banks talks creativity, destruction, and emotional catharsis
With her new album 'The Altar' due out next month, we catch up with the musician to discuss new music and baring her soul to the world.
Banks wears Macgraw frill blouse, Panayota Theodore denim pant, Grandma takes a trip gloves, Miu Miu slippers
Jillian Banks' new song "Mind Games" is about to drop when we sit down together — like literally that very moment. It's a surreal but somehow totally immersive introduction to the musician who has captured Australia's ears since her first studio album was released in 2014. Better known by her stage name, Banks, the Californian artist's energy is intense and mysterious, much like her presence on stage — which is akin to performance art in its ardor. "It's funny because people always ask me what musicians inspire me," Banks says, "when really I'm inspired by certain writers and painters. Usually artists in different mediums inspire me more." She cites Cindy Sherman and Georgia O'Keefe here, strong women who both pushed the boundaries of femininity.
Female empowerment is something that Banks really believes in and advocates for in her own way. In particular, she achieves this through the emotional honesty of her lyrics and the candid way in which she discusses her personal struggles with depression. The 28-year-old insists that her background studying psychology doesn't have anything to do with her relationship with music, but it is certainly palpable in her mature way of analyzing the world around her. And, dislike it though she does, in the way she analyzes herself as a woman and a creative, too.
Your new album comes out on September 30. I wanted to start by asking you about the main differences between The Altar and your 2014 album, Goddess?
I feel like that question is hard to answer because it's almost like asking me to analyze myself and I hate doing that. My music is different in the way that I am different; it's like I have gone through a lot of new things — new relationships, new obstacles, new experiences, and I think I put that all into my music… I feel more powerful [now].
That's something I love about your lyrics — they are very intimate. I was wondering if that's ever intimidating for you though, sharing your experiences in such a raw way?
It's why I make music. I didn't start out making music to release it into the world, so it's more a form of therapy — it's like my diary. I had to come to terms with being able to release it and to decide that I'm not going to hold back; I'm not going to change how I make it or sugar coat it just because people will hear it now. It's something that I'm still getting used to… I have moments where I just feel so exposed.
I read that you actually suffered from stage fright when you were younger. How did you manage to overcome that and is it something that still rears its head on stage?
It's different than it used to be — there are different forms of stage fright. Initially I couldn't sing, nothing would come out — I couldn't even face the audience. I think I got over that just by doing it more. Now the type of stage fright I have is this really particular feeling… it doesn't turn into nerves, it turns into this super dark mind state.
Is it self-deprecating almost?
Not exactly, because in order to go on stage you have to have so much power. I can't explain it — if I could, I wouldn't have ever done it. But I guess it was part of my artistic routine… I mean it takes a lot of energy to perform, it's like you're giving so much. That's where it came from — I think I dove into the darkness of feeling exposed and I hated that feeling, but then in some twisted way it gave me this power to go on stage and be in my own zone. But yeah, it's hard to give off that much energy and give so much of yourself.
Totally! You have spoken quite candidly about going through some depression while working on this album too. Was making The Altar something you found quite cathartic?
Yeah! Depression is something I have always struggled with since I was younger and it's super connected to my creativity. I think sometimes I get depressed before I'm about to enter a new phase and be free and let go of darkness. So it's almost like the universe's way of trying to avoid change. It's like there are strings connected to your arms and it's pulling you back, when you want to go forward and finally you just have to use all your might to break free from it, which launches you forward because of the ferocity you need to have to get through it. Then, all of a sudden, you're in this new chapter and you've overcome something [to be] even bigger, better and more powerful than you were before.
That's such an interesting way of looking at it.
Do you know about the [Hindu] goddess Kali? She's the goddess of creativity and destruction and I think those two things really go hand-in-hand — at least for me they do.
You're very emotionally honest in the way you talk about depression and also in your lyrics. I wanted to ask you why you think it's so important for women not to hide from their emotions, when we're still supposed to appear so 'perfect'?
Well I think there's this stigma and this fear. I've experienced it in business as a woman; people call you emotional when you're just saying what you want. It's actually not emotional, it's just factual. And I think people kind of put this projection onto women like they're being hysterical, bitchy, or like a diva when they're just working and being strong. I think it's not only important to be connected to your emotions, but also to not feel like you're being emotional when you're not. [Learning] that has actually really helped me to feel empowered.
I have read before that you used to feel like you absorbed other people's energies a lot, which is something that really resonates with me. How do you think this can be both positive and negative and in what ways have you managed to overcome it?
I don't know if I would say I overcame that — it's who I am — but I think I've learned to live with it and I've learned certain things to do to protect myself. It's important when you're sensitive to surround yourself with people who are positive energies for you. That's been part of growing up for me; learning who I want around me. It sounds so simple, but it's actually really complicated sometimes. I think it is a strength, really, because empathetic people are very intuitive and can connect with others. It's a part of why I make music and it's a really wonderful thing to have, but I've gone through stages where I hated it too.
Do you find that music helps you to take some of that negativity out and channel it into another medium?
Oh my god, yeah! That's what my song "Brain" was all about. It's about Lecters — that's a word I made up, it's the people who suck all your nutrition away. But yeah [all of my songs are] about that, I guess, in their own way.
Do you have any favorite songs from the new album?
I can't choose a favorite… They are all me, it's like cutting off one arm. That represents a song [lifts one arm], this represents a song [lifts the other arm] and I can't choose which arm I want more.