Whilst on the road with her latest album, 'The Altar', Jillian Banks has full-heartedly embraced experimentation with her currently-touring live show, which kicks off with a romantic poem, includes beautifully choreographed dancing, and features a unique sign language interlude.
Banks pours every ounce of her being into every second of her every movement on-stage, as if sharing with the audience an intimate, secret language of their very own. And much like The OA attempting to open a door to another dimension with her five movements, there’s something indescribably powerful about watching Banks unlock messages from her "deep waters" across a full spectrum of verbal and visual communications.
After being completely enthralled with Banks’ new live show across multiple dates in America and Australia, Coup De Main caught up with Banks when she was in Sydney recently off the back of Splendour In The Grass 2017...
...in my life I have felt like it was a weakness to be so nurturing and sensitive, but it’s not, it’s so wonderful.
COUP DE MAIN: When I last talked to you two years ago, you said you were "learning how to communicate and how to be a boss." How has that been going for you with the business-side of this latest album?
BANKS: Good! I feel really good, I’m feeling really inspired right now. I’m passionate about my live show and I’m kind of just having a lot of fun now, like I feel really free creatively to just experiment. Experimentation is really fun, because you write a poem and you learn sign language and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘This would be cool to kind of try out and incorporate in the live show.’ So just trying new things, it’s fun.
CDM: You’re a Gemini and have incorporated aspects of that into this album from 'Gemini Feed', to your twinning back-up dancers on-stage. What is it about the Gemini mythology and iconology that felt so important to you to work it in?
BANKS: It’s actually kind of funny because I didn’t really consciously think, ‘I’m a Gemini, these are the traits of a Gemini, I want to incorporate that in my music,’ it was very subconscious. Sometimes I’ll make art and I’ll look back on it and then I can almost dissect it, so a lot of the times when I have consistent themes in my videos and my lyrics and different songs and visuals, I don’t even notice until after the fact. It’s kind of like the mirror thing, which is another symbol of duality and another symbol of viewing yourself in a different way, that maybe could be another representation of a Gemini. I didn’t even think about the fact that I had mirrors in so many videos and then all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is like the fourth video I’ve had a mirror in.’ It’s like the song 'Poltergeist’, that says, "I’ve been getting messages from my deep waters," that’s kind of how I view my music, it’s like I’m a vessel.
CDM: You first performed 'Lovesick' back in 2013, and then finished writing the second verse of the song two years later. Why was it such a hard song for you to write?
BANKS: Oh man, I don’t know! Actually, the second verse is the same as the first, it’s just a melodic change. That song, I kept thinking of it as more of like a traditional structure for a song, where I wanted the second verse to have separate lyrics. Literally for two years I would try and record a different second verse and it never felt as delicious, and so I just finally was like, ‘This song is what it wants to be, it’s just itself.’ I just went with that and I love it how it is.
CDM: Will you ever perform the finished version of the song live?
BANKS: Yeah, of course! Oh my god, it’s hard, I don’t have long enough sets - it’s like two full albums worth of songs. I can’t imagine how people when they have like five albums out, how they choose what they play live.
CDM: Bruce Springsteen last year played a nearly four-hour-long show.
BANKS: Oh my god, I mean that’s really the only way you can do it. Sometimes I won’t play ‘Weaker Girl’ and I’ll play ‘Brain’, and then they’ll be like, ‘Why didn’t you play Weaker Girl?’ And then sometimes I’ll play something instead of ‘Brain’ and they’ll be like, ‘Fuck you! You didn’t play Brain!’ <laughs> Right now where the live show is at with how it’s set up, it has a really nice flow to it. It feels very fluid and it kind of takes you from being a little bit shocking and aggressive - not aggressive, but a little monstrous in the beginning, and then it gets softer and then it comes back up again. I think right now, the songs that I’ve included in it are how they should be, but definitely 100% I’ll perform ‘Lovesick’ at some point. I mean, I just need a longer set. <laughs>
CDM: The "little stars they seem so far" poem that is read out as an intro on 'The Altar' tour, did you write that specially for the tour?
BANKS: No, I actually never write anything specifically for anything - I just write. I think that was about somebody that I was missing a lot.
CDM: I love that you perform your "Be Like Rainwater" poem during the show via sign language. Why did you want to incorporate that?
