"It's just a different chemistry," boldly states Interpol frontman Paul Banks, reflecting on the very different make-up of Interpol in 2014. "There was always a very powerful creative force between the four of us. To use a chemistry analogy, there might be four atoms in a molecule and it has a certain bond. There's three atoms in a different molecule and maybe that has an even stronger bond - a more excitable, radioactive state.
"I feel it's just a different compound with different properties, but equally strong."
For Interpol to become 'radioactive', it had to lose one of its elements. Carlos D, the menacing and vampyric bassist who stalked stage left, parted ways with the band after they recorded their self-titled fourth record in 2010. Since then, they toured without him, bonded as a unit and returned with not only one of the finest records of the year, but of their career.
"I think we had something to prove to ourselves as a three-piece," Banks admits. "As to whether or not we could write a record but also whether or not we could write a good record - it all boils down to ourselves. That's always been the barometer with our music: if we like it, then we're confident the fans will like it! This time was the first without Carlos, so there was this huge question mark of 'Can we do this?' It was very invigorating when we realised that we could."
Whatever they had to prove, they certainly pulled it off. Whether it's the sharp anxiety of their immaculate debut Turn On The Bright Lights, the glossy and widescreen charm of Antics, the swooning romance of Our Love To Admire or the introverted idiosyncrasies of their self-titled LP, the evolution of Interpol has been a joy to behold.
On El Pintor, they've found that common thread that runs through everything, distilled it to make it 100% pure Interpol, and fired it racing into the future with a newfound drive and compulsion. It is that very essence that has struck a chord with fans.
"I always felt that in the early days, I was misconstrued and misunderstood, but now I realise that it is what it is," shrugs Banks. "Critics will look for things to criticise and your fans will just enjoy what you do. I only no react to what our fans think, not critics. I think that 2007 was the last time I read anything written about our band, or about me. It doesn't help me to pay attention to criticism or what trends are happening."
Banks goes on: "Our fans understand us and I feel like maybe critics listen one time and write some stupid shit about the music, but who cares? The fans are the ones that are getting it, and that's all that matters. If you don't get it, then go listen to something else."
But not everyone 'got it'. When Interpol hit the airwaves in 2002, they were a self-contained, fully-formed artistic tour-de-force. The aesthetic, the attire, the sound, the attitude, the whole 'Interpol experience' gave fresh ears a real opulence to invest in. Unfortunately, many missed the point and just threw lazy comparisons in their way.
Banks remembers the early days vividly: "It's a bit of a shame when you're a young artist and you haven't been exposed to criticism. You're just doing what you do, you're very proud of your bandmates and you feel like you're working with really original people, then someone comes along and says 'How about fuck you and what you do? You suck because of this and that'.
"When you're a young artist, that's really harsh. You're not expecting that and it doesn't ring true to what you believe, then you do it for a while and you realise that it's just part of the business, man. You need people to write about art, and people who write about art aren't always going to like your art - but that's not always a big deal. But when you're first beginning, it feels like a big fucking deal."
Banks on stage at Brixton Academy. Photo: Gigwise/Justine Trickett
With such passion and professionalism towards their craft, Interpol were never going to let such negativity get to them. Not even the adversity of losing a key member has stopped them. Like a man losing his sight, their other senses only grew stronger.
"I loved having Carlos in the band, but I think a certain closeness arose when we realised that we were having a really good time as a three piece and we never knew that we could do that," admits Paul. "That could have given us a good bond, but I don't want to say that 'Now we're way better'. We were just very excited to realise that we were still a band."
With Paul taking up bass duties, everything gelled. Within days of their first sessions, the band had written 'Anwhere' and 'My Desire' - two of the cornerstones of El Pintor, that represent the organic immediacy that holds the record together so well.
"It's, direct - just rockin'," says Banks, describing the spirit of El Pintor. "Our third and fourth records were experimental in a very good way that I'm very proud of, and I think that in this point of our life we're just ready to write really direct and immediate records. Call it, 'punchy'!"
Punchy and direct it may be, but don't be misled into thinking that El Pintor is a collection of ten singles. It's still as far from a bunch of formulaic verse-chorus-verse tracks stapled together as you can get. Interpol are an albums band, and El Pintor is an extraordinary trip - but what surprises does it hold for fans?
"I think it's surprisingly good," laughs Banks. "Our fourth record was our most challenging for audiences, but I think a challenging record is very rewarding for the people that get into them. There are moments on this record that require a little bit of discovery and multiple listens, but it's easy to hear this record top to bottom, but challenging enough that you want to go back and listen again and again."
Would it be safe to say that Interpol have passed that moment that Radiohead had with Kid A, or even Arctic Monkeys had with Humbug - that moment of wild experimentation that wipes the slate clean to head just about anywhere and up into greatness?
Banks pauses, then replies: "I think it's really more missing a member that cleared the deck for us. Carlos was a major factor on our fourth record, and without him moving us all in a classical direction, the remaining members of the band were all geared up to just do a straight-forward rock record.
"It was by necessity that we all just became a new band on this one."
So this is Interpol 2.0: fine-tuned, direct, highly evolved and radioactive.
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