Q&A: Interpol's Paul Banks on Hip-Hop and Animal Nature

A chat with the Interpol frontman after the release of 'Our Love to Admire': 'This isn't Keats. I always thought, "Get over yourself, dude, it's a rock song!"'

Paul Banks, Interpol
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Paul Banks
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'It's a young band's rite of passage to get fucked up and enjoy life from that angle," says Interpol frontman Paul Banks. "But eventually your morale will suffer if everyone's cracked out all the time." With two albums (and plenty of debauchery) behind them, the New York New Wavers embarked on their third record, Our Love to Admire, with a crystal-clear determination. "There have been rocky patches in the band, but these days everybody realizes the importance of being a unit and focusing on our passion musically," says Banks, 29, from a hotel room in Cleveland. That new professionalism helped Interpol score their highest-charting album ever, debuting at Number Four. "When we love it," says Banks, "our fans usually do too."

What have you been listening to lately?
I've been revisiting Vaudeville Villain, by Viktor Vaughn. And I'm a big Wu-Tang fan — I've been really into Liquid Swords.

Were you always into hip-hop?
The first thing I was utterly immersed in was N.W.AStraight Outta Compton and N.W.A and the Posse. The raunchiness really struck a chord with me. I memorized every word.

Were you a "wigger"?
No, no. I was just a fat little kid. Then I got into classic rock like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Aerosmith — "Dream On" was the reason I first picked up a guitar. Then I was way into Nirvana. I saw them in a bullring in Madrid, front row, and that made me want to become a musician. After Kurt died, I really resented everybody getting into Green Day. I was like, "A fuckin' legend just passed!"

"Dream On" isn't easy to play.
I only learned the fuckin' intro. In high school, everybody was playing Extreme or rocking out to the hits, but whenever I tried to learn a song, I'd get sidetracked and write my own. I can't play anything except originals. And I can't wail.

Tell me about the record sleeve for Our Love to Admire.
The cover photograph [of lions attacking an antelope] was taken at a store in Utah, and most of the other photos came from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. There's a great juxtaposition between nature and our work. Our music is very meticulously composed, and there's something about the chaos of nature that felt provocative and playful. I'm really into design, and everybody was feeling it, which is good. Our band is a democracy, so sometimes it's a nuisance, like, "God, I wish I could be the dictator of something!"

Why didn't you include your lyrics with the liner notes?
This isn't fucking Keats. I always felt there was a slight pretension in rock lyrics, in that they are often written in stanzas and poetic form. I always thought, "Get over yourself, dude, it's a rock song!" But after we started going to foreign countries for the first album [Turn On the Bright Lights], people were like, "What the fuck are you saying?" because the vocals were pretty low in the mix. Then we started putting our lyrics online.

You guys are sharp-dressed men. How important is looking good to sounding good?
It's not important at all. I love bands that have been anti-fashion, or scraggly-looking. And if I go see music that I love, I have my eyes closed in the first place. As musicians, though, [our style] has a bearing on our mind-set. I like the idea of our performance being a formal presentation.

You guys are booked to play Madison Square Garden in September. That's crazy!
It might seem like a vanity thing or some kind of conquest, but we didn't want to fuck over any fans who wanted to see us. It's a risk, but it'll be a great honor. And you're right, it is fucking crazy.

This story is from the August 23rd, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 1033: August 23, 2007