BANKS Talks About ‘The Altar,’ Coachella, and How She Protects Her Work

BANKS Talks About ‘The Altar,’ Coachella, and How She Protects Her Work

We chatted with the goth-pop musician before she took the stage at Coachella.

We chatted with the goth-pop musician before she took the stage at Coachella.

Photography: Paul L Carter

Text: Jake Viswanath

BANKS is on a roll right now. The goth-pop star recently released her stunning sophomore album The Altar, an effortlessly fierce and dangerously vulnerable effort that keeps within the dark and minimalist soundscape of her debut Goddess, but packs even more of a sonic punch. Now, while serving dream looks on Instagram and releasing one-off singles (like the beautiful "Crowded Places"), she's embarked on a world tour, where she's expressing those intense vibes like never before in a new show, which debuted at Coachella (or as she likes to deem it, "Gothchella") this past weekend.

Before she took the stage to an overflowed crowd at the Gobi Tent for the second weekend of the fest, we caught up with BANKS and had a short and sweet chat about the inspirations behind the new album, performing live, and why she keeps the meanings of her songs elusive.

How was your Coachella last weekend?

Last weekend was really great. Coachella always feels like a big event, you feel more nerves for this one than most of them.

This wasn't your first Coachella ever, was it?

No, I played once before a few years ago, this was actually my first festival ever though, a few years ago when I played it. But yeah, it was amazing. I felt like it went really well.

Let's go into the album first. What inspired this new album and where did you wanna go from your debut?

I never really plan where I wanna go, I just want it to reflect where I'm at honestly. I feel like it did that. It's hard to answer a question like that, because it almost feels like you have to sum up a part of your life in a sentence, where really each song just represents something different that I was going through. I definitely felt that there was a little beast inside me that I needed to let out on this one.

What is your creative process when your write songs? What inspires you?

My life, really. My creative process is really starting with some sort of mood, and then a chord progression, and then a melodic chant. One syllable, then one word, and then one phrase, and then that phrase turns into a concept and that concept turns into something subconsciously that I needed to express, but I didn't even know that I needed to express it. That's why music is so fulfilling and necessary for me, because it lets out things that I didn't even know that I needed to let out.

One thing that you released recently was your video for "Trainwreck," and I wanted to go behind that. What inspired the concept and the imagery of the video? 

"Trainwreck" is fierce, and I wanted to feel fierce. I wanted it to be this juxtaposition between controlled and controlling others. So the three faceless men who all have the same faces, it's this question the whole time, are they controlling me or am I controlling them? I do ridiculous things, like stuff an egg in my mouth and spit it out into the goo, and that feels like they're controlling me. But then later on at the end, I smash his face in *laughs*. It just incorporates more movement, and then I'm in a bossy suit, which is always fun to wear.

It's like you're taking back the power. 

Yeah. For me, when people ask me what videos are exactly about, what songs are about, I know what it's about for me, but I try to keep my answers vague because if it means something real to somebody who watches it, it means one certain thing. And then they hear from the artist that its not what they meant to mean, then it could take away some of the power in how they connect to it.

That's actually a really inspiring and thoughtful thing to do. 

Yeah, because sometimes, if you write a song and a lyric is "I walk through the lemon grove" repeated four times, that could mean something to me but to somebody else, that could mean something completely different and I don't want to ruin that.

In the spirit of Coachella, what is your favorite song off the record to perform live?

Right now, "Poltergeist" and "27 Hours" are really fun because the movement in those songs is really fun to do for me, but it changes every show really. "Fuck With Myself" is really fun, "Judas" is really fun. I'm really having a good time with this album.

That's awesome. Do you feel like there's one that the crowd just most connects with?

I think it varies. I'm not singing "Mother Earth," or "Better" isn't on the album but I've been doing that live, those two songs are much more stripped back, so that gets a different type of emotion from people watching. But when you do something like "Fuck With Myself," it's much different. I'm a whole human, and my album is a whole human, it's not just one mood the whole time. It depends on what song I'm playing and what the person is feeling on a certain day.

Whenever you're planning your set, how do you choose which songs go into it and translate best on stage live?

It's just a gut thing, every decision I make regarding my music and my visuals and setlist, it's always just a gut thing. I decided to not play the more slower songs because with the festival setting, I think it's more fun to get a more riled up vibe. So we're doing songs like "Poltergeist," "Fuck With Myself," "Gemini Feed," "Trainwreck," that type of vibe today, and saving the more intense and emotional songs for my own solo shows.

What is the difference in the mood between your solo shows and festivals? 

It's just different because everyone is there to see you at your solo shows. At festivals, it's actually really cool because you can get some people who don't know who you are and they're just discovering you for the first time, so it's like a fresh set of ears. Sometimes they don't know all the words at festivals, whereas at your own shows, they're screaming all the words. I think there's pros to both. I just played an amazing show last night in San Francisco that was really fun, so I'll get a different taste today.

What's different about your Coachella set compared to your shows before? 

It's grown. I wouldn't say it's different because I'm the same human, but there's a lot more movement. It feels more conceptual because everything was so new before, I just focused on singing the songs last time, whereas creatively, I feel really confident and really free right now. It feels like growth, the next step for me. I have two girls on stage that are in these sheer material where when they stretch it, it looks like they're strange human sculptures and they act as they are my ghosts when they're onstage. We all do really guttural movements together. It feels like the right place for me.

To round things off with some fun stuff, if you could crash anybody's set at Coachella, whose would you crash? 

Ooh, whose set would I crash? Maybe Thundercat. That'd be fun.

Did you have a chance to see anyone last weekend? 

A little. We had to race out of here because I'm on tour. I was only able to catch Radiohead's set last week. They were incredible. I still found it incredible with the sound stuff. This weekend, I'm gonna see more. I'm excited to just walk around and see who's playing at the time I feel like watching someone.

And any final words?

To my fans, I love you more that I could ever say.

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