Daniel Kessler had a system. And for over a decade, the system worked. To achieve the flickering, cinematic guitar textures that became his signature with New York art-rockers Interpol, he would brew a pot of strong coffee every morning, sit down with a classic movie — often foreign or vintage noir — pick up his guitar and begin idly strumming. From 2002's Turn on the Bright Lights debut on up through the band's jagged self-titled 2010 release, some of his best ideas began when the TV screen read "Fin."
But all of that changed with Interpol's latest release, the propulsive El Pintor ("the painter" in Spanish; also a band-name anagram). For the band's fifth album — and its first since the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler — Kessler studied only one movie, which morphed into the exotic-chorded "My Blue Supreme." And for the life of him, he can't remember which film it was.
Instead of cinema, he says, this album was rooted in travel. "Sometimes shaking up your routine is important," he says, "just going somewhere where you have to start over or have a new approach. Especially if it's a place where you feel comfortable, somewhere you can actually be living for a moment and feel like a local."
The album's galloping opener "All the Rage Back Home" — which recalls the ephemeral exuberance of Bright Lights — was sparked on the last day of touring behind Interpol. Kessler was hanging out with his guitar on a hotel balcony in Buenos Aires, when the idea popped into his head. Ditto for the ornately Fellini-esque "My Desire," which was composed on a particularly stormy day in Italy.
El Pintor also finds the group sounding more determined and cohesive as a unit, which is no accident. Even before its predecessor was finished, bohemian bassist Dengler had announced his sudden departure to Kessler, vocalist/guitarist Paul Banks, and drummer Sam Fogarino.
Kessler says there are no hard feelings. "He was in the band from 1997 to 2010, and that's a long time to commit your life to one thing. And ultimately, he wanted to change his life a little bit and do other things. It's not like he wanted to join another rock and roll band and go right back out on the road."
For the new album, Banks resolved the problem almost immediately after El Pintor rehearsals began. As Kessler remembers, "On Day One he said, 'Hey, maybe I'll bring a bass tomorrow,' and he literally picked a bass up on Day Two. I was open to anything, like, 'Let's just do whatever we wanna do and see where it takes us.'" That included the jittery arpeggiated chords that underlie album closer "Twice as Hard," which Kessler penned on piano.
"I imagined this menacing violin, a string section with an ebb-and-flow dynamic, that would fade in, fade out. So I don't know if I still need film now. But coffee? That will never change. You could put that in a pipeline right into my vein."