Interpol front man Paul Banks on making his first album under his own name
My solo work is beyond a departure from Interpol. Being a solo artist is a whole other species of being. Interpol is a collection of artists; I am a singer and a guitarist in the band, not the principal songwriter. This is a fundamentally separate venture where I am the principal songwriter.
I wrote this album while on the road with Interpol, on my laptop in hotel rooms. When I first started as a musician, I was just a guitar player, but I was writing songs that I felt didn’t carry themselves with one guitar. Then I found a software program [Apple Logic Pro] that allowed me to create the compositions that I was hearing in my head. I was always hearing the accompanying parts in my head, but when you’re in a band and everyone is his own autonomous member, you can’t dictate what goes on. The band comes to decisions as a group.
Logic Pro allows me to compose like I could with multiple instruments. The only similar thing that I can think of is if you were a musician back in the day and you had an orchestra, you could say, “Do this, do that.” A lot of live musicians don’t like this kind of software because now a lot of film scoring is done with fake strings instead of real strings. But from a compositional standpoint, having the ability to create a full band orchestration on my laptop, to dial in trumpets when I want trumpets, has spurred a creative explosion. It was a total lightbulb experience: I can create anything that my mind hears because of computers.
The majority of being an artist is being an editor. There’s never a concept going into any piece of music that I’ve helped create. Music happens, and I say no to the lame stuff and yes to the good stuff. But I’ve never made a record thinking, “This record is going to be like that.” I just sit down with a guitar, and every once in a while an idea will come, and I say, “This is cool” or “This part isn’t working. I need to nix it.”
My music is never all that confessional. There’s never a story with me. If I sat down and said, “This is the experience I had, and now I’m going to encapsulate it in music,” I would come out with lame stuff. Relating a specific mood is more apropos to what I try to accomplish with music. My songs are attempts at capturing a mood or even generating a little musical world, and then that world has its own laws, and the mood fits into that composition. This album is a collection of moods—nostalgia, reverie, longing, anger. I’ve got my rage song on this album, which is as cathartic as you’d expect it to be. It’s called “Paid for That.” That one was definitely triggered by moods I was experiencing, and it was a super-healthy way to process that anger.
I’m highly stimulated in different ways. Writing this record while I was at the beach, so happy sitting in the sun, surrounded by nature, I worried that I wouldn’t want to pick up the guitar. Living in an urban environment, stimuli are constant and varied, so I was concerned that I wouldn’t have any good ideas on the beach, hardly seeing anyone, not going out. But I was incredibly creative there, and I wrote some of my favorite music while basking in the sun and surfing. I saw that as a really fortunate thing and a sign that I was on to something positive. It’s hard to say how that specifically translates. These songs don’t sound like beach songs, with the exception of “Lisbon,” which has that kind of swing, but it’s more about stimuli. How does the city impact my music? That’s a really abstract question. How do you trace the course of that inspiration to your music?
When I get weird and don’t worry about pop structure or vocal parts, I enjoy the songs that are more instrumental or experimental. A lot of times I feel like there are some hits and misses, songs that I felt were not as strong as other songs. Then I do weird math where I think, “If I’ve got six strong songs and four weak ones, then that’s OK because the balance is in favor of strong material.” But with this album, there’s no weak point. A favorite would be “Another Chance” or “Arise Awake.” I dig this record because there are no moments on it that are my least favorite.
CARY RANDOLPH FULLER is the women’s fashion editor at Ralph Lauren.