It's a big theme in my music to embrace every part of being human, every part of feeling weak one day and feeling strong another," says rising star Banks over a scrambled phone line from somewhere in Norway. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter crept into the indie and pop consciousness early last year, when she released her rumbling, strychnine-laced track "Before I Ever Met You," a moody cut that sounds like it could have been lifted from the 1998 Massive Attack album Mezzanine. Now, after having earned award noms from MTV UK and the BBC as well as a sweet deal soundtracking a Victoria's Secret commercial, she's on the road for a festival tour, a months-long "kind of nonstop" trek across the globe to promote a new set of songs. "I sing about falling in love, I sing about anger, I sing about fear, I sing about confidence, I sing about feeling sexy, I sing about feeling insecure," she continues. "I sing about every single thing, and every single thing makes me human and makes me beautiful and makes me a goddess."
Banks (born Jillian Banks) is clearly not reserved, and it's tempting to dismiss her statement as either a risibly earnest declaration from a self-serious artist or a regurgitation of the promotional party line for nearly every young, cool R&B-inspired singer with a big-label record deal. The fact that Goddess is also the name of Banks's upcoming debut album (out September 9 on Harvest Records) doesn't necessarily help: Is she belaboring her publicity-fueled point? Or is she just really passionate?
Maybe a bit of both. But in the year and a half since being introduced to the world via a song from her private SoundCloud played by a prominent British radio DJ, Banks has proven herself as more than your ordinary burgeoning pop act, and those breathless, unabashed feelings are part of the reason why. The evidence is all there in Goddess's tightly produced tunes. It's in the heartbeat of the muted kick drum on "Warm Water" and in the exposed, vulnerable moan she lends to the lyrics "please don't fall in love with someone new" in "Someone New." There's a rawness in her sound -- which is steeped in R&B but also dance -- and it could only be the product of someone who's not just intensely sensitive but incredibly insightful. Few 26-year-old singers could channel the despondency and regret of the piano-led "You Should Know Where I'm Coming From" and navigate the fractured motion of "Drowning," only to surface with a rousing, confrontational single like "Brain," her reflection on a narcissistic love interest. For someone so green, Banks does, in fact, cover a lot of emotional ground -- skillfully and almost cryptically.
"I don't know why, but the word 'mysterious' comes up a lot, and it's funny because my music is so open -- I talk about everything," she says. "I feel that when people hear my album they're going to know everything about me. I mean, not everything, of course, but my album is my entire heart. I don't hold back at all."
And while she's not about to write a "Born This Way" or "Firework" anytime soon, she does hope her songs possess a certain anthemic quality. "I just want to empower people," she says. "I want people to embrace every single thought and emotion they have, because every single person has those thoughts and those emotions."
It's earnest, yes, but also true. When asked if she might be taking on a lot of responsibility in trying to become another catchphrase-slinging mouthpiece for feminism with an album titled Goddess, she offers up the shortest, most catchphrasey response she's given the entire interview: a simple, clipped "No fear." And you sort of have to believe she's telling the truth.