In Advance of Her Agora Concert, Banks Talks About How Personal Growth Influenced the Songs on 'The Altar'

click to enlarge In Advance of Her Agora Concert, Banks Talks About How Personal Growth Influenced the Songs on 'The Altar'
Thomas Whiteside
Singer-songwriter Jillian Rose Banks started writing songs when she was 15 because she “needed an outlet.” That approach has served her well. Her debut album, 2014’s Goddess, debuted near the top of the Billboard charts and yielded four singles, including "Brain," "Goddess," "Drowning" and "Beggin for Thread."

Her latest album, last year’s The Altar, builds upon her debut’s success and features her signature hushed vocals along with a rich tapestry of organic and synthetic sounds (think Tori Amos-meets-the Weeknd).

“I feel like every song is a culmination of my entire life,” she says via phone from her tour bus. She performs at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Agora. “I got into writing songs for The Altar when I stopped touring and was able to really get into it and digest everything that had happened. So much had changed. I’m an introvert, so being in front of people was a new thing for me. My songs are like diary entries. All of a sudden, other people knew my diary entries.”

Touring took a toll too.

“I would be missing people and be homesick,” she says. “You have comedowns after shows. I got really dark after every show and I didn’t know that was normal to give so much and feel empty when you get off the stage.”

One album highlight, “Fuck with Myself,” features percolating synthesizers and hushed vocals as Banks croons, “I used to care what you think about me.” Banks says it was the last song she wrote for the album.

“I had felt like I had grown and feel like sometimes you have to not care what other people think, especially creatively,” she says. “I just needed to write that song about this next phase of what I was doing.”

Banks raps her way through the hard-rocking “Trainwreck,” a tune that comes off as a vigorous anthem.

“That one I wrote the verses when I was 14 or 15,” she says. “It was some of the first lyrics I wrote. I remember the lyrics so well. I knew I wanted to find a home for them always. I never knew where exactly. I was in the studio, and DJ Dahi started playing some beats. I started joking around and rapping those lyrics on top. They liked them and we rolled with it. That one is so fun to play live.”

With its rattling percussion and heavy bass beats, the production helps carry the tunes and gives the songs real weight. Even a ballad such as "Mind Games" features a rich mix of electronic blips and beeps along with metallic sounding percussion.

“For me, production needs to support the song,” says Banks. “It’s about the atmosphere and creates a home for the musician. For me, I didn’t work with that many people. I felt like a train conductor. I remember there was on week when we were in John Hill’s studio, and I went from room to room conducting. I work with people who inspire new ideas and I inspire them. It was a beautiful time. Making The Altar was so necessary for me to develop as a woman. When I look at the stuff I had to purge in those songs, it’s a really special time.”

The Altar suggests Banks has evolved and embraced a more sophisticated sound. She says her live show has evolved too.

“My live show has completely grown, and I feel more free creatively,” she says. “I feel like I know myself better. Music-wise, it’s always 100 percent pure and honest. I think what I was going through when I made The Goddess is a different stage. The Altar isn’t necessarily more developed. In terms of my live show and how I can perform and new ideas for visuals, I feel like I’ve grown a lot.”