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Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Paul Banks, am: 12.05.2003 ]

"Turn On The Bright Lights" war für viele Menschen - mich eingeschlossen - wohl eine der besten Platten des letzten Jahres, was sich auch in der Platzierung in den meisten hiesigen Best Of-Listen gezeigt hat. Zwar sind die New Yorker nicht unbedingt die eingeständigste Band auf diesem Planeten, doch selten wurden 80er Zitate mit dunklen Joy Division Anleihen und der richtigen Attitüde so schlüssig und begeisternd ins Jetzt gerettet. So trafen wir vor dem grandiosen Konzert im Heidelberger Schwimmbad Klub im überraschend sauberen Nightliner der Band auf einen vom Einkaufen etwas müden, aber durchaus gesprächigen und gutgelaunten Paul Banks, seines Zeichens Sänger und Gitarrist bei Interpol. Wir sprachen über Joy Division, New York und politische Ambitionen.


Musicscan: You got together in '98 I think and you released your first stuff in 2000. That's relatively slow compared to a lot of other bands. Would you do it the same way again, take your time...?

Interpol: The thing with that first release is that it was actually stuff that we recorded about eight months after we formed and then it wasn't until 2000 that Chemical Underground decided to re-master it and release it. So it had existed for over a year. Some of the songs had existed for a while. We'd done a first demo, which then later became that Chemical Underground thing, we did a second demo about a year and a half after we formed and one of those songs is also on Chemical Underground, so it's like portions of two different EP's.

Musicscan: Does the band pay the bills right now or do you have to take on jobs when you're back home?

Interpol: I just don't have bills basically. I moved out of my apartment in August, so I don't have anywhere to live. I just have all my stuff in storage. So it's not really about paying the bills. There is no way for us to have a job, whether or not we want it, so you just make it work.

Musicscan: So if you say you don't have any bills and you only do this right now, do you have any plans what you want to do after the band or is there no after?

Interpol: No I'm not really looking for an after the band actually. My goal is just to be able to make music all the time. So if anything would happen to this band, I will just do something else and ideally, even if some day I'm not in a band, I think I'll always make music. I'd love to produce or have my own studio.

Musicscan: Tell me a little bit about your lyrics. What do they mostly deal with. What are trying to express?

Interpol: It's hard to put into other words than the lyrics. I don't generally like to explain lyrics because - I know because they're a little bit obtuse sometimes they're not exactly self-explanatory, but for me they are. They just are what they are. I think there are themes to the lyrics, but I prefer not to have like a mission statement of what I'm trying to say. Although I may have one actually, but that's for me and then the lyrics are what they are.

Musicscan: For me, I found they dealt a lot with loneliness. And I was wondering if it had something to do with the city? Do you think the city has an impact on your music and on you as artists?

Interpol: Yeah, I think the city does have an impact. Firstly, I'm the only one who writes the lyrics. I think the music is affected a little bit by the city, just because it's sort of an intense place to live. But we all also live in the city for a reason, so it's kind of hard to imagine us being a band outside of New York. We all came to New York by ourselves before we were a band, and I think we all had the goal of doing music, so I don't think you can take the New York out of our band. It's not an accident, it's not coincidental that we're there, so it's not the city making the sound, it's that we went to the city to take whatever it is that it could give us as far as inspiration is concerned. So I think it has an impact, but it's something we were looking to obtain from this intense place to live. And I think New York City is definitely a good place to be if you're a person that's prone to loneliness, in a sense that it's a really funny dynamic in any big city that you can never be alone, you're constantly surrounded by millions of people, but then you don't actually know any of those people, so it does kind of reaffirm all the time how alone you are. There's this feeling of alienation.

Musicscan: Has that feeling changed for you since 9/11?

Interpol: Yeah, I think everything has changed since 9/11. I can't really say exactly how I'm changing but all the things that have happened since 9/11 are impacting me as a person.

Musicscan: Does the city feel different to you now?

Interpol: Everything feels different. There was a different feeling in the city and the people in the days and the weeks afterwards, like the crime rates dropped drastically for a while and people did kind of come together. But in the end human nature is human nature, so even if there is a major tragedy, people get through it psychologically somehow on their own and then the way they wind up interacting with each other goes back to the way it was before. So I don't think if you went to New York City now and you'd been there in August of 2001, you'd say, oh, it's a totally different place here.

