The songs Jillian Banks writes for her alt-pop alter-ego, BANKS, are spare, danceable and sometimes harrowing, as if the singer had decided to throw a party and invited only her darkest and most powerful thoughts. As she reveals to Jason King in the latest episode of NPR Music's series Noteworthy, she began writing music at 15 when she discovered a keyboard in her closet, and had the first of many artistic breakthroughs. "What the f***?" she says she remembers thinking. "Why didn't anyone tell me about this?"
But the singer didn't share her music publicly for a decade, and suffered from stage fright bad enough that she first performed with her back to the audience. "I'm really grateful for that because ... when I started putting out my music it happened really fast and all of a sudden I was touring." Her first album, Goddess, released in 2014, blurred lines between R&B, pop and rock and won praise for its complicated depiction of femininity.
Banks' second album, The Altar, comes out Sept. 30, and features more confessional, confrontational songs about relationships, power and the way people interact with each other – and understand themselves. The fight between self-damage and self-acceptance is a theme that runs through songs like "F*** with Myself" and "Mother Earth," and learning to inhabit herself has led to confidence when it comes to matters of art as well as business. "I feel more comfortable being confrontational and authoritative. It's important for women in this business. I felt so scared of people thinking I was like a bitch just for saying what I wanted on my video or in my picture or on my song," she says. "Making music is an emotional thing. And when you're on a video shoot with 50 people there, you have to somehow, in a non-emotional way, say what you want and not feel guilty for it. And that takes growing up and that takes ... not caring how people perceive you as much. And it just takes experience, I think."