Tequila can make for strange bedfellows.
After bonding over drinks at a New York club in 2011, Wu-Tang Clan maestro RZA, 47, and Interpol frontman Paul Banks, 38, eventually decided to take their relationship to the next level: the studio. As Banks & Steelz, they will release their debut album, Anything but Words (Warner Bros.), on Aug. 26, melding hip-hop and rock, including Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Kool Keith and Florence Welch.
RZA and Banks’ simpatico back-and-forth — and shared propensity for going on tangents — was on full display when the pair stopped by Billboard’s New York office to discuss their joint studio effort, sex robots and politics.
Take us back to the night you met.
PB: I was name-dropping RZA when I was doing press for my first solo record. Then I get an email [from manager Tyler Childs] saying like, “I work with the RZA. Would you like to meet him?” We didn’t talk shop that night. We just chopped it up to meet.
RZA: We went out and got some noodles. Hit a club after that. I learned that he played chess — we hooked up and played a couple games of chess. We just hung out. Like me and you is hanging out right now.
I’m paid to be here. Kind of like an escort or a geisha.
RZA: I like geishas.
Have you ever been to a Japanese hostess club, where women are paid to essentially engage in conversation?
PB: I have. I’ve been to Tokyo to a club where that was offered. I mean, I didn’t do it.
RZA: I’ve been to some good places. I haven’t been there. They also have a place now where you can get a hug and cuddle for an hour. It’s weird we’re that disconnected. I’ll just touch you and you’ll feel me. That’s one thing I like about being on this planet.
Maybe as RZA, you can do that. Most men can — and shouldn’t — come up and randomly touch a woman.
PB: You have game.
RZA: Nah. I’m not saying that. It has nothing to do with game. If you really need that hug, your insides will say it to that person. And if that person wants to accommodate, they will accommodate.
It gets weirder. Did you hear that they’re working on sex robots?
PB: And virtual reality will be another trip.
RZA: Let me tell you something, kid. Ain’t nothing gonna replace…Who said it? Marvin Gaye? [Starts singing] “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby…” That’s facts.
Tell me about the jam session that inspired Anything But Words.
RZA: We decided to jam for a week. I’m mostly on drum machines. I play the keyboard as well. We made some demos and [the label] liked what they heard. I’m a musician. A lot of people don’t know that. We rotate — he plays the drums and I’m on piano.
Were the features done in-person?
PB: Ghost[face Killah], the Wu and Kool Keith came to the studio. Florence was unable to do it in-person. That was very easy and a very effective kind of email communication. She sent me her lyrics and they were dope. I had tiny, tiny notes, she sang it and I had no f–king notes other than, “Can you sing more, please?”
RZA: [Florence] was on tour. 95 percent of whoever’s on the record came to the studio. Ghost had to come to the studio three days. It was a very physical album.
Were there challenges?
RZA: There were certain things I was uncomfortable with, [like] singing some notes. [I’m] very shy but I was like, f–k it, you live once, kid.
PB: He’s a great singer. There’s a bridge you wrote on “Can’t Hardly Feel.” I’ve never sung someone else’s melody. That was new to me to sing even a couple of phrases that I didn’t write.
What was it like working together?
RZA: We couldn’t be any more different, but it works. Any collaboration could pick that up from us: the patience that we showed each other. The work ethic is strong on both sides.
Banks: Sure, there have been disagreements, but we have a good dynamic — there’s compatibility of intellectual curiosities. With him, I can talk about anything: Physics. Aliens. Conspiracy theories. Film. Race issues in Hollywood.
Do you ever end up talking politics?
Banks: I went to [Donald] Trump’s son’s wedding — my then-girlfriend was a bridesmaid. I hunted with Donny Jr.
RZA: That’s crazy. All I know about Trump is that I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at his hotel. I destroyed some of those rooms; used to drink 40-ounce on the stoop.
What about Hillary Clinton?
RZA: I met [Hillary Clinton] briefly at a Brett Ratner thing. The smartest person that’s running? She’s that person. Go back and check her grades. That is important when you’re talking about someone making educated decisions — not emotional decisions, calculated decisions. I bet you she’s smacking A’s. Trump probably a C, C-plus guy. Maybe B-minus.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Aug. 20 issue of Billboard.