Musicscan: Different subject again. Why do you think people have caught on to your music in Europe before they have in the US?

Interpol: Well, I wouldn't say that they have actually. Since the record came out, we've been doing really well in the US. I think we had more of a response before the record came out because it just so happened that the first person that picked up on it was European with Chemical Underground. And then some French promoters had flown us over to do some festivals as well before the record came out, so we were known in parts of France long before the record. So it was really more that we had exposure in Europe before we had done any touring in the US. We hadn't left New York City and yet we had gone to France and England. Once we started touring in the US and once the record came out everywhere, it's actually been pretty unified.

Musicscan: I was wondering since you have sort of a British sound - it doesn't sound very American to me, which right now is a good thing, I would say with a sarcastic undertone - do you think that has something to do with Chemical Underground being interested or Europe in general, that you sound kind of European?

Interpol: I don't know. I suppose it's possible, but it's hard to imagine a record label being interested in a band because they sound like they're from a certain background; I would assume they like a band just because they like the sound. I don't know if it had anything to do with them feeling that we were reminiscent of some European sound. I don't look at our music in those terms.

Musicscan: Do you get a lot of comparisons with say the Strokes or Joy Division or New Order?

Interpol: Not the Strokes but we get compared to Joy Division.

Musicscan: Do you feel comfortable with that?

Interpol: I do, but I think if we'd had it in any part of our minds while we were making our sound and writing our music, if we had at any point said "Oh, we should try and sound like this," then I think we'd all feel really bad and be like "Aw, fuck, everyone totally caught us." But we never once attempted to sound like anything, and I think that the more people hear our music, the more they'll see us as Interpol and not on that kind of superficial level. And because I had 4 years of being in the band and feeling the identity the band had, for me it's like people just don't know it yet. And I expect that the longer it's out there, the more people will recognize that it's its own thing.

Musicscan: You mentioned that you all come from different musical backgrounds. What are they?

Interpol: There is overlap, but Carlos knew a lot about classical and was listening to a lot of classical when we started the band. He's also the one who's really into 80s stuff and he's a big Cure fan. He was into Post Punk as well. And Daniel was big into some bands that I wasn't familiar with when we first joined or that I wasn't altogether huge on. I wasn't a huge Clash fan at the time; I've never liked the Smiths and Daniel is a big Smiths fan. And I like a wide range: I really love Hip Hop and the other guys in the band have zero response to Hip Hop. And I've also always been a big fan of Folk. Leonard Cohen and Neill Young and Dylan were big influences on me when I was growing up. Then I was also really into Grunge and Nirvana and I think the other guys had never hit them. But we all kind of come together with Sonic Youth and Fugazi and Pavement. There are a few bands that Daniel was into that I just flat out didn't like. What I mean is that it wasn't like we were all hanging out listening to the same records and said "Oh, we should have a band." It was Daniel who approached us individually, not knowing any of us.

Musicscan: So you didn't know each other at all before you started the band?

Interpol: No. Well, I knew Daniel as an acquaintance and I had seen Carlos around. And I already liked Carlos even though I didn't know him...just the way that he dressed and that he carried himself... I'd see him around the city and be like "That guy is so cool." He just didn't give a fuck what anyone thought. He was a really original person. So I was surprised when I got to the rehearsal space and that was the guy Daniel was playing with. The reason why I got into it is I have friends that are musicians, but when I heard what they were doing and when I heard the progressions that Daniel was working on, it was the best, in fact the only good, original material I'd ever heard anyone play. I wasn't looking to be in a band. I was just doing my own thing, but the quality of what they were doing was what attracted me. Sure you can have a band with your friends but if you don't really love what they're writing what's the point? So this band was formed out of mutual respect and inspiration and then everything else fell in place afterwards. But I think it's an untraditional way to have a band. Led Zeppelin was kind of like that. Led Zeppelin was almost recruited, but they were all names. In this case Daniel didn't know anything about us musically.

Musicscan: Do you still wear suits on stage?

Interpol: I haven't really worn a full suit in a while. I just wear a shirt and tie.

