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music: Capturing Interpol

Is this Brooklyn foursome just a Joy Division knockoff?


Knowing how many magazines come out of New York, and how in love with themselves and their own town New Yorkers traditionally are, it sort of makes sense (though there was plenty of New York rag space to be had during a comparative 20-year lull of rock leading up to this point).

"I have actually stopped reading our press," Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino says, "and I have tried to stop the band from doing the same." Vice and Shout magazines, two major mouthpieces for Fogarino's atmospheric post-punk band, operate right in his stomping ground, the burgeoning neighborhoods of Brooklyn. It's the kind of thing that makes other musicians want to move there. But Fogarino reasons that for as many New York music journalists there are who pant to write a good article about the city's next sensation, there are others, teeth bared, waiting to pounce. So he falls back on the age-old advice gleaned from the wise and the indifferent. "We don't make records for the press," he says, "we make records for people who like it."

Fogarino just happened to move to Brooklyn when the current New York revolution was forming. Luckily, he says, he landed a job at one of the central hubs of the scene, a used-clothing store called Beacon's Closet, where potential rock stars bought their styles. "I was there nine hours a day every day," Fogarino says. "Of course I met all the right people." Not his future band mates, but the job gave him the right connections, the right six degrees of separation from the future Liars and Radio 4s to eventually land a spot in Interpol's lineup.

Interpol sounds nothing like other leading bands in the New York scene. But Interpol is the one most accused of sounding like someone else — namely, the iconic British post-punk band Joy Division. Mostly this is journalistic parroting. Ask anyone who really knows, and they'll tell you that the post-punk band Interpol really resembles is The Chameleons. But ask anyone who really knows Interpol, and they'll tell you that they sound unique.

To prove that there is no derivative formula behind Interpol, Fogarino points to the band's leader, guitarist Daniel Kessler. A creative force who is more likely to let you be in his band because of a good conversation than a good tryout session, Kessler comes across as a kind of Zen chairman of the board. Fogarino calls him "the instigator." "He's definitely the one who comes in with the most ideas," Fogarino says. His ideas can be unusual. "Daniel handpicked everybody because he liked their personality," Fogarino admits.

Kessler's ideas coalesced when he, by chance, ran into a fellow musician named Paul Banks, a guitarist and singer he'd met in France. If anyone in the band is to blame for the constant Joy Division comparisons, it is Banks, whose vocal style strikingly evokes those of brooding '80s Britpop singers.

Banks also gets Interpol into other kinds of trouble with the press. Most reviews and profiles of the band make mention of his lyrics, often abusing them for, to put it mildly, being rather intangible. "I love it," Fogarino says. "I think it's great when somebody can't figure something out and it pisses them off. If you have an imagination, run with it."

And imagination is the one thing that accounts for the current eclectic bloom of rock music in New York.

Some might call it a rare time for the city, a new Seattle, which will someday be only a memory. Fogarino isn't so sure. "It's not the scene of the '70s where everybody hung out at Maxwell's and CBGBs," he admits. But it's hard not to see that something is going on. One thing is for sure, Fogarino says, it's not the last time. "The city never gets old," he says. "There's always another story." S

Interpol plays Alley Katz, Saturday, Dec. 7 with Gregor Samsa and Calla at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $9 and can be purchased at Plan 9.

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