BANKS Is Embracing the Devil That’s Been Inside Her All Along

Jillian Banks discusses her new single “Skinnydipped,” confronting her inner demons, and finding empowerment outside of her music.

When Jillian Banks puts her pen to paper, she doesn’t bother listening to anyone else’s music during the album-making process. Instead, she taps into other artistic mediums to find inspiration beyond words and melodies. Just a few weeks ago, she attended a Van Gogh exhibit where the projections of his paintings and curated classical music challenged her to use all her senses to consume his illustrious body of work. Banks’ recent singles “The Devil” and “Skinnydipped” are hints to a similar immersive experience she wants to possess with her forthcoming record.

Known by her surname, BANKS spent the majority of the pandemic alone recovering from a brutal year of excessive touring off her previous album III. She pressured herself to persevere through a spinal injury and flares from her recently diagnosed autoimmune disorder, Hashimoto’s disease, with the lockdown providing her a safety net. While quarantined, she fell into a depression that forced her to confront reality. “I was a lot more alone than I ever was, and being alone in your own mind can be fucked,” says Banks. “A lot of things rose to the surface, like my demons, and I had so much time to heal and digest.” Fine-tuning her craft, she’s now embracing the devil that’s been inside her all along.

The 33-year-old artist quickly carved out her own lane in the alternative R&B and pop scene in 2013, delivering haunting, soulful vocals on downtempo beats while maintaining a low profile on social media. Banks only supported this mystic presence with an aesthetic of witchy, flowy garments to complement her naturally sullen eyes, magnifying the darkness deep within her. While remaining reserved in public, Banks’ lyrics scream raw, unflinching narratives on past loves, trauma, and the strength she finds among these adversities in her 2014 debut album Goddess, the 2016 follow-up The Altar, and her aforementioned third album. This fourth LP shows Banks shedding her skin again to reveal a more vulnerable piece of her soul. 

“It’s nice to expel your demons, cleanse the palate before a new chapter starts. I feel like that’s what ‘The Devil’ is all about—it’s overcoming your demons and being stronger than them.”

“It’s nice to expel your demons, cleanse the palate before a new chapter starts,” she says. “And I feel like that’s what ‘The Devil’ is all about—it’s overcoming your demons and being stronger than them.” Banks uses this demonic persona to cathartically release the negativity built inside her, as heard in lyrics like “Pullin’ back all the opinions / I ain’t really bothered and it tastes so good.” She accompanies the song with a campy music video full of sinister visuals of fire-raising rituals, a coven of blood-thirsty witches seeking vengeance from men, and BANKS portraying the enchantress of the night in her head-to-toe blood-red attire.   

BANKS channels this authoritative energy as she leads this album rollout as an independent artist for the first time. “I’m at the time of my life where I want to control everything about my own life,” she says. “I own my own masters now, that’s crazy to me. I’m able to make all the calls on which single comes out next, what I want to do for a music video, and how and when I want to release stuff.” This autonomy, combined with the lockdown, liberated Banks to create an album reminiscent of her days making music before she was in the spotlight. “It felt really separate from the business aspect of the music business,” says Banks. “I didn’t feel caught up, and I think that allowed me to feel very calm, present, inspired, and vulnerable.”  

photo by BANKS & Michael Stine

She showcases this vulnerability on her new single “Skinnydipped,” as the alluring track narrates BANKS moving onward, finding her self-worth, and no longer drowning in toxic relationships. Co-directed by BANKS, the music video opens with a wide shot of her and a cast of surrounding divine sirens in a discreet, tropical cove, luring the viewer in.“It represents something powerful, but also dangerous. Like, I don’t know if I want to touch it, but I want to because I’m curious,” she says.

“I’m really working on owning that power within my life, in my relationships, and how I talk to myself. I think it’s all about merging that into your real life until you can walk with less gravity.”

Set for release next year, Banks co-produced her forthcoming album after taking a dive into the deep end and mastering the production software Ableton. She wrote and produced the album from the comfort of her home, learning that “all you need is a seat, a computer, Ableton, and some keyboards,” she laughs. She also scaled back the number of collaborators she worked with on this project, stepping back into the booth with longtime producers such as Shlohmo and Al Shux. “Making art is such an intimate process, and I think over the years I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few people that I have such a deep connection with art-wise,” she says. “I’m not going to hand over my baby to just anyone and be like ‘put some production on it.’”

Having graduated college with a degree in psychology, it’s no coincidence that Banks maintains an insightful, self-analytical perspective on her experiences and feelings in her lyrics. She attributes the connection between her degree and songwriting stemming from her deep interest in human dynamics. “The extra pain I’ve dealt with in my life because of being empathic has made me want to understand it more—understand people more and why people are how they are in relationships.”

Banks’ time in isolation also reignited her passion for drawing—she mentions she has a room in her house now dedicated to all her pastels, colored pencils, and paper for when creativity permits itself. “It’s always out and I never put it away,” she says. Her leisure activity may have even inspired the logo she designed to accompany this new era, featuring a snake wrapped around its own tongue, flicking out and covered in intense, piercing eyes. 

Throughout our conversation, Banks makes several references to snakes, from describing her lead single “The Devil” as having a groove similar to “a slinky snake slithering up to you,” to passively showing serpentine jewelry in her “Skinnydipped” music video. Historically, these scaly reptiles often symbolize a rebirth and immortality, so when nudged if snakes would become a more consistent theme or reflect the album’s title, she held a pause in her words before laughing and ominously saying, “Probably…maybe.” 

Being confined has given Banks time to reflect on her perception of empowerment outside of her music. Whereas music has always been therapeutic for her, she’s now realized it’s time to put herself at ease everywhere else. “If I’m not feeling empowered, I do it in my music. If I’m not feeling strong, I do it in my music. If I feel that I can’t be honest or vulnerable, I am in my music,” she says. “I’m really working on owning that power within my life, in my relationships, and how I talk to myself. I think it’s all about merging that into your real life until you can walk with less gravity.” FL

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