“This is a record about learning to let go…” - BANKS opens up about her new album III
After an exhausting four years, during which time she had released two acclaimed albums and undertaken two lengthy world tours, Jillian Banks decided that she needed a break.
Planning to return to her home in California and take a hiatus, she actually found her getting the urge to get back to work within a matter of weeks, and, for the next two years, has busied herself with the creation of her third album, III.
To help along the way, she’s recruited some serious production talent, with Hudson Mohawke, Francis And The Lights and frequent Bon Iver collaborator BJ Burton all key parts of the LP.
As the record arrives in stores, we spoke to Banks about why this album is the final part of a trilogy and the impact gospel music has had on the LP’s creation...
When did you start work on this record?
“I finished touring The Altar and I needed to stop. I needed time to not work and to stop being so drained. But I have to be constantly creating or I feel empty. So I was only away for a couple of months before I started and then it was two years working on the album.”
Did you have a sense of what you wanted to do differently?
“No. I never do. I just write and I see what comes out. I was going through different things and my writing is so personal that the songs definitely reflected it. I was digesting how much my life has changed over the last few years. My career has been non-stop for five years and I didn’t get a chance to take it in. Taking time out gave me perspective. It wasn’t a different process, but I had new things to write about and I’m in a different place.”
Do songs come quicker now than they used to?
“It depends. ‘Look What You’re Doing To Me’ took me and Francis 20 minutes to write, another song might take me three years to get right.”
How many songs did you have for the record? Do you collect a lot of tracks and streamline?
“Oh yeah. I wrote about 50 songs for this record. That’s the hardest part for me, I find it so hard to judge my music and decide which songs are better than the others. I ended up keeping 13 songs, the songs that represent all the layers of the time of making the record, the ones that make up their own little world. I’m still going back and forth in my head now about the songs, but it’s too late to do anything about it…”
Can you talk us through the producers you’ve worked with on the album?
“I met Buddy Ross through my publishers and we hit it off right away. I met BJ through him and that clicked immediately. Ross (Hudson Mohawke) is someone I’ve always been a massive fan of. We wrote a lot of songs together, a lot of which didn’t make the record, but I want to go back to them in future. When I work with people, I tend to dive in deep. I don’t like working with too many producers.”
Can you ever see yourself working with just one producer on a record?
“I would never say never to anything. But I have so many different sides to me. Working with the three guys on this album meant I got to tap into all of them. Buddy has this tender, innocence to the sounds he makes and that brings out something in me. BJ is a sensitive dragon and Hudson Mohawke is just a beast and he helps bring out the beast in me. They all bring out different parts of me.”
“Working with producers is like dating. People are right when you meet them sometimes and then not. There are plenty of people I’ve dated who if I met them now, it would be a hard pass. Your lives collide at a certain time.”
You’ve talked about it being a record that shows you far you’ve progressed, does that include incorporating new influences?
“When I make music, I don’t listen to music. I don’t make people turn it to when it’s on, but I never hear something or see a painting or watch a film and then immediately feel like writing a song. I live my life, I go through things, I need to process them and that’s how music comes in. I will say that I got really into gospel in the last few years. Those voices, there are not from this earth. There’s a lot of gospel on the record.”
What kind of record is it lyrically? What inspired it?
“Just being a human. We’re all complex and have lots going on. It’s never just one thing. I try not to overthink things. The album is just where my head goes. It just comes from within somehow.”
Does that mean, conversely, that if a song feels like hard work, you know it won’t work very quickly?
“It does. If something doesn’t hit me in my stomach, it’s not going to happen. I had a day where I was in the studio for hours and hours, I tried seven different songs, nothing was happening. Then, right at the end of the day, I finally started on something real, which was something I’d clearly been too afraid to confront, and it poured out. I ended up getting sick after that, it felt like such a purge it gave me a sinus infection.”
When did you decide that III was the right title for the record? Was it always going to be the title?
“No, I had so many different titles! It’s hard to sum up a body of work in one word, I don’t think it’s possible. In the end, I chose III because it ties into a lot of themes on the album.”
“This is a record about learning to let go, learning that life isn’t black and white and letting go of some of the perfectionism that I’ve always carried with me, that’s been quite painful to live with me. The number three represents the chance to let go and start something new.”
“To me, three is a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s past, present, future, birth, life, death. All these are threes and they end with a period (full stop). After that’s all about acceptance and peace that a stage of your life is over. When you’re thinking too much, you’re not at peace. Putting a period on something means you can move forward and be in the present.”
“It doesn’t feel like enough, coming up with one word or phrase to sum a body of work is a sh***y thing to do. III feels general enough to sum up a lot. It’s like a paragraph within a word.”
In terms of what you’re going to do live, how much is booked already? Are you busy until next year?
“It’s pretty booked. I’m starting rehearsals in the next few days. I can’t wait to get back, I miss touring.”
What kind of set will you be playing? Three records mean you can’t play everything anymore…
“You can’t please everybody and Twitter is the devil. I’d have people tweeting me horrible s**t after every show. It’ll depend on how I’m feeling that day and I’ll change it up a lot. I’d love to be able to do a few shows with a string quartet. I’m still figuring a lot of it out. I don't have the complete picture yet, I have colours I see, I have images I see, but it’s not there yet.”
Having ended your last tour completely drained, are you going to do things differently this time? Will things be scaled back?
“Touring is a tough beast to conquer. I wasn’t feeling amazing mentally and that affected how I felt physically. Physically I had a few things that I didn’t deal with. I needed a time out. I’ve learned that it’s important to constantly take account of where you’re at and to listen to your body. If I had done that, then I wouldn’t have been so drained.”
You said earlier that there’s a fair bit of material left over, are you going to continue to work on it?
“I’m always making music. I have to make music or I don’t feel good."
Banks’ new album III is out now in hmv stores.