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Banks Explains Every Track On Her New Album

Photo: Courtesy of Banks.
Jillian Banks, a singer-songwriter born in California's famous Orange County, makes gorgeous alternative pop music that's so emotional and affecting, it feels as though it seeps into your marrow. When I meet her in a quiet corner of a smart London hotel bar, Banks says she doesn't really like talking about her songs because "it's a strange thing to write about the most intimate parts of your life."

"That's why I'm so private," she explains. "I mean, I don't feel like anyone really knows anything about me other than what's in the music. I really value that and I really value having a normal life. You have to learn the balance between sharing yourself and not sharing too much, because otherwise you end up feeling empty and deflated." Nevertheless, Banks agreed to share some of the stories behind the songs on her sublime new album, The Altar, which touch on femininity, empowerment, relationships, sisterhood and personal growth.

"Gemini Feed"

"It's about a relationship I was in that was very intense. I feel strange even talking about this song because it's like a diary entry. But what I will say is this: the people who affect you the most are the ones closest to you, and usually the ones you know you really love."
"Fuck with Myself"
"This was the last song on the album that I wrote. I thought the album was done and I started freaking out about which song to put out first. So I went to the studio one day and started telling [my co-writer] Tim Anderson that I was really feeling the pressure and expectation of this business, especially over which song to put out first because I hadn't shared any new music in so long. When I stopped talking, finally, he was like, 'Do you want me to read you some of the things you said? You said, "I fuck with myself more than anybody else."' And I was like, that's exactly what I needed to hear and that's what I'm going to write about today. For me, this song is really about a journey of self-acceptance and of power and strength."
"All I really need to say about this song is: lust. It's lust, but gentle, like in a puppy-love way. It's not innocent, but it's new, it's butterflies, it's about wanting someone so badly."

"Mind Games"
"This is a song about me coming into my power. 'Do you see me now?' is the chorus. It's kind of triumphant. It's hard for me to talk about this song because sometimes I'm not exactly sure where my songs come from – why they're in my heart and why they need to escape it and be expressed. But this was definitely therapeutic to write. I write music because I don't know how to express what I'm feeling with words. It needs a melody, it needs a chord progression, it needs a thumping beat. Words don't truly express what emotions are; they're just dull versions of what I'm feeling."

"I actually wrote the verses when I was 15. I always knew I was going to use those lyrics some day – they're some of the first lyrics I ever wrote, like a stream-of-consciousness thing. They still mean so much to me and they still correlate to my life sometimes and they're still me, somehow. So I feel like this song's been a part of me for a long time."

"This Is Not About Us"
"This one was empowering to make. I made it with [British electro producer] Sohn. Our brains just come together and produce results and it's always super-fun. I don't like working with too many people, I have to be really comfortable with them. It's a really intimate process and you have to trust who you're working with because you can't feel remotely judged. When you click creatively with someone, it can be a much more intense relationship than you have even with a friend or a family member. They know you on this whole other level; it’s like your relationship is on fire or something."

"Weaker Girl"
“I’m super-excited for women to hear this song. I sing, 'You're mad about the way I grew strong,' and the lyrics are pretty self-explanatory. It's about when somebody wants you to be smaller and weaker than you are, because that way they can keep you and won't be threatened by you. Sometimes people who say they love you – or even people who do love you – don't like it when you start becoming stronger and more confident. I've experienced that. Any sort of change is uncomfortable and both people have to be really open and accepting and live in the moment. People aren't stagnant, it would be so boring if we were! Can you imagine if everyone was going around with teen angst at 50? It would just be the worst."
"Mother Earth"
“This song is for women. I wrote it after my sister gave birth to a baby girl. I needed to write it and I want women to hear it because I want us to support each other. People are always trying to compare women; I get compared to other female musicians all the time. But if you're gonna compare me to someone, why can't you compare me to a man too? Why doesn't that happen? I think in general there's a fear of femininity. For years and years and years, people have been conditioned to want women to be pretty, very polite, very nurturing, and not take up too much space. I am a nurturing person, but you can be nurturing and powerful and fierce and big too – and you can take up so much space. This song for me is about taking up space and not being afraid to be big.”

“Oh, with this one it's all in the lyrics! It's a jagged black and blue song. I can't wait to perform it live.”


“This is a song about somebody who lets you go, but then comes back because they feel so good about the way they thought you were broken after they left. DJ Dahi sings on this song too, so there's like a call-and-response part. You know, relationships are layered and sometimes I write from my perspective but also from the other person's perspective. There are definitely two perspectives in this song. This song isn't angry or bitter; it's just real. It's like a movie told from one person's perspective, and then at the end you get a little bit of the other's perspective.”
"I love this one! I sing the line, 'Oh my God, I think I saw a ghost,' through this really cool machine that layers your voice so you sound like you're undergoing an exorcism or something. When I do it live, I'm gonna have the machine on stage with me so I can recreate the effect, it'll be awesome."

"To the Hilt"
"After I wrote this song, I got super-sick for two weeks. It's actually the first song I ever wrote that I wasn't ready to write, emotionally. I was telling myself I was really angry to cover up how hurt I was and then this song came out. And it was really sad because my heart was broken but I didn't want to say that because anger is so much easier to feel than sadness and heartbreak and missing the shit out of someone when you hate them at the same time. So that's how this song was birthed. I still don't like listening to it now. I didn't listen to it for months after I wrote it because it just made me nauseous. But I was never tempted to leave it off the album. I was proud of myself after I wrote it."

The Altar
is out now.