Paul Banks and Atiba Jefferson Take Us Inside Interpol’s Private World
The New York-based rock band Interpol have always been surrounded by an air of mystery, but for their latest album The Other Side of Make‐Believe, frontman Paul Banks pulled back the curtain by letting fans peek at the band’s creative process. To do so he called up friend and collaborator, the photographer Atiba Jefferson, who followed the band from a cabin in the Catskills to their recording studio in London to document the making of the new album. The photos captured by Jefferson while living with the band appeared in Big Shot City, an exhibition that was shown last week in New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, London and Tokyo from July 12th to the 17th. Earlier this month, Jefferson called a jetlagged Banks from his Tesla to discuss the intricacies of capturing intimate moments, the relationship between art and depression, and the power of spaghetti sandwiches.
PAUL BANKS: Yo!
ATIBA JEFFERSON: Yo! What’s up?
BANKS: How you doing, man?
JEFFERSON: Dude, I’m just walking off the [golf] course, running a little late. I’m turning up the street from my house.
BANKS: That’s a nice flex with the Tesla, bro. I really like the view.
JEFFERSON: Dude, they’re so good. And it’s driving itself, so I’m technically very safe. I just played like shit, Paul, goddamnit.
BANKS: Sorry to hear that, man.
JEFFERSON: Wait, where are you right now? Is that Berlin?
BANKS: Yeah, in Berlin, in my little bedroom studio.
JEFFERSON: When’s the next show?
BANKS: We go to London to play in a week because the album drops on the 15th, but what are we talking about, what are we doing here? You know, I worked at Interview magazine. I was Ingrid Sischy’s assistant, then I was the executive editor’s assistant.
JEFFERSON: Wow, that’s really cool.
BANKS: Yeah, I was fucking terrible at it, but it was a cool job. It was a cool place to work, and I really enjoyed Ingrid. She was an amazing woman, RIP. Did you know Ingrid Sischy, Atiba?
JEFFERSON: I didn’t know her. I knew who she was obviously, coming from working in skateboarding magazines since 1995. Interview was always such an amazing one. But yeah, let’s get to it. Was I a distraction at all from the writing sessions and the recordings, having me in the room? The writing sessions were way more chill, but the recording is so intimate. It’s a little intense knowing you’re looking for that perfect note, that perfect moment. And here I am whittling in the corner trying to hide. Was it ever a distraction?
BANKS: It wasn’t, because you’ve been a friend of all of ours individually prior to this thing. There’s that dimension, but then I think that’s a quality you have as a photographer. I feel like even if we weren’t friends, it’s a pleasure to be around you. We’re pretty private and not the most laid back crew when we’re in our work mode. So it actually says a lot to that ability you have to just fit in with the vibe. Now that you said it, I remember I was having a total moment at one point while you were there in London, writing lyrics, a little bad patch. You were right there with that, and you did a really good job of pushing the limit of “Can I be in here and take some pictures right now?”
JEFFERSON: That is definitely a moment that I was aware of. But Edge [David Howell Evans of U2] said it the best when he was like, “You’re in the delivery room of someone else’s baby.”
BANKS: I agree. We’re aware of the fact that there hasn’t been all that much access a lot of time, which is comfortable for us because we’re awkward, but I feel also mindful of the fact that watching any behind the scenes footage of bands that I like historically, I’m always very happy that it exists. We’re really fortunate to have had you there to document that.
JEFFERSON: It was really interesting because the Catskills were so different compared to London. Was there such a big, different mindset going from upstate to London? Because for me, I was like, all of a sudden, we have people getting us food. Whereas upstate, you were cooking the food.
BANKS: I didn’t get the food situation under control in London at all, bro. I put on like 20 pounds.
JEFFERSON: It was all muscle, dude.
BANKS: Yeah, right. [Laughs] Also things were really laid back in the Catskills because it’s that phase of writing. That’s probably my favorite part, where recording is a distant thing in the future, and you’re just enjoying playing with all the possibilities of how to write a song. Lyrics are hard, and it’s easy to write shitty ones and really hard to not write shitty ones. But all in all, I think it went really well this time around.
JEFFERSON: I think lyrically and vocally for you, this is a very interesting record because there is a whole lot of range to you. There isn’t one song that stays locked in on the same tone. Was that something you did on purpose or was that just something that just kinda happened?
BANKS: That’s good to hear. I think I’m trying to be diverse, and I’m trying to let every song kind of get its own treatment and approach as a vocalist. This record is kind of different though, because I wrote half of it in a bedroom in Edinburgh singing quietly so as to not have the neighbors come knocking. I think that got me taking different approaches to songs, like on “Something Changed” or even “Passenger,” deliveries that are more pulled back. But then there were jams like “Into the Night,” your favorite jam that we wrote in person live, and that song has that rock approach. Each song called for something different.
