Interpol's Daniel Kessler on NYU and U2 

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The guys in Interpol have generally taken it slowly, thinking out their moves between records. Five years passed between the band's inception in 1997 at New York University and the release of their first record — not that the album hadn't been gestating for even longer, if only in the minds of founder Daniel Kessler and his cohorts.

Music was always part of Kessler's family. His two older brothers viewed it almost as a religion.

"They wore it on their sleeves," Kessler said during a recent phone interview. "That had a tremendous influence (on me). It was never sort of a pastime."

While his NYU studies focused on French, film and literature, Kessler never shook the desire to play music. For him it wasn't necessarily a career move.

"I just believed if I didn't do this I'd be very sad," he said. "I get great enjoyment out of writing songs."

For a while he wrote and recorded his own music, playing every instrument. Eventually Kessler set about recruiting others for a band. He had a class with Carlos Dengler and discovered he played bass. He encountered future Interpol singer Paul Banks in New York, after he first met him while studying in Paris. Greg Drudy rounded out the original lineup on drums, replaced early on by Sam Fogarino.

Kessler was looking for musicians with distinctive creative visions, rather than those who excelled most at playing the notes on the page.

"Obviously it's tremendous if you can find both," he said. "But I realized it's more about how you approach music rather than how great you are at playing it from a technical standpoint. If you have a certain sensibility as far as what you like and how you carry yourself, there's a good chance you'll have great creative results."

Indeed, Banks writes the lyrics but everyone contributes musical ideas.

"We're not all cut from the same branch, but that's been a good thing," Kessler said. "That brings with it strong individual tastes and perspectives, but that's what makes it more interesting in the long run."

If Interpol is associated with anything, it's the rebirth of New York's underground rock scene. Before groups like The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs broke through, Kessler says they almost felt lonely at home, where they played a handful of clubs on a regular basis. They worked for five long years before the release of their debut LP, 2002's Turn on the Bright Lights.

"That's an eternity in New York City when you're not getting many breaks," Kessler said. "Most bands don't last that long or have that kind of patience. A band sticks to it before they (get that break) because they're getting something out of it and believing in their songs. They're just doing it for themselves. That's what happened with us."

Kessler's musical background includes stints working for multiple record labels. Knowing the business, he wasn't discouraged when famed independent imprint Matador Records rejected Interpol's first two demos. The label accepted the third, after all.

"It's difficult out there," Kessler said. "It takes a bit of perseverance. You have to do it for the right reasons. You have to be doing it for you and getting something out of it. I always thought the hardest part was finding the right guys to play with at the beginning."

That doggedness helped Interpol when Turn on the Bright Lights took a dilatory route to success, selling a few hundred thousand copies by the time the band issued its next effort, Antics, in 2004. That one sold as much as its predecessor did in a matter of months. Kessler credits part of that to Interpol's ability to promote through old-fashioned word of mouth.

"The experience of those early years was quite beneficial," Kessler said. "The slow build was great; that's the way you want it to be. We could see it by the venues we were playing, getting bigger by the tour."

Interpol has kept a hectic tour schedule since releasing their self-titled fourth record last September. In between headlining club shows, they're opening for U2, one of the biggest bands in the world playing on one the biggest stages ever constructed. Rather than making a big deal out of it, Kessler just reminds himself that U2's crowds aren't really there to see Interpol.

"Of course I prefer playing to our own audience, which I consider the greatest fans," he said. "This is just something a bit different, and I think it's sometimes good to get out of your comfort element and put yourself in a new environment."

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