Interpol’s sixth album takes its title from a facet of frontman Paul Banks’ personality. The Marauder, they’re a dark figure. Charismatic, magnetic, but destructive too. A danger to all but themselves.
And if the accompanying press is to be believed, it’s a persona best left to the past. Yet this gives rise to a question — if this hard-partying frontman has left his most decadent of days behind him, if he’s no longer that self-same Marauder of Interpol past, who is he?
Let these words that follow shed a little light, now that Marauder is out in the wild.
Music Feeds: From a very young age, your early teens, you were certain that you wanted to be a rock star. Is that right?
Paul Banks: From 15.
MF: What is the ‘rock star lifestyle’ that pulled you in?
PB: But I will say, my friend, it wasn’t at all the ‘rock star’. I would say it for shock value when I was 15. If the guidance counsellor would say, “What do you want to be when you get older?” I’d say, “A rock star!”
And it was Nirvana – the one, the band that solidified the dream for me. But I will say in all honesty I never envisioned tour buses and private jets and celebrity.
It was never about that. I think it was something in – there was a such a pure form of expression coming off of Kurt Cobain. I think it was that sense of like… I don’t know, it felt like, “That’s the job! That’s the most honest thing that anyone can do.”
It seemed so cathartic and full of energy and authenticity. I think it was more that the aspiration was to be a professional musician. I had no concept of the trappings of stardom. So that wasn’t something that drew me to it.
MF: You’re a rock ‘n’ roller but at the same time there’s a big hip hop influence in your world too. One way you’ve put it before is, “I don’t listen to what you want to hear I listen to.” How does it all fit together in your head? It seems that like with Interpol you can sort of switch one part on and off then do the same for your solo projects. Either way you’re all in…
PB: All in? In what sense?
MF: Well it seems like you can get into this hip hop mindset or this rock mindset depending on the project. But I guess coming from New York hip hop is one of your native art forms, as is rock ‘n’ roll…
PB: Yeah it is but I don’t see it as two different mindsets. I really don’t. As a listener, it’s just the music that attracts my ear. As a musician, I get a lot of inspiration from my creative collaborators.
I feel like whether or not I’m working with Interpol or with RZA it’s not like I switch some part of my brain on and some other part off. It’s really just more how the music is speaking to me, what the creative dynamic with the other person is sparking in me. I just see it all as things I like and things that I think are cool.
Because I don’t have a rap persona! I don’t rap! When I’m working with RZA I’m playing the same instruments I play with Interpol and singing. So it’s more just that it’s just cool music and stuff that I’m interested in participating in rather than two mutually opposing aesthetics.
MF: Is there anything you’ve been listening to recently that’s stood out for you or captured your imagination a little bit?
PB: Yeah! Well I went back to Frank Ocean’s Blonde record recently and I just think that’s a real masterwork of pure inspiration. I listen to a lot of Drake. I’ve been enjoying A$AP Rocky. Probably the most recent release that I’m really going in on is that A$AP Rocky record.
MF: There’s so much music floating around which makes it interesting too that for this new album, Marauder, you’ve been working with David Fridmann, a figure many of our readers would be best familiar with through his work with Tame Impala, Mogwai and The Flaming Lips. Can you tell me a little about what drew you to work with him?
PB: I think it just kinda just felt like a good idea at this point in our career. I think we were all kind of open to the idea of having a producer chip in during the creative process and give their thoughts. [Drummer] Sam [Fogarino] has actually been a big Mercury Rev fan for years and [guitarist] Daniel [Kessler] too. I think they both bonded in the early days of Interpol over a record called Deserter’s Songs. For me knowing that he’d worked with Mogwai and Spoon and MGMT and The Flaming Lips — those are all band that I’ve spent a lot of time with.
MGMT for me, those first few tracks they released are for me the quintessential, the coolest! The coolest music period. It was funny to me because in my mind when I first envisioned MGMT I pictured some gritty apartment in Paris with all kinds of very hip people doing all kinds of decadent sh*t!
And then you meet Dave Fridmann and he’s just a super low-key guy who lives way out, in the boonies. He’s just a very unpretentious, likeable, down-to-earth dude! It was a far cry from whatever environment I would have envisioned produced MGMT’s music.
I think that speaks a lot about Fridmann. He’s just all talent, no pretension. He was a really great fourth member with us on this record. Sometimes he sort of said, “The track is good, go record it.” In other instances, he had some more nuts and bolts feedback like, “Speed this one up.” Or he told me to write a better bassline in one instance.
But all of his critique and all of his feedback was always really, really on point. You just know exactly what he’s saying. He formulates his notes in a way that’s very easy to understand and process. There’s nothing you can say about a song – no observation – that’s too out there or esoteric that he’s not going to pick up on.
