INTERVIEW: Kota Banks

Kota Banks is an artist that has continually grown her unique sound and artistry. Layered with electronic beats and melodies with a RNB sensibility, she has been touring Australia and providing a euphoric soundtrack to all of the seasons of the year. 

Leading into summer, Kota has dropped a new song that will be guaranteed to get stuck in your head immediately. On the outside, ‘Big Bucks’ is big dance song all about spending money and living a lavish lifestyle, but at the heart of it there is a deeper sentiment. Playing as a commentary on 21st century greed, she interpolates a second thought invoking meaning that shows a mature growth in her songwriting. 

I recently chatted to Kota Banks about the contrast of the different sides behind her new single ‘Big Bucks’, her exploration with production and wanting to show a more vulnerable side to her artistry and discussed tripping over and falling on her face during live shows. Check out the chat HERE; 

TB: Your new single ‘Big Bucks’ is out in the world and it’s a beat heavy track that is soaked in electronic influences and hears you daydreaming of a luxe lifestyle. So reflecting back on the studio sessions behind the track, how did it all come together? 

KB: It was really interesting because when I work with my producer Swick we usually write songs pretty quickly. The bulk of the song is usually done with an hour, but with this song it actually took a long time to fine tune it and find its strength.

We started it in London at the Red Bull Studio and I wrote a verse, a chorus and a post, and I actually hated the entire thing *laughs*. But I loved the beat, so I knew there was potential within the song. I didn’t want to waste it. I re-wrote the pre chorus and chorus of this song like five times until I was happy with it. I then finally had a session with Danny in Melbourne in August and finished it off there.

So it was such a process with this song. I luckily had a willingness to not give up. But it was really rewarding seeing it come together and seeing people react to it so positively now that it’s out. 

TB: There are so many great lyrics in ‘Big Bucks’, from lines about Meghan Markle to being too fucking busy for a boyfriend. So what is you’re favourite line in the song and why? 

KB: I love writing funny zingers like that. I try to do it even when I write more emotional songs and serious ballads because the art of lyricism and putting words together in funny ways brings me such great joy. 

I actually love the end of the post in this song which goes; “Want you to mistake my mansion for a small country. Keep it for a while then I sell it and feed the hungry” because I guess the song for me is a bit of a commentary on 21st century greed and capitalism. It’s also about acknowledging that I’m apart of the problem in some aspects. 

I recognise that media and society permeates the idea that more is better. But sometimes I actually think less is more. The less I have, the more disconnected I am from my phone and materialistic aspects in my life, the happier I am. 

It sounds really strange when you’re listening to the song as it sounds like a big song about spending money and partying, which I guess I enjoy doing, but it’s me grappling with the reality of that. I think that line encapsulates a different aspect and sentiment to the rest of the song which is why I think it’s my favourite line. 

TB: From the release of ‘Zoom’ to where you are at creatively now with ‘Big Bucks’ and collaborating with Cashmere Cat and SOPHIE, how would you say you’ve grown as an artist and a songwriter?

KB: I never like to write the same song twice. So every song I put out I want it to embody a completely different part of me. 

Collaborating with Cashmere Cat and SOPHIE was amazing as I could see why they are the best in the world as the way they make their music is not by accident. it’s all very intentional, passionate and thought out in a really creative way. 

I had a few sessions with both of them, and they both taught me how to keep the inspiration going when you’re making music. I find that a lot of the time at the start of my career that I would be working with so many different producers and I became desensitised to the idea that every song I was trying to create would have magic in it. I started to lose the passion and incentive to make every song unique. 

So working with amazing artists who have continued to capture that over the course of an enduring career has taught me a lot about always making sure I’m making music for the right reasons, always concentrating on my art form and learning different tactics and producer jargon because I think it’s really important to be able to communicate with your collaborators clearly. 

TB: A song you played on the Mallrat tour that really stood out to me was ‘Weekend’ because of it’s dreamy pop sound and it’s vulnerable lyrics. Is this a sound that we will ever get to hear? 

