As we talk about their upcoming sixth album, Interpol are using the word “fun” a lot. This is unexpected from the perennially black-clad trio, who are about to play second on the bill in Hyde Park to those jolly jesters The Cure, and whose most enduring musical comparison is with cheery Manchester scamps Joy Division. Having emerged around the same time as The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a key New York rock band and encountered their share of record label wrangles and acrimonious departures since, it seems the pressure’s off at this point.
“Playing a couple of new songs live has been really fun,” says guitarist Daniel Kessler. The band have done a handful of festival dates around the Cure show, before an indoor headlining tour in the autumn after the new album, Marauder, comes out at the end of August. They’re doing two nights at the Albert Hall – a first for them. Kessler is particularly taken with The Rover, the pacey, pounding comeback single. “Sometimes when you play a song life for the first time, you’re still trying to find out how to express it the right way. This one plays itself, it’s fun. When I see it on the setlist I’m like, ‘Oh, cool.’ I really feel like it’s my favourite song to play right now.”
The other thing that was pure fun was last autumn’s tour marking the 15th anniversary of their debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights. It was another of those fan-friendly projects where a favourite recording is performed in full in the correct order. Everyone with a decent back catalogue has done it, from U2 with The Joshua Tree to Public Enemy with Fear of a Black Planet, and unfortunately it tends to signify that a band is out of ideas. For Interpol, it was a fruitful break from writing new songs, with Marauder “90 per cent done” when they set out on the road last August.
“We usually just disappear in between records, so it was good to leave the new songs alone until we went back to them to record in December,” says Kessler, 43.
“And it did inform the recording process, going out and playing live. Then we could continue what we started,” adds drummer Sam Fogarino, the bespectacled elder statesman of the band at 49. He and Kessler, slight with a plume of hair that makes him six inches taller, are interviewed together, while frontman Paul Banks waits at the other end of the St Martins Lane Hotel bar to be interrogated separately.
Banks, 40, is a more intense personality, arms folded on the table. He answers a question economically and maintains firm eye contact while he waits for the next one. He too was into the idea of setting off on a nostalgia tour while the new songs were percolating. “It was a great way to get the machine whirring again, tuning the band back into what live is like, where our fans are, how our fans are, and revisiting old songs we hadn’t looked at in a long time and getting those in the databank. It was good research, I think,” he tells me.
None of them will entertain the idea that such a project would cement the notion that their first album is their best – songs such as the powerful rocker Say Hello to the Angels and the big city ballad NYC proving to be anthems that have truly endured. Their last three albums all reached the UK top 10 but vanished from the chart quickly, suggesting that old fans are faithful but new ones are harder to come by. “As songwriters, and as a band playing together, we are getting better,” says Kessler. “We’re more experienced. We’re able to hold the moment of songwriting a little more still, to focus on what we’re trying to say. Ever since our second record we’ve been taking these natural steps forward.”
“There is definitely ambition to go higher and do better,” says Banks. He has found his role expanding in recent years, from singer-guitarist to singer-guitarist-bassist. Eccentric founder bassist Carlos Dengler, the band’s sharpest dresser against stiff competition, quit the band in 2010 after the recording of their fourth album. Dengler wrote in an article last year that he was still estranged from his former bandmates and, as regards the making of their debut album, “Though I was one of its composers, I now feel more like a confused participant, or a survivor of PTSD.”
Banks initially picked up the bass to help finish the songs on Interpol’s fifth album, El Pintor, from 2014. “It wasn’t ego-based as much as, ‘Let’s just write these songs.’ We didn’t start off with the assumption that I would be the guy on the record,” he tells me. But it turns out he was good.
“It was no surprise that he was the guy. It just made sense,” says Fogarino. “He’s almost a different person when he plays bass. He pushes himself really hard. If he felt I had delivered a better performance than him in the studio, he would go back and do his part again.”
Banks doesn’t have enough arms to play the bass on stage as well. That’s now left to touring bassist Brad Truax. But he’s enjoying beginning to play new songs on the road. He’s got the space in his life to travel, having split from his long-term girlfriend, the model Helena Christensen. “Fortunately for touring, unfortunately for me, there is no partner at home,” he says. The Hyde Park gig will also be a homecoming of sorts for him, who was born in Clacton in Essex and moved to the US aged three, as well as Kessler, a native Londoner who moved there at six.
They say they’ll be following the England football team’s fortunes, though these days Banks is more into surfing, which he does at a second home in Panama, and boxing, which he does wherever he can. He says he has a database in his phone of boxing gyms all over the world, and was irritated last week when he was “yanked around” by two different gyms in Vienna. When that all feels too energetic, he’s also getting serious about painting for hours at a time.
“It’s a really healthy thing as adults to go back to that place of discomfort that we all tackled when we were kids, when you suck at everything but you stick at it because you want to get good,” he tells me. “It’s cool to start something in your thirties that you’re terrible at, and break through that barrier.”
In music, however, he knows his place. “I think we’re weird,” he says. Perhaps not as weird as some of his solo endeavours, which have included a collaborative album with RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan feauturing both Florence Welch and Ghostface Killah, and a hip hop mixtape titled Everybody on My Dick Like They Supposed to Be, but Interpol have certainly never been guilty of cynically chasing hits. “We write weird music, and sometimes it brushes up with the mainstream, but we’ve never made a record that didn’t have some strange things on there. As long as you’re not gambling on what you think people want to hear, and you’re too busy being stoked on the songs that you’re generating, you won’t lose your integrity.”
July 7, Barclaycard presents British Summer Time, Hyde Park, W1. bst-hydepark.com
Nov 14-15, Royal Albert Hall, SW7. royalalberthall.com
Marauder is released on Aug 24 on Matador.