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On the Cover: Interpol

Photographs by Greg Kadel

“Wanna go to Hooters?” asks Interpol guitarist Daniel Kessler as we step outside the W Hotel in Dallas onto the sunbaked sidewalk. Kessler is a short, skinny 32-year-old with slightly nervous eyes and thin lips that begin to curl into a wry grin as he delivers this lunch invitation. His band — which also includes singer/guitarist Paul Banks, bassist Carlos D, and drummer Sam Fogarino — is on a nine-date North American tour leading up to the release of their third album (and major-label debut), Our Love to Admire, and the guitarist seems anxious to playfully tweak their resolutely cosmopolitan, sometimes painfully hip image.

The Hooters in downtown Dallas is not just any Hooters. It is, Kessler informs me, the largest Hooters in the world. In his black suit, black sweater-vest, and dark sunglasses, the chatty New York vegetarian strikes an odd figure in a chain restaurant known primarily for large-breasted, skimpily outfitted waitresses and chicken wings. Neon beer signs cover the walls, a rerun of the Coca-Cola 600 from Lowe’s Motor Speedway beams from the TV overhead, and the sound system blares inoffensive radio-rock staples, including Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” the Cranberries’ “Linger,” and Dave Matthews Band’s “The Space Between.”

A brunette, appropriately proportioned waitress approaches the table, and Kessler looks up from his menu. “Can you confirm that ‘cukes’ in fact refers to cucumbers?” he asks slyly, pointing to his menu’s description of the garden salad.

“I can confirm that,” she says, smiling.

He orders the salad, and then leans back in his chair and looks around. “Despite a lot of people who’d think we wouldn’t be caught dead here, I like going to places that aren’t so ‘London-Paris-New York.’ I like going to the middle of the country. I’m very comfortable here.”

He better be. The middle of the country is where Interpol need to make their presence felt if they’re going to graduate from their post as New York City’s welldressed, brooding indie-rock mascots and become, well, a band whose songs might be played over the sound system at the largest Hooters in the world. Not that this is exactly their goal, but by signing with Capitol Records, who fought off several suitors to procure Interpol’s services, they have certainly opened themselves up to the possibility.

“The goal is for us to be on every alternative station in every market,” says Capitol president Lee Trink. “Their music tends to be more about the coasts and urban centers, but they’re capable of being an arena band — a very, very big band or the whole country.”

Of course, with CD sales in steady decline across the board, some might question the wisdom of a successful indie band jumping to a major. In fact, just months after inking Interpol, Capitol merged with Virgin, replacing most of the label’s key staff and thinning its talent roster, and Capitol is now on the verge of being sold outright. “We never panicked,” Kessler says. “These kinds of things happen with record companies all the time. We weren’t this little band trying to make a leap into a big pond. We were already selling quite a number of records, we had our following, so we thought we’d be okay.”

But as Fogarino somewhat awkwardly points out later, Interpol’s former label, indie pacesetter Matador, “maxed out,” and it was time to “push up the headroom.” (Matador declined to comment for this story.) Besides, this was never a band that waved the flag for respected, independently achieved obscurity. After forming in 1998, they emerged from New York in the post-9/11, post-Strokes “new rock revolution” with a sound that was sleek, taut, and aggressive, and a look that favored tailored suits and wingtips. Their first two albums, Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics, sold nearly a million copies between them, and the Interpol boys — particularly Carlos D — became Manhattan nightlife fixtures, with their love lives, fashion choices, and alleged narcotic appetites dissected on gossipy blogs in a manner that was out of proportion to their relatively modest commercial success. Now they’re faced with the task of publicly transforming themselves into something more substantial. But what exactly?

Although the band members themselves will repeatedly deny it over the four days I spend with them in Dallas and Atlanta, there is something about this moment that feels make-or-break for Interpol. Their first two records sold in almost identical amounts, leading one to the not unreasonable conclusion that they were both bought by more or less the same 500,000 people. What if Our Love to Admire fails to find new ears and Capitol grows disenchanted or impatient? What if the critics who’ve swooned over them in the past turn sour? What if they just don’t want to hang around with each other?

Read the complete Interpol cover story in the August 2007 issue of Spin, on newsstands July 24, and be sure to visit our interactive August issue, with technology provided by Intel! Click here for more!