It takes a special kind of human being to completely redefine a word - especially one that dates back to 1350. Female deities were once only mythological creatures defined by their supernatural powers and/or beauty, but now in a world where Jillian Banks lives and breathes and battles for self-empowerment, one only has to accept their own humanity in order to bring to the surface their inner Goddess.
Banks has transmorgified an impossible aspirational trope, finding inspiration instead in the real world - welcoming wholehearted honesty and what it means to be human and flawed. She says, "Every human goes through so many different things - they feel fragile at points, they feel powerful at points - and people should embrace every feeling they have and every stage they go through. I don’t think it makes you a weaker person. I think your emotions make up who you are, how you feel about certain things, but you should be empowered by that rather than letting it make you feel weaker."
With lyrics like, "What if I said I have problems that made me mean?" and, "So I got edges that scratch," Banks has re-tooled the Goddess archetype to instead be a honest reflection upon the fact that life is not simple, but everyday human struggles are no less important than those chronicled in legends or celebrity tabloids. Banks is a Goddess, but so are you, so am I, and so is everyone else in your life that you love and cherish. We are all Goddesses - be you male or female - so be courageous.
Whilst in Auckland for Laneway Festival 2015, Banks caught up with Coup De Main on a Summer’s afternoon, encompassed by the tranquility of a 19th-century church...
COUP DE MAIN: You spent nearly all of last year on the road and now you are back at it again. How have you found adjusting from normal-living to tour-life?
JILLIAN BANKS: It’s actually quite difficult sometimes. It’s very hard on your body to not really have one home-base and to be in different time-zones and to be on planes everyday - stuff like that can feel really depleting sometimes. People sometimes are creatures of routine, where it feels good to wake up at the same time, so that’s what’s hard about touring so much. But then you have these moments where you’re on stage and it’s almost like life cubed. Every single thing feels worth it and much more than worth it. Like you would be gone for ten years and never go home because of those moments. It’s kind of this constant ebbing and flowing of in the morning getting on a plane and feeling kind of exhausted, and then all of a sudden you have these moments of pure power and pure happy.
CDM: From talking to musicians with rigorous touring-schedules, one of the big myths seems to be the 'non-stop party' vibe of tour-life. It seems more of a rather exhausting and draining way to live.
BANKS: It’s funny, my friends who are musicians-- if you party a lot, you just can’t do it. You can’t be drinking and staying up. You can maybe get through one tour like that, but if you have six tours in a row, you literally can’t do it. You just won’t be able to function.
CDM: In an interview with The Huffington Post, you mentioned that you’d talked to Ellie Goulding about the highs and the lows of performing-life. What advice did she give you?
BANKS: It was kind of this type of stuff. She’s been so incredible to have because obviously she’s toured so much and she’s been through so much in this business. I’m so new to it, so sometimes it’s nice to have people that know what you’re going through and that you can talk to. Just somebody who’s toured versus somebody who’s not toured, sometimes it’s nice to talk to them 'cuz they understand.
CDM: I was looking at your past set-lists and you very rarely perform ‘You Should Know Where I’m Coming From’. I couldn’t even find a set-list with ‘Under The Table’ on it. Is that a deliberate decision not to sing those songs live?
BANKS: Those songs really fuck my heart up. When I first toured the ‘Goddess’ album-- this year’s been so non-stop I didn’t even have time to rehearse. So the first few shows I played those songs and I don’t even think I was ready emotionally for it. I know I will play them... it was weird, I had been used to performing all of these other songs. It’s weird to just sing… I write when I’m at my most emotional, when I need it the most. So those songs-- I played ‘Someone New’ three times on that tour and I cried every single time, I felt like a complete mess. I was like, 'I need to keep my shit together.' So I haven’t played them yet really, but I will.
CDM: When you’re singing those songs live night after night, do you have to emotionally distance yourself from them?
BANKS: I hate doing that. See, that’s why I’m going to play them. But I don’t want to emotionally distance myself from anything. That’s not what the music is; the music is pure emotion.
CDM: Some artists find it hard to relive songs night after night.
BANKS: Yeah it is hard, and those songs in particular. Sometimes you’re almost floating above your body and then the song’s over and you made it through. But for some reason when I played ‘Someone New’ and when I played a few of those other ones, I just wasn’t ready for it I don’t think, emotionally.
