Meet BANKS: She Knows How to Turn Heartbreak into Greatness

BANKS has collaborated with Lil Silva and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and she makes music that's fearless, moody, and amazing. Cool.

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Jul 4 2013, 9:00am



Break ups. They’re never pretty, they’re always kinda shitty, but songs would be barren and bland without them. Heartbreak is the foundation on which 98% of great music is built. We wouldn’t have the seething, clenched-jaw rage of “The Ruiner” by Nine Inch Nails, or the end-of-it-all ache of Blur’s “No Distance Left To Run,” or the bitter clarity that comes with really pulling apart from someone (Fleetwood Mac's “Dreams”), if we didn't have all those relationship wranglings siphoned into song. Of course for every “I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over,” there’s 500 cliché-addled tunes about getting screwed over, or duped, or dumped, and getting over it.

But there’s still a thrill in finding an artist working this well-worn subject with lyrics that hit harder than a well-aimed right hook. Sometimes the power lies in the minutia, or a surprising cadence, which is exactly what made BANKS’ first song, “Before I Ever Met You,” so arresting. Stuck up online some five months ago, the LA valley-born native’s debut solo song works a laconic trip-hop groove, her vocals dripping with a knowing sensuality as she slowly paces out the line: “As for our house/I’ll move out/You can keep the dog we trained.” It’s a tiny, disintegrating-relationship detail, but it’s all in her delivery.

Since then BANKS has released two more tracks—“Fall Over” and the sulkily soulful “Warm Water,” with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs—both backed by intimate, black and white videos. Noisey called her up just before she jetted off to London to talk bad break ups, music as therapy and shooting videos in your underwear. (And P.S. You should check out her collaboration with Lil Silva. So good.)



Let’s talk about “Before I Ever Met You.” Where did that come from?
When my first serious relationship broke up, it was hard. It came from feeling so confused, from loving someone, but hating someone and needing someone and knowing they’re still bad for you and knowing you’re bad for them too.Were you surprised by the online response?
Yeah, I was very surprised. But it was so wonderful, I love being able to touch people. That stuff is universal—you know, you have a hard time with somebody that you love or hate. The fact that people were connecting with it so soon was the best feeling in the world.

How did you end up hooking up with director Dylan Knight? He’s done two videos for you, right?
Yeah he’s done my only videos. I knew what I wanted aesthetically for my videos and we were just trying to find the right director and my manager came across his stuff and I thought, “That’s it, that’s perfect.”

There's definitely an atmospheric, cinematic aesthetic to those videos. How important is it for you that your visual image and how you project yourself works with the music?
It’s very important. Music is such a visual thing, when you feel it, you can see it, and I just want all of my visuals to perfectly represent what they represent to me. When I saw Dylan’s stuff it was all really moody, dark, sexy, and almost a little bit scary and my first two songs that came out, they have that darkness and some fear too. I saw all that in his stuff.

How did you feel about hanging out in your underwear for the “Fall Over” video?
That was actually my idea. That song is just about raw vulnerability, and I felt that was the best way to show it. I wanted it to be tasteful, of course. It was pretty easy for me, especially the vibe that Dylan has, he’s all about creating the mood and he made me feel really comfortable. When we did those scenes I kicked everybody else out of the room, it was just him and me. It was really cool.



You also get pretty intimate with LA rapper Joon in the video for “Warm Water” (above). How did you end up choosing him?
I’m a fan of his group OverDoz. I just think they’re so cool and when I was thinking of who I wanted for the video, I just thought he represents everything I wanted. He seems kind of like a creature to me. He’s just breathtakingly beautiful. I hadn’t even met him and he came to the studio and he’s the sweetest person, but he’s really goofy and fun too.

When did you realize you could sing?
That’s a good question. The realisation that I could sing came with writing. I started writing because I felt like I had to get these thoughts out that I didn’t how else to express. Someone gave me a keyboard when I was about 15 and I started playing and melodies came out that would just make me feel better.

What were you going through at 15 that you felt like you needed to get out of your system?
I’m sure most teenagers at that age have a tough time with various things, but it was a lot of family stuff, parents fighting, being alone in the house, not really knowing who you are as a woman. It’s that weird age when you’re a kid and you start viewing yourself as a woman.

What’s your biggest non-musical influence?
The people around me, my friends, my family. I’m really sensitive and when I love somebody, I can feel their pain. Sometimes my songs are inspired by other people’s journeys too.

Specifically, are there any of your songs that are inspired by another person’s story?
They all have a sense of it. I have an EP coming out [in autumn] and “Drowning” is inspired by my best friend who was having a hard time with someone. I’m able to write about it because I can connect it with my own experiences. It frustrates me so much and saddens me so much because I’ve gone through [what she went through] as well. I know what it's like. That first break up that I told you about? That was eight years ago. I still write about him. I feel it so hard.

The first real break up is so formative. And so devastating.
Yeah, your first experience with love, your eyes open for the first time and you’re like, “This is what it is! This is amazing! I didn’t even know what this was!” And then, when its taken away from you… my first boyfriend cheated on me, that’s why we broke up. The best way to describe it is like a train hits you from behind. I felt like I was a little girl before it happened. Getting through that, I feel so much more confident and I feel stronger as a woman. But that first break up, it hurts.

And also when someone cheats on you, it’s that loss of innocence. Like, I didn’t even think that was possible that someone could break trust like that.
Yeah, you learn about people, about yourself, and you learn about what you can handle, how strong you are, how weak you are. You learn about everything. You have to forgive yourself for not knowing. There’s so many things that go into it and you just grow so much.

How old are you? Some female artists get weird about sharing their age…
I’m 25. I’m not weird about it. Wrinkles are beautiful.

It’s when female artists start edging towards 30, they tend to want to keep it vague. It’s a shame.
I think late-20s, early-30s is the absolute sexiest period in a woman’s life. You have to embrace your goddess.

Have you been making music steadily since you were 15? Did you have a day job?
I went to school for psychology, I got my bachelors. I’ve always been really in touch with my own feelings and I’ve always been really affected by other people. I just wanted to learn more about everything and what goes on in the mind. Meanwhile, I was writing the entire time, I write because I have to, it’s like air for me. After college, I knew music was what I wanted to do and I was just a struggling artist.

Not struggling so much anymore.

Follow Kim on Twitter @theKTB.