It’s rare to listen to an artist that truly invites you into the deepest, most personal corners of her mind. Hearing LA-based singer, BANKS‘ music gives you the sense that you’ve been invited to take part in some kind of private conversation between dear friends. The combined intimacy of her lyrics and delicacy of her grime-infused sound sets her apart from the rich selection of female vocalists out there. With only a handful of releases to her name, BANKS has stayed relatively quiet and restrained when it comes to self-promotion. The added air of mystery makes a new listener feel like they’ve discovered something secret and special.
Tonight she kicks off her first international tour in Vancouver, supporting Canadian R&B superstar The Weeknd. A major step in what is sure to be a lush career, the tour precludes the releases of BANKS’ debut EP London due out September 10 on Harvest Records. We sat down with the burgeoning talent to discuss the struggles of sharing her rawest feelings, the influence grime producers have on her sound, and the results of putting her personal cell number on Facebook.
Read the interview below, and pick up a copy of her London EP next week.
We heard you were making music on Garage Band while you were still in school–how did your music end up getting in the hands of the musical powers that be?
I actually wasn’t making music on Garage Band, I was just writing music on a keyboard and recording it into my phone or a tape recorder sometimes. My best friend sent two of the songs I created to my current manager and it kind of all happened from there.
If someone had asked you five years ago what you’d be doing today, what do you think you’d tell them?
Writing music, and the rest I would have absolutely no idea.
What is the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome to be able to pursue your passion for music?
My songs are like my diary entries. I’m at my weakest and most raw in all of them. It’s definitely scary to share all of this with the world–to put all my insecurities, weaknesses and all the little monsters in my head on display, but it’s also really beautiful and liberating. It becomes a learning experience. Being free and open while embracing all the darkness with the light in your mind is a struggle for every person; so being able to do it and have people respond positively has been the biggest blessing I have ever known. Everyone should feel unapologetic for their own thoughts.
You’re a self-taught pianist, do you remember the first piece you learned?
Just my own songs. I don’t know how to read music. I do everything by ear, so learning to play was a matter of creating my own songs. The first song I ever wrote consisted of three chords in a row the whole time with a lot of words and melodies on top.
Are your parents musical? What music was playing in your house when you were a kid?
No, neither of them are. My dad can carry a tune though and he absolutely loves music. When I was little he would blast Peter Gabriel, Crash Test Dummies, and Dead Can Dance and sing all the words at the top of his lungs as a joke. I always told him that if I closed my eyes and didn’t look at his goofy face while doing it, it actually sounded pretty good.
Who are the female artists making music right now that you adore?
I really like MØ, I love love love Jessie Ware and Fiona Apple is still the best doing it.
You’re no stranger to the UK’s electronic grime and house sounds–you’ve collaborated with people like Lil Silva and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. How do you choose the producers you work with?
It’s funny, up until this point I haven’t necessarily “chosen” who to work with. Everything has happened so organically that it feels like it was all meant to happen. Lil Silva is on the same label as me in the UK, so we’re in the same family. When I heard his music through Scott Jason and Seb Chew (who runs Good Years) it just really hit me hard. I knew we had to collaborate and we just started sending each other things back and forth over the internet since I was in LA and he was in the UK. With TEED he was in LA and our managers thought it would be cool to meet and see what happened – then “Warm Water” was born a few hours later.
Who were some of the key players who helped produce your London EP?
Sohn, Lil Silva, TEED, Tim Anderson, and Jesse Rogg.
One of the songs on the EP, “Change,” is a deeply moving ballad with a chorus that repeats, “I promise I’ll be better.” What does that lyric signify for you? Was it written with a specific situation in mind?
A specific situation that actually doesn’t have to be specific because it’s so natural and universal. “I promise I’ll be better,” is something that someone says when they try and change for someone else, in order to keep them. That’s impossible though. For happiness at least. Sometimes love crushes your heart because you love someone that just doesn’t make you feel good. And that person who isn’t making you feel good, for reasons they can’t control, is just being themselves, which is all they can be. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s hard to explain lyrics to be honest. I write when I can’t express myself with just words–which is why that song came about. So it’s so hard to talk about it.
How has your sound changed over the course of the last year?
It has GROWN.
How do you balance being an introverted person with a career that necessitates the spotlight?
I’m working on it. If I’m comfortable with every move I make then I will be just fine. I’m just trying to make it right for me. Be truthful and honest with everything I do, and try to be aware of the things that don’t make me feel good.
Tell us about touring with The Weeknd–how did it come to be?
Good luck and a little present from the universe.
What’s your favorite time of day?
It changes…sometimes the middle of the night. Sometimes early morning. Sometimes right before sunset when it seems things are slowing down a bit before it gets wild at night.
Favorite place to spend time alone?
My room. Or outside anywhere on a walk. Or a steam room.
What’s the best thing you’ve read–quotes, books, bumper stickers–in the last month? Tell me about it?
To live without fear and make decisions based on the now.
What’s the best phone call you’ve received since posting your cell number on Facebook?
Someone said that they were in a really dark place and didn’t feel like they had anything or anyone. Then they heard my music and it made them feel like there was some light in the world. That there was some other person who has felt this way. He said that this realization made him feel like there would be other realizations like it, so life didn’t seem so dark; just a journey to find more of those realizations. I wanted to hug him and text him all day massaging his mind. It warmed my heart so much.