Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New blog location

Due to some issues with trying to revamp this blog, a new home has been created for Music Theory & Interpol:

It's a bit more flexible and is agreed to be rather easier on the eyes - so please update your bookmarks.

Also, FYI Meg has had an extra workload come in from other writing commitments - hence the less frequent posts. We hope to be back with more posts and news soon, though!

Many thanks blogger readers,
Meg's web geek


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Interview with Sam from

This link was passed on to me awhile ago by a fan: here Sam talks about some of his favorite songs on the German website einslive. The interview is titled, 'Der Mann im Hintergrund', or, “the man in the background,” and most of the songs have audio links where you can hear Sam speak about them—in English! I’ve included a partial transcription of what Sam says in these audio clips at the bottom of this post.

[side note: Sam’s words are translated into German in the body of the interview, though from what I can tell the translation is somewhat loose, and not all of what Sam says is found in the German text.]

For the most part, Sam comments on the aesthetic of the song he’s discussing (electronic, guitar driven, dense, etc.) and probable influences (another band or era). However, he goes a little farther in his discussion of the last song, “Bed for the Scraping” by Fugazi. Phrases that hit me as significant in this audio clip are “guitar interaction” and “the band wouldn’t be anything without any [one] of the members.” In these quotes I see Sam valuing conscious and precise interactions between musicians, a result of a situation in which “everybody in the band meant something.” No one person in the band is dispensable, and indeed, take one person away, and the band disappears.

These statements bolster my belief that Interpol’s music is the result of a true collective effort, in which each instrument, or musical “voice,” is equally important—Interpol’s music is very “polyphonic” in that sense. I also find it significant that Sam centers his discussion of this song around Daniel, the one band member credited with providing the initial sparks that eventually grow into the completed song via the other band members’ input. Though Sam has intimated that Interpol’s music is for him somewhat restrictive (in an interview about his side project, Magnetic Morning) and humorless (in his Shellac audio clip in this interview), he seems to nonetheless value the unique way in which Interpol operates as a creative force.

Thanks to my anonymous fan for the link!
Until next time,
Love from,

Von Südenfed “The Rhinohead”
“…a really brilliant mix…of severe electronic aesthetic, with this wall of sound, 60’s vibe going on. It’s one of the rare moments where Mark E. Smith is actually singing a melody. It’s catchy without being insulting to one’s intelligence. And he’s totally taking the piss out of something; I can’t figure it out.”

Deerhunter “Spring Hall Convert”
“The track compels me because it carries the torch for an aesthetic I appreciate, that’s very guitar driven, smart rock a la The Pixies---they do it in their way. …[re: listening to new records] it’s not necessarily what you want to do, with your life being based around music 24 hours a day. I hadn’t been peaked by a band in such a way in quite awhile”

Blonde Redhead “23”
"23 makes me complete…It has this atmosphere, these compelling melodies and these driving rhythms. And that basically sums up Blonde Redhead.”

Shellac “Dog and Pony Show”
“Being able to pull off such a dense style of rock n roll without being crotch-grabbing, or cheesy, it’s a hard line to follow, and still having a great sense of humor on top of it.”

My Bloody Valentine “Honeypower”
“Speaking of atmosphere and melody, I don’t think there’s a band since The Beatles that have impacted modern music, I think that’s very safe to say.”

Public Enemy “Miuzi Weighs a Ton”
“Chuck D’s…voice is a golden baritone…[Public Enemy] is a nice expansion of my musical palette.” [my translation]

Spoon “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”
“Their new record is probably their best one yet, in my opinion…again that wall of sound, 60’s pop song vibe, is something I’m always a sucker for, especially if it’s someone like Britt Daniel and company pulling it off. I mean, it’s just so rich, that song, it’s so hard not to like. If you have any kind of open ear, you’re gonna be sucked in by it.”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Downboy”
“The song Downboy is utterly compelling…the first time I heard the song, I watched the video, which made it all the better…Brian’s…drumming in the chorus…to watch him play, it’s so graceful it’s almost kind of dancing. That song is just amazing, such a foot-stomper.”

TV On the Radio “Wolf Like Me”
“…definitely showcases what the band is all about and how they definitely incorporate just so many different kind of pop genres into what they do, and creating a new one.”

Fugazi “Bed for the Scraping”
“This is for Daniel…it’s not Daniel’s favorite Fugazi song by any stretch, but it’s mine, so I’m gonna play it for him…it’s probably some of the best guitar interaction between two guitar players…Daniel came out of that DC punk rock…it has infected the way we operate as a band, keeping things kind of real, and civil, for the people that we hire to work with and for us. And I think it inspires the way we work together as a band. You know, Fugazi was definitely a definitive band: where everybody in the band meant something, and the band wouldn’t be anything without any of the members.”


