On October 18, as New York music lovers line up for CMJ shows, Complex will be throwing its own "Judgment Night" event, in Brooklyn. (You can RSVP to it, here! It's free!) On the right side of the promo poster is a picture of Paul Banks, looking especially hirsute, his mustache rendering his upper lip mossy.
When he picks up the phone, he seems low-key and cool, sounding like the kind of person who can ride the subway without being noticed at all. And yet, he's sold a few million records and been lauded by critics everywhere; a couple of years ago, his band opened up on a few dates for U2. Yes, that's right: Banks earned his stripes as the lead singer of Interpol.
For the past few years, though, he's steadily been making a name for himself—it just so happens that, for much of that time, he was acting as "Julian Plenti." In a few weeks, he'll be stepping out of his own shadow and releasing his first LP as himself. Appropriately, it's called Banks.
Interview by Jeff Rosenthal (@itsthereal)
You're co-headlining Complex's CMJ event. Now, Paul Banks is a pretty good name to put on a poster, but if I were you and I wanted to put my name on a poster, I'd go as your alter-ego DJ Fancypants.
Is that right? It would look good on there! It might look good in print, but I'm trying to keep the focus on the album.
You know, I read on Wikipedia that you left Britain at the age of three. So, I guess the question is: Who is more British—you or Gwyneth Paltrow?
Eh...is she British? She's not, right? She's from California, I think. I'm gonna go with me, then, based on a citizenship thing. I think I'm gonna take that.
Not too long ago, Azealia Banks told NME that she's drooling over you. Have you two met and are you married and I see you have the same last name and is this just the White Stripes all over again?
Ha. I'm not married, I have met her, and this is not the White Stripes all over again. She's cool, she actually worked on an Interpol track. She did a quick BV on one of our songs. We had the same management at the time, and I just wanted a female to do BV, and she was a vocalist...Do you know about the "Slow Hands" cover she had done, before she had kind-of blown up? It was convenient because I liked her voice.
In the three or so years that you've had that mustache, was that all preparation for this Brooklyn show next week?
You're talking about the photo? It's a little extreme! I had to grow it out for something -- that was for...for something for a friend, that I was doing. It involved me growing facial hair.
That sounds like a very normal thing.
I do weird things!
Journalists seem to be astounded that you grew up on N.W.A. and that you have such a hip-hop background, covering Dilla and playing Trick Daddy when you DJ. So I guess my question is, what are white people like?
What are white people like? Is that what you said? How does the set-up of the question tie into what you asked?
I think it's funny that white journalists seem so surprised to see black culture play so largely in your worldview.
You know, I don't think that's a racial thing, though. I don't think it's white people that think that; I think it's journalists and people who don't know me personally. I think it used to bother me, that they found it surprising, but then I found that—based on the work that I put out—there's not really any blatant indicators that I would have this passion for hip-hop.
Like, if you just look at Interpol's first couple of records, I can understand that though I talk about it in the press, people are only listening to what's out and saying, 'Well, there's literally zero connection here, so what are you talking about.' Musical influence plays out in strange ways. I don't really fault anyone for thinking that, and I don't think it's a racial thing. I think it's more about being known as an indie rocker associated with kind-of cold, melodic guitar rock—and that that is the guy saying he grew up on NWA, it's kind-of...the two things don't jibe.
It's just the reality, though. I think I have diverse musical tastes. Michael Jackson preceded my love of hip-hop, and then hip-hop went to classic rock and classic rock went to grunge, and then I came back to hip-hop. That's just an arc of my musical history—but I get why it astounds people. I think, moving forward, with the more music I put out, I think more apparent the musical influence will be.
I think it's just a generational thing. Like, kids these days seem to be able to explain away that they were influenced by multiple channels, whereas older people didn't really grow up with the luxury of presenting themselves one way but still being touched by something completely different. It's not an original point, but it probably all goes back to Napster.
Sure, yeah. And it's really just a matter of having multiple passions, you know? There's a few things that I really care about I've always sort-of said: the one way I can tie this very clearly, my interests, together is...in terms of rhythm, and funk and soul and rock and that heritage—and hip-hop has an overlap with that heritage, just in terms of rhythm and beats and whatnot—it's not a stretch from rock.
If you add some bottom and some samples, you have the original hip-hop beats, and the original hip-hop beats don't come from hip-hop; they obviously come from other genres, which then influence rock as well. Hip-hop isn't really a melodic genre; the focus I think is really on lyrics, and rhythm. I mean, that all kinda correlates with folk music, where the importance is also in the lyrics. There's all of these overlaps! It's an easy leap for me to understand. I guess people kinda look at genres and compartmentalize them, but maybe your generation tends to do that?
Oh, no, I don't think I'm that much younger than you. It's just something I've noticed with older and well, younger people.
It's totally because of the Internet, too. I think the times are changing in terms of that; I agree with your point.
And speaking of the Internet —segue!—you haven't tweeted much, but you did tweet out: "Dress shoes and sweatpants." As this is for Complex, and they care about things like fashion, what other sartorial advice have people been missing out on?
Ah! I think it's really about what interests me. You know, I'm sort-of an appreciator of fashion, in terms of practice...I tend to do what makes me laugh. You know, if I'm going somewhere formal, I can clean up. But if you don't have to like, get dressed up to go to the office, then I think it's just a form of self-expression and that's just a look. You know, maybe throw on some neon with the sweatpants and dress shoes, and you're gold. Even add a gold watch. It's a look, you know?
Yeah, I mean, it's definitely a look. I don't know if it's the look, but it's definitely a look.
I would applaud people if they did that.
My background's mostly in hip-hop; I don't really get to talk to too many indie musicians, so I was just wondering: what's your go-to karaoke song?
Uh...ugh. I would say "Horse With No Name." I've only done karaoke twice, and I felt like I excelled at that song.
What are the expectations of a professional singer when they do do karaoke? Like, is that why you don't do it?
[Laughs.] No, no. It's because I never really thought it was that much fun. But yeah, there's totally that, because I was with the guy who ran my label and he felt he was better at karaoke than I was. I was sort-of like, 'What the fuck?' I had to come back during off-hours to practice the shit. But really, I just don't get the appeal.
Just to circle back, just to clarify: your new solo LP is dropping on October 22. It's called Banks. Is it too late to re-name it Fancypants?
To attend the "Judgment Night" concert, which will feature performances from Action Bronson, Interpol's Paul Banks, Alchemist, Spaceghostpurrp, and many others, RSVP here.