BANKS Tells Us How New Album ‘The Altar’ Reflects Herself
Jillian Rose Banks gets on the phone line sounding a little distant and apathetic. At first, it’s frustrating, even disappointing to have expected something else – a breezy, sunny California girl, perhaps, willing and eager to answer even the glibbest questions with a warm and compliant attitude. It’s clear off the bat that the singer-songwriter, known simply as BANKS, doesn’t allow herself to be coerced into the stereotypical ingénue role we’ve come to expect from young female artists. And neither should she.
Banks chooses her words very carefully, opting to refrain from using them altogether if the topic of conversation doesn’t engage her. While that makes for an awkward interview, her manner, and the message it sends to the young women that follow her – that you don’t have to behave or present yourself in a certain way, just because you’re female – is respectable. Banks keeps a tight rein on her public persona, allowing her music to do the talking. And it certainly does on her emotionally charged sophomore release, The Altar, an album bookended by battle cries.
“Tell me what you want from me. I think you need a weaker girl, kinda like the girl I used to be,” she sings on ‘Weaker Girl’. On opener ‘Gemini Feed’ she muses, “And to think you would get me to the altar. Like I’d follow you around like a dog that needs water.” She drives the message home on ‘Fuck With Myself’, piercing through the syncopated beats with the lyric: “I fuck with myself more than anybody else.”
“Some days I feel like I’m the only person who sees myself,” she says. “I feel like with this album there’s more confidence and I feel more open and there are a few tracks where I experimented with a new playfulness in my songwriting.”
Asked to characterise the record, “I just wouldn’t characterise it,” she replies, reflexively. “It’s just me. And I don’t know how to characterise myself so I don’t know how to characterise the album, either. Yeah, my life influenced it. My own experiences… I write about everything, so it’s about so many different things. Every song has its own purpose. But then again, when you listen to all 13 of them together, it makes a full human.”
“I think women have felt so smushed into a box for so long that we’re exploding out of it and we have to say it.”
‘Mother Earth’ is one of her favourite tracks. “It’s an important song for me, as a woman, to listen to and to have written,” she says. “It’s about pressures and the way that society can make women feel small and unempowered and unable to be unabashedly themselves.” Banks has spoken out candidly about her experiences in the music industry and she becomes animated on the topic. “I think women have felt so smushed into a box for so long that we’re exploding out of it and we have to say it,” she says. “I think it’s important for people who have a voice, who have people read what they say, to be empowering and to be powerful, so other people can feel powerful.”
Has she felt smushed into a box by the industry? “Yeah! It almost feels like you always have to fight for yourself in order to be heard. People tell you you’re wrong about your own music; you’re wrong about how you want things.” She gives an example of not wanting anyone at her sound checks. “I think it’s a really important time for me to work out the show and it’s an intimate space where I can get to know my surroundings before I give my energy away to thousands of people,” she says. “At the beginning of my career, I said that to people, and they didn’t listen. And I felt helpless. And sometimes things would happen where I felt like, if I weren’t a woman people would listen more and people would naturally respect the words I say more. It’s not a fun feeling, and you have to learn how to be so strong that you don’t care what people say about you, because there’s also this other connotation that people call you emotional or people call you a bitch or a diva. And I hate that because, yeah, separate from what I want for my career and my business, I am a sensitive person and a loving, empathetic person. But when I tell you I don’t want people at my sound checks, that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m emotional or I’m a diva, that’s just a fact.”
Banks’ salvation – her strength – lies in her music. “Music, for me, is where I can process things, so sometimes it feels like I’m able to work through things, and a lot of times that’s about facing certain things about myself that maybe I don’t want to. And then once you do, you become more aware and wiser,” she says. “[I love] that I can see 100 percent of me, and any side of me, and there’s no judgment and there’s no societal norms and there’s no boundaries.”