Interpol's Paul Banks Previews 'El Pintor': 'We're a New Band Again'

"I don't love the expression, but you can say it's a return to form"

Paul Banks, Interpol
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Paul Banks
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Interpol's fourth LP, 2010's self-titled, debuted after founding bassist Carlos Dengler left the band, and when promotion came to a close, the remaining trio spent a few years apart. Paul Banks put out a series of solo releases (including one under the moniker Julian Plenti), drummer Sam Fogarino made a record with his side project EmptyMansions and guitarist Daniel Kessler started working on songs for Interpol's eventual return. On September 9th, that return becomes official when the band releases the 10-song El Pintor, perhaps their best effort since 2004's Antics.

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In his first interview discussing the album, Banks talked to Rolling Stone about his favorite new tracks, becoming a three-piece and why his bandmates don’t let him use a fake name.

How planned was the four-year break between the self-titled and this record?
Well, my solo stuff existed prior to Interpol, but I just hadn't done anything about it until Interpol's third album. But I don't think it crossed anybody's minds that we were done. I think it was just sort of, "OK, now I'm going to go do another solo record, and we'll see where we are." So when I met Daniel, as is always the case with Interpol records, he had a bunch of songs already written. Once I heard those and realized that it was still great music that I was eager to play, we knew we were going to make another record.

The band dynamic must have changed during this time, with Carlos leaving and you focusing on solo projects.
A lot has changed, but it was easy to get back into the swing. It's like stepping into a warm pool. It feels nice to get back into the fray with Interpol. Not to mention, with the respect I have for Daniel and Sam, it's just exciting to play with them and build songs with them. In a weird way, the upside of having a member leave is all of a sudden, you're a new band again. Either that breaks you or it makes you stronger as some new thing. There's an analogy with chemistry that I like: As a kind of compound, we were a four-atom molecule before and now we're a three-atom molecule. The chemical structure of a three-atom molecule doesn't mean it's weaker. It could be a stronger compound or a more radioactive compound. So I feel like we're a new animal, and I think that makes this record pretty exciting.

Do you still talk to Carlos?
No.

It didn't seem like it ended on terrible terms, though.
Well, it's not like he was booted. In any relationship that's nearing a divorce, there's going to be a few years where things are a little bit rough. So it was not a surprise to anyone when he left, I'll put it that way.

What was it like returning to bass on this record?
That came up organically as a result of having writer's block when I was working with Daniel with just a guitar. He was playing me the music he'd written, and a lot of these chord progressions are open to interpretation in terms of music theory, and I found it very difficult to get any ideas on guitars or vocals. We had three rehearsals booked, and it was like, "We're not doing anything because I can't think of anything on guitar, so either we cancel this or I bring a bass tomorrow and see what happens." I brought a bass the next day and we were off and running. We wrote, "Anywhere," which is a pretty big song on the record, the following day.

Besides "Anywhere," are there any tracks on El Pintor that you're particularly excited for people to hear?
Honestly, I think the whole record is really exciting. There's the lead track, "All the Rage Back Home." When we play that in a room together, I feel like my feet raise off the ground a couple of inches, and really only our best work has made me feel that way. That song I think has one of our smoothest choruses ever. There's the song "Ancient Ways," which I think is one of our most sort of fucking pedal to the medal, rock-hard jams ever – just a sonic onslaught, top to bottom. 

And there's a song "Same Town, New Story" which is completely different from anything we've ever done. I can't wait to start playing that one live. It's going to be instantaneously like, "Fuck. Never heard anything like this from these guys." It's cool. I'm really excited about this one.

Daniel called the last record a "return to form," but you responded that you'd never consider an album that way because each one is a progression. I think people are going to consider El Pintor as a return to form, in a sense. Where do you see it fitting with the rest of Interpol's catalog?
I mean, as a professional in this business, what that sounds like to me is an angle. So I love it! It's totally a return to form, let's all talk about how this is a return to form. If there's a positive angle for the press to latch on to, fucking great. That's my sort of PR stance on that.

As far as just being really honest, I think that it's not because I don't think we lost form. But for the people who want to say there's some parallel between this and our first record, then sure. That was our first endeavor together, we were very excited, and we had to prove to each other and to the public that we could make a great record. This is our first time since then when we are, again, a new band with something to prove, because we had never written a record as a three-piece. So I think there is a parallel between our first album and this one in that you can't get that excitement in any other way than starting from zero.

In that sense, it's not just a PR angle. I don't love the expression, but you can say it's a return to form.

Going back to your solo work: is Julian Plenti done? Is he ever going to come back?
Well I did put out an EP called Julian Plenti Lives to sort of answer that.

And I read on a forum that you may be retiring the name.
Yeah, I think I will.  But when I say that the solo stuff existed before Interpol, I was supposed to be Julian Plenti in Interpol. That was my artist name when we were putting together Bright Lights.

We had a band meeting where I said, "OK, I'm going to be Julian Plenti," and they said, "Dude, we're all being ourselves, so why don't you drop the fucking weird name and just use your real name?" So I said, "All right, I'll use Julian Plenti for my solo work, and I'll be Paul Banks for the band."

I think it's hilarious that the band called you out on it.
Yeah, I know. And then Carlos fucking became Carlos D, and it was like, "Well, shouldn't you be Carlos Dengler if I'm fucking Paul Banks?" Whatever.