On Wednesday night at The Independent, a sold-out crowd anxiously awaits the mysterious creature known as BANKS. Cloaked in layers of black fabric that fall to her ankles, the dark chanteuse struts deliberately to center stage, where a spotlight shines onto her pale face. The L.A.-based signer-songwriter seductively sets into the dark R&B track “Before I Ever Met You,” recalling instrumentals by The Weeknd, with whom she toured last year.
“Everyone knows I’m right about one thing,” she breathes into the microphone. The stunning singer pulls off her long sheer robe to reveal a sleeveless black leather top and black asymmetrical skirt. “You and I don’t work out,” she hums. Banks’ soft crooning overlays the sultry drum beats and rugged electric guitar of her two-person band.
The poised musician seamlessly swims through her set. She pulls her dark straight locks out of her face when she dances seductively to the emotional industrial tracks. At times, she slinks to the back of the stage, surreptitiously veiled behind the strobe light haze.
Despite her coyness, BANKS unveils intense vulnerability as she chants about love and loss. Her lyrics divulge an aching heart but also a fierce confidence. She plays with two personas: a shy soulful singer and a strong, fierce femme fatale.
BANKS at The Independent. All photos by Laura B. Childs.
In heartfelt gratitude, the spiritual singer puts her hands together in prayer, thanking the crowd before diving into the entrancing anthem about women’s empowerment, “Goddess”— BANKS’ newest single and the title of her upcoming full-length. “You put her down, you liked her hopeless, to walk around, feeling unnoticed,” she begins in singsong, with unassuming sexiness. “You shoulda crowned her, cause she’s a goddess, you never got this.”
BANKS connects with the audience through her compelling no-bullshit lyrics. “Fucking with a goddess, and you get a little colder,” she sings before passionately throwing the middle finger in the air. The singer uses singing and songwriting as a means of empowerment during dark times. Her lyrics uncover haunting themes of heartbreak and separation; she first started writing music when she was 15 as a coping mechanism after her parents divorce.
The singer’s honesty is contagious as she reaches her hands out to the audience. She creates an candid connection as the crowd sings in harmony to “Brain.” The song begins with the priestess’ guttural moans about the games we play in the name of love. She repeats the sultry lyrics until the instrumental interlude. “I can see you struggling, boy don’t hurt your brain,” BANKS cries out to the crowd. She rocks back and forth on her black platform boots, twisting her wrists like a somber belly dancer.
Twenty-five-year-old Jillian Banks — simply known as BANKS — got her beginnings on SoundCloud, like many of her peers. She has created a remarkable fan base online, released two EPs, Fall Over and London, and is finishing up a full-length album to be released in September. She is noted for her reluctance to use social media and conceals herself with entrancing tracks and haunting grey-scale music videos. She’s cited musical inspirations ranging from James Blake to Aaliyah.
“I get very nervous before shows,” says BANKS at the show. She sings covers backstage, she says, to feel more comfortable. At the mention of covers, the crowd goes nuts because they know she’s about to sing Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.”
BANKS brings a sexy, come hither vibe to the 1997 single by the late R&B singer. In a stripped-down acoustic version, she unearths a powerful stage presence, luring her audience to her like a musical siren. Her honeyed voice feels slightly dangerous. “Boy, I’ve been watching you,” she sings. “Like a hawk in the sky that flies and you were my prey.”
Yes, she’s shrouded in mystery. Make no mistake, this mystery is deliberate. The California native strays away from overexposure and she always leaves you wanting more. But the enigmatic priestess doesn’t need to reveal all of her secrets. She’s opened her heart to us with her music. Her message is clear. She’s here to empower us, unshackle us from heartbreak, and liberate us from sadness. “You are all so perfect,” says BANKS to her fans in between songs, “and every woman is a goddess.”