After a sorely needed two-year break from music, BANKS reemerged this past summer with a clear headspace, her most confident album to date, and one hell of an itch to get back on the road.
“I was definitely ready to go,” the synth-pop singer told MTV News over the phone. “I missed performing a lot, and I had been working on new music, and I was really, really ready to put it all together.”
The artist, born Jillian Rose Banks, phoned in from Los Angeles, where she’s readying a hometown gig as part of Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour. It’ll be a “really raw, acoustic” event, she said, which couldn’t be more different than the live show she’s been performing for the past two months. The III Tour, named after her third studio album that arrived in July, is her first headlining show in two years. BANKS spared no artistic flourish for it, packing her performance with ambitious choreography, a diverse setlist, and eye-popping lights.
“It’s been amazing. It’s so much fun to see what you’ve created in different mediums of art,” the 31-year-old said of the show. “I was in the studio making the songs, but actually seeing it come to life and seeing people singing the words and then making a movement to it and figuring out what lights and what colors I wanted for each one… it’s really fun for me.”
The tour’s U.K. leg kicks off on November 1, but before that, BANKS checked in with MTV News to give us the scoop on all things III.
She knows exactly how to bookend her show.
“Till Now” opens BANKS’s third album with a walloping blow as she snarls, “I let you push me around till now.” It was a no-brainer, she said, that she would open the III Tour the same way by placing that track at the very top of the setlist.
“It felt like this declaration of strength and an ode to where I’ve been,” she explained. “And I think that the way it starts — how it starts off really raw and then it gradually builds into this monster — starts the show off with what it needs to be. It’s kind of like a punch in the face right away.”
Her encore, meanwhile, caps off with the 2014 fan-favorite banger “Beggin for Thread,” which closes the show with an equally effective bang. “It’s a bright one. It’s an anthem. I think people like singing along to that one, so it’s fun to close it up with that.”
The setlist may go through some changes.
There’s a “skeleton” of a setlist that BANKS sticks close to, but that doesn’t mean she won’t switch things up every once in a while. Take, for instance, the fan movement that sparked the inclusion of “This Is What It Feels Like.” A revered anthem from her 2014 album Goddess, the track was nixed from her set at one point, before fans campaigned for its return via a change.org petition.
Laughing, BANKS said of the fan-led movement, “I mean, I think that there’s something special when you discover an artist about the song you hear first. And that’s one of the first songs I put out. I love that song, it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve made. So I understand. It’s got a special thing to it.”
Discussing other possible set list changes, she revealed, “I haven’t been performing ‘Made of Water’ or ‘What About Love’ and I want to start doing that on the Europe tour. So we’ll see what unfolds.”
She’s dancing more than ever before.
BANKS started incorporating dance into her live show on The Altar Tour, but on her current trek, it’s become even more integral. She’s not classically trained as a dancer, but with the help of L.A.-based choreographer Nina McNeely, she’s become more in tune with her body.
“I just love moving and I think that there’s something physical about making music,” she explained. “I wanted to express how my music affects me physically and how I see it. I want my vision to be as clear as possible and to create a world onstage that I see when I make music. So I think that movement was just a natural progression into getting that across.”
On the III Tour, BANKS is often flanked by a pair of lookalike backup dancers, Nadine Olmo and Allison Fletcher; together, they’re a twirling trinity that moves in stunning unison. “You get to know people pretty well when you’re touring, and I think that just naturally happens if you’re with somebody for awhile,” she said of her friendship with the pair. “They’ve been with me for a few years, so it’s great.”
She’s also been incorporating original poetry into her show.
An artist who clearly can’t be boxed in, BANKS has also expanded beyond music. Earlier this year, she released a poetry book called Generations of Women From The Moon Poetry, comprised of personal poems and hand-drawn illustrations. On tour, BANKS has frequently recited one of that book’s standouts, “Ode to the Grey Zone,” in between songs.
“Poetry is like music. It comes from the same part of me that likes to work things out in those ways, and it fulfills me in a similar way. Creating fulfills me in general. It’s just another part of me,” she said. “I think of my show as, I’m just sharing myself with people. It doesn’t have to just be singing; it can be singing and movement and poems.”
It hasn’t all been easy and breezy, but she’s rolling with the punches.
Early on in the U.S. leg of her tour, BANKS suffered a bad spinal injury and then got laryngitis; a one-two punch that didn’t sideline her, but definitely made her job more difficult.
“This tour was a little bit harder for me, just health-wise,” she said. “But once things calmed down, I got in a good groove. … [My back] is better. It hurts sometimes, obviously, but now I remember how I literally couldn’t move or walk or do anything. And I think about how I literally just finished the entire U.S. tour and I was able to dance my ass off at every show. So every time it aches or something, it’s more of a memory of, ‘Whoa, I did it.'”
She wants you to leave feeling empowered.
The lead single from III, “Gimme,” perfectly incapsulates BANKS’s aura of control as she demands, “Gimme what I want, what I deserve.” That energy is only bolstered by seeing the song performed live, but the singer insists every track on III — no matter if it’s about heartbreak or jealously or love — has its own sense of empowerment.
“There’s a strength to every emotion,” she said. “You could feel a strength in the sadness. You could feel a strength in wanting someone. You could feel a strength in anger. Every song, there’s a different emotion that goes with them, but it’s just about owning what you feel. That makes me feel strong.”