BANKS Talks Empathy, Self-Preservation, and New Album 'The Altar'

BANKS Talks Empathy, Self-Preservation, and New Album 'The Altar'

Emotionally explicit. Pure. Powerful. V caught up with BANKS, a leading singer/songwriter of Generation Y, to talk about her latest record, and why she can't stop fucking with herself.

Emotionally explicit. Pure. Powerful. V caught up with BANKS, a leading singer/songwriter of Generation Y, to talk about her latest record, and why she can't stop fucking with herself.

Text: Alex Kazemi

BANKS has been making waves in the music world since 2014, the year she released her critically-acclaimed debut album Goddess. She simultaneously won over the fashion world, covering V's second Music Issue, and appearing front row at Chanel shows (Karl Lagerfeld has said that he's a fan) and insider events. It's no surprise: in addition to her genre-bending music that brings elements of '90s R&B to the darker side of pop, BANKS has an aesthetic mastery prevalent in her music videos and personal style that make her the perfect fascination for both worlds. Now, with the release of her second studio album, The Altar, it becomes clear that BANKS is just getting started.

It feels weird congratulating you on The Altar because it’s like, Oh, congratulations for having all this pain and hurt and making something dope out of it, but that’s just life I guess.

[Laughs] Thank you!

Do you have a drive to have listeners explore the darker sides of their psyche rather than to ignore or numb it out? Do you want to teach people to have a healthier relationship with uncomfortable and inevitable dark emotions through this album?

I make music because I need to. I don’t make music with some sort of idea of what I want people to feel or what I want people to take from it. I write about what I feel and what I go through and if people can feel more connected and less lonely listening to me because they’ve gone through something that I have, then that’s great. It’s not all dark. I also write when I’m feeling powerful. My skin tingled the whole time I wrote the song “Lovesick” because I was so in love with someone. I felt so much light. Sometimes when I write I genuinely do not know what I’m feeling, all I know is that there is a heaviness in my mind and when I write I’m able to process and learn about that emotion. A word will come out, a melody will come out and from those ideas—then a whole song could be written. I’ll learn about a feeling I didn’t know I even had until after I finish writing the song.

Is the take-away from "Gemini Feed" to never fall in love with a Gemini and to stay away from them, if you are a Gemini?

[Laughs] No! I mean…look, it was intense. It was delicious. I don’t know. You know, the thing with relationships and situations is, it’s not like you ever learn one thing from them. You can be in love with someone and hate certain ways they act when you’re around them. You want the person to kiss your thighs, yet you hate them at the same time.

Since you were 27, at the time of recording this album—do you think of The Altar as a Saturn’s Return record or a documentation of your Saturn’s Return?

No. It’s just a moment in time. It’s a reflection of who I am in time; it’s a reflection of a transformation I have gone through. When I am older when I listen to this album, I will remember graphically and vividly what happened and why.

I know a lot of our culture is designed to make younger people fear getting older, and as you can see in mainstream music culture we have lost the ethos of adulthood and there’s a disturbing infantilization. Do you consider your music as music for adults or do you see it existing in what adult alternative used to be?

I’m not sure I consider it to be one thing. The music is not for one demographic. I do feel that infantilization. I think it’s funny because aging is so beautiful. The older you get, the more wise you get. What is there to be scared of?

Would you say the harder and furious beats this time around in the production mirror the brain state you were in when working on this record? Was it intentional or something that just happened organically?

It’s both. My music reflects who I am. It’s natural that ended up happening. That’s true about this record. I am more confrontational and authoritative. I feel grimier inside. You know, I wanted “Poltergeist” to have the feeling of an exorcism.

That’s how I hear “Fuck With Myself.” I think of that song as a love letter to self-preservation. Was there a particular experience or moment you remember that drove you to ultra self-empowerment? 

I needed to write that song for a very long time. I thought the album was done already and I went to the studio. I was so drained; I genuinely felt like I didn’t have anything left to say. The last thing I wanted to do was write another song but I did have an uneasy anxious feeling—I was so inside of my head, focusing on bullshit. “What do I put out first?” “What do people expect from me?” “What do people want to hear?” I felt nervous because I have grown so much and this album is different. I’ve developed and because of that my music has, too. The Altar is a mirror image of who I am now, and that’s different than who I was when I made Goddess.

I was hanging out with Tim Anderson at the studio, someone I work with a lot and I was venting. I got so annoyed because he was staring down at his phone the whole time I was talking and I felt like he wasn’t paying attention to me. When I was done ranting, he was like, “Do you want to hear some of the things that you just said?” and I go "No, you are just going to spin me out. I don’t want to hear anything I just said, I’ll just rant again" and then he goes “One of the things you just said is ‘I fuck with myself more than anybody else.’” I heard that…

You ran to the booth?

Yeah, I needed to hear that. I couldn’t believe I gave that to myself. I didn’t even know I said it and then that second he repeated that back, I knew exactly what it meant and why I said it. It was a message I needed. It’s true though I do “fuck with myself more than anybody else.” I really do not care what people think about me. I don’t care what they expect me to be and fuck the people who don’t like it.

What was your relationship like with social media during the recording process? Did people spam you with the classic “put out your album" comments and try to fuel some anxiety?

It’s very important for artists to stay away from that. Music cannot be planned. It’s so nourishing, you need to give it the growth and time and space that it needs. It was disturbing getting comments like that. The Internet has a lot of darkness. It’s not healthy.

Does social media overwhelm you? 

I disconnect a lot. I get sensory overload. It’s not a natural way of living. It’s a fake universe. People need to be in the present moment and not living through the screen. Human-to-Human contact is so beautiful. The Internet 100% reduces human empathy. If you saw some of these comments. People are evil. I’m so sensitive. I can’t even process some of the things I’ve read because it’s like what? What is this? I haven’t even met a real person who talks like this.

Has it always been this easy for you to be so honest and to be on display, this raw?

Music has always been the only place I have to be honest about every single thing about myself. For 10 years, I made music in private. If I was ashamed or had guilt, I wrote about it. It was a diary. One day, I decided to consciously make the decision to put my music out and at some point I had to ask myself “Ok, so now people are going to hear this. Do I have to change or hold back?” No, fuck that. I can’t do that. Music is the only place I have to release everything inside of me. I have to do it. It’s not a choice. It’s automatic.

Do you ever feel like an anti-pop star or anti-hero or do you not see yourself as a part of the pop world?  

I’m not even sure what “pop” is. Like does anyone even know what that means anymore? My music doesn’t exist in any sort of world. I don’t contextualize. I don’t fit into anything. I just make it. It is what it is.

BANKS' The Altar is out September 30 from Harvest Records.

Credits: Photography Thomas Whiteside.

UP NEXT

Understated Elegance at Prada Spring 2017