Jillian Rose Banks, or BANKS to you and I, first came to public consciousness after she posted her debut song Before I Ever Met You on a private Soundcloud in 2013. Subtly seductive, slow-burn and tactile, it set the scene for what was to come, with her 2014 debut album Goddess loaded with songs to tingle the senses. As BANKS, she makes the kind of music to lose yourself in, the sort that takes over your whole body (her gigs are so full on seductive that the crowd often break out into impromptu make out sessions). That trend of heightening the senses through music continues on her magnificent new album The Altar.
You gave your cell phone number out on Facebook around the time of your first album. Any plans on doing that again with this one?
It's still there.
Do people still leave messages?
Yep. I answer as many as I can. Do you want to answer one now? [Gets her phone out and finds a message]. 'Please play a show this month in New York City'. I'll say, 'I hope soon! Banks' [presses send].
Do they ever send you any weird stuff?
There's definitely been a few weird ones (laughs).
How do you go about writing a song? How does it start?
A mood. Something in me to express. Then some sort of chord progression, and then a melody, and then one word, and then a line, and then a lyric of some sort that inspires the concept.
When you say mood do you mean you have to be in a mood?
Yeah. I have to write when I'm in that mood. I always have it in me if I need to express something. There are songs on this album that were about things that happened years ago but I still need to process it.
How in tune with your senses do you think you are in terms of creativity?
Really in tune. Sometimes so in tune that I wish I wasn't. It's a harder life being so sensitive, but it's definitely a better life I think. It's easier to care less though.
Can your senses trigger memories that can lead to creating a song?
If the memory is triggered and it leads to a song that means I need to work something out still. But sometimes songs, speaking of senses, like old songs that I've written make me so nostalgic. Sometimes I can't even listen to them.
Do you draw inspiration from visual media?
My songs come from my life but I'm definitely really inspired by other types of creation. Like artists, painters, my grandma. Other people who I respect and admire. Those are the types of things I use as inspiration. When you have a really strong vision it's not just a sound, it's not just a visual, it's not just a smell, it's not just one thing. When you have a strong vision it's all encompassing. It's everything. It's a feel, a touch, a taste. When people say 'what are you feeling?', it's like a colour that I'm feeling. When people ask me to describe my music I don't know how and I use colours. That's why I make music because words aren't enough.
Maybe that's why emojis are so popular these days? It can help accentuate language.
Totally! That's interesting, I bet that is true.
What emoji is your new album?
Oh God! I should have known that was going to be your next question.
Okay, what color is it?
It's not just one color. This album has some metallics in it and it has some soft greens. And reds still, of course. There's black in there. This album has a softness to it and a vulnerability that I was scared to confront before maybe, and in that came a fierceness and a confrontational energy.
One of my favourite songs on the new album is Weaker Girl. What's that one about?
It's so self-explanatory. It's kind of like fully accepting who you have become.
You yourself, or are you talking about someone else?
Do you talk about other people in your songs?
Characters or real people?
Why not characters?
I don't know. Sometimes if something has happened to a friend it will inspire something that has happened to me or something I have felt a little bit of a hint of and I can delve deeper into that. But it always stems from something real because if you've never felt it then you wouldn't be able to write about it.
Your live shows are often incredibly intimate full body experiences. Like I've seen people snogging at them. What do you think it is about your music that brings that out in people?
I feel sensual when I make music.
Have you ever made out with someone to one of your own songs?
No! Oh my god, that gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it (laughs). Can you imagine? Getting turned on by myself. I guess there's something in my music that makes people want to have sex. Sometimes I feel really sexy when I make music. Sometimes I feel really soft. I feel really human when I make music and that involves feeling sensual and feeling love or lovesick. Just feeling emotional.
How involved are you in everything outside of the music? So the videos, artwork, social media etc?
It's all me. I mean, it's ME. Other people that I trust have opinions and people who I collaborate with are people that inspire me of course. I control it all. It's my face, it's my body, it's my music, it's my heart. It's everything.
You said of Mind Games that putting it into the world made you feel exposed – how do you overcome that sense of feeling so exposed?
I'm still having a hard time with interviews and putting myself out there this much. It's like an uncomfortable thing for me to be so seen and I think I'm showing myself more this album, which is hard.
The cover of the album features a much more direct image than the cover of your first.
Yeah and I have no makeup on. Just completely bare. I think I just wanted to show myself. No shadows on top of me, just my freckles. Just me, with my hair pulled back. I think that's what this album is to me. I find this business hard. I'm not one of those people who lives to be seen. I don't love talking about myself all the time so it's hard for me to talk about really personal things. Everything happened so fast with the first album and I wasn't used to cameras. I felt like I was pushing against that a lot. So with this album I wanted it to be 'I'm here, I'm not afraid'.
You mentioned the fact you've got no makeup on and obviously Alicia Keys recently went to the MTV VMAs without make-up and caused a ridiculous kerfuffle. What's your take on it all?
It's so funny right. It says something that it's such a big deal for a woman to go without makeup. This business is horrible to women. It celebrates women as well but it's really hard on them. I think people doing that, i.e. not wearing make-up and saying you can be more than one size and speaking out against that is necessary because you can only try and mould into that box for so long. It's fake. People are just people, you know. No one is better than anyone else and I think it's important to celebrate having flaws. Everyone does and if you think someone doesn't it's because they're hiding it or pretending.