Banks Issue 55

Goddess Level

Words by Gyasi Kirtley Photos by Williams+Hirakawa

How does a sweet, innocent voice twist itself into something so dark and alluring in the studio? 25-year-old Los Angeles-based songstress born Jillian Banks has listeners asking just that. She is definitely not a shrinking violet when it comes to discussing her music, either. Her moody lyrics and eargasmic melodic constructions landed her an opening slot for The Weeknd on his flatly-named The Fall Tour, a cosign that got her name plastered all over every major media outlet’s next best thing list. Her debut album, Goddess, delivers on the hype, displaying infinite ability to make heartache sound magical, transforming the very notion of love into a deep, brooding abyss.

Growing up, Banks had a soft spot for the sounds of Lauryn Hill and Fiona Apple. Their soulful voices and the searing lyrics on tracks like Hill’s “X-Factor” and Apple’s “The Way Things Are” spoke to her. Banks names both artists as major influences on her songwriting–  a craft she developed in response to the trauma of her parents’ divorce. Perhaps that’s why she calls her creative method “a natural process,” adding that it’s “just another way of communicating.”

And communicate she does, flawlessly transitioning from the studio to live performance settings. She worked hard to refine her skills while touring with The Weeknd. Banks remembers watching him warm up backstage. Influenced by his routine, she has developed her own pre-show ritual. “It just depends on the day really,” Ms. Banks says. “I always do vocal warm-ups and I like to center myself before I go out there.” She also admits that she still gets scared before performing, but that the fear and vulnerability push her harder and are part of what helps her captivate the audience.

As electronic-driven female R&B continues its mini renaissance, with artist like Jhene Aiko, Tinashe, SZA, and FKA Twigs harvesting the vibes of Aaliyah, Sade and Janet, Banks flourishes like a white rose birthed from concrete. Standing out from her peers with her intense delivery, she looked to Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs to lend a hand on her hit “Warm Water” and has tapped a wide range of producers for Goddess, including Shlomo, Sohn, and Good Years labelmate Lil Silva. Banks and long time friend Lil Silva worked a great deal on tracks like “Stick” and the title track “Goddess.” The two are also set to collaborate on a joint project in the near future. Power tracks like “This Is What It Feels Like” and “Warm Water” show she knows a thing or two about impactful collaboration. “I’m just really excited about everything,” she says. “I love traveling. I just can’t wait for my album to come out. I can’t wait to go on tour again and perform all my new songs that I haven’t performed live yet.” To us, it sounds like Banks is ready. The question at hand is, are you?

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