When Jillian Banks’ first single clocked radio time, Twitter immediately started buzzing with her name — yet she was one of the last to know.
“[My manager] went on Twitter and he was like, ‘People are tweeting about Banks,’” the 28-year-old, who goes simply by her surname, says from a Manhattan studio. “We didn’t know it was out or anything — and I was like, ‘What does that mean?’ because I didn’t even have Twitter.”
This story first appeared in the September 28, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It’s typical of the anti-pop star persona she has carved out for herself. While her peers might be sharing — or even oversharing — on social media, Banks takes the opposite tack, describing her lyrics as a diary, as will be further evident when her sophomore album, “The Altar,” drops on Friday.
Growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley, she felt an early connection to “honest voices” like Lauryn Hill and Otis Redding, the latter thanks to her father’s musical tastes. “I was just blown away by the emotion that you can get out of a melody,” she recalls. As a teenager she found a keyboard in her bedroom closet, which cleared the way to songwriting. “I had been stream-of-consciousness writing, just line after line after line after line [with] not even any periods,” she says. “And then the keyboard was there, I kind of just started fiddling with it one day, and then I discovered what melodies could do.”
She spent the next decade writing privately, only coaxed into the public eye after early online uploads took off. Her debut, 2014’s “Goddess,” earned her rapid success with singles like “Beggin for Thread,” as well as a touring spot opening for The Weeknd. And while her arrival was years in the making, the newfound exposure came with its set of adjustments.
“Sometimes I feel kind of overexposed, but I made the decision to never change how I write because other people are going to hear,” she says.
Her discomfort with the limelight, she says, is not a lack of desire to connect to fans. “Initially, I’d do anything,” including giving her phone number out to fans — but the demands of information expected from a pop star today soon grated on her. “I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of artist who’s live-tweeting their life,” she adds. “It’s funny, everybody always says I’m mysterious…but I feel like I’m an open book. I’m super open in my music and I’m super raw, [but] I guess people think it’s mysterious if you’re not live-tweeting.”
“The Altar” sees her more clarified and confident, as well as willing to take risks. “I definitely think that if people hear the first album and then hear the second album, they’ll see a creature who is opening up a little bit more,” she says. “[It’s] more authoritative, a bit more confrontational, a bit more playful.”
Having earned fashion’s blessing of cool from the likes of the Public School boys, who brought her as their date to the 2015 CFDA Awards, she’ll next turn out in Dior for the brand’s sponsorship of the Guggenheim International Gala in November. “Even now, when I think about my past there are certain dates, certain nights, certain shows, certain things that you always kind of have a special tingling on your skin when you think about them,” she says. “And I feel like that’s going to be one of those nights.”
The performance in the museum’s rotunda was once something unimaginable for the historically stage-shy singer. But any hesitations that remain promise to be wiped away with Friday’s album release, which shows a Banks who is more confident than in the past and less overwhelmed by insecurities.
“Yeah, there’s pressure involved for sure, but that’s why I wrote ‘F–k With Myself,’ to combat that pressure,” she says of the album’s lead single. “Because if you give into that pressure that’s when you’re not centered. And when I’m really centered and connected to why I do this, none of that really affects me because I do it for me. That’s really it — the rest is just extra, delicious extra.”