Interpol happened thanks to Daniel Kessler. While attending New York University in 1997, the guitarist approached each member at different times about forming a band. He started jamming with their original drummer, Greg Drudy, who was just learning how to play the instrument and lived in the same dorm. Kessler had a conversation about music with Carlos Dengler while in class and invited him to rehearsal when he found out that Dengler used to play guitar. Kessler handed Dengler a bass during the rehearsal, and, immediately, there was a connection. Kessler had met Paul Banks a few years before at a summer program in Paris, France. When Kessler ran into Banks on a street in New York, he remembered that Banks previously mentioned that he plays guitar, so he asked him to watch a rehearsal. It resulted in Banks ultimately joining the band, too.
The band had a hard time coming up with a name. They went through numerous ideas and even performed concerts without having one before they agreed upon Interpol.
The way a friend pronounced Paul Banks' name made him think of the word, and, ultimately, inspired the name. Because the word means the International Criminal Police Organization that coordinates over 100 national police forces, sometimes the group would receive important emails from people thinking that they would be able to help with their odd situations.
When Paul Banks joined the group he was brought in to be a second guitarist, not a singer. When Daniel Kessler, the lead guitarist, and Banks had a conversation about a song they were struggling to finish, it came to a head. Banks recalled to Pitchfork in 2012 why he was so upset: "I had been writing poetry for years, so I sort of had the nature of the words. I felt like no one else could sing my lyrics, so I took a crack at it."
When Banks sang the song, Kessler and bassist Carlos Dengler stood in awe. After that, Banks became the permanent lead singer of Interpol.
Greg Drudy departed from the group in 2000 to focus on his own projects. So Daniel Kessler asked his acquaintance, Sam Fogarino, whom he worked with at a vintage clothing store to join the band. Fogarino had been playing with the folk-pop act, Blasco Ballroom, but had a huge desire to play rock music again. Everyone in the band agreed that they got significantly better once Fogarino became a member.
While touring the United Kingdom in April of 2001, Interpol were asked by renowned radio announcer John Peel to record a session for his BBC Radio 1 show after he had heard their demo. The recordings from Peel's show were distributed to different record labels and sparked interest from the founder of Matador Records, Chris Lombardi. He approached co-founder, Gerard Cosloy, with Interpol's demo. The two of them met with the band and offered them a two-album deal only a couple of weeks later.
Interpol had the reputation as a party band in the early days of their career. A lot of interviews happened while they were on tour so when they were asked about how they spent their time, they made the mistake of admitting that they were frequently getting intoxicated. Banks explained to Uncut in 2004 his frustration over being perceived as a rock 'n' roll cliché: "We're trying not to perpetuate that image. As a new band, we didn't realize the pitfalls."
Interpol are known for their sophisticated and sharp aesthetics. The band is always dressed in finely tailored suits, looking more like gentleman than rock stars. Banks, explained to Clash: "Image is important to us simply because I don't think we would leave a facet of our work unattended, so to not have some sort of construct in the visual realm would be strange."
Interpol was part of the buzz in the New York City indie-music scene that became popular in the early 2000s once The Strokes hit the mainstream. Their bassist, Carlos Dengler, revealed to Pitchfork how they felt about being identified with it. "We were always surprised about how much the New York label was attached to us because we never saw ourselves as a New York-style band," he said. "We saw ourselves as an inspired band."
Interpol's 2002 debut album Turn on the Bright Lights was produced by Peter Katis, who is well-known for his work with alternative and indie-rock bands such as The National and Frightened Rabbit. It was recorded at Katis' home in Bridgeport, Connecticut over the course of three to four weeks. Some members of the band had a hard time adjusting to living in a suburb because they were so used to the New York City lifestyle. They lived in Katis' house and rarely had time to leave because they were so busy recording. They would just go upstairs every day to the studio in the attic.
The songs on Turn on the Bright Lights were written before the horrific events that took place in New York City on September 11, 2001. After debating about even continuing to make music, the band started recording the album in October of 2001. Some of the tunes unintentionally took on new meanings and became relevant to what was occurring at the time. Paul Banks revealed to Pitchfork in 2012 about carefully choosing lyrics for the disc, "We had a song that almost made it on the first record that had a lyric: 'I can't make it in peacetime, find some violence and come straight to me.' I had my head in some odd places while writing that record, and that was something I thought would sound very f--ked up in light of things. So we nixed it."
The band signed with Capitol Records in 2007 for their third album, Our Love to Admire, marking their first release with a major label. They enlisted the help of renowned producer/mixer, Rich Costey, who is best known for his work with Foo Fighters, Muse, and Foster the People. The album was a chart success, debuting at #2 in the UK and #4 in the US.
In 2010, Interpol returned to Matador Records with the release of their eponymous album, which they also produced on their own. The band also announced it would be their last record with Carlos Dengler, who was leaving the group. Dengler let the other members know about his departure almost a year in advance; he left to explore other pursuits, including acting.
The band had mixed feelings about his departure. Kessler explained to Clash: "We knew that Carlos was conflicted as far as loving being in Interpol but also wanting to pursue things outside of Interpol and being in a rock band in general. But it's something we all understood with him and with other people in general who want to do that."
Sam Fogarino revealed to Spin in 2012 how he felt about it, saying, "There was a part of me that took it personally when he left. It was like, if you don't have respect for this thing that I love, then f--k you. But I still love him. I miss the times when we were a unit together."
They brought in Dave Pajo on bass and Brandon Curtis on keyboards to help fill-in during tours. Pajo left the group in 2011 and was replaced by Brad Truax.
Between breaks of Interpol albums, a couple of members of the band have been involved in side projects. Paul Banks released two records under the alias Julian Plenti, and one using his own name; he also did a hip-hop mixtape. Sam Fogarino formed the bands Magnetic Morning and EmptyMansions.
Interpol's music has been featured in numerous television shows, including Friends, ER, Gilmore Girls, Entourage, Smallville, Veronica Mars, and Six Feet Under.