Paul Banks
Photo by Eric Guillemain © Trunk Archive

Paul Banks: “I feel like they’re evocative enough”

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Short Profile

Name: Paul Julian Banks
DOB: 3 May 1978
Place of birth: Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, United Kingdom
Occupation: Musician

Interpol's new album Marauder is out 24 August 2018 via Matador Records.

Mr. Banks, who are the writers that inspire your songwriting?

I’ve aspired to Vladimir Nabokov. He has always signaled elegance to me, and beauty in language. Henry Miller has always been the marker for honesty. Thomas Mann was trying to figure out certain concepts of human behavior that are beneath the surface, that are not fully understood — I like that idea of talking about subtle behaviors, when we don’t yet know why exactly we behave the way we do. And I love Charles Bukowski, too! Bukowski is probably closest to what I actually write. All of them have some influence on my writing, but Henry Miller is my favorite.

Your lyrics for Interpol remind me of Henry Miller’s writing more so than Bukowski.

I’ve always loved his novel Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. It’s from when he was retired in Big Sur. I also loved The Colossus of Maroussi, and the Sexus trilogy — I have a tattoo from Sexus, Plexus, Nexus. I love all of them! He had this quality where there would be pages that were good and then he would get into this zone and there’d be like three or four pages where I felt like writing doesn’t get any better! It was always inspiring but then he had these extended passages where it was like it transcended. The flow feels so pure from his spirit, so perfect — I can’t imagine how he edited this!

“Sometimes words just come to me and I like how they flow and I like what they evoke. And I don’t know where they are coming from.”

Do you also experience that kind of stream of consciousness as a writer?

Yes! I think I’ve always relied on and embraced a very high level of abstraction. In a way, rather than having a sentiment that I want to express with words, sometimes words just come to me and I like how they flow and I like what they evoke. And I don’t know where they are coming from. I think the Surrealists talked about automatic writing and I kind of feel like that. These turns of phrases, they’re from somewhere underneath my conscious mind, but they’re very honest and true to me somehow. I’ve never, ever used empty language. But I’ve never really concerned myself with whether or not people understand what I’m saying.

Does it bother you when people ask for the meaning behind your songs?

Well, the lyrics to me are like a poem, in the sense that it’s like a condensed version of me. If I’ve already found a way to say something with very few words, why would you want me to say the same thing with more words? I feel like that’s not my job. If the form was for me to write things in paragraphs then I would be writing paragraphs — but I’m writing short lyrics!

And art is not necessarily the place for clear-cut answers.

Right. And I like David Lynch movies, I like things where if you’re confused, that’s fine! (Laughs) Life itself is often very mysterious and I don’t always understand what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling about things. I feel comfortable with language that reflects my uncertainty.

Do you feel that such writing is more honest?

It’s honest to me. For instance, with Interpol I was trying to talk about the human condition, but I didn’t necessarily feel like anything too anecdotal about my life was really how I wanted to explore those ideas. I think typically I’ve dismissed the notion of really literal music and literal lyrics.

Pusha T said that in terms of lyrics, he’s always thinking about the best thing to say and the hardest way to say it.

Hip hop was always fascinating to me because it’s a lyrical genre — it doesn’t rely on harmony and melody, it really relies on lyrics. I mean, from a word lover’s point of view, that’s a genre of music that frequently adds terms to our vernacular. Pusha T is a strong writer, but we have different approaches — I feel like most other writers that I think of are kind of anchored in reality, and being relatable. But now there have been certain phases in my life that I can pull from in my explorations of larger ideas for Interpol’s new abum, Marauder; I can refine the sum total of my life experiences and put it into the structure of a singular anecdotal perspective.

How do you go about that?

For me, I wasn’t the kind of writer in my twenties where if I had one breakup, I felt compelled to write about it. I would rather write about the notion of loneliness. But then as you get older and you have more breakups and you kind of get tired of yourself and realize your own life has had seasons, you’re able to look at things. I think in the past, I felt more comfortable to explore other people’s lives, whereas now maybe, I’ve just had enough time on earth to kind of look at my own experiences. I feel like they’re evocative enough.

“To me, the past albums always feel alive so I just feel this responsibility to do the songs justice.”

How does it feel to perform those early songs these days? Has your shifting perspective changed how you feel about them?

I think if anything I’m very in touch with my inner child, my inner young adult, you know what I mean? I’m not the person that I was when I wrote the first record but I can definitely access who that person was. And I think it’s an invigorating thing to play a song live, in a collaborative band, so the idea that it ever gets tired or forced? I don’t understand that. To me, the past albums always feel alive so I just feel this responsibility to do the songs justice.

Has the concept of the album as an art form changed over the years since you first started?

I feel like the music hasn’t really suffered, but I think the album as a form has. For bands, albums are probably going to stay the format because you don’t just write one song. But maybe now with Spotify, the album is going to rebound. It’s interesting, rappers like Migos did a 24 song record and then Kanye West only makes seven song records now, so who the fuck knows! Hip hop is a genre that is gradually overtaking other forms of music… Especially when you have great producers vying to work with the greatest rappers and singers, that kind of competition creates some pretty amazing results. It’s fucking alive and fresh!