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Interpol turns the bright lights on seminal album 15 years later

Before they released one of the most celebrated albums of the new millennium, Interpol were just four guys hustling on the New York City club circuit.

“It takes a lot to maintain your existence when you’re a young band and money is scarce and rehearsal spaces are crummy and pricey and broken-down,” guitarist Daniel Kessler tells the Daily News.

In 1997, Kessler met Paul Banks and Carlos Dengler at NYU and asked them to join the band he’d started with drummer Greg Drudy. After Drudy left the band in 2000, Kessler reached out to Sam Fogarino, thus cementing Interpol’s lineup for their debut album, “Turn on the Bright Lights.”

Although “Turn on the Bright Lights” was a nearly instant critical and commercial success, Kessler admits he wasn’t sure that Interpol would ever get an opportunity to release a record, period.

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“I distinctly remember thinking before we had a record deal that if no one ever hears this — because no one was showing any interest in the band at all — I’m actually at peace,” Kessler says.

By 2000, Interpol had released three demo EPs and earned a local reputation for their existential guitar anthems and clean-cut, sartorial aesthetic that went against the bedhead and leather jackets favored by their contemporaries.

Interpol (left to right) in 2003: Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks, Carlos Dengler and Sam Fogarino.

Interpol (left to right) in 2003: Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks, Carlos Dengler and Sam Fogarino.

(Scott Gries/Getty Images)

In those early days, Interpol weren’t concerned with selling records or getting on the radio. They were simply focused on survival.

“You were responsible for bringing people to your shows,” Kessler says. “So the clubs would ask people at the door who they were there to see. If you didn’t have enough names checked off, you might not get such a great opportunity the next time, or you might not get on the bill at all.”

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Kessler recalls that Interpol often shared the bill with up to six bands each night often bouncing back and forth between “the two clubs that mattered”: Mercury Lounge and the now-defunct Brownies.

Interpol eventually caught the ear of Chris Lombardi, the co-owner of Matador Records, and he signed the band to a two-album deal.

In order to avoid the distractions of the city, the band decamped to producer Peter Katis’ home studio in Connecticut in the fall of 2001.

“We were living in this house in Bridgeport. We lived on the floor below the studio, and the studio was in the attic,” Kessler says.

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Since it was the band’s first record and the budget was tight, Kessler remembers recording sessions as “fun and fast.”

“Turn on the Bright Lights” is a mix of songs that had appeared on earlier demos (like lead single “PDA”) and songs written weeks before going into the studio (like “Leif Erikson”). In that sense, Kessler feels like the album was “a culmination of our band’s first four years.”

But once they completed the record, Interpol were unhappy with the first mix. They had a tough decision to make: either release the album as-is in time for their scheduled release date, or postpone the release date by six months and potentially risk losing momentum.

“I remember, in the moment, being very conscious of the fact that time wasn’t on our side, money wasn’t on our side, but I wanted to be good with this record forever,” Kessler says. “I didn’t want to be one of those bands that had regrets.”

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Not Released (NR)

Daniel Kessler of Interpol performs onstage during Coachella 2015.

(Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

Eventually, the band decided to delay the album’s release to August 2002. “Turn on the Bright Lights” would go on to crack the Billboard 200, be certified Gold by the RIAA and end up on numerous lists, including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and NME, as one of the best albums of the decade.

Despite international acclaim, “Turn on the Bright Lights” belongs to New York City both in terms of the band’s origin story and the narrative arc of the record.

That association makes the band’s upcoming NYC shows at Bowery Ballroom and Forest Hills Stadium — where they’ll play “Turn on the Bright Lights” from top-to-bottom — even more special.

And while the band — minus Dengler, who left the band in 2010 — are taking time to celebrate their past, Interpol aren’t ready to become a nostalgia act.

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Kessler, Banks and Fogarino are currently working in New York on their sixth album, which will drop via Matador in 2018.

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