Between when he first started writing songs as Julian Plenti and now, more than a decade passed before Interpol’s Paul Banks could release a solo album under his own name. In this case, it wasn’t the restrictions of a record label (he’s only put out albums on Matador, save 2007’s Our Love to Admire) or a lack of inspiration (“I work in my downtime. It’s how I unwind,” Banks says.)
The fact is, Paul Banks couldn’t release a solo album as Paul Banks because he’s a little OCD when it comes to music. And this alter-ego he’s carried—Julian Plenti, which he started way back before Interpol took off—was an incomplete project that’s been weighing on him for a long time. As Banks tells it, when he writes a song, he’s going to finish it, and in the case of those pre-Interpol tracks, there was plenty of wrapping up to do.
“The songs I kicked around in my head for nine years made me say ‘you have to go back and do that,’” Banks says. “It just felt like I was honoring the original vision by going under the alias. I also used it in a strange way to try and stimulate what it was like to be a debut artist again. I tried to consciously undermarket it. I didn’t want to capitalize on any of the notoriety of the band. I wanted to experience being a debut artist for a number of reasons that don’t really make much sense from a career point of view, but they made all the sense I needed as an artist.”
These songs were mostly addressed on Banks’ first album as Plenti, 2009’s Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper. And although the band put years between Banks and his original songs, it was that time with Interpol—namely Daniel Kessler, who Banks says he still draws inspiration from to this day—that was critical in returning to those tracks.
“The reality is, since I was 15, I’ve written music. It’s just that I never knew how to get it out,” Banks says. “I never knew how to execute it to the final product, and now that I do—I do not think music will kick around like it used to with me. I think I will write it and then put it out. I think that’s why the first record was so important, because I kind of opened that door. I’m sort of off to the races, so to speak…That’s also just part of it—where, like, it’s not like I suddenly started writing music. I always wrote music.”
Banks is transitioning now. It started this summer with his latest EP, Julian Plenti Lives, which completes the Plenti cycle. By releasing the EP under his own name, titling it Julian Plenti Lives and completing the last of his pre-Interpol tracks in “Summertime is Coming,” Banks saw the EP as a sort of torch-passing from Plenti to himself, which he notes aren’t so different to begin with. “It’s not at all because it’s new music or I’m coming from a new place as an artist,” Banks assures. After all, the alter-ego that originally made the idea of performance a little more accessible, and maybe Banks doesn’t need that anymore.
“That’s the overarching concept for me of an alter-ego—that it’s fun. I think performance is an abstraction. It’s kind of taken the concept of ‘there’s me’ and ‘there’s the performer me’ and I’ve always felt funny with the concept of performing.”
But now Banks has his eponymous solo album, out on Matador today. Again, it features tracks that he kicked around for an extended period of time: the originally instrumental “Young Again,” which was first thought up in 2005, and “Arise, Awake” and “Lisbon” also almost appeared on Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper as instrumentals. “It’s good in the end that they didn’t make the cut. I think they benefitted from the vocal ideas that came up afterward,” Banks says.
But overall, it’s a reflection on all things that Interpol fans have come to love about the songwriter: his unmistakable, sometimes mechanical baritone, his emotionally challenging tracks that still embrace his sometimes bone-dry sense of humor (See: the aural meltdown of an alcoholic that justifies cheating on his girlfriend with “hipster douchebag faux-psychology” on “Another Chance.”) And a tracklist whose subjects include not only Banks himself taking first-person duties, but an array of characters: “Songs like ‘The Base,’ ‘No Mistakes’ and ‘I’ll Sue You,’ that’s me taking a step outside myself, even though it’s in the first person, that’s me assuming a character. I mean, ‘I’ll Sue You’ being an extreme example; that’s a douchebag who’s narrating that song. That’s kind of a study in covetousness. That’s not me at all.”
Banks’ sonic feel shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to fans. It was recorded by Peter Katis, who handled the first Julian Plenti album, Interpol’s debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, and the follow-up, Antics. “I feel like there’s just a sense of like he knows what I’m about. When I bring him these demos now he can get his teeth into them. As I say though, it’s important for me—I like doing two consecutive records with the same person because I feel like you can benefit from that. But, that isn’t to say that I will continue to make all records with Peter Katis, even though I could because I think he’s the shit.”
But overall, the most important thing for Banks is emotion alone, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean developing a rock-solid vision before recording or toying with songs. Banks, as always, leaves it up to the listener to draw the meaning, and in the case of this collection, we’re left with a moving 10 tracks that achieve just that. And the digging is up to you:
“It’s almost impossible to explain the way that my mind works, especially with some of the stuff, I just do things on impulse and because they speak to me in a way I don’t even bother to analyze why they speak to me, if they’re resonant I go with it.”