Since emerging in the early 2000s, Interpol have occupied a unique space within indie rock. Not only did they — along with the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — lead New York City’s turn-of-the-century rock revival, they also helped kick-start the post-punk revival that endured into the 2020s. On Interpol’s instant-classic 2002 debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights, angular guitars and Paul Banks’ glamorous, ominous baritone owed as much to the legacy of the Chameleons, the Smiths, and the oft-mentioned Joy Division as they did to the energy sweeping through their hometown after 9/11. Over the years, their remarkable consistency on albums such as 2004′s Antics and 2014′s El Pintor helped them weather changing lineups and fashions. The band embraced their veteran status with newfound vigor on 2018′s Marauder, while they continued to reveal new facets to their music with 2022′s subtly optimistic The Other Side of Make-Believe.
Interpol’s roots date back to the late ’90s, when guitarist Daniel Kessler and drummer Greg Drudy (also a member of the screamo band Saetia), struck up a musical partnership while attending New York University. They added another NYU student, bassist Carlos Dengler, to the fold after Kessler met him in a philosophy class. The guitarist found the band’s frontman in Paul Banks, a guitarist/vocalist into rap and grunge whom Kessler had previously spent time with in France.
Having settled on an initial lineup, Interpol became a fully active band in 1998 and issued a series of self-released EPs. Following the release of 2000′s Fukd I.D. #3 EP, Drudy left the band. His replacement was Sam Fogarino, a drummer with a decade’s worth of experience playing with punk bands who was thinking of quitting music when Kessler asked him to join Interpol. Regular appearances at New York venues like Brownie’s and the Mercury Lounge endeared Interpol to local audiences, while a brief 2001 U.K. tour included a session for John Peel’s BBC Radio program, expanding the band’s global audience. The year 2001 also saw the group release their third EP, Precipitate, and appear on This Is Next Year, a double-disc compilation of Brooklyn-area acts.
In 2002, Interpol signed with Matador Records, which released a three-song self-titled EP from the band that June, and their debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights, that August. Recorded at Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Tarquin Studios with Gareth Jones and Peter Katis, the album’s churning update on post-punk earned critical acclaim as well as comparisons to Joy Division and the Smiths. Turn on the Bright Lights reached number 101 on the U.K. Albums Chart and number 158 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in the U.S. (it also spent over a year on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart). Interpol’s strong cult following led to extensive touring, including international dates and television appearances. Late in 2003, Interpol returned to Tarquin Studios to record their second album, Antics, with Katis. Arriving that September, the record boasted a more streamlined, driving sound and built on the success of Turn On the Bright Lights, hitting number 15 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and number 21 on the U.K. Albums Chart. Antics eventually went gold in Australia, Belgium, and Mexico as well as the U.S. and the U.K., where three songs (“Slow Hands,” “Evil,” and “C’mere”) entered the Top 40 charts. The band embarked on a lengthy tour in support of the album, playing dates around the world for nearly a year and a half. During this time, they contributed the track “Direction” to Six Feet Under, Vol. 2: Everything Ends, the 2005 soundtrack to the HBO TV series Six Feet Under.
By 2006, Interpol were back in the studio. Their third album, July 2007′s Our Love to Admire, marked the first time the band recorded in New York City (at Manhattan’s Electric Lady and Magic Shop studios) as well as their major-label debut on Capitol Records. Created with producer Rich Costey during months of painstaking sessions, the record boasted a lusher sound that added keyboards to the band’s sound. Our Love to Admire was Interpol’s highest-charting album, peaking at number four in the U.S., number two in the U.K., and in the Top Ten or Top 20 of several other countries around the world. Along with their Interpol duties, the group’s members kept busy with other projects: Fogarino joined forces with Swervedriver’s Adam Franklin as Magnetic Morning, releasing an EP, while Dengler ventured into scoring films. Banks embarked on a solo career as Julian Plenti, releasing the 2009 album Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper. Early in 2009, Interpol began recording their fourth album at Electric Lady. The following May, Dengler left the band, and Dave Pajo was announced as the touring bassist for the group’s shows with U2 in Europe. He was later replaced by Brad Truax. Unhappy with the lengthy creative process and quick staff turnover during their time at Capitol, the band returned to Matador for September 2010′s Interpol. Produced by the band and mixed by Alan Moulder, the album featured cinematic arrangements as well as backing vocals by Azealia Banks on one of its tracks. Like its predecessor, Interpol was a Top Ten hit in the U.K. and the U.S.
Following the tour for that album — which included dates supporting U2 — the bandmembers took an extended hiatus and concentrated on their solo projects. These included Banks’ material under the Julian Plenti moniker (2012′s Julian Plenti Lives... EP) and his own name (his second album, Banks, also from 2012), and Fogarino’s EmptyMansions project, a collaboration with the Jesus Lizard’s Duane Denison and Interpol touring member Brandon Curtis (also of Secret Machines) that issued 2013′s snakes/vultures/sulfate. During this time, a deluxe edition of Turn on the Bright Lights celebrating the album’s ten-year anniversary that included demos and rarities was released.
For September 2014′s back-to-basics fifth album, El Pintor (an anagram of Interpol), Banks took over bass duties while Curtis played keyboards. Also featuring contributions from Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. and Bon Iver’s Rob Moose, the record was hailed as a return to form and was another Top Ten hit in the U.S. and the U.K. A remix album with contributions by Factory Floor and Panda Bear arrived soon after. Meanwhile, the other projects from Interpol’s members continued to grow: Kessler collaborated with Datach'i’s Joseph Fraioli as Big Noble, which issued 2015′s First Light. The following year, Banks worked with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA as Banks & Steelz on the album Anything But Words.
In 2017, Interpol embarked on a tour commemorating the 15th anniversary of Turn on the Bright Lights and began work on their sixth album late that year. Working with producer Dave Fridmann at his Tarbox Studios in upstate New York, the band eschewed digital recording for tape, making for a direct, punchy sound. The results were Marauder, a more intimate set of songs that arrived in August 2018. The record peaked at number 23 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in the U.S., reached number six in the U.K., and was a Top Ten hit in several European countries. The following May, Interpol issued A Fine Mess, an EP of material recorded during the Marauder sessions. In June 2020, Banks’ project Muzz, which also featured former Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick and producer Josh Kaufman, issued their self-titled debut album. Around that time, Interpol started work on their next full-length. First collaborating remotely due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the band convened in London with co-producers Moulder and Flood in 2021. Matching its subtly hopeful songwriting with atmospheric sonics, The Other Side of Make-Believe appeared in July 2022. ~ Heather Phares & Andrew Leahey