Banks: “I Got Into Music Because I Needed It At The Time”

Californian chanteuse Banks has experienced an ascent to rival that of Lana Del Rey. In 2014 she reigns over the blogosphere, courted by popdom and the fashion industry, even before unveiling an album. But a singular musical mystique has ensured her authenticity is never subject to scrutiny.

The psychology grad has channeled self-taught musical chops that she unlocked in the wake of her parents’ divorce into a transgressive, futuristic alt-soul, reconfiguring ’90s R&B and electronica. The confessional Fiona Apple her idol, and with a voice redolent of Aaliyah, Brandy, and Monica, Jillian Banks established herself as The Weeknd‘s female counterpart with her second EP, London.

Now the Los Angeles native is presenting her full-length debut, Goddess, which has already hatched acclaimed singles, such as the quiet storm of Brain and the dramatic, Florence Welch-like Beggin For Thread. Music Feeds recently caught up with Banks to discuss her intimate debut album and the speculation that she’ll be flying Down Under this summer for St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.

Music Feeds: Are you surprised by the huge level of anticipation for Goddess?

Banks: Umm, I don’t know. I’m just excited to get it out. I’m excited that people are connecting with my music, definitely. It means everything to a musician to have people connect with what they do – so it’s amazing.

MF: You’ve been associated with an experimental, alternative R&B movement. Do you personally feel an affinity with that?

B: I don’t really think about music in genres, to be honest. I just make my own, but yeah, I’ve heard people say that [laughs]

MF: Was R&B a big part of your adolescence – or is that just an assumption people are making?

B: No, I’ve always loved people with soul. I love Lauryn Hill, Tracy Chapman, Erykah Badu, Otis Redding, Ben Harper… I’ve always loved juicy, soulful voices. And Missy Elliott, Brandy… Yeah, so I’ve gone through it, I guess.

Watch: Banks – Brain

MF: Beyoncé must be really cross that she didn’t think of calling an album Goddess. How does that title relate to your record?

B: It means everything to this record [laughs]

MF: Is there a story behind it?

B: I’m a human and I sing about really human things. I just feel like everyone – man and woman, everybody – I want people to embrace all of the most human parts of those times they feel amazing and they feel spicy and they feel strong, and then they feel weak and they feel fearful and they feel angry.

All those things make you a goddess – they just make you more special, more beautiful, more you. They make you spicier. That’s why I called it Goddess.

MF: You started writing amid your parents’ divorce – did that go on to shape the album?

B: No. My album is shaped by my own heart and my own experiences – it’s not shaped by one thing. I got into music ’cause I needed it at the time I started getting into it but, definitely, no, this particular album wasn’t shaped by that.

MF: You studied psychology at college – and you’ve indicated that music is therapeutic for you. Did you learn anything about yourself in making this record?

B: No, I just make music. I just write about what I already know, what’s already inside me. It’s not like writing leads me to any revelation – that’s not why I do it.

It’s to let out the little beasts in my head and make me more at peace and more me. Writing is me and, if I don’t write, I’m not me. So it’s just what I do. It’s like air for me – it’s another language for me and it’s just part of how I interact with the world.

MF: You’ve worked with an amazing array of collaborators – Lil Silva, Jamie Woon, Justin Parker – but many of them are from the UK. Some people assume you’re English. What is your attraction to British music culture?

B: I don’t know if I’m attracted to British culture. I’m more attracted to people, and the people who I’ve worked with and I’ve been inspired by most within the last year happened [to be British].

Watch: Banks – Beggin For Thread

SOHN isn’t British, he’s actually from Vienna, but I worked with him when I was in London. But when I first started releasing music, the people who I worked with were mostly British. Somehow it just worked out like that.

MF: Did you spend a lot of time over there – because you titled your last EP London?

B: Yeah, I pretty much wrote that EP in London in this, like, crazy, three-week, emotionally-heightened period that I was in. It was the first trip that I ever took for writing music and I was going through so much personally and I was just growing. I felt more liberated than I’ve ever felt. I wrote it all in three weeks.

I actually had my first EP [Fall Over] done and mastered before I even took that trip and then I went there and I wrote all this music that felt so genuine and present and so me in that exact period of time that I was like, ‘Okay, scratch the whole EP – this music that I’m making now is the EP and I just wanna call it London, ’cause it’s here.’

MF: How did you hook up with SOHN?

B: I had a remix that he did of Before I Ever Met You. He was able to add something really creepy to it that I love [laughs] – like the heart and the soul of the song, he just added this atmosphere to it. Sometimes remixes can make something cool, but they completely change the soul of the song.

He was able to keep what that song meant to me, but add something to it. So I was just intrigued by him. I was like, I need to work with him – I wanna see what we could make. Then, the first time we worked together, we made Waiting Game.

MF: You had a remix done of Brain by an Australian, Ta-ku. What do you look for in a remix generally?

B: I just look for flavours. I look for… I don’t know. I don’t really think about it too much, to be honest. Getting remixes isn’t my priority when I’m thinking about making music. It’s more just making my song. But I love hearing remixes.

I love hearing different versions of my song that add something to it – adds maybe a different beat, a different groove, a different energy, but keeps the soul, like I said, of the song. I like that. I like when people are inspired by each other and make something new together. It’s really cool.

MF: There have been rumours of you playing the Laneway festival here. Are there plans to hit Australia with your show?

B: Yeah, I think there’s some in the works for early next year, so I’m really excited.

MF: So there’s no specific event planned?

B: I’m not sure. I don’t wanna give the wrong information. I know that we’re definitely working on something.

Watch: Banks – Waiting Game

Banks’ debut album, ‘Goddess’, is out Friday, 5th September.

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