Coming shortly after the completion of the band's September-released self-titled album, the departure of founding bassist Carlos Dengler rocked both Interpol and the band's fans alike.
Unlike many bands with a single lead singer, in which the frontman is the sole songwriter, the song creation process for Interpol has always been a democratic, joint effort. In fact, singer Paul Banks is quick to credit Dengler with the bigger, more ambitious arrangements on the new record. And Dengler, often just called "Carlos D.," was as much an emblem of New York cool as he was a musician. He remains respected as much, if not more so, for his sense of style, partying and skills in the DJ booth as for his contributions to the band.
But Interpol is not the first band and won't be the last to lose a crucial founding member and continue on as a unit. While Banks says the departure wasn't a surprise ("It's like any relationship—you can tell when things are getting a little hairy"), he and remaining members Daniel Kessler (guitar) and Sam Fogarino (drums) have yet to determine how the band will approach the process of creating songs without Dengler.
Interpol performs Wednesday, October 27, at the Palladium Ballroom
For now, they're fully occupied with touring in support of Interpol.
Fortunately, they've got some help filling Dengler's shoes—at least musically—for live shows, with David Pajo (formerly of Slint) on bass and Brandon Curtis, of the formerly Dallas-based Secret Machines, on keyboards and backing vocals. Banks has been a longtime fan of both of the new members' bands, and considers Slint a major influence on his development as a musician.
"They're excellent," Banks says. "I've been a fan of Secret Machines since maybe 2000 when I saw them at the Mercury Lounge. And I've known [Curtis] for a while. It's cool just to have a guy like him with us offstage, because he's a pleasure and a really interesting guy. Onstage, he's such an incredible singer that it's been very enjoyable for me to hear the vocals sounding as good as they do. We haven't been able to explore this kind of harmony work live, and he's an amazing singer so he brings a lot. Also, he's a great keyboard player and he's got great style."
Surprisingly, despite Dengler's outsized persona, Banks hasn't noticed any change in fan reaction at shows yet.
"We've always been really lucky, because our fans are really enthusiastic," Banks says. "That has stayed true. That's been interesting unto itself, to see that there isn't a change in the enthusiasm. If anything, it's been better. I don't know what to attribute that to."
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As for the record, it's a more orchestrated, layered affair, with fewer memorable melodies but more expansive arrangements—the definition of a grower, if fans will give it a chance. Kessler, who recorded the demos that went on to become the record's new songs, and Dengler, who helped come up with arrangements, were both in an "experimental" mindset when making the record, Banks says. Interpol also marked the return from major label Capitol Records to the independent Matador, though the record was complete before the band had a label agreement and Banks claims that the label situation has never influenced the band's creative process.
The personnel situation did, though. Banks readily admits that Dengler's departure affected the lyrics, though he refuses to comment on them, preferring instead to let the words speak for themselves. The tone of the album, lyrically and musically, is mostly dark, though there are moments of uplift and acceptance even in the face of despair, such as in the beautiful closer "The Undoing." It's impossible not to think he's addressing his former bandmate with the lines "I always thought you had great style / And style was worthwhile." Banks (who is bilingual, having lived in Mexico City and Madrid growing up) then sings in Spanish about how victory cannot compare to utter defeat.
Even with this reveal, it's clear that Banks doesn't see his band as vanquished, even if he acknowledges that, with Dengler's departure, it will never be the same.
"One of the strengths of the band is the abundance of creativity," Banks says. "I don't think there's a shortage of ideas in the absence of said founding member. However, he was a defining element of our sound. Going forward, it couldn't possibly be the same. He was a sort of irreplaceable essence. But there could be some good things in the future with the new set-up."