Paul Banks of Interpol
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Paul Banks isn’t keen on dissecting his own lyrics. But, seeing as so many Interpol fans were introduced to Banks’ languid baritone with the line “Yours is the only version of my desertion that I could ever subscribe to,” who would expect him to be? Still, when “Lights”—the first single from Interpol’s fourth, eponymous LP—was released to the Internet, there remained a mystery to Banks words that begged to be decoded. The lyric “I want you to police me” isn’t alone in dealing with themes of control and restraint on Interpol, but when Banks spoke with The A.V. Club before the band’s Oct. 28 show at Stubb’s, he opted not to comment on the lyrics. Topics the guitarist-vocalist was more willing to discuss: returning to the band’s old home, Matador Records; knowing, yet not knowing, that bassist Carlos Dengler was leaving the band; and how Slint bassist Dave Pajo has filled Dengler’s four-string shoes.
A.V. Club: How would you describe the mood going into the recording sessions for Interpol?
Paul Banks: Typically, in the past, we’ve always written our songs and fleshed them out. We would get it all together before going to the recording studio. I think that, over the course of four records, by this time we were pretty pro, so it was very efficient and calm. There were also pockets of exuberance, like [drummer] Sam [Fogarino] and the engineer spending a lot of time doing wacky mic things with the drums, which, for Sam, is like crack. I had a good time tinkering with pedals.
AVC: Was there a sense among the band’s members that spending some time apart with solo and side projects might help inform how you function as a band?
PB: I think Sam doing his solo record gave him some energy and focus when he came in to write with us, and doing my record loosened me up for when I went to do my vocals. But sonically, [guitarist] Daniel [Kessler] and Carlos had been demoing songs for this fourth record while I was wrapping up my record. It’s kind of refreshing when you do your own thing, and then come back and work with really tight musicians that you’re very familiar with. It shows you how special it is.
AVC: Were you hearing any of those demos while you were working on Julian Plenti Is…Skyscraper? What was your reaction to them? Did it make you excited to go back to Interpol?
PB: Yeah I did. I was kind of caught up; I was really busy wrapping up my record, and that was sort of uncharted territory. I had my head up my ass pretty securely, but I remember thinking it was pretty exotic. I always get excited because I generally have a thousand ideas automatically whenever I listen to the progressions Daniel’s worked on. And then with Carlos’ input, it makes a more complex bouquet that triggers a lot [more] ideas. So, in the part of my mind that was available to think of it, I was thinking “Okay, I have a shitload of ideas for this.”
AVC: Was there anything you were hoping to achieve with Interpol?
PB: The goal, really, was to do it and do it to my own satisfaction. It was sort of an entry point or a first step. I felt like it had to happen, and then it did happen, and that was really all I was concerned with.
AVC: A lot of reviewers interpreted the decision to make it a self-titled record as a “back to basics” statement of purpose. Is there any truth to that interpretation?
PB: No. If anything, we were all trying to push ourselves and didn’t have any interest in “back to basics.” We were more keen on trying some new things. I think the self-title is really just because the body of songs, to me, had a total sense of completeness, like nothing else needed to be added. It was more a formality. We sequenced the record halfway through the writing process, and we had a sort of overarching concept for the whole thing, so it was a little more planned out than what we’d done in the past. So it was like putting a glib title on something that was saying everything it had to say was unnecessary and instead it felt really right being simple and using a straightforward, formal approach.
AVC: What was the concept that drove the decisions for the sequencing?
PB: It was not so much a concept—more so than concepts were discussed when we decided to sequence it, but it was never a concept record. We had it sequenced before we were done writing some of the songs, and in some weird way that might have allowed us to breathe added dimensions of symmetry into the pieces. If ever we’ve approached doing things conceptually, this is the [record] that we did that.
AVC: There’s definitely a shift in the record in terms of mood. “Always Malaise” kind of signals this turn. Is that what you guys were thinking?
PB: Yeah, that’s the turn.
AVC: Was there ever a point when Capitol Records was going to release Interpol?
PB: I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to discuss on that, but we were kind of in a limbo from the beginning to the end. We didn’t have an agreement in place when we finished writing the record. Things had been up in the air on what our next move would be for a while, and when we finished the record, we didn’t have a definitive relationship with anybody.
AVC: How did being in that limbo affect you at that point?
PB: We weren’t really worried. We were coming to terms with the fact that the business had shifted dramatically in the time [since] we had last signed a deal, and that’s something that applies to everyone in the biz. I think everyone in the business at that point was fucked. But we have a fan base, so we weren’t sweating too much. We also really just focus on what we’re working on. We had some business acumen and strategy via Daniel, who has a lot of insight into that kind of stuff, so I think that allowed us to focus our energies on the creative. So we knew there would be a home for the record and that we would just wait and find the right one.
AVC: How would you describe your experience with Capitol working on Our Love To Admire?
PB: It was good. It was always our final say creatively. We never had to enter in and deal with anything unless it was obvious.
AVC: Did you consider any other labels before returning to Matador?
PB: Yeah, we were diligent and we checked the scene—we did entertain and talk with other people. But we had personal relationships and were friends with the people at Matador, and had been over the years we were with Capitol. They did such a good job on our first two records; they were a favorite automatically. It feels good to go back to a situation where you know all the people and people who’ve been in place for a long time.
AVC: How did Carlos inform you he was leaving the band? Were there any signs that he was going to make that decision?
PB: Just like that. He said, “I’m leaving the band.” In terms of signs, I think that functionally we were a pretty healthy band and able to communicate well. We all know each other well, and things had been discussed for a long time, so you kind of know when things are on the rocks. It wasn’t really a bomb dropped. It was unfortunate, and nobody liked hearing it, but it wasn’t a surprise.
AVC: So how quickly were you in contact with Dave Pajo?
PB: We finished writing the record, ostensibly, and we decided we wanted to release it and promote it, so I think after we finished the mixing and stuff, then we said, “Alright, we’re going to wind up touring in a couple of months, so what are we going to end up doing about that.” And that’s when we began discussing Dave Pajo. But it was months before we broached the topic of who was going to play. Luckily, when Pajo came up, he was the only person we considered—and we just locked it in.
AVC: How do you feel about how Dave has picked up Carlos’ bass parts?
PB: Carlos is the sole author of his bass work, and he’s a really good player. And it’s very involved, and creative lines—never repeats himself. He’s a true great writer in my opinion and an incredible player. Luckily Pajo’s the kind of person that can grasp everything that’s going on, and in terms of a technical player, he’s exceptional. We were able to give him the isolated parts, and he spent a lot of time—the guy’s obviously a perfectionist—so he plays beautifully.
AVC: How’s the fan response been at shows when the spotlight is thrown to Dave—say the bass solo at the end of “Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down”?
PB: Like I said, Dave’s fucking awesome, and it’s been a warming feeling that our fans really respond to the songs. The reaction’s been exceptionally good. All in all, being on the road has been a real pleasure, with the new guys.