At the beginning of her career, the musician Banks made the decision to tour nonstop. After a song she uploaded to her SoundCloud made it all the way to the BBC, she found herself opening for The Weeknd. She didn’t have time to think; she had to adjust quickly. “Especially as someone who is quite introverted in a lot of ways, it was definitely a big adjustment,” she said in a recent interview, reflecting on the road that led her album III, which is out today. “I never really took a break.”
Eventually it caught up to her. “I think I was past my limit of exhaustion, and I wasn’t physically feeling well at all,” the 31-year-old said. “I needed a break.” After dropping her sophomore album The Altar in 2016, she wanted to take some time for herself and remember her own identity as Jillian Banks, beyond her stage name.
So she decided to settle in one place. “I have been pretty much nesting in Los Angeles and really working through stuff and healing and writing,” the singer said. “When you’re touring and performing in front of all those people and you’re giving so much energy to so many people, it’s not quite normal…I needed some time to replenish my soul in really human ways.”
Recorded at Henson Studios in L.A., the new album represents a moment of growth for Banks, partially because she turned 30 while she was recording it. “[Thirty] comes with being more at peace with yourself and giving less fucks,” she said.
The album’s first single, “Gimme,” is meant to celebrate that maturity. “It felt like an unapologetic reintroduction,” she said. “It’s about knowing what you want, demanding it and saying it out loud,” she said. “In order to say, ‘Gimme what I deserve,’ you have to have a lot of confidence, and I think that’s what I love about it; it’s just about getting what you want, knowing what you deserve.”
Despite her internal changes, her trademark gospel-soul-tinged vocals remain. She also sought the help of a small group of collaborators: Frank Ocean’s music director Buddy Ross, Bon Iver producer BJ Burton, and DJ/producer Hudson Mohawke.
One collaborator in particular came as a surprise. While recording her debut album, 2016’s The Altar, Banks had an intense relationship with someone she coyly declined to name that fueled some of the songwriting. “It was very obvious, and I hadn’t spoken to him so I was scared to see him,” she said. But a few years later, they became friends. He wound up playing her a song that he couldn’t finish, called “Godless,” and said it was about her. While Banks typically writes her songs solo, she couldn’t help but want to finish it. “I pretty much finished this song that was originally about me,” she laughed. “But it turned into something about that relationship.… It’s beautiful, but it’s a little bit twisted if you look at it on the surface.”
Relationships are a throughline on III, but they don’t all come to such a pleasant end. On “Stroke,” she sings about the allure and simultaneous misery of dating a narcissist. “It’s really impossible to be with a narcissist,” she said. “If you’re an empath, it’s a dangerous combination.”
The record closes out, however, on a hopeful note with “What About Love.” She is more optimistic than jaded there, and the song ends with a snippet of her four-year-old niece saying “I love you.” “Something about [that song] feels really naïve, and I think that’s why I wanted to end on it,” she said. “Because despite whatever you go through, I always want to feel hopeful.”
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