BANKS: That was such a big poem for me. I had a dream about it and it was so vivid and graphic and it was insane. I woke up repeating, ‘Be like rainwater,’ it was a very out-of-body experience. And it felt like that story was given to me for a reason, so I felt like incorporating it in my own life as a little something to keep in mind when I needed strength, and then I just wanted to incorporate more and more and more of me in my show. I feel really strong right now and I feel safe to do that, I feel more comfortable. My first album, it was so new for me, being in front of anyone was new for me, so I didn’t show all of myself. I feel like now it’s more fun for me to do that, it’s not so terrifying anymore, and so I can, like I said, experiment. I write poems always, I always have, and so I just wanted to incorporate that part into the show. It’s a huge part of me and I want it to feel 100% like me, like every pore of my body is in it. So I think it’s awesome because it feels like now people leave my show knowing so much about me in a new way - feeling connected to me. And I feel connected to the people there. There’s a part in the show where I do kind of an acoustic version of ‘Better’ but it turns into more of a production, but then I incorporate the audience in it. It’s fun.
CDM: The choreography for your live show is amazing. How much of that is stuff you decided upon? And how much of that is worked on with a choreographer?
BANKS: Everything is me or else I wouldn’t do it, but I started working with Nina [McNeely] because I wanted to incorporate a lot more movement into my show, and I love moving, I love dancing. A lot of it is stuff that I just did like this <imitates move>, and the creature thing is sorta just something that I was playing around with and Nina being like, ‘That’s dope! You should do that!’ And then some of it is her teaching me how to be more-- I’m learning, but she’s brilliant, we have similar visions, and working with her has been so much fun for me because she is just so brilliant and talented. She’ll be like, ‘This will be cool,’ and then l die for all of her movements, so she has been a huge addition.
CDM: Have you ever watched ‘The OA’?
CDM: Some of your dance-moves remind me of The OA’s movements - in how powerful they feel.
BANKS: Oh wow! That’s a compliment! That’s awesome, thank you.
CDM: I can’t believe you wrote the verses to 'Trainwreck' when you were fourteen! Why did now feel like the right time to finally use those words of yours?
BANKS: <laughs> I always wanted to use them! It was almost like when you’ve had something for so long you’re way too precious about it, and then when I was in the studio with DJ Dahi I just heard that beat and I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to go for it, I’m never going to find the right home for it unless I just find the right home for it and stop being so precious about it.’ So I was just joking around, and it felt almost like a rap, so I did it and they were like… ‘What is that?’ I was like, ‘I wrote it when I was younger,’ and they were like, ‘That’s tight!’ So that’s kind of how it happened.
CDM: If you could give 14-year-old Jillian advice on how to talk to idiots, what would you want to tell her?
BANKS: Oh god! I still don’t know how. <laughs> I wish I was an idiot sometimes, life would be easier.
CDM: Was it a conscious decision to reference 'Beggin For Thread', 'Change', and 'Brain' in the lyrics of 'Judas' with, "Beggin' me for thread, I think you need to change your brain"?
CDM: Why did you decide to reference all three of those songs in ‘Judas’?
BANKS: It’s such a layered question. I guess what that song is about, is I wanted to throw it in someone’s face - it’s as simple as that.
CDM: On a scale of one to ten, how empowering was it for you when writing 'Weaker Girl' and you sung, "'Cause I'ma need a bad motherfucker like me," for the very first time?
BANKS: It felt good!
CDM: Likewise, 'Mother Earth' is also a very powerful song. Why do you think it’s important for women to know that they can be nurturing, but also powerful and fierce?
BANKS: Because everybody is different and everybody’s nature is different. I know in my life I have felt like it was a weakness to be so nurturing and sensitive, but it’s not, it’s so wonderful. Writing that song was, for so many reasons, a healing thing for me. I just think it’s important for people in general, women, everybody, to just accept. I’ve said this since the beginning of my career really, music makes me completely accept myself in every single way, shape, and form of who I am. If I’m feeling unempowered or I’m feeling anxious or insecure or fearful, if I just even listen to my own music or get in the rehearsal studio and start doing the movements that I’ve created to my songs, it’s the expression that every single pore of my body has created, so it’s almost like this visual representation of your soul and it makes me fully accept myself and I think that songs like ‘Mother Earth’ help me do that as well. So I just think if you are a nurturing person and you’ve ever felt like that was a weakness, it’s not, and that song helped me feel that.
CDM: Last year you mentioned you were in the studio with Tyler, The Creator... will we ever get to hear music from that session?
BANKS: Maybe! <laughs>
CDM: When is your Insideout Girl going to finally be released out into the wild world?
BANKS: I’m working on it, it’s happening, so I’m really excited. I love cartoons!
CDM: Do you think you’ll release a book of short stories?
BANKS: We’ll see what happens. I don’t want to say anything yet because it’s such a process putting something like that together, but that is a huge passion of mine. I created her when I was young, when I was fifteen, so there is a whole world that she lives in with all of her friends and it exists, and it will exist for other people as well one day.