Banks & Steelz

Banks & Steelz

It all started deep in Chinatown, in a noodle shop where the noodles are handmade. See, long before the RZA and Interpol's Paul Banks could become Banks and Steelz and make an album together, they had to become friends. So there they were in Chinatown, Paul Banks and the RZA and the RZA's martial arts coach, chopping it up over noodles. "It was a very Wu-Tang Clan thing for me to do," Paul said. "I brought up my favorite Wu-Tang song. I said it was "Bells Of War." He nodded and told me about the Nord Lead keyboard he'd acquired at that time and used for the song. I saw he was stoked that I'd said that. That was my first interaction with him where I felt an artistic connection." The RZA liked Paul right away. "He had a cool New York musician type energy." But they had to hang out a lot more before they could get to making music.

So they started breaking bread and playing chess all over the place. For years. What's it like to play chess with the RZA? "He's superior," Paul says with an air of resignation. He may be deeply hurt by this. "That's what it's like. He's whupped me every time we played." RZA was more charitable about it. "He's a good opponent, know what I mean? I got the sharper sword on the chessboard, but he's a good opponent."

Good energy and camaraderie flowed easily between them for years. Then, as RZA looked for someone new to record with, he thought of Paul. They jammed in the RZA's home studio in LA. All the while, Paul says, "His engineer kept referring to a folder of songs that RZA had made in one weekend after not being in the studio for three months. When I got back to NY I said send me a couple songs from that magic folder from his magic weekend. So they sent me those and the songs in that folder spoke to me. They had a sound that pulled me in. Those songs shaped the nature of the collaboration."

RZA says, "There's songs on this record that when Mr. Branson sends his shuttle into space, this is the soundtrack." Of course, this being RZA, he has to bring it back to Asia. "I feel like me and Paul are those two guys in John Woo's The Killer, Chow Yun Fat and Danny Lee. We don't know who's the cop and who's the criminal but we know both of you guys exist in their own world and they came together to take care of a new world. That's how I feel we are."

This album brings together two powerful men who have been friends for years and fans of each other for even longer. The album is a hybrid of their styles that feels like a natural blend of both of them. "It's a great balance of who we are," RZA says. "It's pop but it's not too pop. It's hip-hop but it's not hip-hop all the way. It's alternative, but it's not alternative totally. It's actually a melding of the right amount of each. Something about it feels modern and space age and something about it feels 80s to me. To me it forms its own genre."

Some things to ask about...

RZA says in the past "a lot of the pressure on my creativity has been that the burden of the weight has been on me. But in his case it was different."

Ask Paul What other rap-rock collaborations he likes. (None.)

RZA says they built up enough trust that they could coach each other's vocals and lyrics. "I could tell Paul, nah, say that over yo. Rock it like this. When I'm in the booth he could be on the other side of the glass like, nah Bobby, that was too hard, come back one. That dynamic is unique for us. Cuz you have two capable guys coming together. We answer to each other. We both make a good sandwich. Peanut butter is great by itself and jelly is great by itself but put em together and it's great."

Paul says Straight Outta Compton, was transformative for him

They recorded at the Wu studio but it was in Malibu where the lyrics came together. RZA said, "The deeper more esoteric lyrics on the album blew in with the Malibu wind."

Ask Paul about wisdom that RZA dropped on Paul, especially the meaning of, "A karate scene is better with a train in it."

RZA says the label didn't pressure him for this, he had an open schedule to get it done when he wanted to.

Paul loves RZA's verse on Anything But Words "He goes in on some human experience shit.

RZA said, "When I was first attracted to the guitar I was chastised by my hip-hop crew. But my like of instruments and pianos, my musicianship, has been appreciated in the circle with Paul who pushes me to play more."

Dan the Automator (DJ Set)

Producer Dan The Automator is known internationally as one of the most groundbreaking and inventive creators of hip-hop music. He first achieved critical and commercial success in 1996 with the esoteric Dr. Octagon album, and followed suit with a slew of landmark recordings and remixes that established him as not only a producer to be reckoned with, but as a remixer and songwriter as well. His collaborations with hip-hop legends Prince Paul (Handsome Boy Modeling School) and Del tha Funkee Homosapien (Deltron 3030) resulted in success on a larger scale, and he went platinum as the producer of the debut Gorillaz album in 2001. Another Handsome Boy Modeling School record followed in 2005. Dan co-wrote and produced "Get Your Way", a hit single for British singer Jamie Cullum. His new project, NBA2k7, features Mos Def, E-40, Fabulous, Ghost Face, A Tribe Called Quest, Rhymefest, Lupe Fiasco, and many others. The soundtrack will be released on September 19th, 2006.

Dan "The Automator" Nakamura was born and raised in San Francisco. A chance meeting with Kool Keith in San Francisco resulted in Keith hiring Dan for some work on his own record. Keith then suggested Dan assume production duties for his Dr. Octagon alter-ego, and Dan started to put tracks together for the record that would ultimately aquaint him with a much larger audience.

A fusion of hip-hop beats and bizarre atmospherics, Dr. Octagon was released on the Bulk Recordings label in 1996. Propelled by Kool Keiths' rhymes and mind-bending meter, the record owed its' success in equal measure to Dan's inventive production. Dan's studio, the Glue Factory, also served as the workshop for recordings by Mo'Wax's DJ Shadow and for various artists on the latter's Solesides label.

As Dr. Octagon spread through the underground scene, DTA found himself collaborating with directly or remixing for a wide variety of artists: Primal Scream, the Eels, DJ Krush, Cibo Matto, Dust Brothers, Mike Simpson, Cornershop, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Stereolab, and more. Dan then teamed up with hip hop guru Prince Paul for a project called Handsome Boy Modeling School. An album titled So, How's Your Girl? was released by Tommy Boy Records and was an instant underground success. 2000's Deltron 3030 project followed, a collaboration with rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien and DJ Kid Koala.

In 2001, DTA reached his widest audience yet with the Gorillaz, an eclectic collaboration with Blur's Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett. The self-titled debut was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, going platinum in the U.S. and spawning Dan's first major hit single, "Clint Eastwood", featuring Del tha Funkee Homosapian.

In 2002 Lovage, a collaboration with former Faith No More singer Mike Patton and smoky vocalist Jennifer Charles was released. A mixtape of many of his favorite remixes called Wanna Buy A Monkey? followed, featuring remixes of Black Rob, Air, Zero 7, Tortoise, the Doves, De La Soul, Dilated Peoples, and more.

After reaching worldwide success with Gorillaz, demand for Dan as a remixer and producer grew exponentially. A known genre-bender, he worked on singles from acts ranging from Blink 182 to Sarah McLachlan, and co-wrote songs with artists such as Mos Def, Beanie Man, Beck, Busta Rhymes, and more. Additional collaborations with Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Pharrell, RZA, Mars Volta, Casual, Cat Power, and Linkin Park were the beginnings of what would be the second Handsome Boy Modeling School album, which was released on Atlantic Records in 2005, and followed by a sold-out U.S. tour.

Hip-hop is a genre that has proved itself far more flexible and groundbreaking than anyone might have predicted at its genesis: from its massive worldwide popularity to its seemingly endless "next levels", as it were, hip-hop music continues to be full of surprises, thanks largely in part to record producers like Dan The Automator. While paying homage to his heroes and influences, Dan has crafted a career as unique as his records, always walking the line between music that makes a serious statement and music that delivers undeniable hooks and knows when not to take itself too seriously.


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