CDM: Back in November you tweeted: “Thank you for connecting with my music. Sometimes I feel too sensitive for this business. Then I see you perfect souls doing covers of my songs and I know I am not. And that I am where I should be." What aspects of the music industry do you not like, or are uncomfortable with?
BANKS: A lot... I don’t even know where to start. I love this so much, but… I’m open in my music and I’m not open in life sometimes, or always I guess. I’m really private. I don’t know how much I want to say sometimes. Sometimes it feels like I give so much and it’s not enough.
CDM: It must be tough being a creative in a financially driven industry, where there are always factions who are trying to offer their opinions as well.
BANKS: Yeah, but it’s not really that, because I have such a strong sense of self and such a strong idea of what my music is to me. It is just one thing, and it’s nothing else. When it becomes a matter of doing things for certain reasons that feel impure, that will never even be a temptation for me because I just do me, and I do my music, and I make my music for me and for the people who appreciate it, and that’s why I do it. I do it for me. But I think it’s just new for me to be open, that’s it. I feel kind of like a broken record though, because I’ve said that so many times.
CDM: Beyoncé backed a campaign last year to ban the word 'bossy' because it deters girls from wanting to be leaders. Queen B said: "I’m not bossy. I’m the boss." I feel like there’s a stigma attached to female artists who know their own mind and are unwilling to play 'the fame game'. I’ve watched Lorde grow these last few years and I personally find it frustrating when the media labels her as "difficult" because you know as well as I do, that she’s a wonderful human being, not difficult at all - she just knows what she wants. Why do women continue to be harshly judged for just wanting to be in control of their own self?
BANKS: I feel that. That’s actually been really apparent for me - VERY apparent - the last few months. I feel sometimes like I am told I am wrong a lot; I’m told I care too much. But it’s like, 'What is caring too much?' This is my art, this is my face, this is my heart, this is my skin, this is my blood, this is everything. Who are you to tell me that I care too much about anything that has to do with my art? It’s interesting, I’m learning how to communicate and how to be a boss.
CDM: I interviewed Katy Perry back in her Warped Tour days and she said that she wanted to hear: "Girls with no apologies in their music. Just really expressive, honest and bold." What she said about girls with no apologies in their music has always really stayed with me, and I thought back to what Katy said when I heard your album for the first time - the entire record is strong and sassy and powerful and makes no apologies. Is there any internal line that you shy away from when songwriting? Or is it completely from your heart to words to song, no filter?
BANKS: Heart to words to song, that’s it. And I feel sometimes-- this is why music saves me and is me and is my life and I could never do anything else, because I am unapologetic in my music and sometimes when people speak through art they’re their best selves. I feel like I’m my most unapologetic and I am my absolute best self in my songs, because I don’t give a fuck in my songs, I say what I wanna say. I write when I’m feeling weak, and I write when I’m feeling strong, and I embrace feeling weak, and I embrace feeling strong in my songs. That’s how I really wanna live my life - it’s like the voice in my own music sometimes is almost like a coach to the me outside of my music.
CDM: And no-one should have to eat all their misspoken words.
BANKS: <laughs> Exactly!
CDM: Do you write your lyrics specifically for the songs, or do you write them as poems or prose and then evolve them into song-form?
BANKS: They just are. The way my music happens is so... People ask me how it’s made, and it’s just me. It’s just me; it’s just fluid. It’s like a chord-progression and then a melody, and then one word, and I won’t be thinking about what word sounds good, it’s just a random word will come out. Like, 'prodigy' will sound good, the word 'prodigy'. Then that will turn into a sentence, and all of a sudden that sentence with that word 'prodigy' in it will really express something that is at the core of why I started writing in that moment anyway - ‘cuz I was feeling something. So it just kind of happens unconsciously.
CDM: When writing a song, how or when do you know that it's complete?
BANKS: I feel empty, in a good way. I feel light. I feel content.
CDM: What do you think the difference is between a good song and a great song?
CDM: So you’ve been back in the studio, have you been working on a new album? What’s going on?
BANKS: <laughs> I’m just writing right now. I miss it so much. I’m hungry for it; I’m hungry, hungry, hungry, famished for it.
CDM: You’ve tweeted: “We were gold for a minute, now we’re living on different pages.” Are those new lyrics?
BANKS: <laughs> They could be...
CDM: In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Björk compared how no-one ever questions Kanye West’s authorship of his songs, yet male producers that Björk has worked with will be incorrectly credited as having produced her music. You’ve worked with some amazing producers on your album who will always be name-checked in discussion of the record. How do you feel about that kind of discourse? Female artists are often discredited for their own songwriting skills as soon as a collaborator is mentioned - does it make you feel like the songs are any less yours?