KB: I hate to disappoint you my love, but that song is never going to see the light of day *laughs*. I’m just sick of it and I don’t think the studio version captures the energy and essence that the live version does. 

But listeners will definitely get to hear a more vulnerable side to me soon. There is a song i’m thinking about putting out in a few weeks and it’s a very emotional and garagey song. It’s definitely  more nostalgic than the other songs I’ve been releasing. I just want to continue surprising people, I guess. 

I feel like with ’20 missed Calls’ I was still a bit scared to stray from the music I had made on my EP as it was all very electronic. Even though it was a ballad, I don’t necessarily think it showcased the more vulnerable side of my sound. So you will definitely hear more of that sound from me soon. 

TB: Throughout your career you have been kinda referenced as “The Charli XCX of Australia” because of the party attitude you uphold and your playful pop sound. So how do you feel about this referencing? 

KB: Well I love Charli so that’s amazing! I feel like I’m a little more RNB than her but I welcome the comparison. I actually never really talk about partying in my songs, like I don’t even like to party that much, but people think that because I make dance songs. But she is definitely the party girl and I would never go after the title. I love her too much! 

TB: You recently signed with Sony Music but before then you were working with Nina Las Vegas who played a very integral role in this whole project. So what sort of involvement does she have now that you’re with a big label?

KB: Well, we don’t talk anymore… *laughs* nah I’m kidding! She is my manager now. I’m signed to her label NLV Records and released my mixtape ‘The Prize’ through her. But then we chatted to Sony Music and they offered us a really amazing deal and were really excited about the music I had in the pipeline, so it felt like the right direction to go in. 

She decided to come on as my manager instead of my A&R at the label and it’s just been a really organic transition. I’ve always known she was always going to work with me in some capacity as our visions are very well aligned. She’s very organised and I’m a fucking chaotic mess *laughs* so we work really well together. 

TB: You’ve been announced to be performing at SXSW next year which is a HUGE deal as it’s like the American version of BigSound. So what are you hoping to take away form this experience? 

KB: I’ve heard so much about SXSW changing people’s careers as there are so many opportunities to just meet people, soak up the culture, see what is coming, learn from your peers and go to so many amazing showcases and events. 

It’s also an excuse to really “up” my live set and give me a real incentive to make sure the show is amazing and finesse my performance. 

TB: You’ve done quite a lot of touring and played heaps of festivals, and you always know how to get the party started. Seeing the crowd react in such a loving and crazy way in your set is always so amazing to see. So what is one of the strangest, weirdest or funniest things you’ve seen when you’ve looked out into the crowd during your set?

KB: The crazy thing is that when I walk out I’m so focused on not fucking up that I don’t look at anyone *laughs*. I eventually do later in the set, but I do feel like the wildest shit happens at the start of the set. But I’m so blissfully unfair because I’m trying to not trip and kill myself *laughs*.

One time in Melbourne when I was opening for Mallrat, I tripped and fell on my face as I was walking out onstage, before I could even sing or engage with the crowd. The video has circulated the fucking internet which is half my fault because I posted it a lot as I was trying to counter my embarrassment by owning it *laughs*. 

TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions where I’m going to ask you some questions that you just need to answer with the first thing that comes to mind. You ready?

KB: Hit me!

TB: The emoji that best describe Big Bucks is…

KB: The stack of money with the wings on it!

TB: My pre show pump up song is…

KB: Anything by Lizzo! I just fricken love her!

TB: Pineapple on pizza is…

KB: It’s good! My Nonna is going to disown me for saying that but I fuck with it!

TB: Most mornings I…

TB: Cuddle my dog!

TB: If I could have any super power it would be…

KB: Is it cheating if I say to have every superpower?

TB: No of course not! That’s actually a smart answer! 

KB: I want them all! I could never choose just one. I’m a Libra, I can’t make decisions *laughs*. 

Catch Kota Banks at Spilt Milk 2019 in Canberra on Saturday 23 November!

‘Big Bucks’ is out now on all streaming services!