BANKS has done the unthinkable. While the 21st century has taught us that it’s perfectly acceptable to broadcast your thoughts en masse and check in your every movement online, you should never, ever give out your digits on the web.
So what was she thinking when she posted up her mobile number, writing, “If you ever want to talk...”?
As soon as Clash arrives at the hotel room of the rising singer-songwriter and join her on the bed, we get it. Speaking to her is a very intimate experience, as though she’s about to spill all her secrets in one breath. She’s an authority on relationships, emotion, and the way we connect as people.
“I got a funny one yesterday,” BANKS – born Jillian Banks – recalls, bouncing on her knees. “Somebody texted me to say, ‘What kind of shoes do you like on a man? I’m going on a date tonight and I need new shoes.’”
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BANKS, ‘Waiting Game’
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The musician-turned-footwear-advisor insists that she’s not had a string of creeps breathing heavily into their iPhones, although she did provoke one attendee of her Oslo show to sing into his.
“I was really inspired by the audience there; I felt really in tune with them so I decided to play a song that wasn’t even finished. It just had a verse and a chorus. This guy called me the next day and wrote his own second verse to it – about me – and sang it to me!”
Hers is a story that begins with a gloomy adolescence. “When I was 14 or 15, I was in a really, really dark place,” the LA-born-and-raised singer remembers. “It felt like when I tried to talk to people about it they just didn’t get it.”
The gift of a toy keyboard was all it took for her to begin imagining up songs in her bedroom, exorcising the sadness of her parents’ divorce through music. “These melodies would come out of me and it released the most amazing feeling. I didn’t feel as heavy walking around the next day.”
Fast-forward 10 years and here she is: perched on a queen-size bed, bare-faced and dressing gown-clad after performing to thousands of fans eager to purchase snapbacks emblazoned with her surname. But she’s still happy to address her past.
“That age was the first time that I needed something so bad like that. It’s kind of like falling in love for the first time – being really, really dark for the first time,” she wonders aloud. That darkness has crept into her current output, most notably in the aesthetic of her film noir-inspired videos, which paint her as an enigma via strokes of minimalist, understated chic.
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BANKS, ‘This Is What It Feels Like’
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Even the words that BANKS uses to describe her sound are enigmatic. “Dark blue and black. And infinite,” she offers cryptically. So how do we define her; into what box can we place her? According to the first line of her bio, perhaps we shouldn’t at all: “some things don’t need to be defined,” it reads. She shrugs when questioned. “No person fits into one label. People are so layered. Sounds are so layered.”
Her sound – a collision of pop, soul, ’90s R&B and strands of bass – reinforces this. ‘This Is What It Feels Like’ oozes a heavyweight synth line that smacks of Aaliyah or Destiny’s Child. “I love Brandy,” she verifies. “I’m so attracted to those heavy, thumping sounds.” Citing Lauryn Hill and Fiona Apple as songwriting inspirations, what she’s creating is essentially soul music with a modern-day twist.
You turn into a full-on voyeur while listening to BANKS’s lyrics – like you’re hastily flicking through a diary she’s left under her pillow.
“It’s this kind of stream of consciousness… Unconsciousness,” she corrects herself. Lines like “You can keep the dog we trained,” and “You said that you couldn’t sleep cos of me” sting with raw honesty. Of course, the idea of an artist exploring their innermost feelings through the medium of music is nothing new.
Where BANKS comes into her own, though, is by fusing that emotional depth with bleeding-edge production. She’s knocked heads with a first-rate list of dance luminaries including Lil Silva, SOHN, Jamie Woon, TEED and Sampha, who are not only co-workers but now “really good friends” of hers. “I got to start from scratch – I’ve created my own little network of happiness and music in London,” she smiles.
Wearing her heart on her sleeve has been a risk for BANKS, but it seems to be paying off. “It encourages me to keep doing it,” she concludes. “The second I stop writing the most honest, raw, vulnerable stuff is the day that I don’t wanna see.”
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This is an edited version of Clash’s full (cover feature) interview with BANKS, which can be read in issue 91 – click these words to check out what else is inside, and to buy a copy.
Find BANKS online here.