Paul Banks on the joys of getting "Logic-ed up" in his hotel room instead of liquored up on tour
Paul Banks is best known as the charismatic frontman of Interpol, an outfit at the center of the so-called "post-punk revival" of the early 2000s. Banks's rich and resonant voice was the perfect match for the dark atmospheres and urgency of Interpol's music. While on tour with the band, Banks had been working on music of his own on the side, and in 2009 he put out his first solo record under the moniker Julian Plenti. This year, Banks discarded the pseudonym for his latest effort, the aptly and simply titled Banks. We recently spoke with Banks while he was taking some time off the road in Panama and discussed his alternate route into atmospheric music, the creative path for his two solo albums and Leonard Cohen.
Westword: Is it true that you worked at Interview Magazine several years back?
Paul Banks: Yeah, that was my first job out of college.
Did you conduct interviews and write profiles?
I did a couple of times. I was pretty bad at it. [I interviewed] Damon Dash, and I think I interviewed a famous photographer, but I can't remember his name. But they weren't for pieces that I was writing. They would be more for like the mini bio in the front of the magazine where it says something like, "The photographer who shot the cover is this, that and the other." I was mostly a fact checker.
From there, you took other kinds of jobs that allowed you to focus better on your music.
Yeah, magazines are hard. So it was too much work to do and commit fully to the band, and I felt like I was hedging my bets. Then I got sort of mindless minimum wage jobs.
What is it about Leonard Cohen's music made a big impact on you?
Huh. I suppose it's the lyrics mostly, but I don't think you can separate the lyrics from the tone of his voice. And his guitar work is really amazing. I feel like you can actually really say that especially about Leonard Cohen, because my understanding is that he was a writer and poet prior to being a musician, and that his circle of friends kind of looked down on him when he started doing music, because it's like a lower form of writing.
I feel like that sort of almost makes what he does even more special; he's gone rogue from whatever art scene he was a part of simply by being a musician because he was a poet. What compelled him to do that is that musicality. He's not just a lyricist with a guitar; he's a fuckin' bonkers musician. But yeah, I think he just had some of the best lyrics I ever heard. He's on that pedestal, I think, for many. I know for many.
Interpol obviously gets compared to Joy Division a lot. But that music seems to resonate even more with bands like the Chameleons, Comsat Angels and the Sound. Would you say that informed your music as well?
I never heard any of those bands [before starting Interpol]. I've heard the Chameleons since the band put out records. Then someone played the Chameleons, and I said, "Oh yeah, that band sounds really good to me."
You've mentioned at least a few times that earlier in your life that Nirvana was a big inspiration to you. What did you get interested in after that, in terms of music, seeing as Nirvana is more of a straight ahead rock and roll sound. Your own music has more atmosphere, or maybe it just captures a different kind of mood in general.
I don't know where it all comes from. I've listened to a lot of Neil Young, as well. I liked things that weren't so atmosphere driven. But I think it would be the songs by more traditional rock bands that were the most atmospheric that would speak to me. I do think Lou Barlow's work and John Frusciante's work did a lot for me, as far as mystery and mysterious textures and environments of creepiness [go].
But I remember listening to tape bleed in Led Zeppelin songs when I was a little kid, and Pink Floyd, as well. In "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You," there's this moment where there's tape bleed. I thought they had done that on purpose. Before he sings a loud line toward the end of the song you hear the lyric quietly in the mix, five seconds prior, ahead of that actual delivery of the lyric.
As a kid, that just blew my mind. That to me, especially believing it was an intentionally done thing, was automatically looking at the three dimensionality of music mixing and why you would do that and what kind of super ominous effect it creates to hear Robert Plant really distantly shouting a line and then singing it in the foreground.
But I came to understand that that effect may not have been intentional, but simply when information is sitting on a reel of tape for too long, I guess what's on one concentric circle will bleed into another one. That's the last thing I heard as to why that happened on that Zeppelin song.
Also, I got into Sugar, and I loved everything on that record, except for "If I Can't Change Your Mind," which was the single. But everything else on that record was an incredibly atmospheric, ominous fucking masterpiece, every song, including the single, but that was the one song that, as a kid, I would skip over and dig into the rest. So I think I always just had a taste for atmosphere.
When you talk about influences with Interpol, Daniel [Kessler] is the one that introduces the ideas that become our songs, and they were always going through the filter of Carlos [Dengler], who had a very major input into what the band does, and Sam [Fogarino] and myself. So my particular influences as a musician certainly are not the ones defining what Interpol was. I'm one of four people. I think that's why if you're surprised I haven't heard this or that band, Daniel may certainly have heard that band.
It sounds like you've worked on your solo music a lot while you're on the road, using the laptop as a tool. What kind of software did you use for that?
I just used Logic.
Did you write it using guitar? Did you use soft synths or any of that sort of thing?
If I write a guitar line, then I also have an Apogee One, so I can input my guitar into my laptop through that interface. It also has a really good microphone. So I just have a bass guitar and a regular guitar in my hotel room every day, and I would just get Logic-ed up instead of getting liquored up.