Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Having a few feels? It might be time to dial up Banks

Meet Banks, an artist so personal she has a phone number for fans to call her directly to talk about their woes.
Jillian Banks says making music is a form of therapy, and without it, she 'couldn't function'.
Jillian Banks says making music is a form of therapy, and without it, she 'couldn't function'.

She's known for making music so raw and personal it can swallow you whole.

You might think that would make Jillian Banks, the Californian singer who records under the all-caps name BANKS, a diary-writing night owl who prefers a glass of red wine and her overwhelming emotions for company.

She knows exactly the kind of image she presents. "Everybody's like, 'Do you record in a cave at midnight when the moon is full?'" admits the surprisingly chirpy 28-year-old down the phone.

Then she erupts into giggles: "I'm like, 'Nope, I'm a human'."

Intense? Maybe. But not today. Just weeks after her typically personal second album - sample lyric: "If you would've let me grow, you could've kept my love" - was released, Banks is sunning herself on Venice Beach and having something resembling a holiday.

"I had this week to hang out in Los Angeles. So I decided to come hang out by the beach ... (I'm doing) beachy things ... walking around, enjoying the sun," she says.

It's a scene that's the polar opposite of her dark, claustrophobic music, a style debuted on 2014's Goddess and cemented on this year's The Altar, with gloomy club vibes and her vicious tongue leading to comparisons to contemporaries like The Weeknd, FKA Twigs and Kelela.

But Banks stands out for her stark intimacy and honesty, her lyrics referencing real people and real relationships. On the caustic Drowning, from Goddess, she turns on a lover, telling them: "You're gonna get some bad karma / I'm the one who had to learn to build a heart made of armour / From the girl who made you soup and tied your shoes when you were hurting / You are not deserving."

You might think that putting those experiences into her music, then performing those songs night after night, would be like hanging out at a house party populated only by your exes.

Banks calls it "therapy" and says she couldn't live without it.

"Making music ... is like a language for me to process my life. It's actually the most effortless process in the world, and the most fun process and fulfilling process. I love making music. It's my favourite thing to do in the world, so I need it to function," she says.

"Making music centres me ... I actually need to make music to feel like a happy person."

Happy isn't a word that could be used to describe The Alter, her new album that veers between mascara-streaked stand outs This is Not About Us and Trainwreck to brutally stark ballads like Weaker Girl and To the Hilt.

It's a bolder step forward from Goddess, one that sees her taking a tougher stance than the frail vulnerabilities of her debut. "I think you need a weaker girl / Kind of like the girl I used to be," she sings on Weaker Girl, before sweetly hitting the chorus: "'Cause I need a bad motherf***** like me."

That's another song referencing a real situation, but Banks says she doesn't like talking about the stories behind her songs. Besides, the people in them may not even know they're about them.

"If I love you enough, or affected by you enough, to write a song, then that probably means that person knows me pretty well, and they know I'm a songwriter," she says when asked if they know.

Then her thoughts trail off: "I don't know ... I try not to think about that part because when I was just making music in my room I didn't have to think about it. Now that I'm releasing it to the world I'm like ... I haven't fully settled with that fact yet. It's pretty intense."

That intimacy is exactly what fans connect to - especially when they relate to Banks' sometimes overwhelming emotions. "If you connect with my music then it means you connect with me because my music is so close to who I am. It feels like we shared some kind of similar experience," she explains.

That doesn't mean she'll reveal everything. "When someone asks me what a song's about, I know what it means to me, but I don't like to spell things out so much because if there's somebody that connects to it and interprets it in some way that helps them in some way that's different to how it helps me, I don't want to take that away from them."

Either way, Banks' music attracts some pretty intense types. She welcomes it. In fact, she goes well out of her way for her fans. In 2014, she put her phone number on Facebook, and she still carries a second phone to take texts and calls from them when she can.

"I don't respond to every one but as many as I can I do," she says. "It's great. A lot of the times it's just sending love and saying how much they connect to a song."

Then Banks, still lapping up the rays on Venice Beach, gets serious: "Sometimes it's really intense ... it depends which person's texting me.

"Some of them are asking questions that I probably shouldn't answer and don't answer, because I'm not a therapist."

Who: Jillian Rose Banks aka BANKS
What: New album The Alter, out now

- NZ Herald

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