Interpol Takes Us to Their Favorite Downtown Haunts
Interpol lead singer and guitarist Paul Banks sits in a windowless lounge in the Soho headquarters of Matador Records, his face obscured by aviator sunglasses and the brim of a black fedora. He’s joined by his bandmates, guitarist Daniel Kessler and drummer Sam Fogarino, each dressed in somber tones that, were it not for their impeccable tailoring, would make them indistinguishable from the trendy young New Yorkers sitting around the office.
“It’s erotic and creepy,” says Banks of the music video for “Lights,” a haunting track off Interpol’s new self-titled album, out this month. The video interpretation of their already pitch-black song was directed by Charlie White, who also helmed the video for their 2005 song “Evil,” which followed a puppet on his way to the hospital a er a brutal car accident. Not surprisingly, the video for “Lights” is equally twisted, featuring a pair of attractive Asian “courtesans” preparing a “doe” for pheromone-harvesting, a ritual that occurs, as the title card helpfully informs, “deep within the inner chambers of the three-horned rhinoceros beetle.”
“Charlie is obsessed with sex and death. He’s a man after my own heart,” says Banks, who recently split from his longtime girlfriend, supermodel Helena Christensen. The video is a far cry from most of the pop frippery out there—Katy Perry and her whipped cream breasts; Lady Gaga and her firework breasts—but then, so is Interpol.
Over the course of eight years and four albums, fans have watched the band evolve from post-punk revivalists to indie rock innovators, defining and re-defining their sound while sharing the stage with some of the world’s mightiest rock legends. They headlined a North American tour this past summer, and will support U2 on a spate of European gigs this month and next. Still, their latest album marks a turning point for a group that’s often compared to Manchester rock pioneers Joy Division. “We wanted to do something different from what we had done before,” says Daniel Kessler, which meant building instrumentation and bringing keyboards and melodies to the forefront.
Interpol has been based in New York since 1997, when the band first began performing together at downtown clubs like Luna Lounge. And while they could probably do what they do anywhere in the world at this point, their formative years in the city helped define them as a band. “With New York, a lot of people are affected by their first year or so,” Kessler says. “Either they run screaming and crying, or they succeed in what they’re trying to do. I could go to Uruguay and still feel the essence of New York and be inspired by the time I spent here. Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker.”
Cienfuegos: “This is where I come to pull chicks. That’s really the main reason. And, yeah, there are good Cuban sandwiches downstairs. Upstairs, they serve exotic punches in big carafes with ladles and some of the better cocktails in the city. They have this amazing drink called Rosa Verde with watermelon and arugula. The owner [Ravi DeRossi] also runs Death & Co., which is one of the best cocktail bars in the city, along with The Bourgeois Pig, 124 Rabbit Club, and a Mexican place up the block called Mayahuel, so he’s got a little empire going on.” —Paul Banks
Anfora: “I met [owner Joe Campanale] at a dinner party. We became friends and he’s since taught me a lot about wine. He also owns the restaurant next door, dell’anima, and L’Artusi, just a few blocks away. It feels like you’re doing something a little swanky at this wine bar, but without the pretension. You could come in wearing a pair of jeans and still have a glass of $80 Barolo. It brings this level of sophistication down to earth. I’m into white wine, so I always tell Joe ‘dry but fruity.’ They serve sandwiches, cheese plates, and stuff from very specific regions of Italy—a lot of salamis and cured meats. The prosciutto and the beef bresaola are my favorites.” —Sam Fogarino
Rebel Rebel Records: “This is the place to go for vinyl. The owner and I have like-minded tastes. It was a shame when we lost Virgin Records in Union Square, but I would care more if we lost this one. Good record stores are a dying breed, and I think this one is the real deal.” —Paul Banks
Matt Umanov Guitars: “I bought my first guitar, a Guild, here in 1992. I thought it was awesome at the time. The last thing I got here was a 12-string Gibson. I like the dudes who run this place.” —Paul Banks
Cafe Gitane: “I’ve been coming here for 15 years. It’s always filled with people, but I can still find peace of mind. They have a great salad with beets, apples, and endive, and an avocado on toast that’s very tasty, too. The place is tiny, but it works—plus, it’s a nice spot to sit outdoors and catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while. It’s a good rendezvous spot.” —Daniel Kessler
Lord Willy’s: “I keep coming back because of the personalities who work here, and I love the shirts. They’re done with classic English tailoring. The colors are always playful, almost post-dandyish. They’re from an era that’s not around anymore. The shirts fit so well that I don’t have to wear them with a tie to make them look nice. You can dress them up as much or as little as you want.” —Paul Banks
Freemans Sporting Club: “There’s an adjacent restaurant, Freemans, which I went to before I knew about this place. As we were leaving, I walked out onto Rivington Street, and I was like, What’s this? I walked in, and I thought, is is probably the coolest clothing store I’ve ever been in. And there’s a barbershop, too? I’ve known Shorty, my barber, for the better part of 12 years, and I turn around and he’s cutting hair here! We hadn’t seen each other in a while because I had been touring, but that brought me back here. I like the whole concept of the men’s club. Hemingway would have shopped here. I got this brown leather belt, this green shirt, and a couple of winter pieces. This stuff is going to endure for decades. I’ll come here when I’m 70 years old and it will feel just as natural as it does now. —Sam Fogarino
Photography by Brooke Nipar