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Drinking With Daniel Kessler of Interpol

The Interpol guitarist reflects on long-gone rock clubs, early-aughts dives and the whiskey he can’t get on his concert rider.

It’s pushing 90 degrees outside when Daniel Kessler pulls up on his bike. The Interpol guitarist is clad in a smartly tailored black suit and white slip-ons, his brow showing no sign of exertion. And despite just returning from a trip to Japan, he looks preternaturally rested.

Kessler—whose hair occupies that sweet spot between styled and unkempt that only rock guitarists seem capable of—settles into a chair at the Lower East Side natural wine bar and restaurant, Wildair. He confidently orders a glass of Courtois sauvignon blanc, and I can’t help but mention that our surroundings are a bit different from where you’d expect to find a member of his band about 15 years ago. Back then, you could tell a bar’s worth by how often members of Interpol hung out at it. I’m thinking of long-gone rock clubs like Brownies; dives like Mars Bar; Max Fish at its original location; the dank, smoke-filled basement of Lit after the smoking ban took effect and, Kessler’s favorite: Dark Room.

“Dark Room was where things happened,” Kessler notes of the place, which was exactly as advertised: a windowless basement with pre-selfie-era lighting. Today, it’s closed—derelict and covered in graffiti. He was there so much, he says, “I bet you there’s certain people who’d remember me from that time, they probably still remember my drink.” At the time, he says, “It was really just Jameson.”

When their first album, Turn On the Bright Lights, came out in 2002, Interpol was the sound of what you wanted a long night out in New York to feel like: dark and decadent. They provided the post-punk-influenced soundtrack to going out until dawn. “We’d go to Dark Room, that’d usually be point A if you wanted to go have a night,” Kessler says of the days when having a cellphone was not yet a given. “You’d just show up, see who’s up for playing the game that night… and by 4 a.m. you’d go to someone’s apartment or whatever and then by like 8 a.m. you’d be like, ‘Oh my god everyone’s going to work outside on the street. The horror! Get me home!’”

Today, as his band gets set to release their sixth studio album, Marauder, Kessler spends more of his time at restaurants. “I have a lot of friends who are in the restaurant world, who either own restaurants, or are chefs, or in the wine world—importers and sommeliers,” he says. “I think basically when I stopped staying out closings bars that I [became] more curious about food.”

His interest in what he ate and drank grew as a handful of drink tickets for the band in small clubs turned into bigger venues around the world and riders with specific requests. “I gravitated from being a beer drinker when the band was starting out to drinking well whiskey and then Jameson,” he says. From there, “I went to Bushmills. Now, before shows, it’s Tullamore Dew, just because I know I can get that, but if I had to choose a whiskey, it’s Knappogue Castle… but you can’t really put that on your rider.”

As the decade progressed, Kessler started looking for different outlets besides the band. He began investing in restaurants and bars, including Cienfuegos, Amor y Amargo and the tiki-inspired Mother of Pearl. He says the cultivation of interests beyond music was natural for him. “If I’m not feeling it one day, I’ll just put the guitar down and just go do something else,” he says. “I need stimulation.”

Interpol was also evolving. The band started to enjoy commercial success and gaps between new music being released became wider, followed by lineup changes and the inevitable hiatus. New York was also changing. Places where Interpol spent their early days playing or drinking closed, often to make way for condos. Kessler laments those losses, not so much for his own personal memories, but because he believes the neighborhoods the band haunted contained “America’s great history.” He admits that he started hearing the voice in his head tell him, “It’s time for you to move somewhere else and get lost and discover new streets,” but New York always pulls him back.

Now, nearly 20 years after his band first started playing together, there’s nostalgia in the air for early-aughts New York, evidenced by comebacks (LCD Soundsystem) and anniversary shows (TV on the Radio) and the successful release of Meet Me in the Bathroom, an oral history of the city’s rock scene, around 2001. Interpol, whose latest album might be the best since their debut, isn’t resting on nostalgia, though. “It doesn’t feel that long ago, so I’m surprised,” he says “You can’t stay the same.”

As it nears 3 p.m., Kessler declines a second glass of Courtois. He’s got an appointment with his doctor, and then, 24 hours later, he’ll be on a plane to Mexico City to kick off the Marauder tour. He admits that there was a time, up until about ten years ago, where he’d probably stick around for another, and then another. But things are different now. “I think those hangovers, when you gotta get up and do all this stuff day in, day out,” he says, “those are hard-knock lessons.”

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