Paul Banks is a bit upset. And for good reason…There hasn’t been one interview where he isn’t asked a question about Interpol -mine included. There hasn’t been one review which doesn’t mention his band. It’s apparent that he’s tired of the never-ending comparisons, particularly that of Pitchfork’s which claims that Banks sounds best when he’s closest to Interpol. And boy, does he have some words to say to that! He’s been deliberately trying to differentiate himself from his band, by repeatedly underlining that it’s “Dan’s baby” and by asserting that he would never ever sing an Interpol song onstage while touring solo…Even the fact that he opts to ditch his custom dapper look onstage feels like an effort to further the cause.
However, it’s not entirely our fault either. Ten years ago from now, one of the greatest albums of all time was released under the name Turn On the Bright Lights and the world met the reincarnation of Ian Curtis in Banks with his baritone vocal, his cool demeanor, depressive lyrics and crazy talent. They kept on messing with our minds, piercing our hearts and troubling our souls for more than a decade. It’s only natural that we yearn for more and perhaps cast a shadow on the guy who we think is responsible for it all, or most –which you must know by now is far from the truth if you have simply seen them live with and without Carlos Dengler. We have been this interested because it’s not only a question of who he his but also a question of to what degree Interpol is actually “Interpaul.”
Banks knows this and says he is still trying to establish himself as a solo artist. When he takes the stage at Koko London, he starts his set with Skyscraper and ends it with Games for Days, as if to confirm that Julian Plenti still lives but the lead vocalist of Interpol is dead for a while. He is his cool usual self, but seems more enthusiastic, more eager somehow. It’s in the way he plays his guitar, the way he sings his songs, the way he moves…He’s not much of a talker but tonight he’s all smiles. That’s not enough for a fan though who screams “Cheer up Paul, we love you!” after Goodbye Toronto and causes laughter at Koko. I wonder how many are actually here for him in this packed venue tonight and they answer by singing along to most of his songs. As a girl who has seen him live four times prior to that show, I can safely say it was his best performance so far. He is careful not to so much utter a word to undermine his experience with his band but I can feel this is when he is the happiest; not as Julian Plenti, not as the lead singer of Interpol but himself, only himself and nothing more…
How’s touring been so far? How is this different than touring for Julian Plenti, or not having the guys from Interpol?
It’s a familiar experience for me in terms of my solo work even though I switched the name. It’s just like the second round of Julian Plenti for me in terms of my experience on the road because we’ve been playing all those songs, it’s much the same band with the first time around…As far as how it’s different from Interpol, it’s obviously a smaller scale. Even journalists ask the band if we prefer the arenas or small rooms. Well, they both have their different charms. I don’t really have a preference when it comes to Interpol. With my solo work, I don’t mind a small room if the audience is good. In terms of my satisfaction playing shows, it’s equal to my satisfaction with Interpol.
So it’s not intimidating, it’s not refreshing, it’s not different from playing to 50,000 people at a festival?
It was intimidating on my first album. That’s why it’s important to stress this is just a continuation because I really learned a lot from promoting the Julian Plenti record. It’s much easier and less intimidating now. I know what you mean by refreshing. Sure, it’s fulfilling for me. But it’s not like I’d say refreshing and it would seem like Interpol is some negative and this is some positive; it’s not, they are all positives. This one’s just slightly more fulfilling because it’s my baby.
You said that it was the Julian Plenti tour that made you reconsider the sound of your next album. Were you not happy with how Skyscraper sounded live?
It’s not that I wasn’t happy. We tried our best. The songs were written in a very studio-minded manner. Then I had to figure out how to play them live. In some of those songs, how do you capture the energy in the record live? It’s really hard because so much on the record is fine-tuned electronic stuff. So for this album, I wrote the songs with a mindset of how I divide this song into live musicians rather than me as a live musician with a bunch of sound effects that no one can actually play, which is what happened on my first record. But then I think we did figure it out and we did do a great job. It is not that I wasn’t satisfied; it was just very difficult. I kept that in my mind when I approached this record.
