Stella, stellaaaah (podcast)

•November 23, 2016 • 3 Comments

Here’s my first music theory and Interpol podcast! Below is my musical transcription of Stella, followed by my analysis of the song’s form, and then a transcript of what I say in the podcast. Cheers!

Click here for my transcription of Stella (update 2017 April 7: this is an updated version of my transcription; Chris pointed out to me that one of the lines at the beginning I was hearing in the bass is actually played by the guitars reminding me once again how fickle ears can be!)

Intro 0:00-0:17 (8 measures) D natural minor

Vs1 0:18-0:52 m. 9 (16 mm.) D natural minor

When she walks down the street…

(0:36 m. 17)

She once fell through the street…

Pre-Ch 0:53-1:12 m. 25 (8+2 mm.) F lydian


Ch1 1:13-1:40 (12+1 mm.) D dorian

She was all right ’cause the sea was so airtight she broke away…

Post-Ch 1:41-2:07 (12 mm.) D natural minor

She broke away broke away…

Interlude 2:07-2:39 (16 mm.) D natural minor-ish

Stella is a diver…

Vs2 2:40-2:57 (8 mm.) D natural minor

Bottom of the ocean she dwells…

Pre-Ch 2:58-3:18 (8+2 mm.) F lydian


Ch2 3:19-3:45 (12+1 mm.) D dorian

She was all right ’cause the sea was so airtight she broke away…

Post-Ch 3:46-4:12 (12+1 mm.) D natural minor

She broke away broke away…

Transition 4:13-4:37 (12 mm.) D natural minor

“Catatonic” section 4:38-5:02 (12 mm.) D natural minor

Well she was my catatonic sex toy love-joy diver…

“Right on” section” 5:03-5:35 (12 mm.) D natural minor

Oh yeah…

“Say goodbye section” 5:36-6:09 (16 mm.) D natural minor

There’s something that’s invisible…

Outro 6:10-6:28 (4+1 mm.) D natural minor


This episode I’ll be analyzing the music of Interpol. Let’s start with a couple of reader questions I received a while ago…

Christopher wrote to me to discuss the range of Paul’s vocal melody in All the Rage Back Home, suggesting that this song would sound good as a chord melody on the guitar.

“I’d like to call out the range in Paul’s vocal melody [in all the rage back home]. Most modern music vocal melodies span, what? 3 notes? In the intro alone Paul sings 5 notes over a range of 6 notes and then nails the missing “A” in the chorus am I correct? Impressive. This is tune, due to the moving melody and interesting voicings would be cool to arrange using chord melody on a guitar.”

So I learned a thing thanks to Christopher’s comment: there’s a term for when a guitarist plays both the chords and the melody simultaneously and it’s called “chord-melody”, and there are a gazillion guys on the internet who want to teach you how to do it, at least according to Google. So yeah, I totally agree that a chord-melody arrangement of Rage on the guitar would be awesome, as Paul’s vocal melody really is quite gymnastic in this song compared to how he usually sings. Let’s look at how his melodies are constructed:

In the intro he sings in a low baritone range, spanning an entire octave between G2 and G3. In the verse he jumps up into a tenor range, sort of hovering just above and below C4 (also known as middle C). In the chorus he moves into a high baritone range, spanning almost a complete octave from middle C down to D3.

There is definitely a sense of arrival on the note A in the chorus, like Christopher mentions, which is interesting because the chord that surrounds that A in the vocals is D7, which is the dominant seventh of G major. So we “arrive” on A in the vocals thanks to the contour of the melody (C – B – A), but harmonically we’re propelling forward thanks to the two tendency tones in the D7 (the leading tone and the chordal seventh).

Anyway, it’s cool how Paul sings low in the intro, high in the verse, and midrange in the chorus, it creates a nice double-neighbor macro-contour that contributes to the chorus feeling like the culmination of the song.

(click on the image to see more)

“Hey Meg, i have a question. This is regarding OLTA’s No I In Threesome. Why does the song sound dark, even if it is in C-Major?”

