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Sunday 18 February 2018

Interpol's frontman Paul Banks happy to be in Dublin - home of his hero, Bono

Interpol in past years
Ed Power

Ed Power

You expected a guy in a suit. On stage and in their press shots, Interpol are never less than rigorously dapper – for going on 15 years, the New York indie rockers have been, by a considerable margin, the best-dressed band in alternative pop.

So it's surprise when frontman Paul Banks swings into his Olympia theatre dressing room, shiny track-top and red beanie paired with blindingly bright green trousers. In the event of a power-cut, the glowing pants could probably guide us both to safety.

He's been mooching around Dublin, the band's base for the next three days. Halfway through their first tour since 2011, Interpol are bunkering down for an extended residency in the city. Banks is happy to be here: he has his haunts and there are rumours U2, close friends of the New Yorkers, may attend one of the shows. Should that come to pass, you can take it Banks would be chuffed: he looks up to the Bono and friends enormously, regarding them as role-models for any musician shooting for a long-term career.

"My girlfriend has been close to U2 for many years," he says, somewhat elusively (his current squeeze is not known to the media – unlike his ex, model Helen Christensen). "They're really good dudes. One does learn a lot from [U2's example]. Part of their longevity, I think, is that they've got this gang thing going on. Maybe it's because they are Irish – they are smart and family-oriented. They are well adjusted individuals, as far as people in rock bands go. That is something you learn from."

He defends U2's controversial album giveaway of last year, feeling they were treated harshly. "They did a really wonderful job. Bono is a bright dude. He explained very clearly what the band was doing. When he had to issue another statement down the line, after things had gotten hairy, again that was very articulate, very humble. They tried something really cool."

Interpol' s new long-player has been more warmly received than U2's. Sharp and zesty, El Pintor is widely hailed as a return to the punchy goth-pop of the trio's early period. Though Interpol certainly didn't set out to repeat themselves, Banks appreciates why fans might draw parallels. After two relatively avant-garde records in 2007 and 2010, the departure of bass player Carlos Dengler helped clarify the creative process.

Review: Interpol at Olympia Theatre, Dublin 

"Albums three and four were experimental in the context of what Interpol does," he says. "That had a lot to do with the songs Daniel [Kessler, guitarist] was writing – but also with what Carlos wanted to do. After he left we were, as a three-piece, responding [to changed] circumstances. We didn't want to do left-field music."

It has been reported Dengler was unhappy for some time and that, in the end, the rest of the group were relieved to see him go. When he finally quit, was it a weight off their shoulders?

"As far as clouds lifting, well conversations became shorter. Not to slag Carlos off. Yes, it made it easier,  in the sense that if you have four cooks in the kitchen making stew and are then reduced to three, it makes for a slightly less complicated stew. The question is, can you still cook a good meal?"

Banks met guitarist Kessler in 1997 while studying at New York University. They spent years playing icky clubs on Manhattan's Lower East Side and came to the attention of storied independent label Matador. In 2002, they released their debut Turn On The Bright Lights, and attracted cheerleaders such as David Bowie and Bono. At the time, gritty guitar music was making a comeback. Alongside The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol were trumpeted as saviours of New York rock. 

With success came endless touring - and endless partying. For a while it was fun, says Banks. Eventually, the novelty wore off. He had wanted to release his own songs (and would go on to put out two solo LPs). But he could not hope to record and perform with Interpol AND carve out a separate artistic identity if constantly nursing a hangover. It was either the booze or the music. He chose the music.

"It got dark," he nods. "If you look at photos of me from back then, I look bloated. It wasn't just [burgers] – it was beer. I had to get my s*** together. Starting out, you can sustain both. When you begin showing up really late to rehearsals, when you don't have that spark, when you get fat… the chances of me putting out a solo record and working with Interpol were slim. Something had to go."

El Pintor is out now.  Interpol play Olympia, Dublin tonight (Tuesday), Wednesday and Thursday.

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