Since first hearing the arresting opening beats of ‘PDA’ 16 years ago, part of Interpol’s enduring appeal has been the seedy underbelly of the band’s music: the aching determination of ‘Not Even Jail’, the open perversion of ‘No I In Threesome’, the knowing ironic purr of Paul Banks singing “I’m a good guy” in ‘Success’, and the harsh honesty of, ‘My Desire’.
Interpol’s forthcoming sixth album Marauder, set for release on 24 August, takes a deep dive into this dazzling darker side. In the press release to accompany the album, Banks describes the marauder as a “facet of himself”, that guy who “fucks up friendships and does crazy shit”. It’s imprinted on the album right from its opening lines as Banks croons in a rarely heard falsetto, “If you really love nothing / What part of betrayal do you wish to deny”.
It could be said that the sentiment of the marauder is a facet not only of Banks, but the band’s history. Last year, Lizzy Goodman’s critically-acclaimed book, Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, documented the hedonistic early days of the band to hilarious effect. If Banks had ‘facets’ of the marauder, from the book’s recollections ex-bassist Carlos Dengler was living it 24/7.
The birth of Marauder the record, however, decidedly marks a point of positive new beginnings in Interpol’s future. For the first time in over a decade, the band chose to work on the record with a producer and recruited Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Mogwai). Unlike their three previous albums, all recorded at Electric Ladyland in New York City, the band instead decamped to Fridmann’s studio in a remote part of northern New York State, a process that harked back to how their seminal albums Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics were recorded at Tarquin Studios in far-flung Connecticut.
Speaking to Banks down the line from an unknown location, he’s far removed from the marauder character at the album’s heart. His unmistakable tone is infused with revitalised vigour as he talks at length about what it was like recording all of the album to two-inch tape, how the Turn On The Bright Lights Anniversary tour actively informed the record, and why the “marauder mentality” represents everything from youth to reckless consumerism.
When asked whether the album is shaped in part, both musically and lyrically, by imperfection, the conversation takes an interesting diversion into a discussion about the consequences of making mistakes in a digital age. He’s refreshingly open and talkative, reflecting with ease about Goodman's book and that "moment in time" in New York in the early noughties; he even answers whether he’s tried the Drake ‘In My Feelings’ challenge. Yet the slightest bit of tension pricks the surfaces, and understandably so, when asked why Carlos D was not invited back for the Turn On The Bright Lights anniversary tour.
In the press release, Banks says the record is giving the marauder “a name and putting him to bed”. With a record this good, here’s hoping he’s only sleeping.
DiS: You’re releasing Marauder on 24 August. How are you feeling about it?
Paul Banks: I feel great about it, I'm really proud of this record.
You hadn’t worked with a producer on an album since 2007’s Our Love To Admire, but for this record you chose to work with Dave Fridmann. Why did you choose to work with a producer again?
It just seemed like a good idea at the time. We’ve done it the other way and we felt with the right producer...It was time to try something new and I think it worked out great.
What was it about Dave Fridmann that attracted you to work with him?
His resume is great. Sam [Fogarino, drummer] has actually been talking about Dave Fridmann since we recorded our first album...Our label was a fan, they knew that Spoon had worked with him and they’d had a great experience.
We all got on board with this idea that we’d isolate ourselves away from our day-to-day lives and just be in a house together; I think the key ingredient was that maybe that’s something we need right now, that the situation should force us to be together and in each other’s face [laughs].
It’s almost like going back to doing a van tour, there are certain things that happen when you’re young as a band - it’s a great unity, everyone’s sort of in the trenches together. As you progress...two of us live in New York City, and there are studios that we can work at where we just show up for a few hours each day and each go our separate ways in the evening. We understood that this would be a good time in our career for everybody to be there, and everyone to listen to playbacks and talk about the mixes. It was a good time to reinforce that unity.
You recorded your last three albums in NYC at Electric Ladyland studios, whereas Marauder was recorded, like you said, in an isolated location at Tarbox Studios in Cassadaga, New York. How did you get along recording together in such a remote location again?
Yeah, it was more of a throwback to Antics... We got along great, what it all comes down to is we all know each other so well. Under the stresses of tour you might be able to get under each other’s skin, but we were all there in a studio and we just know each other well enough, and we know how to treat each other. Everybody got along very well and it was even a bonding experience for us.
