It’s no secret that LA girls are victims of stereotyping. When you hear that someone grew up in the Valley, your mind may immediately jump to the myth of sun-kissed, beach dwelling, shopaholic Clueless types. With that in mind, Banks is the least “LA girl” you’ll ever meet. Intense, deep, brooding, and overflowing with unabashed emotion, the petite musician is rarely seen wearing anything other than her trademark black, complemented by a sheet of shiny black hair cascading down her back. And her demeanour has fooled many. In February 2013, when she released her first single, “Before I Ever Met You”, on SoundCloud, few could believe that this husky-voiced, melancholic singer could be anything but a surly Brit. “I started noticing a pattern. At the beginning of every interview people asked me about living in London, and how it had inspired me,” she says, “but I did have a huge breakthrough in my career here.” This breakthrough came in the form of her debut EP, the aptly named “London”, a record filled with infectious beats from the likes of Lil Silva and TEED, whom she refers to passionately as her “blood”.
But it’s not just music that Banks is passionate about – it’s everything. Curled up on Rankin’s sofa, Banks talks openly and animatedly about family, heartache and the dark emotions that have inspired some of her most heartfelt lyrics. “I just want to feel everything as deeply as I can, and music is how I express these feelings. It’s my diary,” she tells me. Still coming to terms with so many people hearing her innermost thoughts – her second ever gig was supporting The Weeknd on his North American tour – Banks is a rare artist, one unfazed by image or celebrity and instead led by her heart. And as we learn, she’s willing to follow it wherever it may take her.
Hunger: More than a year ago, you posted “Before I Ever Met You” on SoundCloud, and within a few days everyone was talking about you, but you have no visible past in music. How did it all happen?
Banks: The second I discovered how powerful music was to me, I realised that it was going to be the biggest part of my life, my biggest love and the thing that fulfilled me the most. I got into music because I needed an outlet. It was the safest place for me to let every single feeling out. Writing songs was such a personal and private thing that I kept it very close for a very long time. I wrote songs for ten years before allowing anyone to hear what I was doing. I wanted to be patient with myself, so when my music went online, I felt like the time was finally right.
Since then your career has moved really fast. Do you ever feel like you have to take a step back and catch up with yourself?
Sometimes I get overwhelmed because it’s very new. My whole life is foreign to me now. I’m learning a lot, and sometimes growth and learning is a bit uncomfortable. I was very, very private before this, and in the last year my life has done a total 180. I mean, I was writing music on the floor of my bedroom on a shit keyboard and now I’m touring the world! But even though some things are uncomfortable, I’m able to push through. It feels good to break out of your comfort zone. That’s part of growing as a person, not just as an artist.
When you started out you were a bit of an enigma; there weren’t many pictures of you. Was it a conscious decision to shy away from the limelight?
I think everything that I do is conscious but natural. I didn’t have shoots online because I’d never done them, and then my song came out before I’d even been professionally photographed! But it was a blessing in disguise because the music came first and that’s what people talked about initially, not my image. It was kind of funny because when my picture came out everyone was like, “What? That’s her?”
You famously put your phone number on Facebook for fans to contact you. What response did you get from that?
Most people just said how much they connected with the music, and how it had helped them through a hard time, how they felt less lonely because there was someone else who had gone through something similar. “Before I Ever Met You” is such a gritty, in-depth song about the dynamics of a relationship that I think everyone can relate to it on some level.
And any weird responses?
I get a lot of calls from prison, which is a bit crazy. I once got six calls from six different prisons in one day. I didn’t always accept the calls, but this one guy got through and he left this incredible message, in which he said that he’d been in prison for 11 years, and wasn’t allowed to watch TV or anything, but had heard my music on the radio and it was really special to him. I played it over and over and looked the inmate up, but I couldn’t find him. I was trying to find out what crime he had committed…
Let’s talk about your image. What is it about the black and white, film noir aesthetic that draws you?
I love the colour black. I have done since I was a kid. I always feel my most powerful when I’m in black. It can be very sexy, it can be soft, it can be feminine, it can be masculine. I pretty much always wear it.
Being relatively new to the industry, do you ever feel self-conscious?
I think there’s always a little bit of that. But if you have no nerves, it’s not as exciting, there’s no adrenaline. I think the trick is to not let it get to a point where you can’t be yourself, or communicate what you want to. You have to be able to sit well with yourself onstage. Today, for example, I feel really relaxed. There’s a great vibe on the shoot, and Rankin is a very special human being. But I’m definitely becoming more confident in myself than I was in the beginning.
Pick up Issue 7 of Hunger Magazine – The Fearless to read the full interview.
Banks’ debut album, Goddess, is out now via Good Years. Find out more on her website.