There are some bands and cities that feel codependent on each other: Interpol and New York being a prime example. So imagine my surprise when frontman Paul Banks answers his phone and tells me that he isn't Stateside, but a 20-minute U-Bahn ride away from me, in locked down Berlin. Weird times and all that.
For those who grew up in the mid-'00s possessing a taste for brooding garage rock, Banks was a Jesus-like figure. His lyrics were inscrutable to the point of plain weird (hands up if you had the chorus of "Leif Erikson" as an MSN Messenger status at some point) and he carried himself with an air of gravitas that made others in the scene look almost infantile. Interpol's appeal obviously lay in the tunes, but almost as beguiling was the fact they dressed like spiffy mafioso dons on their way to a funeral. Forget bassist Carlos Dengler with his bolo tie and holster — there is nothing cooler than the well-dressed frontman standing behind a black Gibson Les Paul.
"People in those days dressed in ripped T-shirts and grungy, and not in a musical way — they were wearing that dunked-out vintage thrift store-y, ironic-T-shirt-type bullshit," commented Matador founder Chris Lombardi in Lizzie Goodman's Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011. "Interpol dressed like rock stars."
It's perhaps unfair to be so nostalgic when writing about Banks considering he's still going strong and shows no sign of slowing down. One of his recent projects was curating a vinyl selection for Dries Van Noten's new Los Angeles store — a match made in thinking man's heaven. On a similar trajectory to Interpol, it was early to mid-'00s when Van Noten re-entered the menswear conversation, adding a dose of much-needed eccentricity to a scene that had been rendered anemic after years of sometimes bland minimalism. When it comes to taste in suiting, the man himself could easily pass as a touring member of the group.
See what Banks had to say about Dries Van Noten, style, and the new Interpol album below.
Do you have a personal relationship with Dries?
No, haven't had the pleasure. Just a fan of the gear. I first found it in Fred Segal in LA and it quickly became a go-to.
How did you end up curating a vinyl collection for Dries?
That came about after a friend of mine, Hala Matar, said, "I'm doing this thing with Dries van Noten, would you be interested in collaborating?" I said, "I love that company." I own a few outfits by them. They became my kind of go-to suit a couple of years ago. So I said, "Yeah, I'm happy to kind of recommend the music and big up Dries."
What was the thinking behind your choices?
It was about as many as I can remember. If you said pick super important records, I could only come up with about 60 anyways. So 30 seemed like a pretty doable number. I tend to discover a record and then play it until it won't play anymore.
You mentioned you got a Dries suit a couple of years back. I always thought Interpol exclusively wore the crème de la crème of tailoring on tour, but I've heard it said you guys were sometimes partial to a bit of H&M...
Yeah, bro. I mean, I'm a very sweaty dude. Topshop was positioned slightly above H&M, but I definitely have some H&M dress shirts. They're not half bad. It always served me well on the road. If there are going to be cameras, then you wear the Dries.
Interpol have always been masters of uniform. In the early days, was it a concerted effort, or was it just the shit you wore normally?
It was a bit of a concerted effort. I mean, I was in college when we started. Shortly after that, we started doing shows more frequently, like once a month.
I remember hating any job I had and felt obligated to be working — it meant nothing to me. And then I felt when I was going on stage, I'm going to wear a suit and tie to the thing that's important to me.
I wanted to present myself in a professional manner for the thing that I wished to be my profession, while also being mindful of fashion, choice, and statement. The act, for me, is a nod to the fact that I take this shit seriously, and I'll wear as a little and as crappy of an outfit as I can, for my J-O-B that I didn't like.
Where were you getting the stuff from?
In the early days, vintage. There was Beacon's Closet, there was a place called Andy's Chee-Pees. Rags-A-Gogo.
When going to see Interpol, there's always a certain grandiosity to it. Especially back in the day, the sartorial element, as poncey as it sounds, really added to the overall experience, particularly when every other band was wearing drainpipe jeans and Converse. A lot of the kids got dressed up in the crowd. Were you aware of that?
Yeah, I think so. At the same time, I'm happy with whatever anybody is wearing. Converse and a T-shirt were always fine as well. But I think the idea of people identifying, or bonding with, a band and getting in costume is rad.
