- 02 Jul 19
A controversy has erupted over the interview Ed Power did for Hot Press with Paul Banks of Interpol. It all relates to Morrissey and the fact that Interpol are set to support the former lead singer with The Smiths on his solo tour of the US later this year. To find out more, read on...
Now and then you end up at the centre of a storm in a way that you hadn’t planned for.
This is one of them! What a fine mess, you might say!
We’ve always been great admirers of Interpol, one of the most intellectually and musically stimulating bands of the past two decades. That was the spirit of the piece which we did in our most recent issue, with Snow Patrol on the front cover, for which Ed Power spoke to the band’s lead singer and lyricist-in-chief, Paul Banks.
In the interview, Banks offered his unique insights into the New York scene that also produced The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, The Walkmen and TV On The Radio.
The interview also touched on a more delicate subject: the decision of the band to play as support act to Morrissey in the US, during the autumn of 2019.
It is a subject that had to be discussed. A lot of fans of The Smiths and Morrissey feel very strongly that the Mancunian controversialist has slipped far too happily into supporting a far right ideology that is implicitly – and sometimes explicitly – racist.
Fans in the UK in particular have been disturbed to see him endorsing Tommy Robinson, co-founder of the English Defence League and the For Britain party – a man who has made no secret of his hostility to Islam. Robinson has been jailed three times for assault, fraud, and using false travel documents.
So how should other musicians react?
Some, like Billy Bragg, have condemned Morrissey’s lurch to the right. Others, like Nick Cave, have expressed their contempt for his political views but insist that they can be separated from his music.
Interpol, meanwhile, have been criticised on social media for accepting the gig. This was raised at the end of the interview, and Ed Power quoted Paul Banks’ response. “We thought it would be a good show for our band,” the singer is quoted as saying. “That’s how I’m looking at it."
The quote was subsequently picked up by Pitchfork, who carried a news story which used the Hot Press quote. It wasn’t a sensational piece any more than our original one was, not by a long shot. But there is little doubt that the issue is a very live one. Many fans– including fans of Interpol – feel very strongly that Morrissey’s views are unacceptable to the extent that his gigs should be boycotted. Some long-standing fans of The Smiths have spoken of feeling betrayed by Morrissey.
Today, however, the issue took a further turn.
Paul Banks has said that he was misquoted in the original article. As a result, his Irish PR crew were in touch asking us to change the text in the article online to read: "We thought it would be a good show for our fans."
Ed Power has listened again to the tape. If a mistake was made at our end, then it was an honest one, made in good faith. As you’ll hear, if you listen to the audio, it sounds very like 'band'. Or 'fans'.
In fairness to Paul Banks, and to Interpol, the distinction is a real one. If he said ‘band', it makes the decision to support Morrissey sound like a careerist move. If he said ‘fans', well, it is clearly much less self-centred: the thought that a Morrissey-supported-by-Interpol bill might be an attractive one for fans makes musical sense.
Of course, it still leaves the question: how should artists and fans respond if and when a beloved icon begins to express political viewpoints that are widely seen as reprehensible. Should a band like Interpol give a damn what Morrissey thinks or says about politics? Or what he says in support of individuals or parties that are nakedly hostile to people of Islamic background?
Paul’s position is clearly that it doesn’t matter very much.
One response is that Paul Banks is right. Morrissey’s politics have little or nothing to do with his music.
The other is that he is wrong, and that playing support to Morrissey implies some kind of endorsement of the singer's publicly expressed – and widely publicised – views.
Therein lies the conundrum.
We have no problem making a correction from ‘band’ to ‘fans’ if that’s how Paul recalls it. This has now been done. But do have a listen – and see what you think you hear!
• Interpol’s excellent A Fine Mess EP is out now.