BANKS is opening a new chapter in her story with the release of her fourth studio album ‘Serpentina’ (out now via AWAL). The 13 track collection is her first as an independent artist, and hears her claiming a newfound confidence and freeness within the self-explorative themes. Taking control of the narrative, this was also the first time she had engineered the majority of the tracks, and found herself finding her own rhythm in the heart of the music.
Opening with the abrasive ‘Misunderstood’, she immediately sets the tone for the record with a direct honesty that is equally brash and empowering. From there, tracks like ‘Fuck Love’, ‘Holding Back’ and ‘The Devil’ dominate with their pulsating energy and earworm hooks. And then she strips things back and emotively delivers a raw vulnerability that has always been important in her music with ‘I Still Love You’, ‘Birds By The Sea’, ‘Unleavable’ and ‘Deadend’.
I recently chatted to BANKS about the confident energy and natural carefreeness behind her fourth studio album ‘Serpentina’, explored the unique ways she hears rhythm, and discussed the creative processes behind songs like ‘Misunderstood’, ‘Fuck Love’ and ‘Meteorite’. Check out the full chat BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: When I spoke to you last I commented that ‘III’ felt like your most confident record to date, but now listening to your fourth studio album, I would take away that title and say ‘Serpentina’ is your most confident. Not only in the attitude of the bolder tracks on the record, but this album hears you confidently sitting in your vulnerability even more candidly. Looking back, would you say the word “confident” is the best way to describe where you are at with this record and personally?
BANKS: Yeah, I think I’m definitely in a place where I feel like the best artist I’ve ever been. I feel the most grounded in myself and I’m able to look in the mirror in a realer way than I’ve ever been able to. So yeah, I would say so.
TB: In some ways I feel like ‘Serpentina’ is the sequel to ‘Goddess’. A version of an album you didn’t know you wanted to make back then?
B: I see that! A lot of people have been comparing it to ‘Goddess’, which is funny because I’m so in it that it’s hard for me to compare any of my albums. There’s a carefreeness in this body of work that I think has been fresh and special to have.
There’s been so much growth between those two records as ‘Goddess’ came out in 2014, so it’s really hard to compare the two. But I do feel like that ‘Serpentina’ is a really good representation of where I am at as an artist. This one feels like there is a warmth and brightness to it that I haven’t really had before, as well as a freedom, and even a lightness. Once you get through all the nitty gritty of everything you want to process, it’s really fun to just be free and make songs with that carefreeness. Songs like ‘Spirit’ and ‘Holding Back’ have that energy to it.
TB: The album opens with ‘Misunderstood’ which perfectly sets the tone of the album and feels like a stream of consciousness after mentally waking up. Where in the process of this album was this song conceived?
B: It was in the second half, for sure. It kinda came once the sound started taking shape, and the production direction was taking shape. I think that song was really great to open the album because it’s saying “I don’t care if you misunderstand me”, and it takes it one step further and says “I hope you misunderstand me”. It’s a statement that is all about if you doubt me then I work that much harder. If you can’t hear me, then my vocals get better. If you can’t support me, then I get stronger holding myself up. Stuff like that.
TB: “If I just had one dime for every time somebody didn’t listen, I wouldn’t need these vocals man. But I still have got my mic in hand, you don’t have to be my stand” – The power behind this lyric is incredible, and to me reclaims your voice. What does this specific lyric physically mean to you?
B: A lot of the time you can get disheartened or unmotivated if people aren’t on your team. I’ve been there before. But I think when you’re in a really comfortable place, someone not supporting you doesn’t do that anymore. It actually pushes you to prove people wrong, or even just not care. For me opening the album with that, and the place I am in with this music, I know how special it is, and if you don’t misunderstand me or it then that’s cool.
TB: The album then rolls into songs like ‘Meteorite’ and ‘Fuck Love’ which cements that confidence sonically with this elaborate production. And ‘Fuck Love’ in particularly stands out with lyrics like “I keep fucking it up” and “don’t give me your heart, I don’t want it”. Can you explain the creative process behind this track in particular?
B: Yeah! It’s not saying that “love sucks” as such, but instead it’s saying “don’t give me a throne, because I don’t need it. Don’t give me a rose, I will throw it away. I don’t need anything”. It’s a powerful place to be. It’s independent and empowering.
This song started with a stripped back beat with the rhythm of the lyrics forming the rest of it. It feels like the hardest song I’ve ever released as it sits in that pocket. It’s really swaggy, and has a growl, hunger, and hardness to it that I think is super strong and empowering. It’s going to be so fun to do live!
TB: Have you thought about where this song is going to sit in the live show? Like it could go back to back with ‘Fuck With Myself’ perfectly, or do you want it to have it’s own moment?