First of all, I’d like to thank HoldenCaufield (if that is your real name) for bringing up this song because it contains the line that I named this podcast after. One of the reasons that line “sound meets sound” appeals to me is because Paul is singing the seventh of a major-major seventh chord, which is a chord I LOVE. In fact, the whole song is full of MM7th chords, which is why I think it sounds dark in spite of generally feeling like it’s in a major key.

In case you don’t know, a major major seventh chord is a major triad with a major seventh from the root stacked on top. What I love about it is that dissonant major seventh that’s just aching to be resolved up to the root of the chord, making it a stable major triad again. And Paul plays with this tension by singing a TON of minor seconds, which is the inversion of the major seventh.

Another thing I think that adds to the dark sound is those high guitar notes that swell in and out at the beginning and in between sections and also that synth sound that kind of cuts through the air like a knife, playing a high A. The overall texture of the song is jagged, like those aggressively staccato piano chords in the verse.

That’s my shortish take on why No I in Threesome sounds dark, but I will definitely be doing a full analysis of it at some point. It’s always been one of my favorite Interpol songs.

Ok now for the main event. I’ve been keeping a list of songs that readers asked me to analyze. The next song on my list is Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down.

The form of this song is interesting because the first 4 minutes are cyclic (meaning that the sections repeat in a pattern or cycle), while the last two minutes are almost like a totally different song. Really, the song could technically end at 4:12, but instead we get a guitar transition that ushers in three new sections that are not cyclic.

This way of constructing a song is pretty common in Interpol; we often get a “bonus” mini-song at the end that puts the length of the song over the 5 minute mark, which is an unusual thing for most rock songs. To my ear it signifies the band’s overall willingness to get experimental without ever veering into prog-rock territory (don’t worry I’m not bashing prog rock, I admit I have a soft spot for the band Yes). You can go to my blog to see how I’ve analyzed the formal divisions of Stella.

As usual for Interpol, the key is not immediately recognizable in the intro; eventually, it becomes clear that the song is D natural minor. You can see my transcription on the blog. Carlos repeats F-F-D-A, which is the D minor triad starting on the third of the chord, moving down to the root, and then down to the fifth.

Above and around him Daniel is repeating the fourth E-A, briefly dropping the E down to D to make the fifth D-A. I like this textural move by Carlos, to play so high up on the bass that his notes overlap with the guitar. In fact, at first I thought Carlos’ notes were actually being played by the guitar, until I heard the little rhythmic ornamentations that are characteristic of Carlos’ bass playing.

Four measures later Paul comes in and it becomes a little easier to identify the scale being used for this song, which is D natural minor; I say natural minor because of the C-natural that the guitar plays beginning in measure 13. Normally a minor key contains a raised 7th scale degree to create the leading tone (in this case it would’ve been C-sharp), but again, Interpol likes to eschew the leading tone in their songs, particularly their songs in minor. The leading tone would send too clear a message about what the key of the song is, and Interpol often like to maintain a certain level of ambiguity about that.

The progression from the Pre-Chorus to the Chorus to the Post-Chorus has always felt really powerful to me; the Pre-Chorus sets up a feeling of anticipation, which pushes through during the Chorus, and then we finally get this really nice feeling of release in the Post-Chorus, which aligns nicely with the lyric “she broke away”. What’s really cool is how the key shifts during these three sections. In the Pre-Chorus one of the guitars introduces B-natural, and considering that the bass is arpeggiating an F major chord, I hear this section as F lydian (lydian being a major scale with the fourth scale degree raised).

The B-natural persists in the Chorus but this section sounds more minor than major to me, which means this is D dorian (dorian being a minor scale with the sixth scale degree raised).

Then, in the post-Chorus, B-flat is back with a vengeance and we’re back in D natural minor. I think it’s this return to D natural minor, combined with all of the guitars playing mostly octaves with each other that make the Post-Chorus feel like a big release of tension.

