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Q&a Paul Banks - the Interpol frontman on his new solo album, ditching Julian Plenti, "moving his horizons" & more

Q&a Paul Banks - the Interpol frontman on his new solo album, ditching Julian Plenti, "moving his horizons" & more
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With Interpol taking a break between albums, frontman Paul Banks returns with his second solo record, Banks, next month (22 October). However unlike his first effort, released under the name Julian Plenti, it’s all in his own name this time (the alter ego was name-checked on his recently released EP). With Banks in London last week, he sat down with Q to discuss the record, identities and much more.

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How the devil are you?

“I’m alright. I’m fried. I’ve been in Europe since Monday, five countries, five days…”

So are the rumours true, you and Julian Plenti have fallen out?

“Yeah [laughs]. Part of the reason I did the EP [Julian Plenti Lives] was to answer the question of what happened to Julian Plenti: he lives! The first record had to be done under an alias for me because I had these old songs kicking around for almost a decade that I’d written and performed as Julian Plenti in the late 90s, early 2000. I just felt compelled to stick to that original vision and I used it as a way to recreate what it would be like to be a debut artist. I was off put by the notion of pushing my solo work at people by capitalising on the notoriety of the band and just marketing my record to Interpol fans. That was something I didn’t want to do because I felt they were very different things and I liked the idea of a debut artist putting something out there and people come to it, rather than shoving it down people’s throats. Once I’d done that there’s now only one song on the new record that dates from that era, I put it on the EP – Summertime Is Coming – but other than they’re all new songs and moving forward I didn’t feel like sticking with the alias.”

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Ok, so what is it that makes the frontman of a band not take time off between records and do not one, but now a second solo album? You could have had a holiday…

“Well, the band isn’t a vehicle for my solo work. The band is based around Daniel’s [Kessler] songwriting, so for me to have an outlet for my own songwriting this is the way I have to do. If there’s any kind of rush it’s more to not hold Interpol up for too long between records, but I do need a break. I’ve worked a lot in the last couple of years.”

When did this album take shape for you?

“I take my laptop on the road and work out ideas in Logic. I was doing that for a year and half on the road with Interpol and came home almost having my record ready.”

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How easy is it to create a record that way in that environment?

“Well I’ve done two records this way now. I’m pretty good at mapping out my songs as demos. Then I take everything I put together as logic to a studio and recreate it all. I don’t think I’d even do that if I was capable of creating good sound recordings myself. I am good at making really good demos with good ideas but they’re not really hi-fi.”

Do you work with someone in the studio then?

“I played every instrument this time. I took up drums a couple of years ago, ready to play on this record. I almost made my goal. There were three songs I couldn’t master the performance on the drums in time so I allocated them out to other drummers. I capitalised on that by picking one of my favourite drummers ever, Sebastian Thomson from Trans AM. He plays on Paid For That and No Mistakes. I used my road drummer Charles Burst on Over My Shoulder and the rest of them are my performance or a beat I programmed.”

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The songs on the album have a very intricate feel, like you’ve sculpted or chiselled them out, does that directly reflect the way you put them together at the demo stage?

“Yeah. I was using the analogy of ice sculpture for my demoing because you can’t overwork one version, you have to start over each time. I would construct a model of a song but I’d fuck up and I can’t fix it. I have to do it again, like an ice sculpture. For I’ll Sue You I built it top to bottom eight times until I settled on the right pieces and the right arrangement. That’s what I do now. I just keep adding layers. Other than some of the strings, it’s all me.”

It seems you almost use those layers, when they come in and out, as an extra instrument on each song?

“Those type of dynamics are also a big testament to [co-producer] Peter Katis. Some of my songs didn’t have those dynamics built in. He opened things up. That’s why I worked with him. He makes so many records so he knows what can make a song more exciting.”

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You use the dynamics of your voice similarly too on this record. Did you find you have more room to move vocally?

“I do think so. I like looking at it as pieces in a puzzle that are fluidly moving and interacting, so sometimes in my head the bass is the priority, not the vocal. That applies when I work with Interpol as well, but some of the interweaving of the dynamics can be a bit more unified when it’s one person doing it all.”

One thing people tend to assume is that because you’re a singer in a band automatically solo album lyrics will be more personal. Is that the case for you?

