Q&A: BANKS On Her Burgeoning Success, Debut Album, And Giving Her Phone Number Out To The Entire World
We recently showcased “Brain” — the latest bit of slinky darkroom pop from BANKS, an LA-based singer and songwriter (real name Jillian Banks) who has spent the better part of the past year teasing out excellently moody R&B-infused singles. Even though she has yet to release a proper album, BANKS let loose with a fair amount of music in 2013 — an excellent EP, London, and a string of potent singles (including “Waiting Game,” which figured prominently in a Victoria’s Secret ad campaign) — as well as snagging an opening spot on the Weeknd’s fall 2013 tour. Having already been nominated for all sorts of emerging artist awards from the likes of MTV and the BBC, it seems like kind of a no-brainer that 2014 will be the year that BANKS breaks big. Given the fact that she already seems to have her aesthetic on lock — downcast, slow-burn synth jams that show off her excellent voice accompanied by hyper-chic black and white videos in which she appears as a kind of noir super vixen — now BANKS just has to put the finishing touches on her full-length debut and prepare to take the world by storm. I called her up at home in LA to chat, which is apparently something lots of people have been doing since she still has her personal phone number listed on her Facebook page.
STEREOGUM: I’m assuming this coming year is going to be a very busy one for you. I was curious about how you got started initially. I knew of you just from songs that were floating around on the internet. Is that sort of how things began for you? Just putting things out into the world on your own?
BANKS: I got into writing music when I was like 14 or 15. It was a very private thing for me because I used it as an outlet and emotional release. I kept it very close to myself and didn’t tell too many people about it. Probably in the last year and a half, when I met my manager, he started to put stuff out there. It was crazy because it kind of all started because we put my song called “Before I Ever Met You” on a private SoundCloud link and it was sent to somebody in the UK. I don’t know exactly the connection that made it all happen, but somehow Zane Lowe heard it and he ripped it from the private link and played it on his radio show as the next hype record, which was just insane because we hadn’t really done anything yet … there was no picture of me, no nothing. It all felt very natural, it all just started unfolding. It’s just been amazing.
STEREOGUM: That was early 2013?
BANKS: Yeah, around then.
STEREOGUM: You’ve managed to do quite a bit in just one year.
BANKS: Oh yeah, it’s been the most incredible year in the world. It’s been crazy.
STEREOGUM: Did you always have a sense that you would be a musician?
BANKS: I mean, I always felt things extra hard. I’m very passionate, very emotional, very sensitive. I’ve always been like that. Once I discovered how important writing music was to me and just what a huge weight it lifted off of me, I knew that it was going to be the biggest part of my life, the biggest love of my life, the biggest thing in my life. So yeah, I’ve definitely always known that this is what I was going to do and what I want to do.
STEREOGUM: That’s such a blessing.
BANKS: I always say that. I’m so grateful to have it. It’s the most amazing thing I have.
STEREOGUM: Looking at the things that you’ve released so far — the singles and the EP — it seems like you had a pretty clear sense early on of what your aesthetic would be. Not just in terms of the way things sound, but the visual aesthetic too. Everything seems very well considered.
BANKS: I’ve been writing music for almost ten years and developing my sound around the way I like to speak lyrically within my songs. I’ve been developing it a long time by myself, so by the time I got the chance to really do it and put it out there, I definitely had my own way of doing things. It’s not like I had to think about it, I just have a very clear idea of who I am. My music is 100-percent me so it’s just who I developed into as a woman. I feel really grateful that I waited until I did because I feel like I really found who I was by doing that.
STEREOGUM: I know you’ve been busy working on a record. How’s that going?
BANKS: It’s amazing. I’m so excited.
STEREOGUM: How close do you feel to being done?
BANKS: Pretty close. If anything, we have too many songs. I don’t feel quite finished yet. I feel like I still have a few more things to let out so that I’ll feel really comfortable and happy with my first album being released, but I’m so excited. I’m as close as you can get.
STEREOGUM: You’ve worked with a lot of amazing people already — Sohn, Lil Silva, Schlomo — will a lot of those people be involved with your record?
BANKS: Yeah. I’m working with Lil Silva, Sohn, TEED … and a few other people that I’m not quite supposed to say. Pretty much the same team that I discovered were great for me and brought out the best in me.
STEREOGUM: You toured a lot with the Weeknd. How is that side of things for you? Playing live, being in front of people?
BANKS: I love it. It’s a different type of energy than I think anything else could give you. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s a new thing to learn how to be up there and give everything in front of everyone but I love it.
STEREOGUM: Your music is this interesting fusion of R&B with electronic music, which is such a thing right now in pop music. Did you grow up listening to that kind of music? What were the most influential or hallmark records for you when you first started writing songs?
BANKS: I listened to pretty much anything that I could really feel, where I felt like the artist had to write those songs, where you can feel their soul and the pain and the happiness and love and everything. I love Lauryn Hill, Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple. People like that. People you can really connect to on the most basic human level.
STEREOGUM: I noticed that you have your phone number posted on your Facebook page with a message encouraging people to call you. I’m guessing a lot of people actually do.
STEREOGUM: How has that been?
BANKS: It’s been getting a little crazy.
STEREOGUM: Crazy good or crazy bad?
BANKS: Crazy good. Of course crazy good, always. When I started, I was like, “I’m going to answer everybody because this is the way I want to do things.” I never got into Twitter or Facebook or anything, so I wanted to connect with people who connect with my music in a way that feels genuine and natural for me. I wanted to answer everybody, but that’s been getting a little difficult. But it’s cool, figuring it out.
STEREOGUM: It must be really great to talk to people who have a super-emotional reaction to your music because I feel like your music is tailor-made for that. I also imagine that it could be potentially creepy.
BANKS: (laughs) Sometimes, but it’s mostly really good.
STEREOGUM: What do you anticipate 2014 being like for you?
BANKS: Just a huge period of growth and adventure and experimentation and living. I’m so excited. I think it’s going to be even crazier than this last year. I’m really excited. Everything that I’m doing right now is so new. The tour I went on was my first tour. Everything is so fresh and I’m just learning as I go. It’s really fun because I feel like I’m just being thrown into everything. That means I get to find my own way of doing things rather than preparing. You can’t really prepare, you just have to go with it.
STEREOGUM: I know you’re still working on the record, but what can you say about what you have done so far? Does it feel like a departure from the singles you’ve released already?
BANKS: It’s an extension of me, of every mood that I’m in. I’ve ventured into new territory in terms of literally just letting everything out. I mean, I’ve always let everything out, but I’m feeling new things. I’m writing things that I’ve never written before. I’m really excited but it’s also pretty scary to think about. I put everything into my music — my lyrics are the most raw and vulnerable and honest part of my mind. I’m excited but it’s a little scary … but mainly just exciting.
STEREOGUM: The music must also relate the excitement you must be feeling and what a truly crazy time in your life this must be.
BANKS: Definitely. I feel like air tastes more juicy.
STEREOGUM: If it could only always be that way all the time.
BANKS: Right? I think doing things that scare you a little is a good thing. A little bit of fear is never a bad thing. A healthy amount of fear makes everything taste better.