The bonus mini-song that begins at 4:13 is through-composed and all that tension and release of the cyclic part of the song is gone and we are left in this dreamlike stasis for the final two minutes. I think it feels static to me because the four measure guitar part that begins at 4:13 repeats over and over right to the end of the song. The other parts change around it but that 4-bar pattern keeps repeating. And not long after this pattern first appears the other guitar starts its own pattern, which is D and F on beats two and four, and this pattern also repeats to the end of the song. Also, starting with the “right on” section, Paul only sings E and F for the rest of the song. And can I just point out that Carlos plays a low D in the “say goodbye” section, which is not only extremely gratifying to my ears but also kind of backs up my thesis that the overarching key for Stella is D minor.

Overall, I think the reason Stella is such a compelling song and an enduring fan favorite is because of how elusive it is. The narrator spends a lot of time describing Stella and her struggles against the world but in the end she finally manages to break away, waving goodbye to the narrator even though he seems to want to hold on to her. The music likewise does everything it can with its notes and texture to resist a clear harmonic interpretation and pushes and pulls at the listener with this ambiguity. I don’t know about you, but I’m always happy for Stella that she gets to break away from the hostile world and slightly creepy narrator of the song (what is with Paul and his penchant for creepy narrators??).

Ok, that’s it for today! Next on my list is “C’mere” from Antics. Let me know in the comments if you like the podcast format, or if you think the written blog or the video blog format is better!

My Desire

•March 13, 2016 • 1 Comment

The musical tension in this song in unbelievable. It doesn’t matter how many times I listen to it, I still get goosebumps. One reader, Liz, said something similar in a comment thread: “I can sense unrelenting tension and can’t really put my finger on why.” So let’s think about that.

As with All the Rage, I think the form of “My Desire” plays a big role in messing with our expectations. As you can see in my break-down below, only some of the sections are of a length that’s divisible by 4 (4 being the most common way of dividing up musical form and creating a sense of balance).

The intro is 6 bars long, while the first Verse is a mammoth 18 bars long. We finally get what might be a chorus (due to the fuller texture) nearly one minute into the song, but it turns out this section is another “anticipatory” one. Another 6 bar interlude, a shortened Verse, a second Pre-chorus, and at 2:25 we finally get this intense “release” section. Then we get another interlude, short Vs, Pre-chorus, and an extended Chorus. The really powerful thing about reaching 2:52 the first time I listened to the song is that, now that I’d heard the Chorus, I was pretty sure it was coming back at least once more, which, for me anyway, increased the feeling of anticipation even more.

Sam’s drum part is crucial to my perception of the form and all its wonderful imbalanced, anticipatory affect. A big part of how a drummer indicates, or demarcates, phrase structure is through the use of fills. There’s the normal drum pattern and then at crucial points in the song’s structure there will be added cymbals or a cascade of syncopated snare hits, etc. to indicate that we’ve arrived at certain markers within the song.

The first real demarcator we get (after the drums enter at 0:14), is a crash cymbal 11 bars into the 18 bar Verse 1. This is notable because fills/demarcators tend to split the sections evenly, so for an 18 bar section we would expect the cymbal to happen at the end of bar 9 or beginning of bar 10 to mark the halfway point, but Sam delays it another bar, dividing the section as 10+8 instead of as 9+9.

The fills we get in the Pre-chorus mark the section more evenly, but they (the fills) begin earlier than one would expect; in the fifth and sixth bar of the 12 bar Pre-chorus Sam hits the crash and does an extensive snare pattern, making it feel like we’ve hit the end of the section and are moving into a bigger sounding section, but this expectation is “thwarted” by the continuation of the section. The fill reappears at the end of the Pre-chorus; for the first Pre-chorus, the build-up is again “frustrated” by a return to the intro material, which makes the eventual release into the Chorus after the second Pre-chorus even more ecstatic. The Chorus, by the way, has a perfectly expected crash hit at the beginning of the seventh bar, thereby dividing the 12-bar section evenly in half.