“I don’t go about them differently. In some ways I’m at a point in my life where there is a bit more direct self-reflection. Young Again is me reflecting back and acknowledging the adolescent in me, the age when I formulated all my dreams and goals and I’ve sort of lived that out. I set those ideas in motion between 15 and 20 and I feel like I’ve spent the last 15 years paying tribute to that original conception of what I wanted to do with my life. Now it’s almost time where I’ve done that now and I think I’m at the end of the road saying, Oh shit, now it’s time to go down a new road, but I’m looking back very fondly at who I was. In that song where I say, jobs are disgraceful that’s not because I would say that today, it’s indicative of the attitude of pure rebellion and anarchic energy I had as a teenager. I’m very fondly looking back at that formative time. It’s carried me all this time, but I’m also acknowledging it won’t carry me further. But on other songs I’m assuming another character.”

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Plus there’s an instrumental on there, Lisbon, which means it can’t all be confessional.

“I wanted to put four instrumentals on this record because I’d really like to carve out that space for myself as something I do.”

While it’s not all personal, do you feel freer to look back because it is a solo album?

“There are songs on Interpol’s [self titled] fourth album where you can hear me moving in that direction. Some of the first person I in that record is not quite me, but not far from me. It’s close to me, but I’ve never been in the position of begging to a women. I feel there was earnestness on that record too. It might be the direction I’m going in. It could be the fact it’s a solo record too, but not consciously. It’s much more arriving at a point in life and taking stock of things. Testament to the stubborn nature in me is the fact I called my first record Julian Plenti. The only person in the world who wanted me to do that was a ten year younger version of myself who had promised himself he would do that. I was obeying an old promise to me. My whole life for the last 20 years has been about following those promises. It’s not a matter of feeling I achieved everything I wanted to achieve, but I gave it a good go and some of my horizons have now moved and I want to do slightly different things. It doesn’t mean moving away from music, but finding new fuel.”

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You name check a few, possibly unexpected, influences for the album like Boo Radleys and Folk Implosion. People seem to be scared to discuss that kind of thing for fear of abuse now, it seems. Why have you gone out of your way to be honest about it?

“I’ve been passing through a phase of a lot of nostalgia in a lot of aspects of my life. Also with me and Interpol, I think we got saddled with what our influences were. It was annoying because I have many, many influences, so it’s particularly an issue for me. I don’t care now whether people realise where I’m coming from or attribute things to what I cherish. What frustrated me was when the influence discussion came up with Interpol, because I’m not ashamed of my influences. I will happily discuss them, but when you’re pigeon-holed as being one thing – which maybe other members of your band did emulate but they didn’t speak to me [explicitly about it] – it becomes: I’m not wearing that T-shirt. The frustration was people didn’t want to hear about my influences, they were telling me what mine were!”

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Any personal highlights on the album? Anything you felt you nailed?

“That’s an interesting question because there are moments I didn’t think I nailed as much as I could. That will pass when I look back on it in the future, I’m sure I’ll just be happy with it. Things I felt I nailed? I’m really happy with Arise, Awake, that one in particular.”

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What’s the live plans this time?

“I’m going to tour it more than I did my first record. I want to give this more of a fighting chance out there than the first one. What I’ve gathered since is that people weren’t sure on some level how committed I was. I had an alter ego, I didn’t do much press, I didn’t tour much. This time I’d like to iterate: I am invested in this, so it’s safe for you to invest in this, I will keep doing this. It’s great now to tour with two records. For the most part I’ve got a band but I’m also going to do some shows that are just me. I’m not sure how that will go down…”

Finally, how’s the day job? Do you have a date you have to be back in Interpol by?

“No, because like I said I want to give this a good shake. I’m going to make sure I don’t burn myself out, so whether that means the band waits a little bit while I get my shit back together, maybe. I spent a long time promoting the last band record so I think it’s normal I would want to give this a good crack. I want this to be a career for me. I want my solo work to be a thing indefinitely, I want to make many records this way so I’m going to do what it takes to establish myself a little bit further on this one. And then whatever, I’ll go when I’m ready. At the same time the band has already kicked around some songs, we’ve talked about stuff. I managed to write my whole record on the road with them, so I’m sure I can contribute substantially to them while I’m on the road with this.”

Paul Stokes@Stokesie

For more, including a free download and live dates head to Bankspaulbanks.com.


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