Caught in lockdown in separate cities across Europe in early 2020, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Kessler worked on arrangements that would become Interpol‘s next album, The Other Side of Make-Believe.
At the time, frontman Paul Banks released the self-titled debut album of Muzz, his sideproject with Josh Kaufman and Matt Barrick, that was set to arrive in the summer of 2020. But without being able to tour for it, he felt ready to tackle the next Interpol record.
For Kessler, working remotely was a new process that took some getting used to. “We’re a little bit old school. The songs usually begin with me and then we get together, flesh them out, and make Interpol’s pieces of music together in a room,” he says over Zoom in between a break from tour, from his home in Spain.
But what he realized is that despite the physical distance, the band’s chemistry is strong enough that they could recreate a seamless, collaborative energy regardless of the circumstances. He recalls falling in love with Banks’ vocal melodies and ideas for the album instantly, “to the point of almost like getting like demoitis, which is when you’re like, ‘Oh, don’t change, it’s great.”
Banks says, however, the experience of working on the album remotely didn’t feel too different from what he’s done for some of the band’s previous work. “I’ve done that within Interpol; there have been instances where I’ve kind of sung in that manner of just sort of me and a laptop. And I think even in Interpol when we are writing together in a room, Daniel’s playing his part on a loop while Sam and I devise our parts: me on bass, Sam on drums, and me on vocals,” he explains over Zoom from Berlin, while resting a frozen pea bag over an injured foot.
Instead of bouncing off ideas immediately to Kessler and drummer Sam Fogarino, he could take time to perfect his craft before sharing with the group. “In this instance, I just hit the beginning of the MP3 again when I want to hear and sort of find how I’m going to graft my ideas onto what Daniel has presented, which has its own architecture and its own feel right when it’s sent out,” he says.
What made the process different, however, was not having to sing over Fogarino’s drumming, missing the typical dynamic of creating a rhythm section in unison. But that downside ended up bringing an advantage: “I think what might have happened was really cool though, because I got to kind of like study my bassline and craft it in isolation and really like take my time on exotic ideas that I don’t have to play it to them 50 times fucking it up and making a horrible noise out of my bass. I can just get it right,” says Banks.
In early 2021, the band finally gathered in person to work on The Other Side of Make-Believe, renting out a home in the Catskills. While there, they fleshed out the songs they had, while also writing additional ones, including the album’s opening track, “Toni.”
“It was like wind in our sails to feel that like the stuff that we had done remotely when we brought it to the room to play live was working. It was also a really encouraging signal that this album was taking shape and these songs work,” says Banks. “We were forced to do something different, and I think that’s a good thing for us at this point in our career, having some limitations imposed on us that forced us to explore different creative approaches. I think that’s why this one sounds a little unique.”
Rather than having a conscious idea of what he wanted to sing, Banks found himself processing his thoughts on the state of the world during that dark time of the pandemic through his songwriting.
“Having that kind of shared experience of the whole world holding its breath [wondering what would happen in the pandemic] was a fascinating thing,” says Banks, reflecting on what was running through his mind at the time of writing the LP. “Even to be a participant in viewing how we were depicting the situation to ourselves, how information was disseminated, how that information was interpreted, how people were looking for narratives, how people take sides… it’s really this idea I’m fascinated by, that despite the fact that we have all of human knowledge at our fingertips with the internet, everything got more confusing.”
With the timing of the record and the immense connection between the bandmates, the emotional impact of making The Other Side of Make-Believe was profound for Kessler.
“For me personally, with this record in particular, you start feeling really, really deeply invested in the songs and then what they’ve provided to you emotionally and spiritually. Then as soon as I started recording them, my brain started going like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve made,'” he says. “I feel like I also probably relished it by being in such a bizarre moment of time and having your movements being very limited and so forth. So it’s like you wanted to put this emotion and this need for expression somewhere.”
The release of The Other Side of Make-Believe also coincides with the 20th anniversary of Turn On the Bright Lights, an era-defining record that influenced big-league rock bands like The Killers. Looking back, Kessler is immensely proud of the band’s journey throughout the past two decades.
“We were a band for like five years before we put out Turn On the Bright Lights,” he says. “We became a better band at playing the songs and we became better songwriters as time went on, for sure. But ultimately it just took so long before anyone was interested in signing us. And at that time, it felt very, very difficult in the sense of constant rejection, and having the same 12 people at your shows.” But as he reflects on the band’s success, he feels grateful for those bumps along the way because it helped the band “solidify why you’re doing this.”
While critics may be focused on whether Interpol can make a record that stands up to the immense legacy behind the band’s debut, Kessler says what matters is that the band continues making music they’re proud of.
“When we’re writing new records, we’re kind of insular. We’re not thinking about the outside world. We’re not thinking about how people are going to respond to it, if people are going to like it, what people want to hear, because what actually made people like Turn On the Bright Lights in the first place was us placing ourselves first, like kind of saying what we wanted to say. That’s sort of the same litmus test that we have now; that’s what’s important to us. If we like it and are really into it, then we can have the faith that other people will as well.”