Paul Banks: Bank's account
He's been called a Joy Divisio impersonator, a musician running out of ideas and Helena Christensen's other half, now Paul Banks tells John Meagher how he sees it
Paul Banks is not amused. I have just told him -- as delicately as possible -- that the final two Interpol albums are not very good, especially when compared to the first pair.
The ex-Interpol frontman exhales noisily. "We could have continued in the same vein for albums three and four, but how fucking boring would that have been?" he snaps.
"I really don't mind that we might have lost some fans with those albums. I guess they didn't get what we were trying to do. But, you know, people might go back to Our Love to Admire and Interpol in the future and see that what we achieved was really worthwhile.
"Anyway, better to lose some people by trying a new direction than lots of people -- and our self-respect -- by simply repeating ourselves. I like to think of those albums as more subtle and complex and there's a likelihood that some people just didn't listen to them enough."
That's me told, then. The 34-year-old England-born, New York-raised singer can be a truculent figure, but his passion is not in question -- especially when he reflects on how free download culture has "wrecked" music.
"I think a lot of artists are afraid to come out and say that taking music for free is wrong, especially when they consider what happened to [Metallica's] Lars Ulrich when he went up against Napster. He was vilified, and yet he was right to take a stand.
"Initially, ripping music was seen as fucking The Man and the big, greedy record companies, but of course it was the musicians who got hurt, especially the fledgling ones who would have relied on record label money to go to a studio to make their first album.
"Unless you're a really big name you've got to tour as much as you can and that can lead to overkill -- and stagnation.
"It's like that magazine story the other week -- how Grizzly Bear can sell out Radio City Music Hall and yet are having to rent these 450 sqft apartments and can't afford to have health insurance.
"So for bands like that -- or me, for that matter -- you have to tour as much as you can in order for you to be able to do this full time."
It's a stark admission from a man whose former band sold more than one million albums and have played in front of 80,000 people (as support to U2 on their 360 Degree Tour).
"Download culture helped make a lot of people feel they could take music for nothing," he says, resignedly.
"But that's just the way it is -- there's no point getting pissed off at it. It'd be about as futile as getting pissed off at babies crying on planes. It's a lost fight."
Today, Paul Banks releases his second solo album -- and first using his own name.
According to the accompanying press release,
Banks finds the singer at his most "disarmingly personal", but clearly the publicist and artist see things differently.
"That's spin," he says, grumpily. "I mean, the last Interpol album has probably the most personal lyrics I've ever written. Some of the songs on the new one do come from that personal place, such as Young Again, but most of what I write is not autobiographical or confessional."
In 2009, he released his solo debut album under the Julian Plenti moniker, and this summer, a five-track EP appeared under that name.
"That was my stage name when I was in college, before Interpol started," he says.
"Many of the songs that were on the album -- like Girl from the Sporting News and On the Esplanade -- were written during those college days and had been floating around in my head for years before I released them.
"I'm done with that period -- and with the Julian Plenti nom de plume. The new songs are just that -- new."
He says he misses the input of bandmates from his Interpol days (Carlos D and Daniel Kessler wrote all of the music for the band's last album), but says he enjoys "playing God" when working on fresh material now.
"It's interesting for anyone who goes from the band environment to releasing music as a solo artist," he says.
"You suddenly feel very naked, very exposed. You don't quite realise that you're sheltered somewhat when you're in a band."
In the promo bumf for his new album, Banks is quoted as saying the Boo Radleys' song, Upon 9th and Fairchild, has been more influential to him "than any band or genre that is ever mentioned in relation to my work".
It's clearly a none-too-subtle dig at those who talk about the influence of Joy Division on his music and how uncannily similar his baritone can be with the late Ian Curtis's monotone vocals. When I mention the words Joy Division, he can barely hide his irritation.
"I've been hearing that since Interpol first started," he says. "It's just become a bit boring to be constantly reminded of it.
"We were four people who were really proud of what we had done on that first album -- we thought we had been original, and then we kept hearing people harp on about this other band. I don't think the similarities are nearly as apparent as people say, but you know, what can I do?" His voice trails off.
Banks is more comfortable talking about his "awe and respect" for Bono.
I mention to him that I saw the pair on the street in Dalkey some years ago, with Bono talking animatedly while the younger man listened attentively. Did the diminutive Irishman have any sage advice to dispense?
"I don't know if he's given me any advice, per se, but if he did I'd certainly pay attention," he says. "I haven't seen much of him recently, but he is somebody who's inspiring to be around.
"He's a very intelligent man and conversation with him is never dull. I look at him like any other music fan would in that this guy is fucking amazing and he has made so much incredible music."
It was Banks's relationship with the model-turned-photographer Helena Christensen that put him into the orbit of the U2 singer (Bono and Christensen are good friends), but he refuses to be drawn on whether he and the Dane are still together. "I just don't want to go there," he says, simply.
Christensen, incidentally, is responsible for the striking photography with this article.
He is more forthcoming about how having a girlfriend who's a famous supermodel has made him a paparazzi magnet. "They seem to go out of their way to photograph people looking tired or unwell or fighting," he says. "It's such a life-sucking industry, so fucking tawdry and a lot of paparazzi creep me out. But unfortunately, there's a market for what these guys do and there are lots of people out there you'll buy magazines full of this rubbish. I just think it's pathetic to be that obsessed with other people's lives, but then some celebrities court as much publicity as they can.
"And yet," he says, with a hollow laugh, "the same fucking people complain about intrusion. I mean, give me a break."
Banks is released today. Paul Banks plays Dublin's Academy on January 20, 2013
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