As the charismatic singer with Interpol, Paul Banks needs little by way of introduction. Having joined the band fifteen years ago, the 2002 release of debut long player Turn On The Bright Lights proved a pivotal moment for both the band and what followed. Heralded by many as the greatest debut album this century, not to mention being one of the most timeless records of the period, its influence on modern day music and many current artists cannot be understated.
Having gone on to release three more albums with Interpol, Banks has also embarked on a relatively successful solo career in the interim. While 2009's Julian Plenti Is... Skyscraper was a marked departure from what many familiar with his work in Interpol would have been accustomed to, this year's Julian Plenti Lives... EP highlighted Banks' eclectic nature even further. This week sees the release of his second solo album - and first under his own name - simply entitled Banks. Its ten tracks once again veer between darkly orchestrated vignettes, Morricone-meets-John Barry style instrumentals, and sample heavy hip hop referencing numbers.
Currently on a whistle stop world tour of promotional engagements - today's brief sojourn in England being his sixth country in seven days - DiS caught up with him in a central London hotel. Earlier in the day he'd played a radio session for BBC6 Music's Lauren Laverne, including a previously unheard version of The Velvet Underground's 'Stephanie Says'. In a couple of hours time he'll be jetting off again back to the States. So, without further ado, let's get own to business...
DiS: So, six countries in seven days. That must take its toll even for someone that's used to travelling an awful lot?
Paul Banks: Well, the label said it would be a good idea to go through Europe and do press, hit all the markets I guess. This new record I'm promoting for real. The Julian Plenti record I didn't promote much.
DiS: Does travelling between different countries and cities on a regular basis inspire your songwriting?
Paul Banks: It's really hard for me to pinpoint what things in my life get channeled directly into songs. I'm sure that does but not in the way you'd expect. Too much travel can really stress you out. That's where music is a great outlet for stress for me, so it might not actually be that I've seen wonderful picturesque monuments, it might be that I'm actually fucking fed up! And then it's hard to write something because it's not my "I'm actually fucking fed up" song and I want to go home, it's something else but I think that the process of inspiration often ends up emotionless and how it comes out.
DiS: Your album Banks is out next month. The two tracks from the record that have been made available so far, 'The Base' and 'Summertime Is Coming', have both been well received by various sections of the media so far. Are you pleased with the response? Do you pay much attention to what the press are saying or writing about you?
Paul Banks: I haven't read any press since Our Love To Admire, the third Interpol record, came out in 2007. I didn't read any press for my first record, or for the last Interpol album, and I won't read any of the press for this record either. I did ask my manager after we put 'The Base' out whether or not there had been any commentary around it and he said it was popular, so I guess that reaction made me feel quite comfortable. It could have been worse I guess, you know, had he come back to me with the words "This is shite!" I absolutely don't go and investigate what people are writing about me.
DiS: It's taken three years for Banks to see the light of day after Julian Plenti Is... Skyscraper. Was it always your attention to make a follow-up to that first record?
Paul Banks: Well yeah, because the reason why the Julian Plenti record was called that and not Paul Banks is because during the late 1990s and early 2000s I was Julian Plenti. That was my stage name and there were a number of songs that I'd play from that era. Some of those songs had been kicking around for a good nine years since Interpol took off, and I promised myself that I was not going to forget about that stuff. That I would eventually come back and revisit it. So when I did, that OCD compulsion as an artist where because they were the first songs I'd written over a time period as that character it was important for me to release them that way.
DiS: What about the songs on Banks? How long has it taken you to complete the record from start to finish? Do any of the songs here date back to that same period?
Paul Banks: This batch of songs are all new and were written over the last couple of years with the exception of 'Summertime Is Coming', which also dates back to that Julian Plenti period. That's why I put it on the Julian Plenti Lives... EP. Basically, when I was on the road with Interpol for the last two years I took my laptop and any free time or downtime I had was spent working on music. That's fun for me, and I guess what I was trying to say is that I've always written music. It's just that nobody ever got to hear any of it until I finally came to put out that first record, and now it's like a retrospective of all the music I've been writing from the previous ten years. So basically, from that record it was like a nirvana, that was the gates opening, and now I'll always make records. It was just a matter of doing that first one.
DiS: Was there ever a point where you considered using any of your solo material with Interpol?
Paul Banks: Interpol has a very specific method of writing songs that begins with Daniel (Kessler). Daniel started that band because he had a bunch of songs, and we all jumped in to help bring those songs to life. That's the way we've worked ever since, so the songs I've written over the years were either going to just sit there or I would make a solo record. Now I've finally done that it's given me an outlet for my songs.
DiS: Several of the songs on the album seem to be based around samples. 'No Mistakes' for instance which states "Be brave - show no fear around me." Where did that come from and what is the song about?
Paul Banks: That's not a sample that's my vocal.
DiS: Really? It sounds like a sample.
Paul Banks: No that's me singing. There's a sample in 'Another Chance'...
DiS: The "Sometimes people fuck up" line?