You titled the record Banks. Was that a way of saying “this is as close to me as you can get.” Does it have another meaning? Or were you just lazy?
(Smiles) It’s never about being lazy when it comes to naming stuff. I take that s*** very seriously. It’s…(pauses and thinks) I don’t know. There’s finality to it. There’s firmness to it. There’s something very concrete about that name. Also that word, when it’s not applied to being my last name… I like word playing. And coupled with the imagery of the album cover, I might not be referring to my last name at all. I might be referring to financial institutions. That is the theme visually and in terms of the title of the album, I’m actually talking about the banking world and banks. So it can go either way and I like that about things. Anytime something might have a flipped meaning or a double meaning, I sort of gravitate toward that idea. (Hell, do I know! I learned a horribly embarrassing lesson when I posted “Siné was a diver and she was always down” on Facebook, thinking I was being all cool referring to my depression.)
About the urban album cover…
When I took that photo, I said “S***, that’s the album cover!”
You took that photo. And you also played the drums since Sam was busy. Are you a control freak?
I played the drums because I wanted to play the drums. But there were a few songs that I couldn’t learn to play the drumbeat in time. Then I talked to Sam about it and winded up getting Sebastian from Trans Am and Charles who’s my touring drummer on another song. So in these three songs, it’s not me.
That’s not much…Can you complete this sentence in three words? “Banks is all about…”
Hmm…(A long pause) The album Banks is all about…dreams, shadows and light…
I’ll keep people guessing.
(But he elaborates) I think those terms apply to a lot of my work. While writing this record, there was almost a cohesive mindset. There’s no obvious, easy single on this record. There’s no really radio-friendly music. They are all kind of challenging and weird pieces of music. I was just obeying some inner compulsion to just writing the music and not worry about anything other than writing the songs. I was getting a lot of inspiration just from that abstract world of dream state of mind, a dream consciousness, and things being vague and distant but also really poignant. The emotion a dream provokes in you is incredibly real and powerful but what you are experiencing is entirely abstract. You couldn’t really rationally explain to someone why it generated this emotion in you.
So that was the mood you were in when you were touring with Interpol because you said you wrote this on the road?
I wrote a lot of it on the road. But it’s not like I’d get inspired by Interpol and write a song in my dressing room or hotel room. I would be writing in between those tours, and continue to work on it on the road.
Since you mentioned Interpol, you keep saying that Interpol is Dan’s baby and you never wrote any of the Interpol songs.
It is his band in terms of song writing. He writes the songs, which becomes Interpol songs.
And the lyrics?
I write those. See, that’s the thing. Sometimes people put different value on those things. As a songwriter I think this differentiation is critical. When you hear an Interpol song, that’s me working as a vocalist to contribute to a composition Daniel has written by himself. And then he’s brought it to the band. And we all contribute music to it and that’s how Interpol writes. I say it’s his baby because he created the band, he found all the members to the band and the band played songs he introduced. He also runs behind-the-scenes of the band. He’s the strategist in business stuff. He’s a very talented guy in many facets. The songs I introduce go to Banks.
Let’s go back to Banks, then. The video to Young Again is hilarious. Did you come up with the idea?
Yeah. In the studio, it hit me “Oh my God, what if I do this video?” But in my mind, it was different. In my mind, I got the s*** kicked out of me outside in the playground area. I was getting my face rubbed in the dirt, some kid was pouring chocolate milk on my face…But you have a budget and one day to shoot. I took my original treatment to the director but she edited it into something that she thought she could shoot. She tried to execute what I was trying to say in a way that she could execute.
How was it received?
I don’t really know. I don’t go online and read about people’s comments.
You don’t read reviews?
No, I don’t read any reviews. I don’t read anything at all.
So you haven’t read any reviews of Banks?
