Paul Banks on Turn On The Bright Lights' 10th anniversary
Photo By Helena Christensen
Paul Banks has been performing and recording under the Julian Plenti moniker since before his main band, Interpol, even formed. And, after releasing a full-length album and an EP as Julian Plenti over the last few years, Paul has retired his playful sobriquet and is instead using his given name on his new solo album, Banks.
The new songs certainly contain threads of Interpol's dark, brooding sound, and are guided along by Banks' rich, familiar baritone and typically inscrutable lyrics, but the tracks also have an elegant, textured pulse which gives them an adventurous sonic edge that proves to be both intoxicating and enthralling.
Banks is bringing his stirring solo songs (and a talented touring band) with him to the Varsity Theater for a show on Sunday night, and we were able to catch up with him while he was on the road to a recent show in Washington, D.C. Paul opened up to us about how long he's been working on these new songs, why he's done away with the Julian Plenti moniker, and how he feels about the 10th Anniversary of Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights.
Gimme Noise: How long have you been working on the songs that make up Banks?
Paul Banks: For the most part, it's been the last two years or so. But some of the songs are based off of riffs that I had six years ago, and one of the songs ("Summertime is Coming") is from the original Julian Plenti era when I was in college, but basically they were all worked out and demoed within the past two years.
Did you ever consider bringing any of these songs to your Interpol bandmates, or were they always destined to be solo songs for you?
Well, Interpol has a certain specific writing process that begins with Daniel's songs and we kind of go from there, that's sort of how the band works. If they [solo songs] were going to come out, than this was how they would have to come out.
On your previous EP, you declared that Julian Plenti Lives...but on the full-length you switch to your real name. What motivated you to finally release a solo record under your own name?
The first record and the EP were anchored in songs that I wrote years ago when I was playing out as Julian Plenti. They are kind of like my first efforts, really, when I first started to focus on songwriting, but then I just sat on those songs for like nine years and didn't put them on a record or anything. So when I first got around to doing my first solo record, the main motivator was so that I could offload that really early work, and treat it as a retrospective in a way, and basically fulfill the original idea that I had.
So, after having offloaded all of that early shit, and sort of appeasing my earlier idea of what I was going to do and paying tribute to that first vision, I'm done with it. So, moving forward I don't really feel that compelled to use my alter ego because none of the songs on the record, other than "Summertime," date back to the time when I was actually doing it that way.
So, what's the story behind the Julian Plenti moniker anyway?
It's my middle name and my porn name. And I switched it to an "i" from a "y" so that you might think I was an Italian-American (laughs).
Who played with you on the songs that make up Banks, or was that all you in the studio?
I had Charles Burst, who is my touring drummer, play the drum beat on "Over My Shoulder," and then Sebastian Thompson, the drummer from Trans Am, played drums on "Paid For That" and "No Mistakes," and then I had string players come in, but then the rest is me.
Who is in your band on this tour?
Damian Paris is on guitar, he's from a band called the Giraffes and he's a dude I've known for a long time in New York. Brandon Curtis (The Secret Machines) is on bass/keyboards/vocals, and he also has a new project called Cosmicide now. He's a real powerhouse dude. And Charlie Burst on drums. I've known all three of these guys for over a decade now.
Is there a type of double-meaning behind the Banks title, given the shaky financial state of this country and the people's genuine distrust of banks and corporations as of late?
Yeah, I definitely like things that can be looked at two different ways. And I like doing things that are a little obtuse and that you can't necessarily figure out. I like wordplay, and I like the idea very much that the title can either be a topical plural noun or just my last name. And I think the artwork kind of moves it in the direction away from being about my name too, so I like that.
Who did the album art? That's really striking.
Thanks. It's a photo I shot. I shot all the photos for the album.
Lyrically, it's always seemed to me that you give enough away in your lyrics to lead listeners into the song, but the are ambiguous or elusive enough to not give away the whole story. Has that been an intentional creative pursuit for you to keep part of the meaning of the song solely to yourself?
It is, yeah. It's just the way that I write. It's a more faithful reflection of how I perceive things in general -- I don't really see things that have a little bow around them and a neat little meaning, and say, 'Oh, that's what that is, and that's what that means.' Everything is confusion, and you just have to apply your own subjective thought on something before it's really defined. So, if you just made a bunch of vocals that make no sense to anybody, then they wouldn't even feel compelled to try and decipher their meaning.
I'm coming from a place where I could explain what I'm saying more, but I prefer not to, and I also like that idea that maybe you're not going to get that reassuring sense of knowing exactly what I'm talking about. Because whatever is in life that reassuring? I guess pop music, that's the whole concept of it--a little cliched trope and simple digestible meanings and things. But that's boring for me as an artist.
With the 10th Anniversary Edition of Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights coming out on December 4th, can you share some of the memories of what recording that album was like for you and the guys?
That was a really good time. I think first records are always special because band's have X amount of time to write the first one, and we had been at it a long time, we'd been a band for a long time, close to five years almost, before that album came out. There was a lot of excitement when we went into the studio, and since we'd been doing shows and playing out, we all knew what the songs were, and we all got along swimmingly with Peter Katis.
We took it really seriously, and we went hard at it, and in the end we were all really happy with how that record came out. And at the time it was a lot of fun. It was a LOT of fun making that record.
Did you sense that you were hitting on something special right from the start, or were you just too close to the songs to realize just how fucking good they were?
Well, thank you. I think WE were all really excited. I think there was a lot of mutual respect from everyone in the band. I loved Daniel's progressions, and I was in awe of the bass lines that Carlos could come up with, and Sam is one of my favorite drummers in rock. So, I was definitely a fan of what we were doing, but that's very different from thinking that other people were going to be a fan of it.
But my musicality was telling me that these guys are fucking good, and I was having a lot of fun doing vocal parts, and I felt that we were jelling, and we had been jelling for years. I felt like we were a capable group of people, and that we can make some pretty cool music together.
Did you have a big role in the recent remastering/reissue of Bright Lights, or have you been solely focusing on your solo album?
I have been pretty busy with this, but we've all been involved with it. Daniel's sort of been overseeing the process and checking in with us, but he's done a lot of work for it. A lot of it is stuff that's been there that we've all known about for a long time, that was just waiting for a home, as far as the extra material. A lot of it was dug for, but a lot of it is just shit that we knew we had that had never been put out.
Paul Banks plays the Varsity Theater on Sunday, November 25 with Wiping Out Thousands. Tickets for the 18+ show are $15, with doors at 7 p.m., and showtime at 8.
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