B: I don’t know, hey! I’m kinda just now figuring out the setlist, but I think I would separate ‘Fuck Love’ and ‘Fuck With Myself’ just because I think it’s so powerful when a song’s chorus has a throwaway lyric that is so honest you don’t have to cloud it in metaphors like “I fuck with myself more than anybody else” or “I don’t know shit about love” *laughs*. I think it’s to the point, graphic, straight forward, and not trying to be poetic.
TB: Last time we chatted I was professing my love for ‘Stroke’ and its dramatic production, and you shared how you actually wrote that song first on acoustic guitar. So from some of the sonically bigger songs on this album, what song had the most dramatic growth sonically?
B: ‘Meteorite’ started on piano as a song called ‘Mistress’ and had a completely different chorus. Once I started getting the production together, it was such a fast paced – movement based – production, with the rhythm of those claps. Once I added more synths and pads, I realised that the chorus didn’t have enough friction, and had more notes that were held out longer. So I ended up changing it and wrote that line “Let’s go to space, then to the floor”. And then I knew it needed to be called ‘Meteorite’. So that song definitely changed a lot.
The thing that is fun about this record is that songs like ‘Deadend’ have you questioning whether it’s a ballad or a banger. It starts off as a ballad and then ends on the most fire melody that feels really smooth and moving. That melody is my favourite on the album. I played with a lot of different rhythms on this album. I think you can establish such an attitude with a rhythm. Even if it’s a similar melody you just change the way you say a word. I played around a lot with that sort of thing.
TB: Well, what song on the record would you say went through the most versions to get it to where it is now?
B: ‘Misunderstood’ had a lot of versions. ‘The Devil’ had a lot of versions. And oh my god, half of me wants to put out the original ‘Unleavable’ because it’s so different. It has a completely different rhythm, and it’s as if the chords have changed. With a lot of my songs I think on the off beats, or think in thirds instead of fourths.
I worked a lot on this album with Shlohmo who produced ‘Brain’ on ‘Goddess’, and he’s a legend. But because I think of music like this, I show some songs to people like him and they are like “I don’t get it”. And ‘Unleavable’ and ‘Birds By The Sea’ were two songs I wrote on the piano and I had all these crazy strings and harmonies going on there. So we stripped it back and worked on them a lot. But I still want to release the original versions eventually as they are so cool.
TB: Another lyric on this album I loved was from ‘Anything For U’ – where you sing, “the problem is I’d do just anything for you”
B: Thank you! That’s another song that just feels spunky, fresh, and really different. When I brought that song into the studio it was pretty much already produced. It was one of those songs where I questioned if it was too bright, but then I was like nah, it’s right.
TB: You are currently planning the ‘Serpentina’ world tour, and after all your health issues during the ‘III World Tour’ how are you preparing yourself this time around? Is there a caution in your mind, or are you just leaping into it again?
B: There’s definitely caution in understanding my body more. I’ve been in physical therapy for a while now. My back was one of the main problems, and then I just kept getting sick and infections. I was on antibiotics on and off the whole tour. It was really hard. But I think after having some time to rest, my body is just healthier. There are things I’ve learnt, and signs my body gives me before things get really bad that I can recognise now and know how to take care of it better than I used to.
TB: Your love for movement has really evolved during your musical journey with these albums. So through creating ‘Serpentina’ how is the album making you move compared to the previous records?
B: I’ve always been really involved with the production, but I’ve never engineered something myself, and really started the production from scratch on my own. And I did that for a lot of the songs on the album. Like I said before, I think of rhythm differently to a lot of people, so songs like ‘Meteorite’ kinda show that. The dance world has really embraced my music and probably partly because of that because there are so many different offbeats to draw from. Building it from scratch, that was what naturally came. I don’t usually think too deeply when I make music, it just happens naturally.
‘Meteorite’ and ‘Fuck Love’ are especially going to be really fun live. But there are going to be so many fun songs from this record to see how they work live and what I am going to do with them.
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions about the album. Are you ready?
TB: The emoji that best describes my new album ‘Serpentina’ is…
B: The snake or dragon.
TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…
B: ‘Anything 4 U’!
TB: The song I’m most looking forward to performing live would be…
B: ‘Misunderstood’, ‘Fuck Love’, ‘Dead End’, or ‘Meteorite’. Pretty much the whole album *laughs*.
TB: Another name for the album we played with was…
B: Nothing but ‘Serpentina’. I didn’t have a name until I had a name, if that makes sense.
TB: The first song I’d want you to play to your friends from the album if they haven’t heard any of the new music yet is…
B: ‘Misunderstood’! I want people to listen through from 1-13.
‘Serpentina’ is out now!