Thursday, February 3, 2011

Interpol's Daniel Kessler on the changing face of music

Last week, I got a call from Daniel Kessler, guitarist for Interpol.

The post-punk indie band is one of several (The Strokes, The Killers and other "the" groups) that broke about a decade ago. Like the others, they've released another album. Next week, the band hits Omaha for a sold-out show at Slowdown.

It was a nice chat, and after the standard stuff such as "Where did you record the new album?" and "How has Carlos D's departure affected the band?" we got onto talking about things that affect the band outside of songwriting and lineup.

We got into a debate on shows vs. albums or live vs. recorded.

Back in the day, it was standard for a band to release an album and then go on tour and promote it. That's still what happens today, to an extent. But any more, especially for indie rock bands, they're making their money from playing at clubs, not from selling CDs.

Some bands have even forgone the old way, which was write music, record music, perform music (in that order). Now groups such as The Hold Steady or Matt & Kim will often write songs, perform them and then record.

I asked Kessler about it. He agreed, to an extent.

"I think you're still going out to support a record," he said. "An album's obviously really important because that's the body of art right there and will always be the umbrella of why a band's going out on a touring cycle. Regardless of whether people are buying a record or not, artistically that's what you're supporting at that moment."

He went on to say that the music industry isn't what it once was.

No kidding? It's a new age, one where people aren't exactly buying records. Thanks, Internet.

"Obviously, it would be nice if people bought records like they used to," he said. "I kind of think it's a good age, too. There's really wonderful things you can do as far as connecting with your fans and just people in general all over the world for the musical sharing standpoint. I kinda like it.

"I choose to look at that side rather than complaining about the fact that people don't buy records or sales dwindling. I'll obviously always care about the album because that's the art form. We're an albums band. We're not trying to put out mp3s. We're trying to make records like we've always made records, start to finish."

Touring and albums will all be united, Kessler said. And I agree. I'm usually looking forward to hearing the new songs on a band's album, but it's also fun to get the preview of what's on the next record. That's part of being a rock fan: wanting to be "the guy heard it first."

The Internet's not quite the Wild West any more. But it's rampant with sharing. Not necessarily files (though that obviously still happens), but ideas and music and all kinds of wonderful stuff.

"The upside is you can be very innovative in this day and age and it can actually pay off versus having to wait for quite a few middle men to give you the option to play your record on the radio or what have you," Kessler said. "You can have an innovative idea for your record on how to get it out there or reach your potential fans and it can pay off. It might be a really smart idea.

"That seems like a bit more of an honest age at the end of the day."

I remember when, if you wanted to hear some new music, you turned on a radio. You could go to a show, too. That stuff still happens, but off the top of my head, I can think of nine different websites and blogs to hit up to find new stuff.

For me, it's liberating. You don't have to wade through a murky swamp of crappy radio rock to find one good song. You can get it wherever and whenever, at the record store or online.

Word of mouth - once the record store guy telling you what he liked (still an excellent idea, by the way) - has kind of exploded.

"I like word of mouth. I go out and by records. I definitely buy stuff off of iTunes, but I really enjoy buying records," Kessler said. "I feel like it's a very saturated age. There's a lot to choose from, but beyond that, I think it's a pretty free age.

"And I think there's nothing but good things in that."

Well put.

* * *

That was only part of my interview with Daniel Kessler. Get ready to see Interpol next week by reading the rest over at

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