Published Sep 24, 2013Like warm water, L.A. singer Banks' voice simmers under moody chords and sultry notes through her songs as she recalls moments of heartbreak, lust, and impatience. First introduced to the world through the Lil' Silva-assisted track, "Work," Banks would soon take over the reins and the interest of listeners with "Before I Ever Met You," a soulful soliloquy about a love on the cusp of destruction. Fraught with a series of emotions as a teen, Banks would scribble down lyrics and play with melodies on a keyboard given to her by a friend as a way to cope.
Out of a desire to connect with her fans, the reclusive singer has encouraged fans (and probably interested parties fuelled with liquid courage) to call her phone with the hopes of giving them a channel to vent and to connect with her fans. With even more listeners being enchanted by her seductive lyrics, cinematic flourishes and string of impressive singles — including the SOHN-produced "Waiting Game" — the singer seems primed to finish the year as one of music's standouts. Currently on the road with the Weekend for his The Fall tour, Exclaim! caught up with the burgeoning singer about her new EP, London, the therapeutic effects of songwriting, Jai Paul, and wish pills.
You graduated with a bachelors in Psychology. Was there ever a plan to find a career in that field?
I don't know, I didn't know. I always knew that I was going to be a musician and a singer/songwriter, but I've always loved learning and I was always into psychology so I stuck with that. That would be a good major if I end up going into that or just to learn about myself. You know for songwriting you have to be really in touch with your own mind.
What was the first song that you wrote?
Hmmm… that's a really hard question. It was probably a song that consisted of two chords and a lot of lyrics [but] it probably didn't have a title. I didn't start titling my songs until recently but probably a very lyric-based song because I taught myself how to play the piano so all of my songs were very lyrically and melody driven.
Do you begin with the melody first when songwriting or where does it begin for you?
It usually begins as some sort of mood. I don't know, I get this feeling like I have to start writing or my head's going to explode. Whatever mood I'm in, it starts with the melody and the chords come together and then I'll start riffing on the melody and lyrics. It's a very subconscious thing, like the lyrics will come out kind of like an idea that I'm feeling and it will somehow fit into a song. It's all very connected.
Do you use any mental reminders so you're not stuck in a negative space for a particularly dark song?
Writing does that in and of itself for me, so I don't need a reminder. It's like my therapy; it's very therapeutic and it allows me to be happy. Like, I don't only write about dark things, I write about love and things that uplift me as well. If I'm writing about something really dark I'm usually in a really light mood for the rest of the day because I got it off of my chest.
Is there like a special ritual when you write or are you inspired anytime anywhere?
No, I either write when I'm alone or I'm in that mood or I'm co-writing with people, but when I'm alone I like to light candles and be in some sort of comfortable outfit that I feel free in and go for it. It's not an actual ritual though.
Taking it from the studio to the live performance, how has it been opening for the Weeknd?
We've done three shows so far — it's been absolutely incredible. It's been amazing.
So how did you meet or get in contact with him?
I don't really, my manager is the one who said it's looking like you're going to be opening for the Weeknd on tour, which was like the biggest news.
So how was it meeting him in person?
He's awesome. I really respect him as an artist. He's just really brilliant.
You've been open about sharing your phone number with your fans and your music gets into some pretty emotional territory. Do the text messages and phone calls reflect that?
Oh yeah, definitely. I've always felt like I've been a therapist with all my friends. I just love people and connecting with people but I've gotten a lot of really emotional text messages focusing on how they feel really connected to me through my music or how I've helped them. Those are the best ones.
Were any really emotional or a bit overboard?
No, I've never gotten one that's too much. I love human emotion. Anything honest and real is a blessing.
You've said that you're really sensitive to human interaction. Where do you think your interest in people comes from?
Well, I'm interested in people that I love. I just feel… I'm sensitive and when I love someone, I care about what they're going through.
So would you say you're a very passionate person almost to a fault?
No. What is passion to a fault? Passion is beautiful. but yes I'm very passionate.
I remember on one of the first songs — actually the first song you released, "Work" — you referred to yourself as a hothead. Is that actually the case?
Sometimes. I mean, I have a lot of layers. I think everybody can be passionate.
For your new EP, why did you decide to name it London?
That's a good question. When I went to London, that was my first real trip. getting to dive into the studio with people that I really respected, but it was before I even went to London my EP was complete. We had four songs already picked and finished and everything, and when I went to London I felt like I grew so much and was around so many like-minded people. I felt so liberated, like I was the most free I've ever been in my life, and so the songs I created while I was there I felt like I would be misrepresenting myself to release anything but those songs. So I was like, "Scrap the EP, this is what we're doing, we're releasing these songs and were going to name it London!"
Did the location change the way the music felt or at least how you write?
I don't think it's the location, I think it's my mind and the people I'm working with, but yes the location can inspire you and bring out something in you. London is a very inspirational place and I met a lot of really cool people, because the people I was working with really really brought something out in me and it was very exciting.
What is your personal favourite song off the EP?
Oh that's such a hard question. Honestly, they are all so important to me and they all represent a different part of my brain. "Bedroom Wall" is like my sexy side, "Waiting Game" is like... I don't know, they're all different but I love them all.
How has it been in terms of collaborating with other artists like Totally Extinct Enormous Dinosaurs or SOHN? Was it a difficult process?
When you go into a session for the first time, you feel each other out and if you connect artistically, then you want to work with that person again. If you don't, then it's like "Oh okay, it didn't really work out that well but you're still awesome as a person," but you kind of have to leave it up in the air to feel each other out. On this EP though, I connected to so much, all differently.
Can we expect any more collaboration between those two for another possible EP or your album?
Yeah definitely, I want to work with all the people I worked with on the EP again, and maybe more people I connect with.
I know going forward, besides collaborating with Missy Elliot and others, you really wanted to work with Jai Paul.
Oh my god. Yeah.
What would that sound like in your mind?
I don't know. I don't even know if he works with anyone, but he's a genius.
I have to ask, do you actually carry around Wish Pills?
Yes, I have a wish pill in my wallet.
How many wishes do you think you have at least reached?
I only have one wish on it. Are you any closer to achieving it?
I'm not going to say because I don't want to — you can't jinx any part of the wish.