Published Sep 12, 2016Anything But Words (out now on Warner) should not work as well as it does. The collaboration between Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and Interpol's Paul Banks is a bizarre sidestep for both of them, but as Banks & Steelz, they've made some pretty solid music. Not quite rock, not quite rap, it's something entirely different — fresh, new, exciting.
Reinventing themselves for this new genre they created wasn't easy. Coming off the duo's first Canadian show in Toronto, RZA took time to break down for Exclaim! how and he Banks have made their new venture a success — and what anyone wanting to switch lanes needs to know.
1. Be prepared to learn new skills.
Performing and recording with Wu-Tang was in RZA's bones. But if he was going to make Banks & Steelz a success, he had to develop some new skills onstage — including playing keyboards while rapping.
"I don't think there are a lot of rappers from my generation who play an instrument while they perform. With Wu-Tang, I can grab the mic, I can hold my nuts, just go out there. But with Banks & Steelz, I have to stay in sync with Paul, stay in tempo with my drummer, have the clarity in my vocals. It's challenging every night, and I get nervous every night."
2. Put in the hard work — and trust your partners.
Anything But Words came from a pool of 40 songs RZA and Banks recorded over a period of around four years. To make this project work, RZA says, they had to spend time getting to know each other.
"Paul and I are both workaholics in the studio. We have a good dynamic. I'm an old-school guy. I don't like to do stereo tracks. I track every kick, every snare, hi-hat on a separate track. Paul wasn't used to that. But he was excited to see me work it that way. And when I got up from the desk to get a sandwich, a vegetarian nugget, whatever [RZA is vegan], he'd get right into it and go for hours."
3. Accept that people might not know who you are — even if you've already got a fan base.
While Banks & Steelz sold out their first-ever gig at The Roxy in Los Angeles, RZA says it doesn't count — the crowd knew who they were. For their second, in Seattle, they played to a much smaller crowd, and their legendary status in their respective genres counted for zip.
"We were playing a 400-seat room with 350 people there. Last month, I was at the BassNectar Festival in Colorado, playing to 26,000 people. Every Wu-Tang concert has thousands of kids showing up. Now, here I am, back in front of 350 kids, trying to win 'em over with songs they don't know. But we won 'em over that night!"
4. Timing is important.
There's a sense that Banks & Steelz wouldn't have had as much hype ten years ago. Of course, nowadays we have groups like Run the Jewels and Big Grams, with rappers and producers of vastly different styles teaming up to collaborate. If you're going to reinvent yourself, RZA says, the conditions need to be right.
"You're talking to a guy who went platinum in 1994, and has been going gold for years and years. Now I'm coming back with this whole new collaboration — not just collaboration, a whole new band. The promoters have to sell it as Banks & Steelz. We're comfortable with that, but it's a definite return to grassroots. All we're hoping for, at the end of the day, is that we can spread our music, so we can do it again. We don't want this to be a one-off project."
Check out the video for "Giant" from Anything But Words below: