"I just can't fucking quit smoking," Paul Banks says as he lights a Camel Blue. A few weeks before the release of Interpol's first album in four years, El Pintor, the frontman is hanging out on the roof deck of New York's Electric Lady Studios with guitarist Daniel Kessler. Unlike his nattily suited bandmate, Banks looks like he's come straight from the gym – T-shirt, jeans, backward baseball cap – which, it turns out, he has: He was boxing with the trainer he sees four times a week, a practice he's taken up as a more convenient alternative to surfing. ("That's something I only do in Central America.") In both sports, he says, "Your body gets addicted to the extreme activity. It's a drug. Shit, anything that will zap your brains with some endorphins is big with musicians."
Interpol's 2002 debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, staked out their position as a dark, sexy post-punk counterpart to fellow New York bands like the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs – not exactly the type of guys you imagine catching a wave or hitting the gym. Banks takes a long drag and exhales in a sigh, seemingly aware of the irony. "When I talk about my hobbies, I feel like I lose a part of myself," he says.
After recording its last album, 2010's Interpol, the band hit a major upheaval: Founding bassist/keyboardist/co-writer Carlos Dengler, whose moody flair was a crucial part of the band's sound and image, quit before they even had a chance to mix the LP. (Aside from a bit of soundtrack work, Dengler has kept a very low profile since leaving the group.) "No one was blindsided when Carlos left," says Banks. "Marriages end, you know? It's a miracle that we did more than two records."
Banks hasn't stayed in touch with Dengler, but he says there's no bad blood between them. Sam Fogarino, Interpol's longtime drummer, is less diplomatic. "Carlos had very narcissistic tendencies," Fogarino says over the phone a few days later. "It got to the point where he was dismissive of the notion of a rock band. All of a sudden, he had no respect for something that we still love. That's kind of hard to swallow."
Interpol never considered hiring a permanent replacement for Dengler. "We're a pretty particular band," Banks says. "I don't envy anybody that would try to step into our thing." (Kessler smirks at me: "I don't envy you right now, doing this interview.")
Instead, for a few years they dodged the question of what to do next, throwing themselves into touring with different temporary bassists. Banks recorded his second solo album and made a mixtape of hip-hop beats, cheekily titled Everybody on My Dick Like They Supposed to Be, after a favorite Rick Ross quotation. "When I first saw that line, I said, 'That's the greatest thing I've ever read any man say,'" Banks recalls. "As the Lord above has ordained it, everyone is now upon my dick!"
In August 2012, Banks, Kessler and Fogarino met in a New York practice space to try writing songs as a trio for the first time ever. (Fogarino, who moved to Georgia in 2006, rented rooms via Airbnb.) "It was like starting all over again," Banks says. "Carlos was a very efficient musician, and I had gotten used to that."
Early in their practice sessions, they hit on a solution that carried them through El Pintor's completion: Banks himself began laying down bass lines for the band to play over. "Right away, he proved himself to be a great fucking bassist," Kessler says.
Adds Banks, "It was like, 'Wow, fuck, there's new creative DNA here, and the molecule is sustaining.' We're new beasts now, and we're thriving."
This thought leads him off on a tangent about Splice, the 2009 sci-fi film starring Adrien Brody: "Ever seen that? Crazy movie, man – they make an alien, then he bangs it. Sorry – spoiler. But I would compare this album to that."
Kessler laughs and shakes his head. "If that doesn't sell," says the guitarist, "I don't know what will."