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No Jacket Required

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: January 7, 2003

w/ Calla
Wednesday, Jan. 15
9 p.m.
Sokol Underground

13th & Martha

Since they came on the national scene -- really only last year -- Interpol has been controversial. You loved them or hated them, but you couldn't avoid them. They were either the smug fashion Nazis who ripped off Joy Division or the arty saviors of neu-romantic dreadcore. My money is on the latter.

In the following phone interview, conducted just a few days after New Year's 2003, good-natured Interpol bassist Carlos humbly reflects on the NYC quartet's remarkable year, the NYC scene, being on Letterman, their European fans and international terrorism as they prepare to once again cross the water on tour.




What are you doing right now?

We're really, really busy. Things are kind of okay now in a sense that we don't have much to do at the moment, but that's only because of the holiday. We're on a break between tours, which is going to resume next week.

So you're getting a chance to unwind …

We were looking forward to this break and used it well. It seems like it only lasted a couple a seconds. It seems like we're on the road forever. It's tough.

Well, Happy New Year. How was your New Year's Eve?

I was disappointed with it. I was DJing at a very large party in New York called "Motherfucker," which is held at various clubs the night before a holiday so people don't have to get up the next morning. It's usually fairly large and fun. I set overly high expectation for New Year's this year. I thought I was gonna be DJing and people are gonna be dancing and it was going to be crazy. But it just wasn't exciting. The vibe wasn't good, and the venue wasn't good. I was disappointed.

Did you make any startling New Year's resolutions?

No more sleeping with aliens.

I hope you're not talking about the illegal kind.

No, I'd never discriminate like that. Just aliens.

You're band has been mentioned in just about every "year in review" article I've read. Are you flattered or surprised that Interpol is one of the bands of the year for 2002?

It's incredibly flattering. All the press that was happening before was really promotional -- an editor of a magazine deciding to put a photo of this month's band-on-the-scene. It was also due to the publicist at our label. That was all great, but the end-of-the-year stuff is more meaningful in a sense that it's critics and basically people who work at magazines responding to fan bases and to other people's tastes, which is awesome. That's the flattering part about it. All those lists we made at the end of the year -- we know that our CD did something.

What do you think was the most significant musical moment of 2002?

I didn't see a specific significant musical moment. In general, it was an amazing year in music. So many great albums came out, and great first albums from bands like Radio 4 and Liars -- CDs where the band changed and did something new and it was their coming of age.

You get grouped in with the current New York City scene. Are you getting tired of it?

Some people get more tired of it than others. I understand the interest obviously, but when people try too much to associate us with the New York scene, it's disheartening. You don't want people to look at that sort of thing. You want them to look at what you're doing as an artist. At the same time, it's cool to be lumped in with a great group of bands -- you know you're doing something right and can take part in it.

Interpol can't even be heard on the radio in Omaha. The people that come to your show here will have been turned onto the band almost entirely by reading about you, through the Internet or hearing about you from friends. When you can sell out three nights at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City why bother playing places like Omaha?

Ask our booking agent. We get handed a list of dates, and they say 'This is where you're going to be.' We didn't get upset when we saw Omaha. We talk to people in smaller towns and they feel like 'You guys are too cool to be doing this' and don't realize what nerds we really are.

The upside is you'll be playing in front of a crowd of pure fans that had to work to find out about you.

That's why we do enjoy going to all these insignificant cities -- did I say that? (joking). The fans are real fans, and we know it and can feel it. People in other cities get worked up and express enthusiasm rather than the too-cool-for-school New York crowds where it doesn't matter if we're playing or not.

By the way, have you ever been to Omaha before? What's your preconceived notion of the city?

I think Omaha gets a bad rap because of its name: Omaha. Everyone assumes that it's this redneck, backwoods area. The Onion ran a hilarious article that was documenting this man who had moved to Omaha, but is going back to his home town in rural Nebraska because he couldn't take this rough-and-tumble city life.

Actually, my folks moved 20 miles north of Omaha to get out of the city.

(Laughs) Well, see. I guess maybe it's true. Another notion is that everyone loves The Faint -- that seems like something that comes to mind that comes out of Omaha. They are such a great band, and they're from Omaha.


