Q&A: Interpol vocalist Paul Banks talks new record, going solo and his ‘rage song’

Solo tour stops at the House of Blues Courtyard on Nov. 29

Turn on the bright lights: Banks returns to Vegas November 29.
Photo: Helena Christensen

The Details

PAUL BANKS with The Neighborhood
November 29, 10 p.m., $15.
House of Blues Courtyard, 632-7600.

The Weekly caught up with Interpol frontman Paul Banks, touring behind just-released solo effort Banks. It’s his second foray into solo work—he put out an album (mostly comprising pre-Interpol recordings) under the name Julian Plenti in 2009—but Banks marks the first time the singer has ventured into songwriting after life with his longtime band.

How did the process of putting this album together differ from your first solo project?

With my solo stuff, I’d been writing since I was 18, [and] some of that stuff made it onto my first record. It was the oldest material from when I [first] played as Julian Plenti that nagged at me long enough that it demanded that I make my first record. But I never stopped writing. This record doesn’t feature anything that’s quite as old, except for “Summertime’s Coming.” But “Young Again” I wrote in 2006 as an instrumental piece, and few of them are also riffs I’ve had around for awhile. But it wasn’t until the last two years that I began the demoing process of rebuilding all these songs, old and new.

In terms of identity, what were the biggest challenges or frustrations of making a solo record after being so attached to a band like Interpol?

It’s not really about making a name for myself or trying to accomplish this, that or the other, it’s about satisfying this inner need to make music. … So it took me awhile in my mind to realize that I was consumed by being in a band. And then I realized, no, this is me and it’s not going away, so you should build an outlet for that other music that you have. But it’s not the same thing as getting bored of your band or feeling like you don’t need the band. It’s simply that one is this big collaborative group effort, but then there’s all this stuff that can’t be expressed within the band.

Like what, specifically?

Interpol songs start with a progression that [guitarist] Daniel [Kessler] introduces. He’s, in that sense, the primary songwriter. With those guys, I’m a collaborator on those songs. So when I work alone it’s like I’m the director. All of these ideas are as I think they should be, rather than being very excited to work off of someone else’s ideas. I’d never even wanted to be in a band before I joined Interpol. I was a solo artist. I just liked Interpol so much that I really wanted to be a part of it. [But] the two things couldn’t be done within the same vehicle. What I do and what Interpol does are just so different.

There seem to be a lot of references to age and aging on the record. You’re only 34. Do you feel old?

I don’t feel physically old, no. I do feel it [in other ways]. Especially [on] “Young Again,” I was talking about leaving behind a certain adolescent vision of my life. It was a very bittersweet moment of realizing I had this dream as a teenager [of being a musician]…And then I got to a place where I felt like there was no fuel left in that vision, because I had walked down that road. Now I’m at the end of it and a new chapter begins…it doesn’t mean like, now I’m gonna be plumber so much as maybe interpreting what I do a little differently and how I do it differently.

You use a lot of found sound and sampled dialogue on the record. What inspired that?

Since I was a kid I used to really obsessively want to pursue the sound of New York City buses braking. Many, many sounds are musical and many sounds have notes, so if you’re into making textural music, why the f*ck does it have to be guitar to enunciate something?… Some actors, for instance, give the performance a kind of resonance that I think is very harmonious with a singer singing passionately. So I feel like then you got cadence and passion, and if the content of the dialogue is also good, then you’ve also got the lyrics. So for me, oftentimes a sample vocal can be as compelling as a lead vocal.

I know you brought your co-producer, Peter Katis, hip-hop to listen to during the recording process, but he was not really having it. Still, there are definitely hip-hop elements that made it onto the record. Tell me about reconciling that.

He’s just not a big fan of hip-hop. So the reality is that I wrote the beats for the record, and I am inspired by hip-hop. As far as trying to emulate hip-hop techniques musically, it was an interesting way to establish a dialogue with Peter Katis, who is a rock producer. We share a love of music and making music, but we might not see the same greatness in a piece of music. But I think it was also useful for me to show that this is what I’d like to emulate. I think he just kind of did his thing, and the hip-hop comes through in the nature of the pattern that I play.

One song that caught my attention on the record is “Paid for That.” It’s a lot darker and more dissonant than the rest. You’ve described it as your “rage song.” What’s your rage about, Paul?

Ahh. I have a lot of it… I really like lots of types of music, but I particularly like aggro music, whether that’s metal or darker grunge. [That song] is like a catch-all. Because if I wrote it about any one thing, specifically, I think I would get bored singing it, once I got over whatever was pissing me off. I harbor resentments, and I hold grudges, and that’s negative energy, so I feel like a rage song is a way to get some of that out.

You’ve played Vegas a few times before with Interpol. What do you like to do here? Any vices you look forward to indulging in?

I really like Vegas, a lot. I’m kind of a good gambler, and I really enjoy being around all that vice… I mostly play blackjack. Slots are for grandma. When I give away all the money I’ve decided I’m going to give away, then I stop. Then I like to go take in the sights, feel the sleazy energy everywhere. My Vegas vices will remain private.

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