Friday, November 14, 2008

Bach, Gould, Interpol: Magnetic Tonality

Greetings to all! I recently received an email regarding Interpol’s music and the concept of tonality:

…Interpol's music, to my ears, often seems not major or minor in key and borderline atonal. I think the song "Precipitate" is a good example of this.
I recently began studying Bach's music and found a youtube video where Glenn Gould discusses Bach's later works. He says (I'm paraphrasing from memory):
“Bach goes back 100 yrs, his compositions reach a degree of chromaticism not seen since the renaissance and he is now able to compose tonally but without the technicolor trappings of tonality.”
The technicolor trappings of tonality . . . hmm . . . somehow, I think Interpol also eludes these trappings, no??
I started thinking more generally about how music moves from a happy "major" sound to something "mournful" and minor. For example, in Aria from Bach's Goldberg Vars. how measures 17-24 turn very sad somehow. Or, in Interpol's music, how they achieve a "grey" sound. I'm wondering if there's something about how the bass lines move, if they move chromatically, maybe. Or the interaction between the guitar melodies and vocal melody. It just does not seem like typical scalewise motion you hear on popular songs on the radio.

- I completely agree that Interpol’s music very often hovers in the borderlands between tonality and atonality. But first, a few words on what the concept of tonality entails:
To say that a piece of music is “tonal,” is to say that all of its notes (melodies, chords, bass lines) ultimately draw our ears to one specific chord, called the tonic chord. Thus, if I say a piece is in the “key of C major,” the implication is that all of the musical material is either based on the C major triad (C-E-G), or somehow pointing the listener back to that “home” triad, like a magnet. The strongest chord that pulls us most forcefully back to the tonic chord is called the dominant, built on the fifth scale degree (G-B-D), and the second strongest chord is called the subdominant, built on the fourth scale degree (F-A-C).

- The Bach piece mentioned by Fabrizio, while most definitely in the key of G major, does indeed “demagnetize” the G major triad a bit by using certain compositional techniques. The piece can be heard, as played by Glenn Gould, here. The moment when the music “turns very sad somehow” is ca. minute 1:27 to 2:07, and coincidentally is the halfway mark of the piece, where we move from the “A” section to the “B” section (speaking in musical form terms).

- Here, the music is shifting into E minor (and hence, turns “sad”)—but Bach does not make this clear at first, and it takes awhile for the ear to figure out what the new tonic is. At this moment, we are hovering between tonics, and, in the sense that our ears have been demagnetized, we have briefly entered an “atonal” state. In fact, we hover for about three full measures (1:27-1:42). How is this possible? By not giving us the strong dominant (which would definitively point us to E minor as the new tonic) until 1:42, Bach is avoiding the “technicolor trappings of tonality,” those techniques which shout “this is tonic!” (think of the ending of a Beethoven symphony, the blues and standard rock, etc.). Bach is manipulating the culturally accepted and inculcated musical norms by delaying the magnetizing of the new tonic, thereby complicating the listener’s reaction and making it more complex.

- Interpol does this as well. Without completely abandoning tonality, Interpol’s music complicates the normative harmonic progressions (often via complex interactions between Daniel’s guitar melodies and Carlos’ bass lines) and it is thus often very difficult to pinpoint exactly what key an Interpol song, or even section of a song, is in. I like Fabrizio’s mention of “Precipitate,” as this early song is proof positive to me that the desire to manipulate musical norms has always been a concern for the band.

Thanks for the question/observations, Fabrizio!

Up next, a look at an article in which Sam talks about some of his favorite songs.
Until then,

Much love from,


Friday, October 24, 2008

Review of Magnetic Morning Show at Southpaw

For the fans of Sam Fogarino's side project Magnetic Morning, have a look at my review of their show at Southpaw on my kleineKultur site:

I spoke briefly to Adam Franklin afterward, thanking him for the show and how MM have turned me onto Swervedriver's music. Great night!

Also, I didn't manage to get any decent pictures but long-time Interpol fan Terri took some great shots at the Boston show. Here are a couple of samples - check out her Flickr for more:


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Strange Bedfellows: Hip Hop and 'Evil'

Greetings! I recently received an interesting question from ant regarding Paul Banks’ self-confessed love of hip hop, and the possibility of hip hop’s influence on Interpol’s style. Ant writes that he can hear the influence of hip hop in the vocal style Banks uses for “Evil,” but not generally in the rest of Interpol’s music.

- I can hear what ant means about “Evil,” where, in the verses, the rhythmic aspect of the word presentation is quite significant, and Banks even sings them on repetitive, close-together notes, in a kind of speaking style.