All of this unevenness and creation of tension of course begins with Daniel, whose guitar pattern consistently pushes against the strong beats, only hitting the downbeat every other measure. Here’s his opening measures:

guitar intro

Paul’s vocals also create tension with syncopated rhythms, and he sings very high in his register until we hit the Chorus, where he relaxes into a much more comfortable range.

When I have time to transcribe the entire song I’m sure I’ll be able to elaborate more on the ways in which Interpol sets up expectations (anticipation) and delays resolution (release) in Desire. In the meantime I’m going to continue to enjoy listening to it over and over again!

“My Desire” (quarter = 104; 4/4 time)

[pitch collection: B natural minor hexatonic scale; like the B natural minor scale but with the G omitted]

0:00 Intro: 6 bars

0:14 Vs 1: 18 bars

0:54 Pre-ch: 12 bars

1:21 Interlude: 6 bars

1:35 Vs 2: 10 bars

1:58 Pre-ch: 12 bars

2:25 Ch 1: 12 bars

2:52 interlude: 6 bars

3:05 Vs 3: 10 bars

3:28 Pre-ch: 12 bars

3:55 Ch 2: 24 bars + 1

Rest My Chemistry – drums

•March 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

So, I have a special treat to share: Robbie Vehse transcribed the drums for “Rest My Chemistry”! (Click here to see his whole transcription.)

Chemistry drums

As many of you know, my transcriptions so far have not included the drums, partly because of my lack of time but mostly because I don’t *really* know how to do it, which has always caused me sadness because I absolutely adore Sam’s drum playing.

About four years ago, I posted a little chart that illustrated when I heard a pattern change in each of the instruments. Looking at Robbie’s transcription, I can see now that there are at least three drum patterns (as he pointed out to me in his Facebook message); the Pre-Verse and the Verse are definitely different patterns, with the Pre-Verse containing an extra snare drum hit on the second half of the fourth beat.

At some point I’d like to integrate Robbie’s transcription with my own (of the other instruments) and write a complete analysis (a gesamt-analysis [gesamtuntersuchung?], if you will).

Until soon!

Follow up: Slow Hands, The New, All the Rage

•March 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment


I’ve been having some lively email discussions with reader Christopher, and I thought it would be fun/interesting for others to read so I decided to post them here! I also respond to a Facebook message from Robbie about “All the Rage Back Home” at the bottom of this post. (Next up on the blog is more El Pintor, plus Chemistry, Stella, C’mere, Obstacle 1, Length of Love, and a fuller analysis of Obstacle 2.)

“Slow Hands”

You can read our full discussion here. We discuss the grey zone of the song’s key; in spite of the pitch collection strongly suggesting G major, the song lacks “the textbook quality of the key,” as Christopher pithily puts it. Here’s my transcription of the opening of the song:

slow hands intro

“The New”

Christopher wrote, “I was recently listening to ‘The New’ and I remembered your blog where you discuss how it begins in the key of C major and modulates to B minor (harmonic).  It was bothering me, because of this ‘grey zone’ we recently were talking about.  Again, while the lyrics remains hopeful at the beginning and the notes suggest C major, it never felt particularly major-y…I’m feeling A natural minor….Also, when the lyrics begin ‘I gave a lot to you…’ I hear some arpeggiating of an A minor chord by one of the guitars, which could indicate the key of A natural minor before modulating to B harmonic minor…Then again I love the words that you initially used to describe the C major lyrics being hopeful to B minor lyrics conveying pain. Very poetic and beautiful, but it’s hard for me to get past such minor sound phrasing despite the bass melody beginning on C which would usually indicate C major.”

It’s weird to think that I wrote the post that Christopher references almost 8 years ago! I definitely think I was a little too prescriptive in calling the first key of the song “C major.” Actually, what I hear as the repeating chord progression in the first three minutes of the song is: C/G – G – Am – Dm7/A, which can be interpreted as both A natural minor (as Christopher mentions) and its relative major, C major. I agree that these three minutes sound more minor-y than major-y, and that they demonstrate perfectly how wonderfully Interpol’s music can inhabit the grey zone when it comes to key. I think that they achieve this mainly by never playing stacked triads; the guitars play their separate lines, the bass its separate line, and the vocals its separate line, and all combined we get “harmonies” and pitch collections that point to one or more keys depending on your interpretation. It’s the beauty of polyphonic music that you can have these grey zones while still maintaining a sense of tonality.

