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Record Shopping with Paul Banks

The frontman for Interpol — who will release their first album in four years, ”El Pintor”, on Sept. 9 — sifts through the stacks at a New York record store and revisits the artists and albums that shaped him

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You might expect the leader of aughties postpunk overlords Interpol to be dour and aloof, or at least shrink away from bright sunlight. But the guy who strolls in on a sweltering August day is friendly and voluble (and has a pretty brutal backspin, it turns out, on the store’s Ping-Pong table). Over piles of vinyl and iced Americanos, Banks, 36, talks about the song that gives him chills, his obsessions with Nirvana and N.W.A, and the homemade mixtape that really freaked out his mom.

Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
(1988)
”The first band that made me want to make music was Nirvana. So I was very aware of anything Nirvana- affiliated, and I was watching an episode of 120 Minutes with them that Thurston Moore was hosting, and I remember thinking, ‘Who the f— is this dude that Nirvana keeps hanging out with? What’s the deal here?’ I was very mindful of ‘Nirvana took this band out on tour, they must be someone I should know about.’ So I got [1990’s] Goo, which at that age didn’t really speak to me. But when I got to college, I got EVOL and Daydream Nation, which just… The textures and the guitar tones and the drive — I mean, some of the most beautiful guitar work of any rock songs ever is on this record.”

Cecil Taylor, The World of Cecil Taylor
(1960)
”The guys I moved in with in college, one was a really heavy cinephile and the other one was a heavy jazz-ophile, so I discovered a lot of artists like Eric Dolphy and Max Roach, and Cecil Taylor was just someone we had in rotation in the apartment. He’s an experimental piano player, but it’s so postmodern that dissonance isn’t even a factor — like, scales don’t seem to come into play. There’s a song called ‘Lazy Afternoon’ on here that for me is one of my top three favorite pieces of music ever. When Interpol was just starting, I would walk around Manhattan listening to Trans Am’s Futureworld and this. It was a very profound moment — you know, your first couple years in the big city, finding your way as an artist. It’s a weird thing because if I were to isolate the moment for you in the song that gives me chills, it wouldn’t make sense. There’s something lonely in that. It’s not like ‘Check out this chorus by Imagine Dragons, when it hits you’re gonna love it!’ It’s more ‘Yeah, there’s this one flare he does at, like, nine minutes and 30 seconds,’ and someone would be like [makes deadpan face], ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.”’

N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton
(1988)
”We were living in Spain when I bought this, so I think it was ’88? As a 10- or 11-year-old I knew every lyric. It was fascinating to me, the whole culture of it — where it’s not about singing or melody, it’s about lyrics and storytelling. It’s about exotic and exciting and dangerous and taboo things. It was the first record, besides Thriller, that impacted me a lot. I started a hip-hop duo with a buddy of mine when I was in seventh grade where we both had alter egos and we would do illustrations and mixtapes. I would do the music, which was basically me grabbing different profane lyrics from Too $hort and 2 Live Crew and N.W.A and then cutting them up with Eddie Murphy stand-up on a boom box with two tapes. It was all grotesque sexual innuendos and kids being kids, and my mom did find some of it at one point and was seriously f—ing concerned [laughs]…. Later, I switched over more towards rock like Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses and Suicidal Tendencies.”

Slint, Spiderland
(1991)
”I was a senior in high school when I came to this, around the Kids soundtrack. That’s also how I discovered Lou Barlow and the Folk Implosion, the John Frusciante solo record, and Sebadoh. Slint’s ‘Good Morning, Captain’ was on there, and the singer had real presence even though he wasn’t singing that much; he was more talking. It was these dark, weird, eerie soundscapes — so evocative.”

Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline
(1969)
”This was almost like my due diligence. When I was a sophomore in high school I was like, ‘This Bob Dylan guy, I better get all of his records and listen to them.’ To this day I think ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ is one of the best songs ever written, and ‘Corrina, Corrina’ is another one that kills me. But then I heard this, and I was like, ‘What happened to his voice, man, why does he sound so weird?’ And I remember hearing he had a motorcycle accident, and maybe that changed his voice. Then I realize later, ‘Oh, that’s just an affect. He’s just trying new s— out.’ But that was so intriguing to me at that age, and the songs on this record are so good…. It’s an unmeetable level of writing. But even if it is something I feel like I can’t ever attain, it doesn’t crush my spirit. I figured out early on that you gotta find your own strengths and hone them rather than trying to emulate something that impresses you.”