Paul Banks is not Julian Plenti. Julian Plenti is not Paul Banks – at least, not any more. A pseudonym dreamed up while the songwriter attended college, the name was shelved for almost a decade before being resurrected for Banks’ debut solo statement.
An impressive introduction, it found the New York based artist stepping out of Interpol’s shadow and revealing a few shadows of his own. Returning with a new solo album, Paul Banks has decided that it’s simply time to use his own name. “To me, it’s an evolution so it’s really only Pt. 2 in my solo career. This record is not a departure in the sense that it should be read into me dropping the alter ego, this is Pt. 2 of my solo work” he explains over a Trans-Atlantic phone line. “The first one was a retrospective in honour of my really old, early alter ego Julien Plenti and then also I did that to kind of ensure that.. I wanted to ensure that I would know what it’s like to be a debut artist, like I had never joined the band. So by doing an alter ego and not doing any press it sort of allowed for that record to be.. it wasn’t the smartest move in terms of money, it was just the way I had to do the first record. Having done the first record that way and put out all the Julien Plenti work I felt like I didn’t need an alter ego, for this record I wanted to keep it really simple. Which is why I think it swung so far back in the other direction to actually make it an eponymous record under my own name”.
Despite the break in terminology, ‘Banks’ feels like a direct, cohesive move forward from ‘Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper’. Beautiful songwriting roots in Banks’ post-punk guitar style, the album has a natural, un-forced feel that seemingly echoes the musician’s own work ethic. “I’ve never been disciplined at anything” he explains. “I think people close to me say I am disciplined because I work so much but that’s only because work brings me so much joy. To me, being disciplined means that you can do something despite not enjoying it and I’m not very good at that. I’ve never practised guitar and I’ve never had a disciplined work ethic. I just like making music so much that it’s not the same as practising or having some definite system. I mean, I bet I’d become a much better writer if I did. If I just forced myself to work even when I didn’t feel like it. It just so happens that I just enjoy doing it”.
Sketched out at home, Paul Banks then worked with Peter Katis in the studio. A close associate from his work with Interpol, Katis simply does what Katis does best: he lets the songs breath, with emotion seeping out of every pore. Shifting between band member and band leader, Banks muses on the difference between collective artistry and solo vision. “If you have a vision for what you want from a song there’s always compromise if it becomes collaborative” he says. “For me, it’s incredible – bands make music which no solo artist can ever make because of that compromise, because of those conflicting energies. It’ll never be the same deal because bands are magic and I think solo endeavours – that’s the total expression of one artist. But a band, there’s the magic of collaboration which is very special”.
Ultimately, Paul Banks’ solo career is a necessity rather than a choice. Stockpiling material, the songwriter found that he couldn’t hold that vision inside him any longer. “Every time I’ve held a guitar for the past nine years I’ve played my old, original material, and I’m going to go crazy because I’ll be like 50 and no one else will know these songs I’ve got in my head, no one will have ever heard of them” he says. “Daniel and Carlos were working together before I even joined the band, so that’s the original.. the original concept of the band is that those two were the songwriting team and we just never really moved away from that. So for me, the solo albums are a necessity to sort of express my songwriting.”
Easing between life in Interpol and his solo career, Paul Banks is now focussing on taking ‘Banks’ out on the road. Forming a touring band, the collective are plotting their emergence from a deep set of rehearsals. “We spent the last three days resurrecting songs from the first record so when we play live now you’ll get a nice selection from both albums” the songwriter explains. “I was really glad to hear that the first album music we’re doing sounds great in the context of the other music we’re doing. I feel really good about the set, I think it’s a good group of songs and I think fans of the first record will.. I don’t know, man, I feel confident that we’ve got a really good set. It’s a fuckin’ amazing.. it’s a killer group of musicians I’ve got”.
Fans heading along to those upcoming shows should prepare themselves for some unexpected influences, however. “I mean, my guitar player Damien Harris of The Draft is a shredder, as we say in the States” he explains. “They do guitar battles here. In New York there’s a semi-famous down-town guitar battle where whoever can shred the best.. Damien has won that. To win a guitar battle in down-town Manhattan is not fucking around. The guy can play. I’ve always.. guitar solos have not been cool in indie rock for a little while and I think there’s definitely a time when they’ll come back. I enjoy doing this on my first tour, where every night we have a moment where Damien can just fucking melt some faces”.
Seemingly, Paul Banks was a teenage rock head – amongst other genres – as he readily admits. “I even had a Steve Vai record when I was a kid” the songwriter laughs. “It never spoke to me on a level where I learned how to do it. I never learned how to shred. You’ve probably heard about my passion for hip hop, but I’ve always been drawn to play rock, I’ve always been drawn to play guitar. I guess I’m a little bit more of a rhythm guitarist innately, I’m not really a lead guitar player and I think that kind of helps me admire those who are. Definitely, yeah, I listen to shit loads of classic rock”.
Not that fans should expect a classic rock concert – Paul Banks’ live show will draw on a pool of songwriting which is both reserved and accomplished, ambiguous and revealing. Working almost continuously, the guitarist has hit upon a rich vein of form. “Often times now I don’t worry about writing new material. If I stay away from playing the guitar the minute I pick it up a new idea comes out, basically”.
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‘Banks’ is set to be released on October 22nd.