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Look Sharp: Interpol turns on the bright lights.

Fashion Plates

New York's Interpol dresses down the competition

By Susan Moll

WHILE IT'S a quaint and touristy place rife with the maritime charm unique to coastal New England hamlets, Bridgeport, Conn., has a past as dark and murky as the brackish tide in its harbors. Spirits of dead seafarers and fallen Continental Army heroes prowl through the frigid night, and the nearby Penfield Lighthouse is supposedly occupied by the ghost of its former keeper.

But when the New York melody makers of Interpol began laying the groundwork for their full-length debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights (Matador), escaping the flux and smash of the urban jungle was priority No. 1, goblins or no. So to Bridgeport they went, their sights set on Tarquin Studios and a placid, laid-back recording experience.

Or so they thought. The stately Victorian housing Tarquin's "is the kind of home that you'll look at it from the outside and go, 'This could be like the beginning of The Shining,'" laughs guitarist Daniel Kessler. For good reason, too: In the 19th century, it was an asylum for emotionally disturbed youth. But that was of little consequence to frontman Paul Banks, who simply straightened his tie, plugged in his electric Gibson and went to work.

Even his walk to a local cemetery with drummer Sam Fogarino was a leisurely stroll, until he leaned in for a closer look at some of the headstones. "There was one that said 'BANKS' and then one that said 'PAUL'--right alongside each other," Banks recalls.

Even though the experience would shake most anyone to the core, Banks brushed it off as he would a speck of lint from one of his perfectly creased French cuffs. You read that right: French cuffs. The well-heeled gentleman is a rare specimen in rock & roll circa 2002, but Interpol takes the genre and dresses it to the nines.

With geeky emo gear, regurgitated '80s threads and butt-crack jeans de rigueur, popular music is in dire need of fashion police. Who better than the members of Interpol, who appeared in Gear wearing more than $6,000 worth of Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein and Cesare Paciotti designs, to dispense the citations? As bassist Carlos Dengler recently informed the French newspaper Liberation, "When I see a badly dressed guy, it makes me sick."

As stylized and polished as its members' appearances, Interpol's music comes glossed with a postmodern sheen. The straight-forward, economic cadence of Banks' speech and his studied poise translate into his singing--there are no histrionics or unnecessary inflections to be found. That energy is reserved for the guitars he and Kessler use to generate some of the most jaw-dropping riffs you're likely to hear these days.

Though Turn on the Bright Lights' contents echo dimensions of Television, Wire and mid-'80s New Order, Banks' voice directs many comparisons toward Joy Division. "I haven't listened to enough Joy Division, and now I kind of steer away from it so nothing seeps in through the subconscious," Kessler says, laughing uneasily. "The fact that people seem to think that we sound like more like bands from 20 years ago--it's very cool, and it's definitely very flattering. But I wouldn't say those bands are any more of an influence than bands from a year ago or 10 years ago."

There's plenty of pressure that comes with the mantle of Big Apple Buzz Band du Jour, as the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars have already discovered. "We certainly don't think we've benefited from this New York City magnifying glass that's going on right now. We've been a band since 1998," Kessler explains. "It was very different when we started out and no one really cared about New York. We waited for the right record label; we didn't rush into it."

"We still have a lot to learn about each other," Kessler continues. "It's been a very interesting experience the whole way through, and we're still getting to know each other. We're still figuring out what it is that makes us tick as a band. It's not very clear in a way, but it works." And it looks faaabulous to boot.

Interpol plays Tuesday (Sept. 17) at 9pm at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco.

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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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