Land of Plenti

It has worked for Bey­oncé and it sure as hell worked for David Bowie. Now it’s In­ter­pol lead singer Paul Banks’s turn to wheel out his al­ter ego. He tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea what it’s like to be Ju­lian Plenti and how he’s get­ting ready to un­leash some well-

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

YOU CAN take the boy out of In­ter­pol, but you can’t take In­ter­pol out of the boy? Right? Ac­tu­ally, wrong. Paul Banks, In­ter­pol’s lead singer, has been toy­ing with his al­ter ego, Ju­lian Plenti, for some years now, and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s come up with bunches of songs that are so far re­moved from the in­tense, lay­ered sonic tem­plate of In­ter­pol that if you didn’t know that Banks and Plenti were one and the same, you’d think a new kid on the block had come along to take up park­ing space.

The 31-year old Banks is a smart guy – well trav­elled (his fa­ther’s work took him and his fam­ily all around the world), Bri­tish by birth (he was born in the sea­side town of Clac­ton-on-Sea), and a for­mer jour­nal­ist ( In­ter­view mag­a­zine, among oth­ers) – he has been the face of In­ter­pol for more than 10 years. “Ju­lian Plenti”, on the other hand, has been around for longer than In­ter­pol, a creative side project that fi­nally came to light this year with the well-re­ceived al­bum, Ju­lian Plenti is ... Sky­scraper. As we say, as sure as there is heinous crime in the world, it sure ain’t In­ter­pol.

“Peo­ple gen­er­ally have the wrong idea about bands,” says Banks from his New York base. Re­fresh­ingly, he has no in­cli­na­tion to thrust his al­ter ego into our faces, and is, there­fore, not even re­motely in “char­ac­ter”. He is rather less pre­ten­tious about mat­ters, and as we speak has just fin­ished sort­ing out the de­tails of his im­mi­nent US and Euro­pean tour, which will bring him and his (other) band to Ire­land at the start of De­cem­ber.

“They pre­sume that if you’re the vo­cal­ist then it’s your band and you write the songs. But In­ter­pol is a pretty unique op­er­a­tion; I didn’t start the band – it was founded by Daniel Kessler, who has quite a spe­cial song­writ­ing part­ner­ship with Car­los Den­gler. We all write the mu­sic to­gether, with me as the singer – sim­ple as that. It’s not as though I elected to take songs out of the con­text of what’s writ­ten for In­ter­pol, and do them sep­a­rately. It’s more like In­ter­pol writes mu­sic in its own way and I write mu­sic that’s writ­ten in a dif­fer­ent way. The lat­ter is not the prod­uct of a Daniel/Car­los col­lab­o­ra­tion, and it’s not a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween me and any­one else in the band. For peo­ple who aren’t aware of the real work­ings of the band, it’s dif­fi­cult, per­haps, to fully un­der­stand.”

Banks sees this solo work as a sat­is­fy­ing and ther­a­peu­tic way of con­trol­ling ev­ery­thing that ends up on the record. He’s not a mega­lo­ma­niac, then? No, he ex­plains po­litely; what he has un­der­taken with his solo record is more of an in­tel­lec­tual and creative ex­er­cise. “As well as be­ing a ne­ces­sity,” he adds.

“The songs would not ex­ist if I didn’t write them on my own.” Cer­tain mu­si­cians, says Banks, sit down and think out quite strate­gi­cally what they want to do. That is not the kind of mu­si­cian he is. “Nor have I ever been,” he as­serts. “I write and make mu­sic that I think feels and sounds cool. It’s a sim­ple process. It’s not that I felt I had to make an ef­fort not to sound like In­ter­pol, it’s just the mu­sic I make. So with my own mu­sic I’m not cen­sor­ing my­self at all in per­haps the

“ In­ter­pol writes mu­sic in its own way and I write mu­sic that’s writ­ten in a dif­fer­ent way” – Ju­lian Plenti aka In­ter­pol’s Paul Banks

way I might do with In­ter­pol – if it sounds cool then I’m do­ing it; I’m to­tally com­mit­ting to my ideas.”

Banks ad­mits to hav­ing gath­ered his per­sonal songs for the past 10 years. “I didn’t want to get too much older and have songs just in my head for no one to know about,” he says. “It’s al­most for the state of my men­tal health that I had to get them out and share them; ei­ther that, or you’ve got imag­i­nary friends. A song such as On The Es­planade, for in­stance, which I’ve had with me for over 10 years now, is no longer my pri­vate bal­lad. It’s now out of me, and that’s good.” It is surely the live shows that will stretch the in­tent of the al­bum, though. Made, says Banks, in the spirit and man­ner of a home record­ing – think a lighter Lou Bar­low/Pave­ment/John Fr­us­cianti vibe, mixed with Banks’s melod­i­cally neat and idio­syn­cratic at­ti­tude, Ju­lian Plenti is ... Sky­scraper seems as if it wasn’t meant to tour.

“But then you de­cide to tour it, and so how do you take what was re­ally des­tined to be mu­sic for head­phones and de­pict it live in an en­ter­tain­ing way? I’m kind of still try­ing to get the nu­ances of that down, to be hon­est. It’s a dif­fer­ent thing in that what trans­lates on record does not nec­es­sar­ily trans­late to the live show. But I know it’s go­ing to be fun, heavy, lots of dif­fer­ent moods.”

De­spite their in­die-rock be­gin­nings, In­ter­pol now have a size­able fol­low­ing that means tour­ing small venues isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a vi­able busi­ness op­tion.

Is Banks looking for­ward to play­ing venues where he can see the whites of peo­ple’s eyes?

“It’s a funny thing when you’re in a band that gets big­ger,” he ven­tures. “In­ter­pol would love to be able to play some­where like the Mer­cury Lounge again, but it’s a nice prob­lem to have. Any mu­si­cian loves those early days; they’re su­per ex­cit­ing. I’ve never re­ally had a pref­er­ence for venue size, but it does feel like you’re do­ing the rounds again, like be­ing a de­but act all over again, to be dis­cov­ered. But the spirit of this project is small venues, and, who knows, hope­fully I’ll grow it over time.”

Never mind the close en­coun­ters, how will he re­spond to the in­evitable calls for In­ter­pol songs? Banks laughs qui­etly, as if it’s some­thing he’s clearly an­tic­i­pated. “What can you do about it? It ac­tu­ally sounds as if it’s go­ing to be good fun to me, so I’m not wor­ried too much about it. I’d be a tool if I was go­ing to get humpy about it, wouldn’t I? There’s a fine line, though. I have a sense of hu­mour about stuff, but I don’t want any­one dis­rupt­ing my gig. But, yes, I think it will hap­pen and I think it’ll be funny.”

Ju­lian Plenti is ... Sky­scraper is cur­rently on release through Mata­dor Records. Ju­lian Plenti (aka Paul Banks) per­forms in Dublin’s Academy on De­cem­ber 1st

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