BANKS: My songs are so mine that it doesn’t occur to me. You know when you feel almost insecure about something? And so you read into something? That’s how secure I am about my songs being mine. I write my songs, they come from my heart, and I work with people who inspire me, and so yeah they should be talked about. I work with women too - it’s not about that. But I once read an article that I felt almost gave my sound away to somebody that I was working with, that upset me once. But you can’t read things about yourself, that’s also what I have learned. So, learning, always.
CDM: Anyone who listens to your album, can feel it in the songs that it belongs to you.
BANKS: That’s the thing, you can tell when someone writes their own music. I can tell! They are human, you see that they are a human; they’re not just some talking-head.
CDM: ‘Drowning’ was the most blogged about song in 2014 according to Hype Machine. What do accomplishments like that mean to you? In your mind, what is true success?
BANKS: True success is being happy and doing what you love and feeling fulfilled. Whether that means having a family and living on a farm somewhere, or whether that means travelling the world and writing music and singing music for thousands of people. If you’re happy and living passionately, then that’s success.
CDM: Grace Coddington styled you for the January issue of Vogue magazine! She’s such a legend. What was it like working with her?
BANKS: Incredible. She’s such a creature; she’s real. I think the most creative people are the realest people, and she’s real.
CDM: You’ve already modelled for Coach and Chanel, are there any other designers or fashion-houses you’d like to work with?
BANKS: Probably a million of them. There’s so much beautiful art made through fashion and it’s really fun to bring your own atmosphere in music to an outfit, and have an outfit help you on-stage and give you a little extra power. There’s so many...
CDM: I am very, very impressed that you are still texting fans back on your public phone number. I know you’ve got two phones now, but there are other artists in the past who have flirted with public phone numbers and abandoned them once got it too overwhelming. Is it important to you to maintain this direct line to your fans?
BANKS: Yeah, it is. I don’t see a reason to ever get rid of that number. I can’t answer everyone but I can answer it when I can, and I do when I do. And it’s just an incredible thing for me to do; I love it.
CDM: At the beginning of January, you bought pizza for some of the fans waiting outside a show! That, and things like making a special effort to personally touch the hands of fans in the audience - not every artist cares that much about their fans. Your depth of fan-love is rare.
BANKS: I FUCKING LOVE YOU if you are waiting outside of a venue for an entire day to listen to my music because you connect with my music, because that means we’re the same. That’s why I touch your hand, because we’re the same. So I sent them some pizza ‘cuz that’s just amazing - that songs that I wrote because I needed to, somebody would wait outside all day to hear them. It’s like, of course I’m gonna give them pizza - I’m gonna give them lots more than pizza! <laughs>
CDM: Speaking of pizza, if Banks were a pizza, what flavour would you be?
BANKS: A tender berry flavour.
CDM: A friendship-crush is someone that you have no romantic interest in whatsoever, but just really wish that you were best friends with them. Who would be your top five friendship-crushes, living or dead?
BANKS: Eartha Kitt. My best friend Lily, Lily Taylor. Mathilda from ‘Léon: The Professional’. Mooney from 'New Waterford Girl'. Inside-Out Girl. Inside-Out Girl is my ultimate crush though - she’s the ultimate woman. <laughs>
CDM: I’m disappointed that Marceline from ‘Adventure Time’ isn’t in there.
BANKS: Oh, let’s add Marceline! Let’s do six. And Winona Ryder in 'Beetlejuice'.
CDM: Most important of all, when are you going to come back to New Zealand to play your own headlining show for us?
BANKS: I want to! As soon as possible, really - tomorrow! I’m doing something cool tonight, but I feel like acoustic sessions - the type that I’m doing tonight - are almost a glimpse into how I got into writing music because I was writing on a keyboard for so many years. It’s different - the show is me now - so I really want to.
CDM: Do you still have that toy keyboard?
BANKS: Yeah, I still write on it.
CDM: Were any of the songs on your album written on the toy keyboard?
BANKS: Yeah! Like most of them.
BANKS’ READING VIA THE GODDESS TAROT CARD DECK:
BANKS’ debut album 'Goddess' is out now - featuring the singles 'Brain', 'Goddess', 'Drowning' and 'Beggin For Thread'. Click HERE to purchase now via iTunes.
Watch the 'Beggin For Thread' music video below...