Interpol frontman Paul Banks lightens up (a little) on new solo album (interview)By John Wenzel | November 23rd, 2012 | No Comments »
Paul Banks projects an inscrutable cool, steely and measured but with just enough heart and humor to be relatable.
And that persona extends to his band, Interpol, which helped define a certain dark, post-9/11 ambivalence from its perch atop New York’s indie music scene.
So it may surprise some fans that for his first solo album under his own name, Banks is actually having fun. Or at least as much fun as the writer of songs like “Evil” and “Always Malaise (The Man I Am)” can have.
“With the solo thing I’m not thinking about what I’m doing, I’m just making songs, and I’m really gratified in that sort of director’s role,” said the 34-year-old English-born baritone, who plays the Bluebird Theater on Tuesday. “It’s so much different than when I participate in a collaboration with Interpol. I’m not the director, so someone else, like (ex-bassist) Carlos (Dengler) would do the string arrangements, or Daniel (Kessler) writes the guitar progressions that become Interpol songs.”
“Banks,” released last month by Matador, softens and highlights different regions of its creator’s artistic persona, albeit with a broader sonic palette. It’s not a great departure from Interpol’s usual tricks — a minor-to-major-key melodic change here, a thunderous drum break there — but it does justice to Banks’ admitted influences of Folk Implosion, the Doors and even ’90s hip-hop.
“I’ve always written songs since the late ’90s at least, and there were songs from that period I wanted to put out,” said Banks, referring to his first “solo” album, 2009’s “Julian Plenti Is a Skyscraper” (released under the name Julian Plenti). “It took a long time, but it was a retrospective of earlier work, sort of an off-loading. Having done that, it was like getting rid of this creative baggage that was holding me down. And now the gates are open, and it’s off to the races.”
Indeed, when “Banks” works, it feels immediate and refreshingly simple. The programmed beats and off-kilter notes on “The Base” invoke a lighter-touch Interpol, and it’s hard to imagine Banks’ main band giving enough air to instrumentals like “Lisbon” and “Another Chance.”
But for a notorious perfectionist like Banks, the road is the real proving ground. Take a song like “Young Again” — one of the best on “Banks” and an early single with its sarcastic, deflated chorus. If it doesn’t come together seamlessly in concert, it’s simply not worth playing.
“Nobody wants to get out there and not own the material,” said Banks, who rehearsed extensively with his new band for the tour. “There are different types of music, and sometimes you can walk out and wing it. But I really like making compositions and executing those compositions the right way. Then you have a definite goal.”
What’s less clear is the future of Interpol. Fans usually want to know one thing when the leader of their favorite act releases a solo album, and that is, “Is it any good?” But it’s not the only thing on their minds. Implicit in the first question is a status update on the future (or potential demise) of the main band.
Banks has said Interpol is very much alive, even if it’s getting along in years. On Dec. 4, its influential debut “Turn on the Bright Lights” gets a 10th-anniversary deluxe reissue from Matador, including a remastered main album, outtakes, live performances and videos.
Whether it’s coincidental timing or a smart, deliberate marketing strategy, Banks’ solo ship could hardly fly through a better window. And as he often does, Banks argues that it’s just him being him — an earnest artist writing songs with no aim other than to play them well for people who appreciate them.
“I’m not doing this because I suddenly have the creative drive to write songs,” he said, when asked about the timing. “It’s that I’ve gotten my (stuff) together to do it. So it’s always been part of what I do. I guess the best way to look at it is as a new starting point. But creatively, I look at it as an evolution.”