P.T. Banks is a new man.
Well, he’s not really a new man, but you sure would think so judging from the career-defining musical renaissance that he’s undergone in the past four years.
The man born Paul Banks is a Dallas native who has called Austin home since 2006. He’s also a quadruple threat singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist who has been praised for his “beautifully mesmerizing” melodies by the Austin Chronicle; just one of many reputable Texas music publications to have shown the Lone Star favorite some love.
After touring and recording with a band under the name Paul Banks and the Carousels from 2007-2013, as well as a brief stint under the name Supermoon, P.T. Banks settled on a final lineup and name for his band two years ago, and he swears he’s sticking to it.
Now Banks is back with not only a new bassist, Christopher Cox, and a new percussionist, Matthew Shepherd, but a new record (his third full-length) and a new sound. Although he cites Paul Simon as his favorite songwriter and Sam Cooke and Freddie Mercury as singing influences, Banks’ infectious brand of indie pop is inherently his own.
In preparation for P.T. Banks’ first show under the so-called “new and forever” moniker tomorrow night at the Mohawk in Austin, he sat down with JamFeed to set the record straight on a great many things. Read on to find out the reasons for the name changes, details on the upcoming record, Banks finally achieving musical freedom, and much more. Listen to the first two singles from the record, “Emily (Knot My Nets)” and “Hitchhiker,” below.
Your band has gone by three different names. What’s up with the name changes?
P.T. Banks: I’ve been going as Paul Banks since about 2007. At the time, I didn’t know there was a guy who’s super famous also named Paul Banks, [the lead vocalist] from Interpol. He went solo and used a moniker, but then he changed it to his name… which is my name [laughs]. It kinda became an issue online with confusion and stuff.
At the same time, the band was going through changes in sound and also with new members, and Supermoon happened to fit the new band… but then we had issues with that name [laughs].
What were those issues?
Banks: There was this guy in Scotland who’s not nearly as huge as Paul Banks [from Interpol], but he’s pretty big in Scotland. It probably wouldn’t have even been an issue before, but it’s the 21st century now. He made his name Supermoon about a month after us, but he released a record before us, so we didn’t want to deal with those issues again.
My drummer thought of the name P.T. Banks, and we all like it a lot. The “P.T.” is just my first and middle initials. I like that it can refer to both me, or us as a group… the fact that it’s ambiguous. I’m excited about not ever changing it again.
What changes have occurred in the band?
Banks: The original band was called Paul Banks and the Carousels. We put out a record under that name in 2011, and around that time there were some switcheroos. We got a new drummer and our bass player moved to LA, so it’s basically been a totally different band since then. We’ve been working on this new stuff since then.
You’re getting ready to release this new music soon, right?
Banks: Yes, it’ll be released in February. The record sounds bigger than the trio sounds live because we played a bunch of instruments and brought friends into the studio. But it’s still really based on the songs, ultimately. I feel like it transfers really well regardless of if it’s stripped down or if we have more people on stage with us — as we oftentimes do.
So you guys have been sitting on this record for the past three to four years?
Banks: Yeah, we did a Kickstarter for the record a couple years ago and it was awesome. It was scary and I didn’t think it would work, but we went way over our goal. It was an overwhelming feeling to see people get so excited about it. We’ve been sitting on [the record] since then, just talking to labels and trying to release it in the best way we can, and we’ve decided to put it out independently. We’re pretty excited about the fact that there’s actually a release date on the books now… and we’re going back on tour!
What’s the name of the album?
Banks: It’s called Moonlight Is Sunlight.
What’s the significance of that title?
Banks: That’s actually the name of one of the songs on the album. I think it’s the best song I’ve ever written. I wrote it from the point of view of a god who exists, and he’s singing to someone who no longer believes in him. I wrote it after I listened to a Randy Newman song from the 70’s called “God’s Song,” which is a really, really dark song from the point of view of a god who doesn’t exist who mocks humans for believing in him.
The theme of the album is really about finding hope in the darkest places. Scientifically speaking, moonlight is a reflection of sunlight, which is a much greater force than what we see when we look at the moon. So I felt like the theme of the song fit the theme of the album well.
What’s your writing process like? Do you write songs in the studio with the whole band present or do you write beforehand?
Banks: It’s still very much me writing songs alone, but it’s more of a group thing with the arrangements. My bass player Christopher Cox actually produced the record. He arranged string parts for the string quartet and lots of cool synth parts, stuff like that. He’s a classical composer and he has his own band (Feverbones), so he’s just a really great musician.
There’s actually one song on the record that I thought was a throwaway. It was a cheesy, straightforward love song, and I never write cheesy, straightforward love songs. I love listening to them when they’re good, but I feel ridiculous writing them. I ended up writing one and showed it to the band and they were like, “this isn’t cheesy at all, this is awesome!” We made it funky and cool and now it’s the lead single on the record [laughs]. So it’s great having that group feedback.
Talk about how the dynamic of the band changed after you brought two new members in.
Banks: I feel like I can do more as a writer next to the guys I’m playing with now. I can basically do anything I want. The sound was more based on folk music back then, and now I can expand to wherever. I can write a folk song or I can write a funky, upbeat pop song.
What changed specifically?
Banks: Chris, my bass player, encouraged me to play more electric guitar and the sound just started changing. Also, I started coming into my own and realizing what I’m capable of vocally, so that changed the way I wrote music. I started loosening up the way I wrote and going all over the place. I really feel like we can do anything we want, and it’s a really exciting feeling.
Talk about your tour plans.
Banks: We’re touring the west coast in January before the album comes out, then going to the east coast after the release. We’ll be doing regional stuff around Texas and neighboring states in the meantime. It’s really exciting because I haven’t been on a tour in over a year. I miss it a lot even though it gets tiring.
Were there any cities that surprised you by how well the fans reacted?
Banks: The craziest show I had was in Baltimore. I was playing solo and I wasn’t even supposed to be on the bill. I had a day off of tour in New York and this guy I know in Baltimore asked me if I wanted to open for him, so I took a bus down there by myself. I didn’t know that he was huge in Baltimore, and it was sold out. The crowd was hanging on every note and they were really appreciative. A lot of people bought records and wanted to talk about my songs after the show.
What do you like the most about tour life?
Banks: Just playing every night and seeing how different audiences react to the music. There will be some towns where you’re totally unknown and the bill’s not great and you’re disappointed by the amount of people in the crowd, but there will still be moments where they’re really, really into it. We play at least once a month in Austin, so you don’t get those moments with brand new fans a lot.