“All the Rage”

Robbie wrote to me, “By the way, I think ‘All The Rage Back Home”s tempo is 168, not 84 BPM, at least when the backbeat sets in at 0:49.”

So, I actually think both BPM designations make sense, depending on which instrument you’re focusing on. If you’re focusing on the drums, then 168 definitely makes more sense. However, for my transcription, I was focusing more on the guitar line and I really heard the rhythm “quarter-quarter-eighth-sixteenth-dotted eighth” as one unit; interpreting the song as 84 BPM allowed me to have that unit take up one full measure in 4/4 time. That being said, when I first listened to the song, my first thought was that the BPM was at 168 because of the drums.

Ok, more to come soon!

All the Rage Back Home

•February 28, 2016 • 1 Comment



Greetings! It’s been too long!

Here’s my analysis of “All the Rage Back Home” — the image above is a mini-transcription of the guitar and voice parts from the Intro and the guitar and bass parts from the Chorus. At the bottom of this post is the “skeleton” of the song: the chords, plus the duration of each part.

My first thought when re-listening to this song earlier today was “this kind of reminds me of the way that Antics begins with ‘Next Exit’.” There’s something cheery about “Rage” (ha) that reminds me of “Exit”, I think because both songs are pretty clearly in a bright major key (C major for Exit and G major for Rage). In the same way that Antics was a big milestone for the band (their sophomore effort after the major success of TOTBL), El Pintor is also a big milestone; it’s the album that says “we can survive the loss of Carlos D.” Like I mentioned in my initial thoughts on El Pintor, there is something very playful and free-sounding about this album.

My other thoughts:

  1. The form of this song creates a feeling of tension for me: The “normal” way to divide up the sections of a song is by numbers divisible by 2; this creates a sense of balance and predictability. But verse 1 repeats its four-measure pattern *three* times, and combined with the intro (which is essentially the same music as the verse but without the bass) that equals 7. Verse 2 repeats the four-measure pattern four times, but really the first four measures are like the intro in terms of texture, so the “feel” of verse 2 is more like 1 + 3 (instead of 2+ 2). The choruses are also structured very strangely. There is a three-measure pattern that repeats twice; this is followed by another three-measure pattern, which shuffles around the order of the three chords that make up the chorus (so, 3 + 3 + 3). By contrast, the outro feels like a “release” to me, because we get the same chordal pattern as the chorus, but it’s slightly extended so that we now have a balanced four-measure pattern.
  2. As you can see in my transcription above, there is some complex counterpoint happening between the guitar and voice in this song. Both lines are very syncopated, which creates a sense of rhythmic imbalance. However, these two lines often move in contrary motion to and from the same notes, which by contrast creates a sense of spatial balance. For example, when Daniel moves from B up to E in measure 2 of the intro, Paul moves from E down to B, and then that’s reversed. In the next measure Daniel moves from B up to D, while Paul moves from D down to B.
  3. Voicing is everything in this song. (By “voicing” I mean the way in which the individual notes of each chord are distributed among the instruments/vocals.) It was difficult to decide which chords were being played in some cases because of the voicing. For example, I decided to say that the first chord of the chorus is a D7 (D-F#-A-C) chord with the seventh (“C”) in the bass, because the bass is definitely playing a C there, while the guitar plays F# and C, the vocals sing on the notes A-B-C, and the synths sustain a D. This is an uncommon voicing of a major-minor seventh chord, and if you were to strum a D7 on a guitar you might not immediately recognize it as the first chord of Rage’s chorus.

All this to say: Interpol’s musical complexity remains intact in El Pintor. From the unusual phrasing, to the importance of texture, to the avoidance of strongly establishing the key (note that the song rarely ever “lands” on the tonic chord G major; instead D major is emphasized to keep the song pushing ever forward to a resolution that we never get). I’m really looking forward to digging into the rest of the songs.

