Paul Banks is arguably one of the most influential musicians of our generation. As singer of Interpol he influenced and is adored by generation Y. Be it punks, hardcore, emo, or rock kids, it’s hard to find someone who can’t sing along as the riff from “Evil” as it protrudes from your stereo.
His unique voice combined with amazing riffs is what made Interpol such a success in the early 2000s. From “PDA” to “Slow Hands” the songs resonate. It was impossible to think of New York City and not think of Interpol. Eventually he was bound to break out and do his own thing.
Julian Plenti, aka Paul Banks’ 2009 album “Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper” was a breath of fresh air. While slower and a bit more somber, it showed Banks’ true skin. “On the Esplanade” was an amazing song that humanized him. In a sense it stripped down the music and turned the emphasis to what he was actually saying.
I got the chance to talk with Paul about his upcoming album “Banks.” If lead single “The Base” is any indication of what’s to come, get excited. We talked about the meaning behind Julian Plenti, his upcoming tour, and his new album.
When did you start thinking and composing music for your new album, “Banks”?
I have been working on the songs for the last couple years. A lot of it I wrote when I was on the road for the last Interpol album. There are a couple songs that I have been kicking around for a while, like “Lisbon.” That song almost made it on my first solo record. Another version of “Arise Awake” also was almost on my first record, “Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper.” Basically 8 out of 10 songs that are on the album are recent.
I have to ask—what was the reason behind the change from your moniker Julian Plenti to using your real name, Paul Banks?
It is because when I first started out in New York City, about 12-13 years ago, I was known as Julian Plenti. That was my original stage name and original performance name. When I did my first solo record, the thing that motivated me to do it was all the early material that I had. There are about 4 songs on that first record that go way back to the late ’90s when I was performing under the name Julian Plenti. Those were the songs that I was like; it would be crazy if I turn 50 and I would be the only person who knows “On the Esplanade,” you know?
Yeah, that was a great song.
I guess I just wanted that record to exist to publicly show what I did when I was Julian Plenti. Kind of a retrospect of my earliest work. I was almost Julian Plenti in Interpol. For me when I made that record the idea was kind of to offload this early material. I think it is only strange to everybody else because they already knew me as Paul Banks from the records I did with Interpol. To me it was sort of like, well what if there never had been Interpol and I was doing this solo thing. I also wanted to experience what it would be like as a debut artist. I wanted to have it be a small record that people would discover, rather than a record that would be marketed to a larger group of people that might only know me through Interpol. But anyway, having documented that early Julian Plenti work on my first solo record, I did not see any reason to put music that I have written so much more recently when I was no longer beholden to that moniker. So this record being new material, it would have felt a bit contrived to use the alter ego because the 1st record I released really existed to show my earliest work.
That is really interesting. Where did you come up with the name Julian Plenti?
Well Julian is my middle and Plenti is sort of my porn name I guess. That is the idea.
You recently played at FYF—what can we expect from the upcoming Paul Banks tour?
Just you know some rock, ya know rawk with a long w. It is an interesting thing because this record there is a lot of arrangements and orchestrations. There are a lot of strings and whatnot and I think ideally I would play live with a full string section, but at the same time it is not really cost effective to do it that way. So I stripped it down to a four piece. The base player sometimes plays the keys, and we basically distil the tracks down into the core rock elements and get really tight and rock them really hard. That is the idea for the tour and that is what we will be doing.
Awesome. What are you most excited for on this tour?
I think this is still really the beginning for me. Even though I did the 1st record and to me the 2nd record is just a continuation from that album, it is a step in the evolution that I am trying to go through as an artist. But I think there is still a lot for me to learn, how I want to do this as a solo artist. So I am looking forward to seeing where we take it. I think as a band, this band is going to be a lot tighter then we ever got to be on my first campaign. I did not tour that much for the 1st album and at one point I had a personal change when I was promoting my first record, so we never got to that place where we were really road tight. I think it is really exciting when you see a band playing fairly complicated music very well. I am eager to just see people’s reactions to these songs when they are played live.
Did you change how you wrote the songs for this album compared to your last?
I think on some levels when I first did my first record I was a little bit fuck, I do not know if these songs will come across well live. I think this time I wrote songs where in the back of my mind I was thinking about how they will go over live. These ones I really think are pretty exciting live. It is going to be a pretty tight rock show that we are going to have.
On that note, how do you approach writing solo material vs. writing songs for Interpol?
Well Carlos and Daniel started Interpol and I sort of joined to be the vocalist. Well actually I did not even join to become vocalist, I joined to be another guitarist and we did not really know who was going to sing. It turned out that I had lyrics and could carry a tune. I did not really feel that someone else could sing my lyrics as they were so odd. The songwriting process was started as Daniels songwriting outlet. Over the years we found a formula that worked where it originates with a composition of Daniels, and it filters though the other members of the band. That is kind of the formula we stuck with. Because of this I had the necessity to create an outlet for my own song writing. This spawned me creating a solo effort as an outlet for my ideas.
How do you think traveling around as a child affected or your taste in music? Did it give you a bigger perspective?
To be honest I would actually say it gave me a more narrow perspective. When I was living in Europe I was watching MTV just like everyone else. I got the chart topping music just like you. On the same note, since I moved around a lot, I never got into a music “clique.” For example, Carlos and Daniel they really seemed to be part of a “clique.” I guess a good example could be the DC hardcore scene. A lot of the DC hardcore music never made it out of the area. I for example never had an opportunity to be a part of a subculture of music because I was moving so much and going to international schools. It was not so easy for me to delve into deeper levels of music because I did not have the access to it. I was sort of in a setting where there was not a group of punk kids, or a group of hardcore kids.
What kind of music are you listening to right now?
Well I was listening to the new Drake album a lot when I was writing the album. I have also been listening to a lot of Thee Oh Sees. I have been mainly writing music a lot so I do not get the opportunity to listen to a lot of music.
Thanks Paul for taking the time to talk to us.
Follow Kevin Camps @kpcamps.