Paul Banks: Yeah that's right. For some reason I was surfing around MySpace for a post - not apocalyptic but war torn urban sect. Almost like an ad-hoc militia or militaristic bad kind of idea where no one knows what the fuck is going on but this is how we're gonna deal with it, you know? I'm all for these bad kind of fantasies. Dreams of urban landscapes that are just demolished. Which could be simply traced back to reading 'The Stand' by Stephen King when I was younger.
DiS: Do you get inspired by a lot of fictional writing?
Paul Banks: I suppose maybe but again not in a way I can identify too clearly. I haven't really written a song thinking directly about a book or anything. That's why I think the question of influence or inspiration can be a bit touchy because it's very vague for a lot of artists. You can take inspiration or influence everywhere and it comes out of you in the way it comes out of you. I've never sat down and planned a song to sound or turn out in a specific way. I just start with an idea for a song and then I write it.
DiS: One song on Banks that really intrigues me is 'I'll Sue You', especially the line "I don't need this anyway." Is that about a specific person or individual and if so, have they heard it?
Paul Banks: It's not about anyone. That's just me. I think one part of being a lyricist as well is that sometimes when I say "I" it's actually me and then other times I'm portraying a character or adopting another frame of kind. You hear actors always saying they love playing villains and for me, one of the most fun times I've had writing lyrics was just taking this attitude of... In the States, things are a lot more litigious than they are over here. People just sue the fuck out of everybody! I just tried to write with an attitude of what it would be like to be one of those people that has no qualms about taking advantage of someone else. That has no scruples about doing something very unethical. The character of that song has no problem with not achieving anything for themselves. They're merely just coveting all the success and possessions of someone else, and deeply devising a scheme with which to procure all of those possessions.
DiS: Have you been in a position where someone's tried to take that kind of stance towards you in any way?
Paul Banks: No. I was working on the music for that song and the inspiration for the lyrics came after the BP oil crisis. There was this headline that said "Suing BP" and I just saw the word "suing" and thought to myself what a weird word. S.U.I.N.G. It's just a funny looking word but that's how simple inspiration can sometimes be. Just seeing an interesting word and then writing a song around it from the concept of some covetous dick.
DiS: 'Lisbon', the instrumental piece at the album's midpoint has an incidental, score-like feel to it, almost like a John Barry or Ennio Morricone composition. Would you ever consider writing the score to a film in the future?
Paul Banks: I'm not familiar with John Barry. I'll check that out. I mean, I'd love to write a score for a film. I can't say it's something I would be able to nail at the first attempt. That would be an adventure. It would also probably take me a while because of the way I write. Normally I write a song when I'm inspired by something, whereas with a film it would have to fit in specifically with the story line for that film. That would be a challenge. I think I could do it but it would be hard and exciting. I just always like writing instrumentals. I wrote one on my first record too and I think I'll always write at least one instrumental piece for every album I make.
DiS: Once again you've worked with Peter Katis, who produced the first two Interpol records and Julian Plenti Is... Skyscraper. Do you think he brings out the best in you?
Paul Banks: He brings out the best in my songs, but because I go to him with my songs written. There's different ways you can look at bringing the best out of someone. I've got the material ready, and then I go to him and makes the best of that material. On a personal level, he's a good friend and I just enjoy spending that amount of time in close quarters with him. Making records is intense, and so it really helps that you have a good rapport with your producer. He's also world fucking class at generating really good sounds. He knows what he's doing and he really cares. When Interpol made Turn On The Bright Lights we kind of knew we wanted Peter to work on the second record, because when you start something with the first record and get on a wavelength with the person who's making it with you, it's like a catalyst for what comes next. We've connected and already established a working relationship with that individual, so let's build on that and make the next record even better based on what we learned the first time. Moving forward, I don't know whether I'll work with him again, not because I'm unsatisfied with anything he's done, but more because I'd like to think there's someone else out there that can take me in another direction in the future. If that were to happen then I'd be interested in working with someone new, but for my first two solo records I liked that familiarity that Peter brings. He's not going to come to me and take out all the guitars or anything. It's more about him knowing where I'm coming from. He likes where I'm coming from. He made my first record what it is, and then we both said let's go back and learn from that experience to make an even better record with the second. I don't know whether or not I want to go back and make a third one. It would be very comfortable for me to do that, and that's why it may be a good idea to break away and experiment.
DiS: You've always stated a love for hip hop and rap music and Alan Moulder made a comment around the time he was mixing the fourth Interpol album about the similarities in some of your vocals with certain hip hop artists. You also recently covered J Dilla's 'Mythsizer' on the Julian Plenti Lives... EP. Is it a direction you intend to pursue in the future, as some of the beats on the album also seem to reference that genre?
Paul Banks: Around the beats absolutely, and I think that's what was interesting about making this record because Peter didn't know how to make my beats take a hip hop direction but was still willing to experiment in that direction. The good thing about that is you don't get a cliched hip hop production but then it still has a hip hop feel to it even though the artist is trying to be different. It's like a feeling of being in unfamiliar territory. It felt quite exotic in a way. I admire the simplicity of hip hop beats but that's the same with funk and soul too. I love the feel of those kind of beats, and I have done instrumental hip hop music for a long while now.