(quarter note = 84; 4/4 time)

0:00 Intro: C | Em | G | G7 4xs

0:49 Vs 1: C | Em | G/D | G7/D 3xs [guitar F# starts at end of 3rd rep]

1:23 Ch 1: ||: D7/C | Em | D :|| C/D | D7/C | Em

1:49 Vs 2: C | Em | G/D | G7/D 4xs [first 4 bars have intro texture]

2:35 Ch 2: ||: D7/C | Em | D :|| C/D | D7/C | Em

3:00 Outro: ||: D7/C | Em | D | D :|| 7xs (fade out) [Ch harmonic rhythm “normalized”]

A parting note: For those that have made specific requests/engaged in conversations with me—I haven’t forgotten! I am working on all of them, if a bit slowly!


•July 18, 2015 • 5 Comments

Almost exactly a year ago today, reader Lorefin asked me to look at Roland and Stella — well, here’s Roland!

roland clip

This song presents so many musical traits that feel very “Interpol” to me:

  • A tight, clean texture consisting of highly repetitive riffs,
  • modal mixture (the song is in E minor for the most part, but F-natural appears in a few places [e.g., 0:26] making it briefly in E Phrygian),
  • non-tonic notes (in particular B and C) feature prominently and therefore create a sense of harmonic tension,
  • and the last third of the song presents new material in which the melodic tension increases dramatically.

The song’s form is Intro – Verse – Chorus (“He severs segments”) – Interlude – Verse – Chorus – Coda1 (2:30) – Coda2 (2:58). I love the contrast between the Verse and Chorus, the former being a really dense texture with interlocking guitar lines, the latter being a really unified texture with the guitars and bass all playing almost exactly the same line in octaves. Whenever the Chorus starts in this song I want to start moving my body.

The Coda in this song is so…sexy, if I can get poetic here. Starting at 2:30 Carlos is playing extremely high on the bass in completely stepwise motion (so, the notes are all close together), while one of the guitars sets up a stable large-scale four bar pattern as the other guitar plays a melody with a wave-like contour that both metrically and harmonically pushes against this large-scale pattern. At 2:58 this all sort of releases into a two-bar pattern with a strong sense of forward motion; the pattern repeats three more times verbatim, and we end the song not on the tonic E, but on the sixth scale degree, C.

Those are my initial thoughts on Roland — I always feel bad not including Sam’s drum parts in my transcriptions, since his playing is such an integral part of their sound. Like, there would be no Interpol without Sam’s insanely amazing, disciplined, tasteful drumming. Ever since I saw them live at Bowery Ballroom last year my already high respect for Sam’s playing has increased dramatically.

Anyway! In order of request, next on my list is Stella, C’mere, Obstacle 1, Length of Love, Same Town, and My Desire. I fall more in love with El Pintor the more I listen to it and I can’t wait to dig into those songs.

Until next time!

2002 pics of Daniel and Paul (and Carlos’ back)

•March 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

These were taken by my coworker Cassandra on 30 September 2002 at this place called Middle East (the downstairs venue) in Cambridge, MA (I incorrectly tweeted earlier that it was in Maine):

Paul at Middle East

2002.09.30 Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge MA (US)

Daniel at Middle East

2002.09.30 Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge MA (US)

Daniel at Middle East

2002.09.30 Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge MA (US)

Daniel at Middle East

2002.09.30 Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge MA (US)

I just love the serendipity here: I’m from Florida, Cassandra’s from Maine, she went to college in Massachusetts and saw Interpol in a tiny venue just as they were starting out, and now she and I sit across from each other at a publishing house in NYC.

Also, I have a list of songs to analyze: Roland, Stella, C’mere, Obstacle 1, Length of Love, and, like, the ENTIRE new album — all of my free time has been wrapped up in other creative projects I’ve been working on but I am still planning on getting to these!

Much love!