The last ten years have been kind to Paul Banks, fifteen if you count all the hard work prior to Interpol’s initial mark on the music scene as the next “New York cool” buzz band with their first effort, Turn On The Bright Lights (Matador). One can only imagine that being in a “marriage” that long could lead to some pent up creativity along the way. And so, Julian Plenti, Banks’ former performance moniker was reborn against raised eyebrows from Interpol fans like myself. Though we all stopped wincing once we heard the music, once we gave it a shot.
Now Banks now makes his first steps forward under his given name, Paul Banks with a recently released album called Banks (Matador), a conscious decision he tells me over the phone en route to Chicago for the first of many tour dates (a tour which will bring him to D.C’s Howard Theatre tonight and NYC’s Webster Hall on 11/13). The Plenti name was revived and stayed around as a way to transition old songs to new, to differentiate between democratic means of collaboration to the more dictorial approach a solo project demands. Banks plans to stand on his own properly named feet with future tracks.
Even still, it must be hard, I ask him, to write under different situations both of the before-you-were-famous and not-in-a-band variety. Banks admits, the vocals of Interpol were directly a response to the music (say, Daniel’s most excellent guitar riffs or Sam’s impeccable drumming) but that evolution as an artist, regardless “is a natural progression”. Old themes of sex and death like you see with Interpol aren’t necessarily the focus of Banks simply do to time and space. The departure from the cliched aggression within Interpol’s music wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision, nor was it a deliberate choice to be very tender. “There should be a difference between this work and the band’s work… [because] I always wrote on acoustics. It can be cool to do electric, but I’ve always like acoustic.”
Recently Banks released a video for the song “Young Again” off Banks, with a treatment of Banks’ own creation (“with some input from director, Sophia Peer who rewrote it in a way she thought she could shoot”) that hones in on the theme of a return to the school yard days of adolescence. “The original concept is me in school, Banks assures me that the surprise ending with him pelting dodgeballs at the youngsters who knocked over his lunch, tripped him in the hall, and generally played trick was all “movie magic.” So you heard it here first, no children were harmed in the making of this video!
And there’s not much word yet, at least relayed to Banks, about the upcoming feature film he’s starring in called Mine To Kill, directed by James Kendi and scored by Ratatat’s Mike Stroud. “A friend of mine had a creative idea and I was more than happy to be a part of it,” says Banks.
A huge fan of hiphop, Banks put that taste to work for him on his intermittent EP, Julian Plenti Lives.. this past September. When questioned about why he chose to cover such songs as J. Dilla’s “Mythsysizer”, Sinatra’s “I’m A Fool To Want You” and the ever-surprising (but totally approved by me) theme song off The Running Man “Perimeter Deactivated” Banks admits it was all for nostalgia’s sake. “I was revisiting a lot… indulging in a lot of nostalgia. The internet, you know, it’s just a great archive.”
Finally it’s hard not to focus on recent events, like New York post-Hurricane Sandy or the election when talking to someone who’s been so vocal or present about both over the span of his career. I asked Banks what it was like to see a city so beloved be brought to it’s knees and he quickly corrected me. “Well I mean it wasn’t. It was sort of amazing and totally strange to go back to the dark ages and have no phone, no power or water in downtown Manhattan. It wasn’t just a small, localized thing. It was a large portion of the city. I mean it was strange, but at the same time people kept orderly and drove without traffic lights. It wasn’t bedlam and chaos. And towards the end of the week businesses where reopened again with generators, gas grills and candlelight. It was a really cool kind of neighborhood community. I think adversity has a way of helping maintain and build relationships. Except for the areas that were completely demolished, lower Manhattan was just no power. I know there was lots of damage, but I didn’t see that first hand.
And did you vote, I asked expecting him to be enthusiastic. “Ahh… No.. No… I totally dropped the ball on that one.” While I appreciate his honesty, you all have my permission to harass him about this tonight at the Howard.
All photos by Shauna Alexander for BYT