What influence did Dave have on the record? He got you to record directly onto tape rather than using Pro Tools as you have done previously. What was your reaction when he originally suggested it?
We were definitely into it. It’s hard to explain, but we’ve always sort of touched tape - if that makes sense? At all times of our record making we’d just go to magnetic tape; it’s just that normally you go through magnetic tape, into pro tools, and that allows you to do 50 takes and take the best bits. When you’re really recording to tape it means if you want to do something over, you’re basically destroying what was there, so you just better get a good performance and leave it.
You can show up to work with a producer with no ideas or sketchy ideas. As we did it, the songs were up and running when we got up there and it was really a matter of if Dave said nothing then we would just play the song as we had it. That was honestly why he stressed the tape as he could sense, "Alright, you guys can play these songs, so there’s not going to be this agony of ‘fuck we can’t get a good take’." He could sense that, "You guys can play the songs, so why not do it this way?"
He’s a great producer, he can get under the hood to whatever degree you think is necessary or he thinks is necessary; some songs he really helped us rework what we were doing and other songs he said, "Let’s go, let’s play." He doesn’t have an ego in the sense that he’s got to reinvent whatever you bring him - he has a very good diligent touch of just knowing when to improve something and when to leave something alone.
How did recording onto tape influence the sound of the record?
I think it makes it feel really alive. On a song like 'Surveillance’ or ‘If You Really Love Nothing’, I have a lot of guitar changes in terms of effects and if we'd done it the old way it’d be like, "OK, when the chorus comes I’m going to go to these pedals settings, so let’s stop and turn all those pedals on and then punch in."
The way we did it with Fridmann was me tap dancing my pedal board to get a live pass, and what that leaves is sometimes I’m turning three pedals off and turning two new ones on, on a beat, which is physically impossible. There’ll be sections of the song where my guitar tones start to change before the chorus starts, because I’ve got to turn off three pedals and turn two on. It almost becomes this weird inimitable, very human transition from tone to tone, which you would lose if you were doing it the old way of, "Let’s stop and then start again."
What it is, is like an imperfection that has a lot of feel; there are many of those imperfections that are full of feeling throughout this record, and that made it unique for us.
The lyrics, like the music, also seem to explore imperfections, specifically the fallible nature of being human. For example, ‘Number 10’ is about a failed office romance. Do you think that’s an overarching concept for the album?
I think that’s something I’ve probably dealt with throughout our career. There’s a lot of introspection, there’s a lot of thinking about accountability and ramifications of bad behaviour, and what it is to be a good person and what it is to be able to connect with people - a lot of reflection going on. Embracing the imperfections.
Does it have any relation to social media and how everyone’s trying to present this perfect self? Is it a retaliation against it?
Not consciously. I do think we live in an age that, yes, there’s the perfect picture that people try to post. Maybe an even more interesting part about our kind of world is the way that people’s careers can end overnight - from things that they said five years ago, or bad behaviour that surfaces. It’s an interesting age, because I feel like comedy is now getting subjected to it, which is a bit dangerous as there are forms of art that are about pushing the envelope, and if we were to hold everybody accountable for making little missteps in the pursuit of art and how that no longer fits into the current model of PC.
On the one hand, there are tremendous cultural shifts happening that are absolutely for the better, but even in the #MeToo movement - that’s absolutely a positive cultural change, it’s amazing that it’s really taken effect - even along the way of that wave there’s some collateral damage, or some people getting their careers ended or put on pause over allegations that aren’t even yet all the way looked into. It’s an interesting time, where everything seems at stake - it’s fascinating the world we live in.
Recently, the Director James Gunn was dropped from Guardians Of The Galaxy over social media posts he made a decade ago. It seems you now need to be impeccable at all times.
I just wonder if it's a little bit Brave New World or 1984, in the sense that now everyone’s policing everyone. It’s good in so many ways, and then there’s this other side where culture makes a massive correction; sometimes there are going to be things that get corrected that means people are going to get into trouble, that shouldn’t have got into trouble. That’s the price of social change, I guess. I would never say it’s good or bad, I’d just say it’s interesting.
With your music and interviews, are you finding yourself being more careful about what you say? I was surprised to find that you have a personal Twitter account.
