Banks Talks New Music, Writing About Breakups and Human Messiness

BANKS performs in Los Angeles
Banks performs in Los Angeles on the Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour. Jeremy Cohen

Banks has earned a reputation for writing songs about breakups and the complicated array of emotions that spring from them. On her most recent album, III, she illuminates the complexity of post-breakup feels. Some songs may easily inspire tears while others can rekindle a hotter anger that might help you dry them.

“I think that being graphic about being a human, being a human is messy in itself,” she explained. “I think that my music documents that.”

Us Weekly chatted with the “Gemini Feed” singer before a recent Los Angeles performance on the Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour. From there, Banks completed the final European leg of the III tour that supported the III album she released in July.

Find out what she said about choosing songs for an album, writing about breakups, releasing new music and more, below:

“Till Now” is such a potent album opener. Once the III album was put together, did you realize it had to open the show when touring?
I think that I realized it had to open the album and then when I was thinking of the show and what I wanted to open it with, it was just like nothing was as right as that. I just think that it’s such a good introduction to where I’m at and I like how it starts off really kind of raw and minimal and it just slowly builds into this monster, which is, it’s like the whole spectrum of me. It’s like really vulnerable and then it gets f—king, I don’t know the word, but it gets very juicy by the end, so I like to start off the show like that, with a bang. I think pretty soon after I was planning the set list and what I wanted to show to be it was obvious that that needed to come first.

How painstakingly do you choreograph the order of the III album? Did you have it arranged in any other ways at any point or was it always laid out like this?
I think sequence is very important because I view albums like cinema. If I think of putting a really jagged song next to something soft and then going back jagged right away, it feels like you can’t flow into an emotion in a natural way. I think it’s really important to have songs that flow and take you on a journey and kind of represent a whole human in a natural way rather than like a bunch of broken up parts of a person thrown into a bubble or into a bowl or something. But when I was sequencing it, it definitely was a journey. I definitely had some other orders and it didn’t feel right ’til it felt right. Once I tried this sequence out, it felt just like it was the one.

Do you remember how many songs you had before cutting it down to this final list?
I don’t know, maybe like 40 or something? I mean, I was writing for two years, and longer, really, because I had songs that I had started earlier that I hadn’t finished. For me, one of the hardest parts of the process of making the album is choosing which songs go on the album. I don’t think of it as, like, the best songs I make are on the album because I don’t know how to judge what song is better than another because they’re all just me. It was more like choosing the songs that I felt kind of represented me as a whole person and where I’m at in my life right now. And there’s definitely other songs that I will be putting out that I have finished already that just didn’t fully make sense to put on this album.

Can you please say if one of those songs is “Hands On Me?”
No! [laughs] It’s not.

BANKS participates in a Marriott Bonvoy Moment
Banks participates in a Marriott Bonvoy Moment in Los Angeles on the Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour. Jeremy Cohen

Are we ever going to get “Hands On Me?” [The song was featured in X-Men: Dark Phoenix, released in June.]
Oh my god, it’s so funny, when I did that song and then it’s in a movie and I’ve never half-released a song like that before. Everybody’s like, “Is that coming out?” And I’m just like, I don’t really know why it didn’t. It just didn’t. [laughs] I think it was around the time of my album and I was just so focused on my album that it didn’t get attention from me, but it’s kind of funny. Who does that? Who puts a song in a movie and then just doesn’t release it? [laughs]

Banks does. You said the other songs that didn’t make the cut for the album might come out some other way. Is it hard for you to let those songs go if they don’t come to fruition on an album?
I mean an album is, I guess traditionally how people, you know, who do this for a living, release music. But when you’re a musician and when writing is your form of therapy, which it is for me, I never wrote songs thinking that they had to be even part of an album. It’s more like a diary entry. When you write a diary entry, you’re not like this diary entry has to be a part of this chapter of diary entries. It’s not like that. You just write it because you need to. So, for me, I’m not that precious about that because I don’t hold so much weight on it. It definitely is important and it represents what I wanted to say, everything on the album is what I wanted to say at that time. But it doesn’t mean that I like those songs more than the other songs that I made. It’s just those made more sense. So, in that way it’s not that hard but it’s hard in the sense that I’m just impatient and I just like putting s—t out. Like, if I could release songs the day I made them, I would.

“Before I Ever Met You,” for example, went up in early 2013 and officially came out in 2014. Can you outline the ways you’ve changed and the ways you stayed the same since then, when you look at that diary entry?
I think the ways I’ve changed is as you go through experiences, you just come into your own more. The ways I haven’t changed is music has always been what it is to be, which is, it’s like the purest part of me. And it feels, once I started putting [out] music I like, I had to make a decision because my songs are so personal and they’re so graphic and that’s what music is to me. It’s real and it would take the love that I had for it out of it if I had to filter myself in any way. So a way in which I’ve stayed the same is that I am just as honest as I was when nobody knew who I was.

Previously you’ve sketched an evolutionary arc for yourself, where you said you felt like you’ve gone from naive to wise. That feels addressed in “The Fall,” not necessarily in a romantic relationship way, but perhaps in a more industry, public perception sort of way. You’ve been at this since about 2010. Did you feel that people ever took advantage of a naiveté or underestimated you for being naive or perceiving you as naive?
Yeah, for sure. When I said I went from naive to wise, I more meant like that romantic innocence you have when you’re young. When you get older and you learn people are capable of lying and you’ve gone through heartache and you’ve seen the things that could make somebody jaded. I think that in order to not become jaded you need to have wisdom. And that’s what I meant about going from naive to wise is that rather than living life and getting scarred by certain things, it’s important to just grow deeper from them and become more wise from them. But I definitely think this business is a messy one and people can be really dirty and I think that you have to really be careful and you have to be strong. And if you’re not, you can really get taken advantage of. So I think that everyone in this business has felt like that at some point because it’s messy.

