Rediscover our interview with BANKS from our issue #71.
BANKS – born Gillian Banks – is in London on the UK leg of a major tour, a little cold and a little jet-lagged, but undeniably excited to be back in the country where she got her first break. With a stunning new album – entitled Goddess – released in September, nominations for The Sounds of 2014 by the BBC and MTV Brand New Nominee 2014 and inclusion on iTunes New Artists for 2014, the singer has had an almost meteoric rise in the past 18 months. The engaging singer sat down between shots to talk to CRASH about inspirations, collaborations and the what exactly goes into making her songs so powerful…
When and how did you first get into music?
I was around 14 or 15. I desperately needed an outlet. I was sad and felt very unheard. I found a keyboard and started teaching myself how to play.
Why did you start writing songs and what where they about?
They are still about the same things as they always have been about. Anything and everything that I am feeling. My relationships, my lovers and my loves.
You started writing songs at 15, when did you take the first step and play them in front of other people?
Not for a very long time. I played for my best friend since the beginning but it took me a long time to play them for anyone outside my immediate tribe. My first show was at Notting Hill Arts Club in London.
How did that feel?
Scary, exciting, intense, a blur.
Did you decide then to pursue a career in music?
I always knew it was going to be the biggest part of my heart and my life I just waited until I was ready to really go for it.
Can you tell me about your first Soundcloud release?
I put my song “Before I Ever Met You” on a private Soundcloud link. My manager sent it to someone in the UK and somehow Zane Lowe got a hold of it and really championed me from the beginning. He played it as his next hype record on his radio show and everything kind of happened from there. The link was made public after that of course.
What doors did that open for you?
The doors that the universe gave me. Soundcloud was incredible to have. People really responded to that song even before there was a picture or any information about me anywhere. it was really special. Just music.
Tell me about your collaborations and why you enjoyed working on them.
I collaborate with people that I am inspired by. TEED, Tim Anderson, Shlohmo, Lil Silva…They are all so different and bring out something different in me. Each song has its own flavor and mood and heartbeat.
Can you tell me about the stories behind the songs on the album Goddess?
They document me in my twenties.
Your lyrics connect with so many people, their intimacy is bold. What do you want people to feel when they hear your lyrics?
Honesty, me. I just want them to feel me. That is all they are.
Which of your songs do you feel most connected to and why?
I can’t choose. That is like asking someone to pick their favorite child. They all came from my mind, some when I was feeling sad or weak or fragile, some when I was feeling bold and sexy and aggressive. They are all me.
The strength of your lyrics feels as if it comes from a place of great intensity and honesty. How do you channel that while still keeping an element of yourself, for yourself?
I give everything to my music. It is all for me. So I don’t keep anything. That’s why performing can feel draining at times. Because it can feel like you are doing it for other people depending on the crowd. But writing music…my songs…they are made for me to feel lighter and more clear. So I put everything into them. You can’t hold back. I hate when people hold back.
You’re on a huge tour, when was your first proper gig and how does that feel in comparison to where you are now?
It’s really surreal sometimes. My first gig at Notting Hill Arts Club compared to playing 2 sold out shows at the Wiltern in LA or Brixton in London. It fills my whole body up with every good thing in the world when I think about it.
What have been your favourite shows to date?
The entire Goddess tours. US and Europe. They were really life changing for me.
Your music and your image fit perfectly together and form a great partnership for performance, does the music directly inspire that?
I make my music and I dress myself so they come from the same person. That’s why they match.
You are very receptive to exploring different kinds of clothing, does this adventurous spirit help with your performance?
Definitely, I love fashion. I love art. It is so much fun to allow an outfit to affect a performance. A long skirt or a cape or sheer fabric that hides and shows skin at the same time. It all adds to your essence on stage.
Why do you employ a strict colour palette in your dress on stage?
I just love black. It is fearless and powerful and mute and bold and infinite. It has everything.
What other influences do you have when it comes to your performance?
My brain. My heart. That’s it.
What do you want to explore with your music next?
Wherever I am mentally, that will be what it sounds like. I love the idea that a human constantly changes. So it will be a new version of what I am doing I think.
What are you looking forward to in 2015?
Every single day.