I’ve loved Interpol for years, so it was a big thrill to not only speak to Paul Banks, but for him to be pretty sound, too. When I called him, his phone rang out twice and I was prepared for a long evening of to-ing and fro-ing and waiting around, as I have for plenty of self-important rock stars in the past. To my surprise, he called me back less than 10 minutes later, all apologies, and said that he was double-booked and forgot about the interview (but did it, nonetheless). It was only a few weeks afterwards that his PR told me that he was apparently having a tattoo done at the time…
Originally published in The Irish Times, September 29th 2010
FOR SOMEONE with a reputation for being . . . solemn, let’s say, Paul Banks sure sounds happy. Not only does he return several missed calls with sincere apologies – itself a rarity in RockStarLand – but the Interpol frontman sounds as close to upbeat as one can be, when blessed with his even, sonorous speaking voice.
But really, there’s no reason that the Essex-born New Yorker shouldn’t be content with life right now. It’s a new era for Interpol in many ways; the recent departure of their original bassist and co-songwriter Carlos Dengler, the subsequent addition of two new members, and the small matter of their eponymous fourth album means that Banks and his bandmates are quite enjoying a shake-up after 13 years together.
“I feel better about this record than any I can remember,” he says. “Alan Moulder (mixer) did an amazing job, and I think that we all – each member of the band – just know our roles better these days than we ever did in the past.” That said, you couldn’t blame him for being slightly cagey. While their era-defining debut Turn on the Bright Lights and its follow-up Antics established Interpol as an instant force to be reckoned with in modern indie music, 2007’s Our Love to Admire was a slow-burner, both creatively and commercially. Nevetheless, the new album continues with the same measured approach with reflective tracks such as Always Malaise (The Man I Am) and Memory Serves . Such experimentation was no accident, he says.
“I think a healthy band wants to try different things, and maybe you wanna take the risk of your fans not getting it immediately,” he agrees.
“I think it’s much better to do something that may initially alienate a few people, but be vindicated down the line when people do get it. I think we’re the kind of band that would rather err on that side, rather than go for what we know is safe. I also got the sense that Daniel was really trying to push himself and break new ground as an artist, and Carlos is always up for that challenge . . . well, was always up for that challenge.”
There’s no escaping Dengler’s departure. The so-called “face” of Interpol quit the band once the album had been completed, but if his exit seemed sudden to fans, it was not so for his bandmates.
Kessler recently revealed that the bassist had been becoming increasingly unhappy with touring, and that bass was his second choice of instrument when the band formed. “Oh yeah, it wasn’t surprising,” Banks says. “We’re ultra-communicative as people, and he’s incredibly articulate, so we were well aware of how he felt.”
However, it remains to be seen how Dengler’s absence will impact on their creative process. The seeds of the new album were sown via rough demos instigated by Dengler and Kessler last summer, before they brought the ideas to Banks and drummer Sam Fogarino, and the foursome “rocked out for nine months and wrote it”.
Yet even if Dengler was the band’s unofficial “face”, Interpol have a better chance of surviving without him than without Banks’s distinctive monotone vocals. Despite the difficulties within the camp, he says that it’s taken him four albums to become comfortable with how he writes songs with the band.
“In the past, I’d beaten myself up a lot, and been my own worst critic, and made the creative process a lot more difficult than it had to be. And I finally learned a way to get a little Zen about my process. So the ideas that came out of that, I’m very happy about, and it was much less painful than it had been in the past. Well, not painful . . . arduous, maybe.”
The singer and guitarist even embarked on his own solo venture last year under the pseudonym Julian Plenti, and the resultant album Julian Plenti is . . . Skyscraper pulled in its fair share of glowing reviews. Was this the project that instilled his newfound confidence?
“Well, not so much. I was always very clear what I wanted to do with Julian Plenti, whereas Interpol’s always been this sort of thing where I think ‘What do I do with this music?’ because it’s not entirely my music that I’m singing to, y’know? When I’m writing my own music, I think I have a slightly different singing approach, and when I’m responding to the music of Interpol, it brings out other facets of me.
“But what I would say was that I was mid-stride, creatively, and that definitely helped. I hadn’t taken like, a year and a half off and not sung for a while, and then come back to the band; I’d been in gear already. It’s not so much that I discovered things that I wanted to bring to Interpol, it was really that when I went to work on the Interpol songs, I was already in the right frame of mind.”
For now, writing new material has been pushed down the list of priorities, in any case. More important has been the integration of the new members into the touring band – former Slint guitarist David Pajo will replace Dengler, and Brandon Curtis, ex-Secret Machines, joins on keyboards. At the moment, it’s unclear whether the pair will become permanent members or participate in any future writing sessions, although Banks claims that rehearsals so far have been an “awesome experience”.
“Creatively, we haven’t tried it yet without Carlos,” he says, “so we just don’t know yet. All that remains to be seen. I think we’d be lucky if they were, I think that’d be super-dupes – but y’know, it’s still really early.”
As for his own musical endeavours, he refuses to be drawn on Interpol’s future, but says further solo material is a certainty – although not necessarily under the Julian Plenti banner. “There’s tons of old songs that didn’t go on the first record, and there’s lots of new stuff I have, too.
“I think I was comfortable doing it concomitantly with the band, but I think it all just remains to be seen. We’ve got a lot of touring to take care of first. I’ll talk to you about it in a year.”