I think he kind of just makes his way into any creative dynamic. I think he’s just so talented and tuned into music that he could contribute to any body of work in development. He certainly found a good place in ours.
MF: What I like about the new tracks I’ve heard so far is that there’s still that Interpol sound, but with Dave, it’s always going to be, well, a little spacey. Take ‘The Rover’ for example…
PB: Well, yeah. I mean he’s got a great touch and it’s really… I know what you mean, and I think there is just a good common ground between the sort of spacey atmospheres that he creates – that sort of sound effect-y stuff that he can do – and what we do in the band. I think we found kind of happy medium.
‘The Rover’ and ‘Number 10’ to me are among sort of the more direct and in-your-face rock songs. There’s other tracks on the record where you’ll find a little more of that lush, spacey atmosphere going on. I think ‘The Rover’ in particular is a pretty stripped down song, so I’m kind of happy to hear that it does seem spacey to you because to me it’s pretty darn straightforward and economic! But I love spacey! So it’s all good.
MF: Marauder seems to be built around this idea a little, but I’ll ask it maybe in a more direct way. How do you see yourself and Interpol now that you’ve gone through this early phase – this youthful phase – of burning the candle at both ends and then maybe matured a little as people and maybe even musically as well? Are you approaching your art differently?
PB: I don’t think it’s been different. Interpol, we have a process of how we write out songs. And I think that within the portions of that process that I contribute, be it bass, second guitar or vocals, I feel like I’ve – hmn. I mean in a nutshell, I’m still having fun with what I do.
I think especially as a vocalist the years of experience I’ve had I think I have refined my process to have less friction. My ideas are born more quickly, and I often feel more good about my ideas and don’t spend a bunch of time trying to second guess them. Whereas I think in the past I’ve sort of suffered unnecessarily to bring an idea out. So I think if anything I’m just getting better and finding my good ideas sooner and then knowing that they’re good ideas. I feel like I lost the question and the answer there!
MF: Could you imagine yourself doing this it at 74? I mean look at The Kinks…
PB: When I’m 70?! I think I’ll probably be retired when I’m 70! Or maybe, maybe a wooden stool and an acoustic. Maybe that’s my future when I’m in my 70s.
MF: [Laughs] I can picture it.
PB: It’s not so funny to me, I’m serious! [Laughs] But, yeah. ‘Interpol On Stool’.
MF: Well you see it a lot with these older musicians. There’s something that keeps them going well past the point you might have retired from in a more typical vocation. They want to keep going, they want to be onstage.
PB: Well I think also that if it’s the thing that you know, why stop? I think it’s really just a matter of if… you know I think if it feels natural it’ll look natural. So I really do genuinely feel that if you feel like doing it later in life then it’ll still probably translate for people still. I just think you can’t ever phone it in.
MF: On the topic of touring. Do you have any plans on bringing the tour down under?
PB: We did do some festivals there around [2014 album] El Pintor, which I remember fondly, and I would certainly expect we’re going to make our way down there. We always have a blast in [attempting an Australian accent] Oz-tray-li-a.
MF: [Laughs] Ozstaylia!?
PB: Sorry it’s Australia. [Laughs] Honestly, I had to resist. Yeah, anyway!
MF: You’re touring quite extensively too once Marauder drops. How are you feeling going into all that?
PB: Good! I mean we’ve done a couple of shows. We just got back from Mexico City where we did a few shows and they were a blast. We’ve got a number of tracks from the new record now up and running live.
We haven’t unveiled all the songs that we can play live yet, but all the new tracks feel awesome! I will say that. There’s a couple of songs that I’m really looking forward to playing live because as I say we’ve rehearsed them in the context of rehearsing a whole show and they just do have this kinda bounce, brass-in-the-room brand f*cking new!
And it feels really good to play them. I mean I don’t remember ever getting ready for tour and saying like, “Oops! The new songs don’t sound good!” But kinda at the same time, I just feel that these ones feel special. They have a really ebullient feel when we drop into them in rehearsals. So I’m stoked. I think it’s gonna be fun!
MF: Do you ever get a sense of that when it’s at the writing stage or a recording stage? That a song will fit into your set in a certain way or just go over really well? Or does it just sort of happen when it happens?
PB: It just happens when it happens. And I think that’s a better, more enjoyable, creative mode for me. Just song by song, moment by moment.
I don’t think, “How does this chorus sound relative to songs we wrote five years ago?” I just think, “This chorus right now is f*cking kicking off in the room as we’re writing the song!” And that’s f*cking exciting!
I don’t know. These songs, they just played out really easily which is great. I think we have some songs, some of them are even fan-favourites, but it’s like a thing to replicate them live. It’s like a complicated puzzle to put together on a stage. Some of these new songs that we’re playing from this record just kind of feel like, “Whooph!” I mean open a can! [Laughs] “Smells good!”
‘Marauder’ is out now.