"The daggers are not out," smiles Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino, pondering the world's reaction to his band's return with El Pintor. Received by many as their best work in a decade, Interpol's fifth record seems the sound of a band reborn, stepping into the studio for the first time without the ominous presence of former bassist, Carlos D.
There's certainly an overwhelming positivity around this leaner, highly evolved Interpol - just don't call it a comeback.
"I was talking about this the other day, I was like 'My God, it's only been four years'," laughs Sam, wide-eyed. "How does that constitute a comeback? Then I wonder if they mean it on a deeper level? You know, 'The return of Interpol not veering off the path', so to speak - and I kind of feel that way myself.
"I reflect on this record and kind of see it as more of an honest piece of work that's more in line with the first two records. Not totally playing it safe, but not going full on abandon for the sake of it. Everything kinda makes sense on this record."
Sam on stage at Brixton Academy. Photo: Gigwise/Justine Trickett
El Pintor is certainly the band's most direct body of work since 2004's Antics. Punchy, upfront, and with the perfect balance between pop, post-punk, poetry and cinematic experimentation, it's the sum of all that's great about the New York band. But, in losing a member and shedding a layer, we're now closer to 'the heart' of Interpol.
"It made us tighter, closer," admits Sam. "The circle is becoming smaller and we're literally closer together, so it's going to be one thing or the other. It was either going to make it work for you or destroy everything."
He continues: "There's something about the intimacy of one less person. That could have been anyone, not just Carlos, but with their absence it of gets closer to the heart of it all. There's less preamble and prefacing."
So can we call El Pintor the 'essence' of Interpol?
"At this point, sure," he nods. "It's not even by choice really, but by necessity. You either rise to it...or you don't and you walk away like Carlos did."
Walking way - Interpol with Carlos in 2007
To be an Interpol fan is to know that they're the sum of their parts. Now, the media have finally woken up to that full picture - rather than focusing merely on a certain striking figure on the right, decked in black with a mathematical fringe and an empty gun holster.
"I think early on there was this 'cult of Carlos' as the 'infallible rock God'," chuckles Sam. "Not that I didn't believe in him or enjoy making music with him, but that was bullshit. That aggravated me for a while as it belittled the strength of everyone else in the band. I'm always one to give credit where it's due and I'll never take anything away from Carlos that was truly amazing, but he had a tendency of commandeering the process and that's how we came up with certain aspects of the last two records - just having this hardline that he drew in terms of what he wanted to do musically."
He goes on: "It didn't really have much to do with the band at that time and it was really just about him. I have no ill will towards Carlos - I spent a lot of time with him and while we weren't the best of friends, there's a lot of stuff I really enjoyed and I care for him as a person, but I just hate when everything else gets overshadowed by something superficial. The three of us have the ability to do something that runs very far and deep."
One particular magazine feature particularly irked Sam. Published around the time of third album Our Love To Admire in 2007, rather than being an insight into the band as they adventured into more ambitious orchestral territory, it essentially focused just on Carlos.
"Oh God, I remember that whole fiasco," sighs Sam. "I don't want to be part of anything that perpetuates that. On the one hand it wasn't Carlos' fault, but on the other hand it was because he perpetuated the myth that makes people want to write that shit. He had that persona, whereas Daniel, Paul and myself don't. We are who we are."
"He wanted to do that Bowie-esque ever-changing persona thing. That's fine, but you're not David Bowie - you have to be brilliant like him to pull it off. That's the one thing that's lacking. You're a talented musician and you're a charismatic performer, but you're not fucking David Bowie so just find yourself and stick to it!" Even though he's laughing while he's saying this, Sam is emphatic. "I would say that to his face and without malice. I wish I was David Bowie, who doesn't?"
Interpol today - closer, stronger
Having long since given up trying to emulate the Thin White Duke, Interpol as a whole seem more of a self-contained unit than ever before - separate and unphased from trends, hype and whatever baffling misconceptions the world may cast upon them. But what did the band feel like they still had left to prove with El Pintor?
"I don't know if we have anything to prove per se, but I know that I had the desire to make a more honest and direct record," replies Sam. "I wanted to get back to that dialogue between Daniel and Paul's guitar playing. There's something really rich there, and those last few records didn't really demonstrate that. We had to get off the sequencer and the keyboarder plug-ins for a minute - but them aside at least, and concentrate on a guitar album.
"Plus there's only three of us in a room so we don't really have much choice."
You can't argue with the results. Interpol went through the grind and came out one man down, but ten times stronger.
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