"When people try too much to associate us with the New York scene, it's disheartening."



"If I get introduced to yet another European person who has to mention Bush in the first two sentences of a conversation I'm going to scream. "


You're doing the David Letterman Show on Jan. 8. Is the band excited? How did that come about?

We have a really good publicist. The other reason is that it's the job of music directors at shows like Letterman to get bands that are hot at the moment, but aren't that big yet. The idea is that, in the long run, it will look like this (the show) is a significant moment that happened when they were raw in their career and had just released an album. Music directors know that stuff.

I'm extremely nervous about the show. I want to make sure that my hair is right, make sure that I don't have a booger hanging out of my nose or lint on my clothes. Everyone is watching.

So are you going to play with Paul Shaffer's band?

I know some bands have a traditional thing, where they'll sit in on banjo or something with his band. Because were doing what we're doing, it's very essential that it sound as it does on the record. Paul won't be joining in.

It would be interesting to hear Paul add some keyboards to your songs.

Yeah, yeah… no.

Is it important to do television?

Our record came out months ago and could be history now. This keeps people interested. It reinforces the audience we already have and takes it to a new audience. We also just raised the price of our CD. When it first came out it was one of those low-price deals. That was the label's marketing strategy. It worked. We're broke but people like us.

Looks like you guys are headed back to Europe after this U.S. tour. How do the audiences over there differ than here?

I tend not to distinguish between audiences from that standpoint. I distinguish audiences in and out of New York City -- if it behaves like a New York audience -- the too-cool-for-school attitude. We want the people that aren't afraid to love this music.

We got a large part of our French audience from Rennes, France. A lot of people there had gone to a festival we played at called La Route du Rock. Rennes is a crazy rock town and they thought 'We made this band.' When we played there, these kids were just tearing down the walls. We're not Metallica or Guns and Roses or KMFDM. They were moshing and stage diving.

We're going back to Europe because we got a great response there. I'm the only one in the band that feels this way, but I prefer touring in the U.S. rather than Europe. The food and the hospitality and quality of life in Europe far surpass that in the United States. What you get for your Euro is far more than what you can get here for your dollar. But there's something about the attitude I don't enjoy. I should be cool and be all European and stuff, but it's a constant struggle, even if you're familiar with the language. It's not just a language barrier; it's a cultural barrier from buying a pack of gum to telling a girl you think she's hot.

With all this talk of war, do you get nervous traveling overseas, especially since the U.S. government seems dead-set on having the rest of the world hate us?

When we were there I did come in contact with a couple instances of anti-Americanism. I thought those people were being stupid, trying to embarrass me and saying 'Bush Bush Bush.' If I get introduced to yet another European person who has to mention Bush in the first two sentences of a conversation I'm going to scream. That's the stuff I noticed, but after a while you see that it's just people venting gripes. Anyone who wants to target an American in foreign lands probably won't go after a band. They're too smart for that. We're just straggly slacker dudes. We don't represent Americans like tourists do with cameras around their necks.

Interpol isn't exactly a political band in a global sense. Have you considered writing music that comments on the current state of politics?

No. We're all very political individuals. We all have strong opinions about politics. We all read the newspapers and are up on everything. We keep track of current events. It's not like we don't have the means to write political lyrics. Daniel and Sam are big Clash fans and were upset with Joe Strummer's passing. I don't like politics in music, that's my opinion. It isn't appropriate. Paul likes political lyrics. But I don't like them at all. If I see a rock star singing political lyrics, I think about Elvis. All he was trying to do was move my ass.

I've only read that about a dozen times over the past couple hours that you guys sound like Joy Division. Let me turn it around: It's only a matter of time before a band apes your sound. How will you feel when you discover someone blatantly ripping off, say, 'NYC' or 'PDA'?

Flattered. I will be at least. I also get flattered when guys and girls come to shows in ties and suits. It's like, whoa! I have low self esteem. I assume no one gives a shit about me, ever. To know that there's some person out there that's thinking about me to the point of imitating me, well I must be doing something right. I don't encourage imitation. We encourage originality, potency and creativity. But it's a clear sign we are influencing people.

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Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Top photo by Michael Edwards © 2002