Few artists know how to record the dark side of their psyche in the way that Banks does. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter—who hails from Orange County—specializes in choruses and verses that mine the twisted, intense and often hectic emotions that come from relationships that test the human spirit. Her last album, Goddess, navigated the fine lines between love, lust and infatuation. Banks’s latest offering, The Altar, further investigates the same notion, but this time it goes beyond simple self-reflection. In songs such as “Mind Games” and “Fuck With Myself” there’s a combination of romantic hardship, psychological evaluation and internal dialogue that seems plucked from a dramatic foreign film. While in Toronto last month, Banks sat down with FASHION to talk about her cerebral creations as well as the toll they take.
Your album title obviously plays with the idea of artistic sacrifice. What has been the biggest offering you’ve given your fans so far?
A window into my life. The altar represents the holiest place in my life, which is my music. It’s where I process everything. My music is my religion. I think religion should be is something that centres you and gives you hope.
I’ve been reading about your evolution from Goddess to The Altar in interviews. You’ve been hinting at the fact that you feel you have a greater amount of amount of power now as opposed to your debut. Explain what this means.
When I write, it’s just a reflection of where I am. New experiences that I’ve gone through have given me this new sense of confidence. I’m learning how to own everything that I do. In this business, it took a lot for me to say what I wanted to without feeling guilty for it. For women, that happens a lot.
Georgia O’Keeffe was a painter you were looking at when you wrote the lyrics for The Altar. Was there an author or poet that also struck a chord?
I just started reading The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins. It’s really interesting. It’s based on women in the 1800s. If they were in these deep emotional states—for example, if they were struggling with postpartum depression or any mental state that wasn’t happy—they’d put this rest cure on them. Doctors would sit them down, stuff them with food, and they couldn’t do anything. The doors would be locked. They couldn’t play with their children. It would cause insanity. This short story is about this woman who’s given the rest cure. She’s in a room with yellow wallpaper and starts hallucinating. She starts seeing different creatures coming out of the wall and doesn’t want to leave. She begins to feel like she’s only safe in that room.
Your recently released track “Mind Games” has the line, “Do you see me now?” repeated. Is this how you feel the media has seen you?
I hate thinking about that. It’s so toxic. It’s none of my business what other people think of me. If you ever feel misunderstood by a group of people—that’s a powerful way of putting it. “Do you see me now? I dare you to see me now.” It’s confrontational. I dare you to look me in the eye.
Songs such as “Haunt” and “Poltergeist” both deal with the spiritual and the supernatural. Tell me about those connections for you.
They come out in the process of making the music. It’s exciting for me when people ask me about “Poltergeist.” It’s a really important song for me. I felt like my whole body was filled up with the sweetest juice when I sang it. I was at a studio in Venice and I found this machine. If you sing through it, it sounds like you’re having an exorcism. This whole character just came out. I was just looning out! I worked on that song for months. The first version had no structure. I truly believe there’s a ghost singing. Sometimes it feels like I’m going through an exorcism.
What’s your pre-show routine like?
It used to be super unhealthy, at least mentally. I’m trying to find a new one. I’d just get really dark in my head. It was this twisted way that I gave myself energy. I need to be alone for 30 minutes before I go onstage. I need to be alone in an almost meditative, calming, quiet atmosphere. I used to get really dark before I went onstage. There had to be a reason why I was doing it. It came from nerves and stage fright. It was so draining, emotionally. I’d finally finish the show and it would be such an exhale. I’d have to do it again the next night. It’s not a conducive, long-term game plan so I don’t recommend it. Every artist goes through it. It takes so much to go onstage and sing the songs you wrote about your own personal life. I don’t just sing; I perform. I become this this cubed version of myself—Banks cubed.
“Weaker Girl” is such an amazing song. It’s such a declaration of transformation. Was it written on the way to transformation or post-transformation?
Post-transformation. So many songs are written after something has happened to me. For example, “To the Hilt” was written after, but it was about how I felt in the moment. “Weaker Girl” is written from the perspective of the present, too. “Tell me what you want from me now. I think you need a weaker girl—kind of like the girl I used to be.”
Is it tough for you to document your emotional state using the conventions of pop?
I don’t have emotions that are just “I’m happy” or “I’m sad.” I wish I had them because my life would make more sense to me. When I write, it’s because I don’t know what I’m feeling. When I wrote “To the Hilt”—I thought I was angry. I was telling myself that I was angry for months. I realized I was completely heartbroken. It’s pure truth. Truth is layered and complicated and confusing. I write about confusing shit that I work out through my music.
Let’s talk about the BDSM aesthetic of your video to “Gemini Feed.” What sold you on the exploring these types of themes?
We had this guy who was an expert at knot tying come on set and tie me up. It’s usually for sexual purposes. It’s called shibari. It’s a Japanese form of art. It’s based on tying yourself up and feeling trapped. First of all, having powerlessness with another person is the idea behind it. It’s kind of sexy. Taking it off is where a lot of the pleasure comes from. It’s this release where finally you can breathe. He tied me into my dress. I stood there naked and he had to tie ropes around my back, my ass, and everything on my body to make these dresses. I didn’t feel weak. I didn’t feel objectified. I felt like I was becoming a piece of art.
The end of the “Gemini Feed” video has this Salvador Dalì gold maquillage going on. Why did you choose to go with such a surrealist take on things?
Eyes are a big theme in all my visuals. There are a bunch of eyes in my logo. The third eye—it’s a big theme. The character of the goddess represents seeing everything without even having her eyes open. When she closes her eyes, they’re still open. Rachel Goodman did the makeup, but I wanted eyes on top of my eyes…. I wanted the goddess to look regal, powerful and feminine. Power sometimes is represented in this aggressive way, but you can be so powerful while closing your eyes and sitting still. That’s what I wanted and that’s how I described it to Rachel.
If someone gave you an unlimited budget and you could work with any designer or visual artist, who would it be?
Dior, Vivienne Westwood—if he were still alive, I’d love to work with [Alfred] Hitchcock for sure. His is a dreamy world of shadows and illusions and mystery and intrigue. That’s how I want my shows to be. That’s what they are to me.
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