely not lo-fi, direct in its structure and fully formed. "Obstacle 1," the second song on the debut release, dynamically displays the band's signature traits in full stereophonic spread: dramatic, slightly nervous and approached with a fiercer attack than their musical predecessors
It's that vague, uneasy quality that drew Fogarino to the group. "I felt a little paranoid listening to the music and it was a little melancholic. At the same time, it was relaxing and moody. That's what I wanted to play."
When hearing "Turn on the Bright Lights" for the first time, a dozen British or American indie acts from the late-'70s through the early-'90s easily come to mind. Surely, inspiring a game of "spot the retro influence" when someone blasts Interpol from a stereo probably isn't what the band was aiming for.
Though anyone who has paid even cursory attention to the last two decades of underground rock isn't going to find Interpol terribly original, their music works surprisingly well on an emotional level.
The real question is whether they're inadvertently tapping into the nostalgic drive of a generation wanting to be young again or producing a timeless soundtrack? "I think it's a little bit of both," says Fogarino. "I don't know if it's guys and girls in their mid to early 30s who don't want to let go. I just think it's something that they [fans] can identify with."
To many fans raised on indie music, "classic" is a derisive term that alludes to corporate rock and its self-indulgences. But many music styles once considered beyond the reach of this label -- including punk, electronic music and even hip-hop -- now find themselves aging gracefully due to new generations of musicians embracing their form. Interpol is no different.
"I don't want to allude to being self-congratulatory or thinking that we made it to that level by any means, that we're pulling this 'classic' [post-punk] genre off," explained Fogarino. "But hopefully that's what it will end up being. As long as the music that I'm being presented to play on gives me a visceral feeling, then I can give it right back. And that's what I look for, that's why I joined Interpol."
If you've connected with Interpol -- whether via nostalgia or as a new kind of kick -- you're probably thankful your co-workers won't be chanting along with their lyrics. Or listening to them on some dumbass radio station that your boss makes you listen to while he's "kickin' it."
And in the end, that's not such a bad thing, is it?
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