JEFFERSON: Now that you said you were singing quietly, that’s some of the stuff that I really noticed. Lyrically, I feel like you hit on some dark points, but then there’s a light. It seems like you’re in a happy place, but you still have your battles.
BANKS: That’s a very cool observation. There is a lightness to a lot of the songs, like “Fables” and “Greenwich.” But then there’s a song like “Into the Night” where the shit is so dark. It was like riding a wave rather than dictating where that song wanted to go.
JEFFERSON: It’s the brutal honesty that makes that stuff beautiful, because then people get to see that not everything is just daisies and sunshine.
BANKS: A lot of what Flood [producer of The Other Side of Make‐Believe] brought to it was a guru energy. He, in a nutshell, got the best performance of everyone and knew when everyone needed to keep pushing or knew like, “Now we have it.” He can analyze the music. It’s not fake perfection and shitloads of overdubs. You find your own methods as you go as an artist and can stretch out in different ways and relax in others. What are you working on right now?
JEFFERSON: My biggest thing is getting some books done. I’m very proud of what we’re gonna do with the launch of this. We’re gonna have this skateboard, which is amazing, my photos from the recording session and the photos of Brian Anderson, the skater, from the video that used “Obstacle 1.” This whole project is a really proud moment this year for me. I also have a session with the music thing that I’m doing with John Theodore.
BANKS: What is that?
JEFFERSON: I’ve never told you about this?
BANKS: No, but I love John Theodore.
JEFFERSON: Yeah, he’s the best. This was right before the pandemic, I make electronic music, so I made a 20-minute set with simple arpeggios and chords. And then I asked the best drummer I knew locally, he said yes. Then my friend Nosaj Thing, the electronic and hip hop producer, heard it and was like, “Dude, you should record this.” I’m just gonna call it Atiba and Theodore, just keep it basic. And then, yeah, just shooting, skateboarding. I’m working on an interview with Tyshawn Jones and Nyjah, because everyone’s trying to be Skater of the Year. Just doing that for Thrasher, just trying to live life. I just got back from Paris. And then just trying to see y’all hopefully sooner than later. I was hoping to get to London, but it’s not happening. How much touring are y’all gonna do?
BANKS: All the touring, dude.
JEFFERSON: I found it really interesting, you were really physically active during the recording. Writing sessions, you were doing those big runs. You were doing intense boxing training in London. Why is that? Does that affect your writing and recording process? Is that something you’ve always done, or is that something that is new?
BANKS: It just made me think about how depression’s relationship to art has historically been, like, people have thought, “I gotta be all fucked up to make good art.” I feel like depression actually demotivates you, and that depression makes you make less art because you function less. Anyways, exercise is a major antidepressant for me. It really helps in every dimension, writing and recording. You get this big endorphin payoff that I think really benefits you short-term. And then long-term boxing is like working on a discipline. You can look at your life and be like, “I’m better at this thing today than I was a month ago.” And then there’s this long term set of spiritual and physical gain that you’re acquiring. So it’s a two-fold benefit to your mental health when you do regular exercise.
JEFFERSON: I feel that way with skateboarding. Skateboarding, I always say, is getting the mindset of problem-solving, and working out and learning a trick. When I adapt that mindset to photography, to even music-making, it’s the same. How do I kick flip? Or how do I get in between these two chords in the time that I want to? And that’s just doing it over and over and over. As an adult, I realize when you’re at your peak and playing clearly and focused, it’s a spiritual place you can get to. That’s when you’re at your best.
BANKS: I think suffering can really inform art and improve what you do. And life experience can be a great source in your art, but, in the short term, depression just makes everything hard, including expressing suffering through art. I also wanted to ask you, can you just tell the people reading, what did you cook when we had that fun meal in the Catskills in that dope-ass kitchen. And you made something that I remember was just pretty epic.
JEFFERSON: Spaghetti sandwiches! It was straight-up Wonder white bread with butter on it. Just straight spaghetti with marinara sauce. And it’s unfuckingbelievable. The cheaper the bread the better, hopefully 99 cents a loaf, none of that good shit. It’s just all carbs. It’s so damn good. Your cooking was amazing. The coffee was amazing. That’s one thing where I was like, “This trip is so dope.” It’s funny when you meet these people that you really love their music and you get to see them be normal people. I went to stay at The Edge’s house. I’m expecting all this stuff, and it’s like, nah, his wife just made us dinner and we just kicked it at the crib and we went to the pub. You were just so great, you kept the food going. Even in London, you had your spots. How long were y’all in London tracking? It was kind of insane, right?
BANKS: I think it was two and a half months. We didn’t hurry.
JEFFERSON: Y’all worked long days to me, was there much time off, or was it pretty much those two and a half months just in that studio?
BANKS: We worked and ate pretty shitty food at night. And I ran, which was nice.
JEFFERSON: I feel like we’ve done a lot. I guess we covered it, right? I’ll talk to you soon, Paul.
BANKS: All right. Thanks man!