“If you’re into that,” Banks tells me, “can I suggest the I AM COOL? It’s a smoothie made from cashew-coconut ice cream, but it’s not bad for you. It’s literally the most refreshing thing in the world.”
But I don’t want cashew-coconut ice cream, I don’t want “not bad for you”—I want regular ice cream. But this is Banks, after all, the atmospheric R&B extraordinaire whose soulful debut album, Goddess, drops in September, and I’d choke down a pint of cashew crème fraîche if she recommended it. I’m reading an ominous disclaimer on the menu warning patrons that “we cannot guarantee that guests with food allergies may not be exposed through cross contamination” while Banks orders for me, and I try not to read into her own choice, the POWERFUL, which she sadly changes to a hot tea at the last moment.
My healthy mint dessert arrives, and it’s actually really good. Listen to Banks’ recommendations. There’s no way to teach instincts, and Banks is already ahead of the curve by simply trusting hers.
“My music comes from the most raw part of me, an animalistic part,” she says, recounting her songwriting beginnings at the age of 15 in her native San Fernando Valley. She cites coping with her life as the catalyst for her first music, though things have changed some: “I’m older now and my mind has grown in some ways, and now I just write.”
“When you’re that age it’s hard to process some things,” she says. “You feel shameful about feeling certain ways, and you feel alone and lost. It’s a big growing period for your brain and it can be uncomfortable to grow. I just needed [music].”
She brushes off the most specific questions about her lyrics or the songs’ origins, noting a desire to leave the listener to pull what they want from her work. But one song, “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From,” begs for attention from the title alone. “Everyone has a complicated history,” she says, “and love is hard sometimes. You can be in love and you can feel crazy and you can feel lost. Even though you’re in love, sometimes you feel like that isn’t enough. That’s what that song is about.”
Goddess involves a number of acclaimed producers and songwriters, including Shlohmo, Sohn, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and Jamie Woon. Despite all these different forces, the sound is cohesive and clean.
“If I connect with a producer, it’s going to sound like me,” she says. “It doesn’t matter that they’re different, because there’s something in them that resonates in me. It’s something that inspires me to make something that is me.”
Banks attributes her strong sense of musical identity to waiting 10 years before releasing her first song. She’s no teenage pop sensation; she’s a songwriter, a singer, and an artist. Often pegged as “mysterious” because she avoided social media and media appearances early on, she contends that this is not a marketing ploy. This is just who she is.
“It’s all organic, it’s all natural,” she says. “The stuff I want to share, I share, and the things I want to hold back, I hold back. It isn’t about being mysterious at all. It’s about saying what you think you should. I just share what I feel comfortable sharing. This is all very new to me, to be in the spotlight.”
She explains that she wants “to do this forever, with my whole body and my whole heart,” mentions that friends Lily Allen and Ellie Goulding have been a huge help, offering advice. She notes, then, that her music comes from an “animalistic side,” which sounds promising in this business, this kill-or-be-killed racket.
Photographer: Williams + Hirakawa for Art-Dept.com. Stylist: Zoe Costello for themagnetagency.com. Hair: Tony Chavez for traceymattingly.com. Makeup: Rachel Goodwin for thewallgroup.com. Manicure: Karen Gutierrez for nailinghollywood.com. Styling Assistant: Dani Charlton. Location: Pour Vous at PourVousLA.com.