I always was mindful of Twitter, I don’t think I ever said anything that could get me into hot water...I think my approach is a little bit to be goofy, that’s how I use social media because it’s not really natural for me to do any of that stuff.
I don’t drink, but God forgive if you’ve just had a couple of glasses of wine..I’ve had it happen to people that are close to me, text something that I think is hilarious - or, you realise that did not translate over text and you turn somebody off. God forbid you do that on fucking social media and jeopardise your whole career. I’ve always been pretty mindful.
But, that’s what I mean, especially comedians. They might be trying out material and if you take it out of context...I’ve definitely had pull quotes in interviews where it’s like, "Oh shit, in context I think that wasn’t so bad but out of context it’s terrible."
It’s a shame in a way if you have to be more mindful of what you say, as your quotes in Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 are some of the funniest quotes in the book.
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know what I said in that book.
I was rereading your quotes for this interview and it definitely illuminates the scene. Reading it just makes you feel instantly jealous as you wish you were there and a part of it.
That’s cool, it was a moment in time - that’s for sure. I guess on the theme that we’re talking about, on one hand you get lulled into conversation when you’re doing things on the record, and sometimes you’re not super mindful of the fact that, "on the record" means "for posterity".
At the same time I felt relaxed with Lizzy because I know her and I felt like she’s a qualified person to tackle this - so, I openly participated in what I felt might be quite an authoritative, historical document. But, there’s definitely that sense after the fact of, like [laughs] "Why was I so candid?" I feel like she was a worthy person to tell those stories, so it is what it is.
Have you read the whole thing?
No, I honestly would be mortified. I think that would be very uncomfortable if I did.
I don’t think anyone would be keen on having the drunken or druggie escapades of their twenties written down anywhere.
I figured there’s probably really no surprises there, but still, maybe later I’ll wish I’d been more discreet.
Do you think a scene like that could ever happen again? Not just in New York, but anywhere and considering how times have changed.
It was a major thing, because New York City had 9/11 and then it had The Strokes coming out and Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, TV On The Radio...really, what was important was the calibre of the art that came out. I think a scene behind the scenes, that must exist everywhere and every major city probably has some pretty rollicking underground scenes going on - I’m sure New York City must have one right now.
What was unique was the cultural circumstances, the historical circumstances, the fact these bands are dope - that first Strokes’ record is hugely great and same with Yeah Yeah Yeahs - there was really quality stuff happening. All those people working together or participating together, it was just a moment in time. These things could happen again and there’s always some cool scenes going on, or maybe all the circumstances lined up in this instance.
You’ve described the Marauder as a “facet” of yourself. How do you think that’s taken shape in your life? Was there a period when it was more dominant?
I think it’s youth, in a way. It’s a sense of, “I want it all”. The marauder mentality, it extends far beyond me and that’s why I feel like it’s a good resident theme - it extends to world politics, it extends to consumerism. The same part of you that’s predisposed to say, “Fuck it, I’m going to do this thing” is the same part of our species that says, “Fuck it, we’re going to fill the ocean with plastic”. We all know it’s happening and yet there’s this component of selfishness and consumption and that’s something with age that hopefully, humanity will get a wrangle on.
In every person’s personal life they have to come to terms with that, that there are repercussions and consequences for your actions. At the same time, the virility of youth is about stretching out, ascertaining yourself, taking what you want, so it’s an important part of the life process...The way I see it is that I don’t want to take away the marauder, which I think is like a fiery being inside; I just want to utilise that fire for more positive ends, whereas when you’re young it’s just going out in all directions. The key is to keep it alive, keep that youthful passion alive, but then focus it.
You’ve said the lyrics are more personal on this record rather than character based. Were you concerned about opening yourself up and making yourself vulnerable?
I don’t think self-expression makes you vulnerable per se, you might feel exposed, but it’s just art and self-expression. I’m not technically more vulnerable as I sit at home as a result of being candid. I’ve always tried to be honest and self-revealing with my lyrics...if anything I’ve tried to show meaning and show honesty from day one.
In some ways I’m maybe less mysterious in myself; in the past, I’ve only been trying to be honest but my old self was more of a mystery to me, so that’s why the lyrics were more mysterious. Now as I gain some clarity that translates into the lyrics that just seem a little bit more direct, but I’ve always been trying to be more revealing.
