“Turn on the Bright Lights,” the 2002 debut album from Interpol, cemented the band as the future of indie rock. Full of dissonant guitars, climactic buildups, and sleek production, it’s long been regarded as a vital force in helping to shape the sound of the 2000s.
That album’s lineup consisted of lead vocalist Paul Banks, guitarist Daniel Kessler, drummer Sam Fogarino, and bassist Carlos Dengler. Although Kessler was just 27 when the New York band received mainstream acclaim, he says Interpol’s success was long overdue.
“It was a real struggle the first four or five years — it felt like everyone in the world rejected our demos. And our first demo had songs that ended up on ‘Bright Lights.’ It had [lead single] ‘PDA,’ it had ‘Roland.’ To me, it’s almost like being in the minor leagues and not getting called up,” he says. “But you start preparing yourself anyway and ultimately it sort of builds up a resiliency. It just makes you just want to play music for the right reasons.”
Over the last two decades, Interpol has released six albums. 2004′s “Antics” would produce memorable radio hits like “Evil” and “Slow Hands.” Despite Dengler leaving the group in 2010, Interpol’s sound would continue to evolve. Some critics asserted that the band futilely tried to replicate the magic of earlier projects; others argued that their music became unrecognizable.
Despite what detractors have said, “The Other Side of Make Believe” — due out July 15 — is a formidable follow-up to 2018′s “Marauder.” Its opening track and lead single, “Toni,” boasts cascading piano chords that flow into Banks’s signature baritone while he recites lines like “Flame down Pacific highway/Still in shape, my methods refined.” Kessler, who has recently mastered the piano, says that the addition to the track was a welcome change to how the bandmates approached music-making.
“We’ve rarely done songs that are based around a piano progression, but Paul and Sam both took to it,” Kessler says. “Last year, we rented this house in the Catskills for like 10 days, moved the furniture out the way and just set up in the living room. There was a rickety old piano there so I started playing it. Paul jumped in on the bass, then Sam jumped into it. ‘Toni’ just sort of grew out of that. I think we had a common vision as to where we could take it.”
“Something’s Changed,” the second single from “The Other Side of Make Believe,” also features a spare piano introduction. “Big Shot City,” contrastingly, has the kind of crisp guitar melodies Kessler has become known for since the band’s inception. He believes everything flows organically among the three of them, which is fulfilling. “There’s something about when we get together and write songs where the chemistry just shows itself,” Kessler says. “Everyone in Interpol has a similar investment in whatever we’re creating, and that feeling of urgency goes back to our first record.”
He also says the group members, like many of their contemporaries, place a fair amount of pressure on themselves to make songs they’re proud of. “I certainly felt on ‘The Other Side of Make Believe’ that those little decisions in the studio, they kind of kill you, good or bad. If it goes wrong, it feels so terrible. It needs to go right and there’s no other choice. We all have the same level of passion — and we never have to search for it.”
As Interpol gears up to play Roadrunner on May 11, fans can expect to hear a combination of older and newer gems. To Kessler, though, the more impressive accomplishment for him and his bandmates is simply being able to play live shows again.
“We’ve been concentrating on playing new stuff. We just wanna get tight again and make sure that we’re portraying those songs as intended. We’re also freshening up on some of the catalog. Then when [we] go out there, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking–— but in a good way.” He lets out a quiet laugh. “It keeps us on our toes.”
The band’s longevity and accolades have exceeded all of Kessler’s expectations. Now, he just wants to enjoy the rewards of his work alongside the people he considers family. “When I used to think of the future, it was ‘I hope one day we get to make a record.’ I never got further than thinking past ‘Bright Lights.’ I never thought there’d be an audience, never thought we’d be able to do this for 20 years. It’s baffling, honestly.”
He believes the band’s growth is palpable with every release. “It’s always been very clear that we’ve never been short of ideas or inspirations. And with every album, it feels like ‘Yeah this is our best record yet.’ You need to feel that way when you’re making art — otherwise it becomes a little soulless.”
At Roadrunner. May 11 at 8 p.m. $49-$55. roadrunnerboston.com/