No. There was an e-mail right before the album came out where the press department sent all the clippings within the Matador office. They knew better than to send it to me because everybody that I work with knows that I don’t like to read anything about anything. But the head of the label wrote me a personal e-mail saying things were looking good. And there they were attached so I read a couple of early reviews, which were all positive. That was really nice but I cut it off again. But then you hear stuff. With the video to Young Again, all the people who comment on it say it’s really funny. I feel like it was a successful video in that sense because after I did it, I realized the humor was really hard to pull off. You intentionally being funny is sometimes hard to accomplish.
Yeah, especially when you are hitting kids…
Yeah! To me, it’s f***ing hilarious! But I didn’t know if other people would come up to me and say it was funny. Maybe they would watch it and say “What the f*** is going on here?” They are supposed to say that but they are also supposed to laugh. So I’m glad it was executed well enough to make people understand that it was humorous to me.
Well, there’s some great acting in it on your part.
You mean that sincerely?
Yes. Those facial expressions are something! Since you will also act in a movie, this might come in handy.
It’s not definite that I’ll act. A friend of mine is trying to find funding for a movie. He wants me to lead in his movie so we shot some scenes from the film to be like a fake trailer. I think people from the film world do that to get funding. The script is written for the entire film, which I’ve read and it’s really cool. I really like the guy who wrote it. He just asked me if I wanted to give it a try…I did not have any aspirations to act. I get it now when people talk about the positive aspects of getting older. Because there are times when you realize like “I wouldn’t have done that in the past but I’ll try that now.” That’s the benefit of age and experience. You do open yourself up to new opportunities. It’s not necessarily something that I think I’m going to excel in but I actually did have a lot of fun acting in those scenes. So we’ll see…If we get some funding, maybe we’ll make it.
I’d like to get back to the comments. You said you don’t read them but you hear things. Have you heard about Pitchfork writing that “the best parts of Banks are the ones that most resemble Interpol.” How do you feel about these never-ending Interpol comparisons?
Yeah I heard about Pitchfork and heard that it was really shitty. But all my friends and a lot of people said that they had the impression that the guy (Steven Hyden) did not really listen to the record. And I think he might also…(pauses) Well, I mean who the f*** is he anyway? This is my avenue of expression and I feel like that’s the kind of guy who should just listen to Interpol then, you know what I mean? I think he might not have all the information so to speak. He might assume that these are songs that could be with Interpol. He might assume that I could just tell these guys that this is what we’re going to play. I don’t know. Maybe he just thinks this is sh** and he likes Interpol. That’s probably what it is. That’s fine, that’s his opinion.
Yeah, I heard about the Pitchfork thing and I was disappointed. Because they are quite influential, especially if you are a beginning artist. With Interpol, we have an established fan base. But as a solo artist, I’m still establishing myself. So, a sh**ty review from Pitchfork can have an effect. If my friends are right that the guy did not listen to the record enough, then that’s a bummer because a sh**ty review can definitely turn people off a new artist if it’s Pitchfork.
So it gets to you…
The reason I don’t read reviews is because they get to me. That’s the reason, and I’m very open about that. It hurts and it pisses me off to no end, to degrees that are crazy! It’s my self-diagnosis as the best kind of action, not to read any of it. And I don’t read the positive because if I’m not going to pay any attention to the negative, why should I pay attention to the positive?
Fair. Let’s move on to hip-hop…You are a big fan of hip-hop and we can see elements of this genre integrated into the record (By then, he didn’t have the infamously titled hip-hop mix tape out). Are we ever going to see you do a proper hip-hop album, with another alter-ego maybe?
I did have a hip-hop alter ego. Do you mean like rapping? Because I don’t have any interest in rapping. As a producer, I would absolutely love to! But I wouldn’t do vocals on it. I think I will just keep appropriating elements of hip-hop in my music, which involves singing. I don’t want to rap, I don’t think I could rap, I like singing…But I would write music for someone else to rap against.
The last question is about Interpol. Will there be another Interpol album?
And you are working on it?
Ok, that’s good to hear…Thanks!