The album artwork is an image of Elliot Richardson, Nixon's former Attorney General, why did you choose it? Is it in relation to what’s going on in American politics right now?
Yeah, there are obviously parallels between Mueller and Trump and the situation today. At the same time, we are not a political band, but I think that’s a beautiful image with or without political context: it’s a strong image of a man, there’s some powerful isolation there, there’s some strength that comes off of him.
I often comment that my favourite part of the photo is that there’s a woman in the corner and it looks like she’s trying to back away from him, like he’s a lion in a cage, and she’s just left this tape there and she’s like, “I’ve got to get the fuck out of here” [laughs]. That conveys to me again how powerfully isolated that man is pushing the shots.
I think it’s wonderful that it works on many levels, which is always what we started doing; a lot of great art has that quality, where you can flip it around in your mind and see it from different perspectives. I think it’s cool, it’s a powerful thing if you look at it as a political entity and it’s also powerful as a piece of photography and I think that’s why it works for us.
It’s the second record now where you’ve played bass, what do you enjoy about playing the bass on the record?
It’s the fifth record I’ve played bass, it’s the second Interpol record I’ve played bass. I love playing it and I love being a part of a rhythm section with Sam - I think we have our own language that we’re learning and developing together. He’s such a fantastic drummer that it’s really just a privilege to play guitar or bass with him, but bass and drums have a special relationship and it’s just fun.
I read that Sam was influenced more by swing beat for this record. For me, this technique seems to have breathed more air into the record - there’s still the classic Interpol urgency, but it’s more atmospheric at the same time.
Yep, and I think it’s a different sort of rhythmical angle to come from - it’s something that I was able to sink my teeth into as a bassist. There are new languages and new things that we play off each other, so I feel like the sound of Interpol today fits the tradition of Interpol, but there’s a new DNA imprint happening and it’s a blast.
You’re playing two shows at the Royal Albert Hall and one show at the Manchester Apollo in November. How do you feel about making your Royal Albert Hall debut?
Very excited, it’s just another kind of milestone for us. We’ve had a great career, I feel very lucky and privileged, and that’s going to be another great moment for the scrapbook.
Last year you hit the road for the Turn On The Bright Lights 15th Anniversary tour. What was it like to play those shows and do the album in full again?
We were deep into the writing of this record, so it was good as a creative process tool. It was interesting to be working on new material, then take a pause to go back to the stage and interact with your fans and play old school material. I think it gave us good insight and fuel as we finished the new music, that we remember where the songs are going to ultimately end up, on stage in front of our crowd.
It was such a cool way to get back to the soil of our career, while being able to translate that into new music. I would have been much more reticent to go and do a commemorative tour if we hadn't been working on new music; then I would have felt, "Well, what are we doing? I don’t want to look back." I feel like we took a moment to look back, almost in service of this record that we were doing to move forward - and it was cool. I would almost say it was a real benefit to the new record that we did that.
At the time there were questions about why Carlos [Dengler, former bassist] wasn’t invited back for the tour. Was that ever up for discussion or was it completely not on the table?
I feel like it’s weird because that to me - I mean, maybe someone should correct me - but if you quit your job, would you expect your employer to call you five years later and say, “Are you sure?” I don’t see how that would work. I feel like you have to respect someone’s decision to say, "I don’t want to do this anymore", like it’s almost a disrespect to call them and check that they’re still sticking to their decision. I don’t know, man. We didn’t fire the guy.
Also, when that person has said the album made them feel like a "survivor of PTSD"
There’s no ill will, there’s no bad blood - I love Carlos. I just simply feel like that seems to be something people overlook when they say, "Why didn’t you invite him back?" Like, "I dunno, why would you do that? I don’t know?" I respect his decision to do other shit.
You’ve released two solo albums and worked with RZA as Banks and Steelz. Have you got any projects coming up?
Yeah, there is something actually that I’ve got cooking and I’m excited to share when the time is right. For the time being, it’s all Interpol.
I was reading that you really like Drake. If the opportunity arose would you collaborate with him? Have you done the 'In My Feelings' challenge?
[laughs] I’ve seen that one! No, fuck that. Yeah, I’m a big fan of Drake. I would definitely collaborate with him.
Marauder is out on 24 August via Matador. For more information about Interpol, including forthcoming tour dates, please visit their official website.
Photo Credit: Jamie James Medina