You might expect the leader of aughties postpunk overlords Interpol — who will release their first album in four years, El Pintor, on Sept. 9 — to be dour and aloof, or at least shrink away from bright sunlight. But the guy who strolls into Brooklyn’s Rough Trade Records on a sweltering August afternoon 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, Paul Banks, 36, talked with EW about the song that still gives him chills, his early obsessions with Nirvana and N.W.A, and the homemade mixtape that really freaked out his mom.
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. Insofar as one wants to emulate things as a musician, those were the things I wanted to emulate.”
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, like, 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.
Somewhere around the nine-minute mark when he develops his improv into this frenetic moment and he does this thing where you do a harmonic note, like the highest note on a saxophone, but above that it just goes really really high and shrill. I knew it wasn’t something that had been composed. I would start getting chills a minute out before he did it and then this rush of endorphins… That’s one song I can literally say on my deathbed I would be reminiscing about or hoping someone would play it for me.
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)
“I was living in Spain when that came out I think but I probably went to England to visit family and bought it at a record store there –I think it was 1988? As an 11 or 10 year old I knew every lyric – to this day I probably still do. [Starts rapping] “If it aint’ ruff it ain’t me” [laughs].
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 things and exciting things and dangerous things and taboo things. I was just soaking it all in, there couldn’t be anything more fascinating. ‘Me and Lorenzo rolling in a benzo’ — I was like ‘What’s a benzo?!’ 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.
I thought about it later, and it never occurred to me but that was the first music I ever made, sampling together different pieces of profane hip hop and Eddie Murphy with, like, “A Bitch Iz a Bitch” which had this white guy doing skits — I just cut up every time they used the word ‘bitch’: [stuttering] ‘bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch chooka-chuck bitch bitch bitch bitch.’
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]. I was like ‘Mom, I’m in it for the music I swear!’ But I don’t think she was too hip to what we were trying to imitate so it was very frightening to her.
It’s funny, as I got into Nirvana, my mom got way into that record with me too, she loved them. Now my mom is a fan of Interpol and when the lyrics get really weird she’ll just be like ‘Oh there he goes again, that’s my boy.’ But at least it’s no surprise now.
Later, I switched over more towards rock like Jane’s Addiction. I was also really influenced by Guns ‘n’ Roses Lies, ‘I Used to Love Her’ and Suicidal Tendencies —[singing] ‘And I saw your mommy and you’re mom is dead!’”
Slint, Spiderland (1991)
“I was a senior in high school when I came to this, around the Kids soundtrack. I discovered Lou Barlow and Folk Implosion, which was really influential to me right around college age, the John Frusciante solo record and Sebadoh and Sentridoh, and Slint was on there.
The singer had real presence even though he wasn’t singing that much, he was more talking in my favorite songs, whereas Lou Barlow was a great melodist. Of all the songs on that soundtrack between ‘Jenny’s Theme’ and ‘Good Morning Captain,’ it’s usually the darker weird, just eerie, eerie soundscapes I liked, and this was just 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.”