When you’re singing songs about irreparably broken or toxic relationships or about the dangers of falling in love with a narcissist, does writing these down or retracing them when you’re singing them serve in a way to remind you to avoid those things again? Or have you ever found yourself repeating bad patterns of the past?
I mean, my songs, by the time they come out, they’re so inherently ingrained in me. It’s kind of like music is music. If you’re feeling weak or vulnerable and you listen to a certain song and it makes you feel strong. I guess in that sense I could listen to certain songs and remember exactly why I feel certain ways if I need a little reminder or something. Nobody’s perfect. Nobody gets it right after the first time. But I will say that it’s funny because all my music is very, since the beginning it’s been just really graphic about human relationships and dynamics. And I think that because of that people can listen to a song and think, “Oh God, who the f—k is she with?” Like, “She’s probably been with the most terrible people.” But it’s not really like that. “Gemini Feed” isn’t on this album, but that song it says, “You’re passive aggressive.” And I think when people heard it, they’re like, “What abusive person did she date?” But anybody could be passive aggressive if they’re missing someone and it’s long distance, and humans are humans.

Now do people you’re dating get nervous about being put into a song?
[laughs] No, I think that if you know me well enough to know what music is, you don’t even view it like that. It’s just how I function. I don’t know, it’s a weird thing. [laughs] I haven’t asked. Maybe I should ask the next person I date. [laughs]

Has an ex ever contacted you to say, “Is this song about me?”
No, but I’ve definitely had situations where I’ve gone through a breakup and I’ve written about it and somebody probably didn’t enjoy hearing it! [laughs]

You’ve talked about how you had a relationship with someone you collaborated with for this album. Is it easier to date someone who works in the same arena because they understand you or they understand your life better? Or is it something else?
I don’t know. I think who you connect with, it’s just a chemical thing. It happens in the moment. Sometimes it could be somebody who does what you do or it could be somebody who understands and is inspired by what you do but doesn’t do the same thing. I think it depends completely on where you’re at and who it is.

Are you able to write while you’re on tour?
Yes, I can write poetry when I’m on tour, but for music, when I get an idea, if I can’t get it out fully it drives me nuts. I get kind of wild in the studio. If I have an idea I have to get it out that second or else I can lose it. So writing on the road, sometimes it can be a little bit frustrating because if you’re in a sound check and your keyboarder starts playing a few chords and you start singing something and you have this idea for a song, you can’t fully finish it. You’re not in a studio, you have to sound check. You have a show so you can’t dive into the song. That’s always driven me a little nuts, not being able to fully form an idea that you have because it feels like a drug to me when I get an idea. I love it so much. It’s like the best feeling and when I can’t finish it, it drives me crazy. I write on the road sometimes when it just naturally happens but I prefer to write music when I actually have the space to finish it.

When you detail these emotional, romantic relationships it makes a listener curious. Are you able to date while you’re touring? Or does that have to take a back seat while you’re focused on the music and the show?
Again, I just think it depends on where you’re at. If you want to make something work, you can and if you don’t, you don’t. Nothing is impossible. No matter how busy you are, if you want to make something work, you can try.

From an audience perspective, you seem so far from the girl who used to sing with her back to the audience because of stage fright. When do you feel most confident now? Is it in the studio? Is it on stage? Or is it somewhere else entirely?
One of those two places. When I’m making music, my brain shuts off in the best way. It’s like the purest form of meditation. All the noise goes away and I’m just really focused on what I’m trying to say and it’s quiet and feels so good. When I’m performing, it’s a different type of confidence. It’s  more of this high, it’s a little less grounded than when you’re in the studio really getting something out that you needed to, as opposed to being on stage, moving how you want to move to your music while people are singing your lyrics. It’s a different type of confidence, but they’re equally as powerful, I think.

What other artists are you currently listening to and loving?
This morning I listened to “Baby,” by Donnie and Joe Emerson. There’s this French composer named [Christophe] Chassol that I’m obsessed with. And then, I don’t know, it kind of depends what vibe I’m in. I like some 90s RB. always. And then some Hudson Mohawke situations. I love Jai Paul. I’ve been listening to “He” and [Jai Paul] has a leaked album, but his song “Zion Wolf Theme,” I love.

You had kicked it up a notch on the Altar tour, but people were thrilled to see you dancing even more on the “3” tour. Is it a harder layer for you to add on the dancing and other choreo or once you get the hang of it, is it just a fun way to bring an additional layer of visual to the show?
I don’t think about it as hard or easy. I love it and it’s inspiring me right now. The movement that I have in my show isn’t traditional movement that you would see at a concert. I feel like it’s so reflective of my songs which are unique to me. I think the movement, how I’ve done it, I’m really proud of it. I really feel like it’s like my own thing, the way that I’ve incorporated it. It makes me feel strong. When you’re on stage in front of people, it’s sometimes easy to have your mind float to thinking about how many eyes are on you, but when you’re in your body like that, you’re so in your body. It’s a calming feeling where it’s more of a dance with yourself almost.

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