Banks Tells Us About Her New Album 'The Altar'

"I want to keep pushing myself creatively"

Photographed by Helen Eriksson. Styled by Liz Rundbaken.

The following feature appears in the October 2016 issue of NYLON.

Banks strolls into the lobby of New York City’s Inn at Irving Place dressed from head to toe in black. The humidity is stifling, but that hasn’t discouraged her from wearing a silk bomber jacket, ribbed maxi dress, and heeled ankle booties. While we wait to be seated at the hotel’s famed Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon, she approaches the table in the center of the foyer, upon which rests a huge arrangement of wilting sunflowers. “I wonder if these are real,” she says as she pokes the petals.

Once we’re seated, Banks contemplates ordering the lemon verbena tea, which is described as having medicinal elements that help ease aches and pains. It's almost too fitting, given the nature of her music: R&B-infused alt-pop that's dark, devastating, and a little depressing, but also comforting, like a friend who knows just what to say to console you after a bad breakup. But she quickly changes her mind, instead opting to stick to the huge bottle of water that she brought with her. Though not a firm believer in astrology, Banks acknowledges that there are moments when it’s obvious that she’s a Gemini—such as when she’s too indecisive to settle on a drink order. “All in all, I think everybody can choose their own destiny. People aren’t predestined to be a certain way,” she says. “You can also read into things in any way you want, so everybody has different sides and facets to who they are. When I think about the fact that we’re all just hydrogen—because that’s how the world was created—I can start buying into [astrology] a little bit more, because I realize how everything started from one simple cell.”

Raised in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, Banks began writing songs around the age of 14, primarily as a form of personal therapy. “When I first started writing, music saved my life,” she explains. “It’s the language I’m most fluent in.” While she has fond memories of her dad blasting Dead Can Dance, she gravitated toward artists like Fiona Apple, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Eartha Kitt, and Brandy—all women to whom she has been compared—because of their raw honesty. 

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