The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper, serving Greater Manchester

Interview: Paul Banks

The Interpol frontman spoke to Joe Goggins about going it alone, ditching his pseudonym and being inspired by Snoop Dogg

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“This time I’ve decided to take a bigger bite.” Paul Banks is in the early stages of a lengthy European tour to promote his second solo record, Banks. Clinging to a Starbucks, unnecessary Ray Bans clipped to his collar, he spoke to The Mancunion at the Midland Hotel before playing to a sold-out Sound Control later that evening. “I did very few shows for the last record.”

The album he’s referring to is Skyscraper, a low-key debut solo LP released back in 2009 under the pseudonym Julian Plenti. Why, then, has he chosen to bring out Banks under his own name? “I used that name way before Interpol – it was my first musical identity. That was the name I performed under back in college, and making that album was just going back and finishing what I’d started by recording those old songs. I wanted to offload my early work and shed this sort of secret life I had, so that my OCD would let me stop referring to that alter-ego.”

The lukewarm reception that met with the most recent Interpol record back in 2010 led to speculation that Banks represents a new career direction, but he insists that nurturing a burgeoning solo career alongside work with the band was always the intention. “I knew I was going to make this record when I finished up the last album cycle with Interpol,” he says. “Most of these songs are pretty new; I’ve had ‘Summertime Is Coming’ and ‘Lisbon’ a while now, but most of the other stuff came together since the last Interpol record – I did a lot of writing on the road. As long as I’ve got a guitar and my laptop, I’m set.”

Working away from the band allowed Banks to move in a different direction in terms of writing and recording, as he found himself in the position of lone songwriter for the first time; guitarist Daniel Kessler pens almost all Interpol’s material himself. “In the band, I’m used to going in with the other guys and starting with chord progressions of Daniel’s and just trying to flesh them out…on the solo record, I demoed everything myself, right down to the hi-hats and strings, before I went to the studio, so I had a very clear vision. I was really forced to do it that way because studios are so fucking expensive.”

One of the more obvious departures from the Interpol sound on the album is ‘Lisbon’, a piano-driven, string-heavy instrumental that collapses into crashing drums at its midpoint and that, I suggest, sounds like it might’ve been written for a film. “That’s actually something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “When it comes to writing my own songs, I’ve always thought of myself as a musician first and a singer second; vocals are just one aspect of music for me. They’re not the end-all be-all. I don’t think there’s nothing weird about me doing an instrumental – I’ve always been as interested in textures and soundscapes as I am in singing.”

That interest in textures and grooves spills over genre boundaries for Banks, who has often spoken of his admiration for hip hop and indeed, just days after our interview took place, released a wonderfully-titled mixtape, Everybody on My Dick Like They Supposed to Be, featuring collaborations with El-P and Talib Kweli, among others. “I like to think hip hop has always influenced my lyrics,” he says, a little incongruously given that Banks hardly comes over as Straight Outta Compton part two. “But I think you can hear the influence a little more widely on this record – the beats, the fact that I’ve used some samples, and so on. The production is fascinating to me, even in commercial hip hop you’ve got people doing interesting things…’Drop It Like It’s Hot’ was a hit song on the radio that pretty much just had some snapping and some bass drums – I’ve always been interested in that exploration into minimalism.”

Interpol’s seminal debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, turned ten years old late last year and was marked with the obligatory reissue, but whilst Banks claims there were never any plans to tour around the milestone – “we might do that when it’s twenty years” – he does say that plans are already afoot for the band’s next release. “Daniel’s been writing a bunch, so there’s stuff waiting for us to go in and finish.” There’s also the question of whether the band will recruit a permanent replacement for bassist Carlos D, who left after the recording for Interpol had finished and was replaced on a temporary basis by Slint’s David Pajo on tour. “I kinda feel like we might have enough creative energy between the three of us to make another record without anyone else involved. There’s no real timeframe for the record yet, so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Banks was born and spent his early childhood in Essex before moving to New York, and whilst his accent is completely American, the occasional Britishism has remained in his vernacular. When I ask him if he’s been playing any Interpol tracks on this solo jaunt, he replies, “it’d seem so weird, because I always think of them as our songs – they’re not my own to just go out and play without the rest of the guys. I mean, wouldn’t you think I was kind of a wanker if I did that?” he smiles. “I don’t want people thinking I’m a wanker.”

Banks is out now on Matador Records.