Musicscan: What's the idea behind dressing up on stage?

Interpol: There's not really so much of an idea. It's just something we've been doing since the beginning because it seemed to fit. At the very start I liked the idea of being more formal when we were playing rock music because it was kind of the most serious thing in my life. This is what's serious in my life as opposed to going to this shitty office job. But we're all also just individually comfortable dressing like that.

Musicscan: Is fashion very important to you or what does fashion mean to you?

Interpol: To me personally it's very important. I would say how could it not be? Unless you're anti-fashion, which I also like a lot, but that's equally conscious. Basically you can't walk around naked, so you've got to wear something. And I feel like anything you have control over that involves your person, if you can incorporate something artistic into it, you should. I've always inevitably thought a lot about clothes on myself and other people because it's just another form of expression and I'm interested in how people express themselves.

Musicscan: So it's less of a conscious effort to unite with some people or alienate other people?

Interpol: Not for me.

Musicscan: How have your goals changed from when you started the band if they have at all?

Interpol: They haven't. When we started the band I didn't think that what we were doing was necessarily going to be marketable music or lead us to popularity, but I did feel that it was really good. And from the very beginning I thought these are original and gifted musicians and I really like working with them, so I would much rather do this than try to be in a band that's trying very hard to get famous. There's quite a few bands in New York City that would have a manager and be working on record deals before they had any songs. And there's just no passion in it at all. So in that sense it was really only about music in the beginning. It was aware that maybe I'll have to have a job that I hate forever, but this is my passion. And now I'm in a position where I can't work and I love that. But the intention and the goal is still to write music. It does change a little bit because it is not purely about personal enjoyment, because now there is a little bit of a responsibility once the record is out and once people know you. It's different now that we're a band that people know about than it was when no one knew about us because then it was really just for us. There is an awareness of an audience whereas before when we were writing music it wasn't about an audience and it wasn't even necessarily about getting an audience. It was really just about doing music that we cared about. And we haven't run out of the impulse to do music that we care about. That's why I don't feel any pressure about our position because the initial thing that we had was the enjoyment of creating music together and luckily that hasn't gone away.

Musicscan: What do you hope people to take away from an Interpol show?

Interpol: I just love sound, I love music, and I love to see bands. I think we put on a good show and I think we sound really good live, and there's a lot of energy for us when we're on stage. So I think if people like us and like the record, then they really enjoy the shows because it's faithful to the record and we take it seriously as far as playing our songs. I think that's how you get fans, we put on a good show. We care about what we're doing and I think that translates.

Musicscan: What's your opinion on the war against Iraq and do feel the responsibility to speak out about such issues?

Interpol: I'm pretty upset and disappointed about the war. As an artist though...we don't make any statements from the stage. I've often found it kind of tacky when there's actors and musicians who make political statements because I think it's a little bit self-indulgent in a sense that some people dedicated their lives to being politically informed and being political activists and I feel like it's their forum to say something informed. I think it's everyone's responsibility to be active, but I don't think that simply because you have an audience as an actor or a musician, you shouldn't throw that weight around. I honestly don't think you have an impact. Maybe Bono, who's actually going with government officials, because he can hold people to it, but just someone on TV saying "Send aid to Rwanda," I think that doesn't really generate aid in Rwanda, it's just that person with kind of an oversized ego. So if that was going to be my role then I would stop doing music and really do something. But to be doing music and just say "Fuck Bush" from the stage is not going to do anything. And then, on principle, I subscribe to a certain view on art, which is that it has no purpose or function. And lobbying for peace or trying to obtain peace has a very practical function. And I just like to keep art and practical goals separate because for me the point of art is that it's there for itself.

Musicscan: How about for you personally? When you're over here and you see that all we get on TV is Bush's America and so some people here have the prejudice that all Americans are stupid, do you want to show that not everyone over there is like that?

Interpol: No, I don't, because firstly I was actually born British and my family is British, and I've also lived in Spain and Mexico and I don't really feel a nationality, personally. And just from my experience, living in a few different cultures, I don't make generalizations about other groups of people, so if someone else makes generalizations about me, I don't really have time for this stuff. I don't care. If you're going to assume that I'm ignorant, then you've got the problem not me.

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