There have been two big stylistic shifts in my lifetime among people my age. In the UK, kids were really into the leather jacket, jeans, and brogues vibe around 2007, 2008, when 'Our Love to Admire' came out. Then NME died and indie landfill became widespread. After that, it felt like streetwear became more popular. Do you notice or pay attention to these shifts?
It's interesting for me to look at trends right now because they're referencing a lot of things that happened when I was young. I think a lot of it is done ironically, but not entirely ironically. It takes me back to the late '80s. I think it's pretty epic.
I mean, a lot of fashion that I see and admire, and whether or not it had any bearing on the band that we would witness these shifts — I would say absolutely not. Suits are, luckily, timeless. So I feel like that outfit would never really go out of date and it still fits who we are. We're just going to do what we're going to do. But I'm a lover of fashion, and I will often admire trends that are going on, while also not wanting to participate. I've just finally come around to, like, big sneakers, 15 years late or whatever.
There's also the whole Y2K thing going on
I've seen Bill Cosby sweaters, round glasses, certain types of denim from the late '90s. It just looks like a character from a sitcom. Like Balki from the show Perfect Strangers. But yeah, just like old Camel cigarette jackets and shit.
I mean, for me to put it on, I wouldn't feel comfortable, so I wouldn't do it, but I really do admire the effort of it. I like the passion. [You've] got to wear something, so why not make it kind of a costume-ish statement, and distinguish yourself? I don't have to participate in fashion trends to enjoy them.
Dries has made some of the loudest, avant-garde menswear, but he'll dress completely low-key. I think it's totally fine to enjoy fashion but not get involved, which is funny, because in other industries that would make you a bit of a phony.
That's a very interesting point. Yeah, I want to liken it to appreciating a painting, but not doing the painting yourself, but I don't know, maybe that's not a great analogy. I think it's 100 percent positive to have very strong opinions about the trends without feeling a need to wear anything other than blue jeans and a T-shirt.
I'm going a little more retro with my sweatpants style, but I've definitely been into leisurewear... I feel like we've got to finish up with the tight sweatpants though. I think baggy ones should come back.
Oh, here's one new thing that I'm feeling: I saw, like, sort of Doc Marten-boots — you know, black steel-toe boots. [Someone was] wearing ripped sweatpants and a shitty T-shirt and bomber jacket. And I just thought, "Boots with sweat pants is fucking it, man." That's it. For me, that's my favorite new combo.
You have some of the best sunglasses I've seen! Are there any particular pairs that stand out and are precious to you?
I've been a big fan of a surf brand called Glassy. You could buy a few pairs of these for the cost of one Gucci. They're not that expensive, but they're really well made. The style that's been my favorite is kind of transparent; I think it's close to the classic Ray-Ban frame style. I go through them really fast. I tend to lose my sunglasses often.
When leaving New York, I forgot to lift my Vuarnet sunglasses. Vuarnet was big in the '80s but too expensive for me and my family. Anyway, they have a store in Manhattan that I discovered about two years ago where I bought a rad pair of Vuarnet sunglasses. They were a brand you wore if you were to convey that your family had some money, or that you went skiing in Switzerland.
Some of your peers have got into design. Would you ever consider doing your own collection at some point?
I have a few ambitions. I want to write and direct film, paint, write a novel, furniture design, and fashion design are all things that I want to get into at some point. With fashion, if somebody just wanted to give me a bunch of money, I would love to design.
What else is on the agenda for the rest of the year?
There's Interpol. That's the next focus. We're working on a new record.
What stage is that at?
Still in the writing. We tend to not go to the studio to record until everything is all buttoned up and ready to be recorded. So yeah, still in the writing, we've been just doing things remotely and we actually got together recently for some in-person writing.
That's where I'm at, and it's pretty dope, dude. I feel like the pandemic has imposed some new limitations that are allowing us to reap benefits. I think the music, if anything, is benefiting from having to approach it a bit unconventionally for us.
Is it a departure in terms of sound?
I feel it is. Yeah. I feel it's going to reflect the conditions under which it was written, but in a very positive way. It might be a little early for release this year — we're probably looking at next.
Have you done that before? Like, the kind of remote writing in your career?
I mean we have, yeah, a little bit, but typically I would write vocals with the guys, you know, over the volume of the drums. So this one... I don't know if you know "Take You On A Cruise." It was written a bit more like this one's getting written, that song. So a little bit more vocals, a little bit more chill.