Jillian Banks isn’t the first musician to credit her creativity to a tumultuous domestic situation. But the 26-year-old R&B singer who calls herself BANKS says that her parents’ divorce when she was a teenager locked up a part of her that only songwriting could free.
“I felt like this person who wanted to scream but didn’t have a voice,” she says. “I felt mute and completely helpless because I didn’t know what to say or how to say what I was feeling. And all of a sudden all of these weirdly intricate poems were coming out with melodies on top of chords.”
The songs on her debut album, “Goddess,” which dropped last week, are characterized by their pulsing beats and an anger that runs beneath the surface.
“It was such a blessing to be so angry,” she says. “I didn’t ever consciously think I really wanted to start writing songs. If I wasn’t in such a dark place I wouldn’t have been in a weird enough mood to start tinkling about on the piano.”
Her writing is emotional and confessional. Take this line in “This Is What It Feels Like”: “I caught you off guard/And then when you saw I felt the same/You pulled away.” These are lyrics that make sense coming from someone with a degree in psychology.
“My music speaks for itself with what I go through — things that are hard to talk about in real life,” she says. “Music is where I feel completely liberated and free to express myself.”
The marketing for BANKS has been a slow, planned inception: a well-played paradox of hype and mystery. She only recently joined Instagram, while her management handles her Twitter and Facebook. The latter still lists her phone number. By the way, if you do happen to dial her up at 323-362-2658, Banks says she tries to answer your texts, but please forgive her if she doesn't get back to you right away.
“I just didn’t feel natural tweeting, and I wanted to do something that felt like me,” she says.
Her intangibility has seen Banks craft a persona as a high priestess of dark pop. It’s a guise that sees her fans flock to her shows where — dressed in monastic all-black capes and shrouded by smoke — she delivers her songs.
“It’s the juiciest feeling that I get from performing,” she says, chuckling.
But it’s not her lifeblood: “The writing is what I need to survive, mentally.”
Before we ever met her
Banks can count Katy Perry among her fans, and she has had a track on a Victoria’s Secret ad. Neither of these achievements would have been possible had BANKS’ manager not been bold enough to rip the song “Before I Ever Met You” from her private SoundCloud account and whisk it away to the influential ear of British DJ Zane Lowe, who named her his “next hype” in 2013.
“It was a blessing from the universe,” she says of the early recognition. “It kind of gave me that extra little push to be fearless; I would die for him.”
BANKS is playing on Sept. 27 at Union Transfer in Philly and sold-out shows on Sept. 29 at The Paradise in Boston and Sept. 30 at Terminal 5 in NYC.