Photo: Recording Academy
BANKS Talks 'III,' Exploring Life's Messiness In Music & Loving Fiona Apple | Up Close & Personal
L.A. native Jillian Banks, a.k.a. ethereal pop singer/songwriter/producer BANKS, is a creative force of nature. In 2014, she confidently asserted her presence with the first major dose of her sultry voice and trippy beats on her debut album, Goddess. Earlier this year, on July 12, she dropped another powerful project, with a big dose of empowerment; her third studio album, III.
Before she finished the U.S. leg of her III Tour, the "Gimme" singer stopped by the Recording Academy headquarters for our latest episode of Up Close & Personal to talk about the new album and the intricacies within. She also shared what she's most looking forward to on tour, which artists drew her in at a young age and more. You can watch part of the conversation above and read the full interview below. You can also visit our YouTube page for a longer version of the video, as well as for other recent episodes.
You released III not long ago. How are you feeling about having this project out in the world?
I feel amazing. I was writing it for two-and-a-half years and so it feels exciting, scary, liberating. I'm just excited to tour it and perform it and all that stuff.
What are you most looking forward to about sharing the songs in that element?
I don't know. The more you perform songs, the more personality they all have. There's a different vibe to each one, and so I'm kind of just excited to get in the groove of each vibe and each world of each song. It's fun to see the reactions of the crowd, which ones resonate the most. I have a lot of movement in my show, so it's going to be fun.
The album, to me, feels very powerful and bold, and also very vulnerable and honest. Can you tell us about some of the overarching emotions and themes that you explored on it?
Wow, that's a big question. It's a lot of self-love, learning that life is not just black and white. There's a messiness in there, very messy. Perfectionism. Trying to be okay with not being a perfectionist. I have been one and it's been quite painful at certain times in my life. Yeah, owning everything. Owning yourself, what your desires are, who you are, what you stand for, your body, everything. It's just [about] being a woman, I guess. But that's kind of awkward because it's not really just for women. So, being a human.
There's a lot of really great sonic texture across the album, which you executive produced with BJ Burton. What was it like working together on the production aspect of it?
Yeah, it was really fun just because I have so many layers to who I am, and each song kind of tapped into a different part of who I was. Certain songs, I felt like, needed a lot of grit and distortion and stuff like that, songs like "Stroke." Then there's a lot of songs that feel, I wanted it to be very stripped back, like "If We Were Made Of Water," "What About Love." There's an innocence that I wanted to capture on a lot of it sonically, because a lot of what this album is about is going from this innocent person, like a child turning into an adult. It's like you go from being really quite naive, but maybe in a romantic and a really positive way, you're not jaded or bitter or anything, and then you go through heartache and all that stuff for the first time. Coming out the other side but maintaining that innocence, I think, is really important.
I feel like I captured a lot of that. "Alaska" is a very sassy song, but it has that playfulness to it. Yeah, every song is different, it was fun. Each album I do, I don't really work with a big group of people just because it's almost like therapy sessions every [studio] session. It was pretty much just, I had a few people, and me and BJ went in on every song, and made sure they all flowed.
One song that I want to look at specifically is "Contaminated." Can you talk a little bit about that song?
That song is like a hard lesson in being an adult. It's funny because this album is a lot about how things are not black and white and how things can be messy, and opening your mind and allowing to understand things in a different way. But then there are certain things in life that you wish were not black and white. Like usually the things that you want to be black and white, good or bad, are just really messy and gray and confusing. Then there are certain things that you want to be really gray and confusing, but they're just black and white. "Contaminated" is a song about a relationship that is just toxic and it's bad for you. That's it, it's a black and white thing, and you don't want it to be bad for you.
Because when you want something to continue, it's like you're addicted to it, so it's like you want to find the gray in there. But there are certain things that are not gray, they are black and white, and you have to kind of be a savage about it. And so with that type of situation, I had to be, and I wrote about it.
And then can you speak to the "Contaminated" lyric video?
I think that there's beauty in learning and pain. I guess it sounds kind of cheesy, but the video, it's very human, but it's painted in a million colors. You go through life and you're just this body, and you're just a human, and you have all these emotions and you go through all these experiences that are really beautiful. But they can hurt you, and it could be colored dark and it could be colored light. That video is about showing the earth, but contaminating it in certain ways. So there's the body with paint moving around, and these may be really beautiful ways and there's also really contorted ways. It's a little bit like the graphic part of life. I've always had a lot of black and white in my visuals, so it's been really fun on this album to have a lot of colors, in my own way.
— BANKS (@hernameisBANKS) August 22, 2019
You recently published a poetry book, Generations Of Women From The Moon, which is so cool. Were you working on that while you were working on the album? What's the story behind it?
Well, every song is kind of like a poem, and I've always written poems. Before I even got into songwriting, it was more of just this stream of consciousness thing that turned into to having melodic chants behind it, and just turned into a song. But with poetry, I just got really into writing and there's definitely a theme to my poems.
It's funny, writing music and writing poetry comes from, it fulfills the same need in me, but they come from different voices. Sometimes, I feel like my music is about the nitty gritties of life, different dynamics and relationships and stuff like that. And then my poetry feels like it's bigger concepts, like speaking from this wise woman voice that I have in my stomach. There's a lot of moon imagery in my poetry that I didn't even plan on. The first poem in the book is called "Generations Of Women From The Moon." It's a two-part poem.
When do you tend to feel most creatively inspired?
God, I don't know. For me, creativity just comes. There's not really a setting. I mean, I do like to have a nice couch in a studio, a really comfortable zone to get in there. But, I mean, any time of day, it's more whenever a certain mood hits.
When you were younger, were there any artists that you admired that made you think, I want to go into music or I want to make something like they're making?
Anybody with a voice that didn't feel perfectly trained, but you felt their soul in, that was for me growing up, any voice that I heard that had that grit, and lyrics that weren't just—you can tell when an artist writes their own music. For me, that's what it's always been about. Fiona Apple was somebody that I always loved. Ben Harper, I used to listen to all the time. Tracy Chapman. And Brandy's voice kills me, still kills me. It's like butter. My dad would play a lot of Peter Gabriel, which is always amazing. Yeah, I'm really into atmospheres as well, so a lot of stuff that just took you into another world but maybe didn't even have lyrics.