DiS: Does anyone else play any instruments on the record bar yourself?
Paul Banks: It's all me on every instrument except the strings, and the drums on three songs. Sebastian Thomson from Trans Am plays drums on 'Paid For That'. He's one of my all-time favourite drummers. The drums on that song I programmed but couldn't play because it was too elaborate, so I figured it would be perfect for him. So I called him up and he fucking nailed it straight away! He also played on 'No Mistakes', although you also hear half of my programmed beat on that song. Charles Burst, who's my touring drummer and also played on the first album, plays on 'Over My Shoulder'. That was the other song where I had difficulty mastering the beat in time.
DiS: You then go out on tour from November pretty much to the end of February 2013, including a handful of UK shows in January. What can we expect from the setlists? Will there be a mix of solo and Interpol material?
Paul Banks: No, it would be crazy to play Interpol songs. I would never do that in a million years. Interpol will get back together and make another album after I'm done playing this record. They're not my songs. They begin with Daniel in the first place so it would be like taking his song. It's never crossed my mind to do that, ever.
DiS: Is there a set timescale or projected release date for the next Interpol record?
Paul Banks: Daniel's always working and he's a great songwriter so I'd wager he's probably got an album's worth of material and he's just waiting for when we can all get together and start making it happen. He's always writing. What I've heard so far is excellent. We've already kicked a few ideas around together so...
DiS: Last month saw the 10th anniversary for the release of Turn On The Bright Lights. Did it ever occur to you at any point when you were making the record that it would go on to be heralded as one of the most seminal albums of its time?
Paul Banks: No, not at all! I think that's the first time I've heard the word "seminal" used in relation to it so that's also very nice. A key moment for me with the band was when Sam (Fogarino) joined. That was when we all looked at each other and said now, there's no reason why this band can't be great. As soon as he became a part of Interpol we knew that nobody in the room was fucking around any more. We weren't quite there yet, but we felt really capable of creating some serious shit. I always thought we had some potential before that, but once Sam came on board we knew it was for real.
DiS: Songs like 'Specialist' and 'A Time To Be So Small' both pre-dated Turn On The Bright Lights yet neither made the final album. Was it difficult choosing the tracklisting and how did you arrive at the final eleven songs?
Paul Banks: Yeah, it was quite tough. A lot of the time it's about what fits and what doesn't, and I think that was the case with those two songs. Obviously 'Specialist' made it onto the Australian and Japanese versions of the album and then 'A Time To Be So Small' seemed to work better with the material we were writing after so ended up on Antics. I've done similar things with my solo material. There's songs that date back to the time of the first record like 'Summertime Is Coming' that are on the new one; some that haven't been recorded yet in fact. But then it's better to have too many songs than not enough I guess.
DiS: Interpol's first two singles came out on UK labels Chemikal Underground and Fierce Panda although it wasn't until the Interpol EP and Turn On The Bright Lights on Matador that widespread recognition occurred. Was there much interest from labels in between the Fierce Panda and Matador releases?
Paul Banks: It wasn't until we did a session for John Peel that people seemed to notice us. Before that there was one girl that worked in A&R for Capital Records who liked us. She's still there I think. She was like a good A&R girl who had her ear to the ground. But there wasn't much else because of this huge eclipsing force that was The Strokes. Everyone's eyes were so big on The Strokes they didn't really focus on anything else.
DiS: Will there be anything to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Turn On The Bright Lights?
Paul Banks: Yes! A re-release that's gonna be split into two CDs and a DVD. There'll be a re-mastered version of the album on one disc and then a whole bunch of rare tracks and sessions on the other. The DVD has two live shows, one from New York and one from LA, the first show we ever did with that line-up. It's coming out at the end of November.
DiS: Wow. Will there be any shows in the format of ATP's 'Don't Look Back' series maybe?
Paul Banks: I don't think so, no. Not soon anyway. Sam's off doing a record and I'm doing this. That is my day job so to speak but this is a big priority. That's why I don't want to rush this process to get back to Interpol. Interpol will come back in a timely fashion but for now all my energies are concentrated on this record.
DiS: Regarding the bass player situation with Interpol, is that still up in the air at present? Will you be carrying on as a three-piece and employing a bassist purely for live shows only?
Paul Banks: I can't give a fixed answer to that. I think Carlos (Dengler) is an irreplaceable kind of person in the band, and we certainly won't force it. I think we have enough songwriting ability as a three-piece so, who knows? I'm not sure what we'll do. Obviously the question is Carlos was a major force in our band. It's nothing that I wouldn't kick around, but they'd have to be pretty good.
DiS: Finally, if you could share a stage with any other artist, either with them supporting you or vice versa, who would it be and why?
Paul Banks: I don't know. I just discovered a band called Thee Oh Sees. That guy who sings with them is cool, man.
The album Banks is released by Matador Records this week.
Paul Banks will be playing the following shows in January 2013:-
20 Dublin The Academy
21 Glasgow King Tut's
22 Manchester Sound Control
24 London Koko