By Ashley Zimmerman
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By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
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There was a certain millennial flash point when new wave-y New York City goth-pop quartet Interpol seemed as though it might play a major part in the cleanup of a half-decade's crappy music.
This was near the outset of the 21st Century, when the whole mall-crawling Western world and every one of its inhabitants with fully operational ears (especially the hipsters, indie geeks, and scene freaks) were gearing up for a major upheaval in the realm of popular American music. The radio was awash with third-generation grunge, skeezy alt-rock, and lobotomized pop. Even 13-year-old cheerleaders and their suburban gangsta boyfriends were fleeing Columbia House Music Club memberships and smashing perfectly good CD Walkmen in frustrated rage.
The music sucked, and it was time for a massive fucking wave of new sounds. Like that initial blast of Brit punk in '77. Or the great Seattle invasion of '91. Or even Dre, Snoop, Tupac, and G-Funk in the summer of 1995. Just something to clear the cultural plateau of five years' accumulated musical trash.
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At the time, marketing experts and music journos in windowless offices claimed to see some kind of cataclysmic sea change roiling out on the East Coast in NYC — specifically in Rudy Giuliani's newly sanitized, tourist-friendly Manhattan. And the primary proponents were already being identified and hyped. The Strokes were gonna be the real saviors of rock 'n' roll. And then you had second-string disciples like Interpol.
Ten years later, looking back from the vantage point of 2011, we now know that the predicted proto-punk revival was really a boomlet and not a full-blown boom. Sure, it washed the last dregs of the late '90s — i.e., the Backstreet Boys and Limp Bizkit — back into the sludge pool. And it bred a brainier generation of arena rock like the Killers. But it didn't completely overtake the airwaves and conquer the charts in the way that Kurt Cobain, Pearl Jam, and the rest of the flannel-clad alternative army had done a decade earlier. The Strokes didn't save rock 'n' roll. And neither did Interpol.
Why? Well, as we all slipped into this new century, the music industry apparatus was beginning to break down. And it'd already been years since MTV had given a shit about music videos, subsisting instead on reality TV like The Real World and Jackass. But mostly, you can blame the vast void of the World Wide Web. It was just about to open up like a black hole, swallow big chunks of the old hype machine, and spit out a pair of strange new entities named Napster and MySpace.
This was the moment, circa 2001, when Interpol finally broke and tried to seize the scene. "One year later and I think the world would've been closer to what it is now," Interpol guitarist and cofounder Daniel Kessler tells New Times via telephone. "When our first record [Turn on the Bright Lights] came out, the internet was a prominent tool. But social networking wasn't really happening," he remembers. "It was pre-MySpace. And as far as hearing new bands, people weren't really using the internet that way.
"I was handling all the band management stuff at that point, so I know that we still made demos and put them in an envelope and sent them off and tried to follow up with people, which was the way bands had been doing it for 30 years. It was still the old guard in a way. It was college radio, indie stores, and a ton of word of mouth. And slowly but surely, every time we went out on tour, the venues got a little bit bigger.
"By the time we finished our second record, though, which was really only two years later, in the late spring of 2004, it leaked," he says with a whiff of incredulity, recalling a time when you could actually hope to keep an album under wraps until the official release date. "Antics leaked within two weeks of finishing it. We went out on a summer tour, and people were reviewing the record already, like two months before it was supposed to come out.
"So, in a way, we straddled both sides of it. Turn on the Bright Lights was kinda like the old guard, while Antics got leaked and became representative of the way things are today."
And right now, a few hundred days into the second decade of the 21st Century, it certainly seems as though Interpol belongs to the last generation of bands that could've even dreamed of something like clearing the cultural plateau. The new world order took hold a long time ago. And after releasing their last three albums in this post-Napster-slash-MySpace era, Kessler and Interpol — like the rest of us — concede that musical domination of the mall-crawling Western world is no longer possible.
"I'd rather focus on just keeping things kinda simple," Kessler says. "I feel like it's a pretty crazy age. Obviously, it's a very interesting age. And probably a bit of a messy age. But I choose to look upon it as being a great age."