Paul Banks on the new Interpol record, working with Dave Fridmann and why he decided to make this album more personal than its predecessors
Interpol did it again! After a four-year break, the New York post-punk trio is back with yet another smashing record.
Announced at a live-streamed press conference in Mexico City and preceded by the searing single “The Rover”, Marauder, the band’s long-waited sixth full-length is coming out on August 24th via Matador Records.
Mainly written in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ rehearsal space in Manhattan and recorded at Tarbox Road Studios in Cassadaga, NY with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT, Mercury Rev), Marauder is Interpol most propulsive and kinetic album to date, once again supremely combining darkness with humour, while bringing back the grittiness of their mind-blowing debut album as well as the buoyancy of Antics.
I caught up with frontman Paul Banks to discuss the different creative process for this record, working with a new producer and why he decided to make this album more personal than its predecessors.
I know you lived there as a teenager, but what prompted you to choose Mexico City as the place for your live press conference that officially announced the release of Marauder?
We love Mexico as a band. I also have a personal history as you mentioned, and I was very impacted by the people when I lived there. I think we just decided that we wanted to do that thing to announce our record and make an impact, and we could have done that in Paris, New York, L.A. or Mexico City. Maybe not everybody realises that Mexico City is a global centre, and it’s culturally as rich if not richer than those other cities that people would normally recognise as cultural hubs. We wanted to do something less obvious, but equally wonderful.
You started working on the new record before the Turn On The Bright Lights 15th anniversary tour last year and then you recorded it between December 2017 and last April. It must have been quite unusual to stop the writing process to go on tour to then go back to it. What impact do you think that had on the creative process?
We don’t write non-stop anyway. Because we don’t live in the same place anymore, when we write we just get together for a few weeks, then we take a break, and then get together again, so having a break to tour was different, but not entirely different. I think what we got from it was a reminder of where the songs were going to end up, which is the stage, and it was good to reconnect with the audience, the live performance and that mind set to keep it live. We were able to get that feeling of live into the studio with us and if anything, it gave us that adrenaline boost and a certain je ne sais quoito the recording to reconnect to the live experience. And that is something I would consider doing again, because taking a break from writing to go perform live was really reinvigorating.
What songs did you write first?
I think “Rover” was pretty early on, then “Party’s Over” and “If You Really Love Nothing”.
During the TOTBL anniversary tour you were playing a new song called “Real Life”. What happened to it? It didn’t make it to the record or you just renamed it?
We played that one live as it was the most ready for the stage and to be honest it was probably the first song we wrote for this record, but by the time we had finished recording all the songs, even though we had played it live, it wasn’t necessarily an integral song relative to the others. We also had to cut a few others tracks that we really liked from the final record, and I think they will all come out and see the light of the day at some point, but we wanted this album to be concise, and I think sometimes less is more.
In terms of your songwriting, was there anything different from the previous records?
For this album, Dan and I would be in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ rehearsal space in Manhattan, and he would play what he was writing and I would come up with the initial bass lines and vocals at the same time. That is why some of the bass choices are sort of interesting, because they were written at the same time as the vocals, and sometimes the bass might sound strange till you hear the vocal is coming in from another angle, creating a certain chord and it would then make sense. That is why this record is more interesting to me as a songwriter, as I made my business to try and write vocals as soon as possible. When I say vocals I mean the initial top line melody and generally the core idea of what the song is going to be about, which like I said I would write with Daniel and then I would go away and write the rest of the words. So for instance in studio, I would write the bass, then the words “If you really love nothing la la la, la la la” and then figure out what that “la la la|” would be later. “The Rover”, “Party’s Over” and “Mountain child” were also written that way.
This is the second Interpol album where you were responsible for writing the bass lines. How much more confident do you think you have got?
It’s definitely an instrument I do really feel comfortable on. I think that rather than me having more confidence, now Sam and I have an even better chemistry as a rhythm section. He is such an incredible drummer and it has always been amazing to be in a band with him, but to be able to experience writing music with him and feel that special dynamic between bass and drums has really been a blast. Now it is even more fun that it was before.
How was working with producer Dave Fridmann? What type of approach does he have? Is he hands-off or does he like to take total control?
He is an exceptional producer and I think he can do both. If you are a band that go to him with just a couple of chord changes and some vocal ideas, he can help you go from that almost nothing to a finished record. But we were a little different, as we had songs almost completely written, and had sent him demoes, so for us he just had general tips like “why don’t you try this song faster?”, “try this other slower” and so on. We had completed ideas and we let him adjust them, but what was great about him is that he didn’t feel the need to adjust every song and overdo it. He is such a great producer because he knows when to step in and when he doesn’t need to.
Was his idea to record the album live straight to two-inch tape?
Yes. The songs were already in a pretty good condition, so that gave him the idea to record them all to tape, and we agreed to go for it. His influence on this record was huge.
Was it the first time that you recorded completely to tape?
We had always used tape, but never typically recorded to tape. There had always been a mixture of Pro Tools and tape, and I think we had always done the overdubs on Pro Tools. This time guitars, bass and drums were all just tape. That meant that for instance, for my guitar, Dave would hit “play” and “record”, and I would play the whole song. It’s not that I could stop for the chorus, get a different guitar and different pedals, it was just an entire live performance, whereas for other records we would have lets say 15 different guitar recordings and we would just take the best parts.
The lyrics are your most direct and autobiographical as yet, with maybe a few exceptions like the lyrics for “Rest My Chemistry”. You said that the Marauder character is a facet of yourself and in a way writing about it sort of helped you put him to bed. The fact that this record is so autobiographical was more an artistic choice to try something different or a personal decision to almost write as a therapy?
I think every record is therapeutic for every lyricist. Sometimes you can express yourself by talking about a character, sometimes through your own experience or literally. This time my experience was sufficient to make a good backdrop for what I wanted to talk about, and I think I was in a reflective phase of my life, that is why I felt like exploring the music through the filter of my own experience in some instances, but in other instances it is just characters. I am not the Rover for instance.
The record has many characters with the Marauder being one of the most present. Can we consider it a concept album?
I don’t think it is a concept record, no. There is characters, some autobiography and it’s a record about reflection, looking back and looking forward at the same time. There is also nostalgia and self-evaluation going on.
Lets talk about the new video for “The Rover”, which was directed by Gerardo Naranjo, but it was your own concept. What does the head-grabbing between you and the actor Ebon Moss-Bachrach happening at the end of the video represent?
The video is the origin story of the character in the song, who is a cult leader and is a very charismatic man that has no trouble finding followers. That moment in the video is showing the moment that he decides he can help to shake people, and he is grabbing my head because he’s trying to help me. It is a narcissistic illusion of power that he can change and can help people, and I am a symbolic patient zero for him.
This is not the first time you have got involved in the making of an Interpol video, as you also directed the video for “Everything is wrong”. How relevant do you think music videos can still be today?
It is a good question, because we live in a sort of post-MTV era, but it is also a great time for music videos because anything goes. This video is 5-minute long and because videos now mainly circulate on the internet, you can do anything you want. I think it is still a great medium, and who knows, maybe now videos are going to be stronger than ever even after the age of MTV. I think it’s still an important form for sure.
"Marauder" is out on the 24th August on Matador Records
Originally published on London in Stereo
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