- As to the consideration of outside influences on Interpol’s music: I remember watching an interview with Paul and Daniel awhile ago, where they talked about how disparate each of the band member’s own musical tastes are, and the differences in each person’s musical past before starting Interpol. I’ve heard mention of a taste for (to name a few) punk, dub, and hip hop claimed by Interpol band members in interviews in the past; and we all know by now, from Carlos himself, the effect that classical music has had on his own contributions to Interpol’s music, especially for OLTA.

- I agree with ant that one doesn’t really detect the influence of hip hop on Interpol’s music in general. In fact, I would expand upon that assertion and say that I don’t really detect any distinct stylistic influence on Interpol’s music. I feel that Interpol’s music is of a rare breed that takes what’s familiar—in this case: electric guitars, drums, verses, choruses, fairly standard chord progressions—and truly transforms it into something unique. That is, in the way that each human being is unique, so that person has the capability for unique expression, and likewise has the capability to express collectively with other persons in a unique way, such as in a rock band.

Thanks for the question/observation, ant! Next up, a discussion of one reader’s take on Interpol’s use of tonality.

Until then,
Much love from,


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

OLTA showreel by visual artist Daniel Ryan

Interpol have posted on their website ( a brief composite reel of an audio/visual installation that was included in the last leg of the OLTA tour. The visuals were created by Daniel Ryan, with ambient music written by Carlos Dengler.

My quick interpretation:

In the “Introductory Video,” I hear repetitive but subtly changing music, and I see this music mirrored in the gradually morphing grids of tiny squares of white light.

The “Composite Reel of Stage Video,” begins with an interlude that was placed between “The Lighthouse” and “Not Even Jail” during live performances. Floating particles are accompanied by ambient music, and just as “Not Even Jail” bursts over the ambience a splash of light overtakes the particles. These unify into a solid white bar as the initial burst of sound gives way to the song proper. Here we fade into the last part of NARC (the part that I read as shifting abruptly into the fantasy key) as amorphous blobs of light, as if reflected in water, move fluidly over the screen. This fades into “Rest My Chemistry,” and in slow motion spots of light move horizontally across the screen, almost like cars passing in the night. This fades into water ripples at an orangey-bronze sunset as “Hands Away” fades in. The composite reel ends with “Roland” and his knives, the latter being represented by a brutal and dizzying close-up of escalator stairs.

In the same way that I feel London when I listen to Radiohead, I can feel NYC in Interpol’s music. Something I also sometimes feel in Interpol’s music is water. This feeling, of course, is often fostered by the song titles and lyrics: “The Lighthouse,” “oh my love, we’re sailing to Norway,” “Take You On a Cruise.” For example, their penchant for minimalist-esque repetitive guitar riffs resemble to me at times the flow of water in a river or ocean, at others the flow of the city as people stream through a street, as subway doors open and close, and so on. I can see elements of both NYC and water in Ryan’s video installation.

Though I’m glad they posted the composite, it does make me wish I could see the entire installation. Ah well, what’s life without a little longing?


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Carlos: In Defense of Artistic Integrity

Something I love about Interpol is each member’s commitment to artistic integrity and the different ways they express it. In a recent interview (see July 6 entry), Sam stated that his is a commitment to the integrity of Interpol’s ability to reach the audience on a raw emotional level. Daniel often talks about the organic way in which Interpol write their songs and how the integrity of that process is never compromised, while Paul has consistently insisted that his lyrics are not necessarily autobiographical nor are their meanings necessarily fixed; that what’s important is the listener’s unique way of responding to the words. He has always defended the integrity of his intentional indirectness when writing the lyrics for Interpol’s songs.

Carlos also has his own take on artistic integrity, as expressed in this interview from Here we see Carlos dismiss the negative critical attention to Our Love to Admire. The qualifications contained in such attention, he asserts, are not pertinent to Interpol’s purpose, which is to work “from a place that is based on love and artistic integrity.” When this purpose is the focus of the song-writing process, questions of worth “become so shallow and so hollow.” For Carlos, it’s all about an honest portrayal of his artistic self.

Part of that artistic self is his professed admiration of classical and film music (the latter of which is often heavily inspired by the former). Carlos’ love of classical music found its way into his contributions to OLTA, a fact attested to by interviewer John Lucas’ use of phrases like “clean but layered,” and “carefully orchestrated” when describing OLTA’s sound.

Towards the end of the interview, when describing his attitude toward his much commented upon “look,” Carlos invokes the artist’s right to do whatever he likes with it without having “to account for it ever.” Exploiting the visual bias built into the music industry is part of his “artistic process,” and in no way allies him with the commodification of humans and music alike that he believes drives that industry.

Artistic integrity in itself is a slippery concept, and most likely if I were to ask two like-minded people to define it, a debate of some sort would spring up. Nonetheless, it’s always nice to hear one of your favorite bands claiming a commitment to genuineness and integrity when it comes to their music.

Just wanted to share my thoughts on this interesting interview!

Until soon,
Much love from,