Photography Janette Beckman
Published December 8, 2016
Among the titles one could choose for a debut album, Goddess, selected by Banks for her 2014 release, was the sort of announcement that articulated the singer-songwriter in full, fleshed-out form. Née Jillian Rose Banks, the San Fernando Valley native released a collection of R&B-inflected electro-pop ballads that, coupled with her smoky, swooning vocals and visceral lyrics, projected an affect of witchy divine intervention. The album was her commercial breakthrough, earning her music-press buzz and fashion-world attention, including from Karl Lagerfeld, and setting her up to open for the likes of the Weeknd.
But for Banks, 28, who maintains her base in Los Angeles, the human psyche’s darker side is a subject she’s not yet done mining (she did receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology after all). Her follow-up album, The Altar (Harvest Records), is a searing meditation on vulnerability, strength, and emotional chaos, as evidenced on “Gemini Feed,” on which she sings, “But admit it, you wanted me smaller / If you would’ve let me grow, you could’ve kept my love.”
She recently connected with her friend, fellow L.A. music-maker Tyler, the Creator. Speeding down the freeway on his way to the studio, Tyler called up Banks to talk about wanderlust, hypersensitivity to smells, and animal alter egos.
BANKS: What’s goin’ on?
TYLER, THE CREATOR: Nothing. I just finished putting lotion on my arms.
BANKS: Are they silky smooth?
TYLER: They are beautiful. I’m trying to stay moisturized as much as possible—especially my hands. You don’t want to have gross hands. How are you?
BANKS: I’m good. I just got back to L.A. from New York. It was hectic, just like New York always is.
TYLER: What did you do?
BANKS: I did a shoot for Interview, which was cool, and I had a little show. It was just a little two-song showcase thing for Universal.
TYLER: You like that stuff?
TYLER: What don’t you like about it? Like, going around to four or five different places, saying the same shit. I think that shit is stupid.
BANKS: Yeah, that’s my least favorite part about it. It feels like you’re repeating yourself all the time. “Where are you from?” or “What is this song about?” It’s not like the answers change, so then you just end up saying the same thing all day. My favorite part is making the music, obviously.
TYLER: I like “Haunt.” That one has a really cool, unique sound. I just thought I’d tell you.
BANKS: That’s really awesome to hear. I did that with DJ Dahi.
TYLER: Do you have a favorite song?
BANKS: On the new album? It changes from hour to hour. Because you mentioned “Haunt,” I’m thinking about it, so I’ll say “Haunt.” Do you have a favorite song on your album?
TYLER: On my most recent one, it’s the last song. It’s called “Okaga, CA,” and it just sounds like the perfect date or, like, that moment when the sun is setting or something. Like I captured a moment in six minutes. It’s really cool. That’s why my favorite songs are my favorite songs because they just feel like a certain moment, or a certain photo, just a snapshot for whatever three or four minutes the song is.
BANKS: Yeah. Sometimes I get vivid memories of how I felt when I was making them.
TYLER: Especially depending on where you were. Something as deeply rooted as if you were in a relationship.
BANKS: Exactly, and how the idea came, and why and who you were around, and stuff like that.
TYLER: Do you like New York?
BANKS: I think I love it, but sometimes I feel like it’s really overwhelming. It depends. Right now I am feeling a little uninspired by L.A., which I tend to feel every few years. Maybe it’s because I haven’t toured in a while. When I got to New York last week, I was just, “Maybe I should stay here for a couple of months, and I will feel really inspired,” but then by the last day, I was like, “Maybe I couldn’t handle it.” It’s just so nonstop and it feels like you can never have a moment of calm to yourself, even when you are indoors. You hear honking and stuff all the time.
TYLER: I feel the same way. It’s cool for three days, but then it gets to the point where I want to see the sky, and I think walking on the sidewalk without a lot of people is cool. I think, “I got to go back to Los Angeles.”
BANKS: L.A. is a really good home base. I’ve grown up here, and so sometimes I have wanderlust even though I tour. You think it would be cured by touring, but sometimes I feel like I want to be somewhere else.
TYLER: Do you have a favorite spot other than L.A.?
BANKS: I really like Switzerland. I played the Montreux Jazz Festival a couple years ago. It’s just unreal.
TYLER: I was not expecting that. I like Australia.
BANKS: I like Australia, but every time I’m there, I feel like everybody’s being sarcastic because everyone’s so nice. I’m like, “Are you fucking with me? I can’t tell.” Do you know what I’m talking about?
TYLER: Sort of. Like, their weather’s good. The only thing I have to worry about is snakes and spiders. Why wouldn’t you be in a good mood all the time?
BANKS: It feels like bizarro L.A.
TYLER: Hold on. [to someone else] That fucking cologne smells like shit. [to Banks] I bought some cologne from Tokyo. This Maison Margiela cologne, and then when I brought it back home, I was like, “Oh shit, I don’t like the smell of this.” But my friend Jasper loved it, and he took it. Every day he sprays it. It’s so strong.
BANKS: I hate bad cologne.
TYLER: Do you have a favorite perfume?
BANKS: I like wearing oils. Perfume makes me nauseous sometimes. It’s too strong.
TYLER: I understand. I like perfume and cologne.
BANKS: What’s your favorite?
TYLER: The thing is, I don’t know the names. I just know what they look like. Chanel has this one cologne that’s really good. It starts with an E, [Égoïste]. I don’t know how to pronounce it. Then I have, I think it’s Flowerbomb or something, and this random Givenchy perfume. I like it. I like the flowery, floral smells. I just bought a Dolce & Gabbana thing because it had a flower on top.
BANKS: Was it as good as it looks?
TYLER: It’s cool. It’s very, very light, though, but for the time being, it smells fire.
BANKS: I like smells because they can make you so nostalgic.
TYLER: I love candles. I know you like candles. I will spend 20 minutes in Target smelling all the candles. I know the companies in there and the different smells.
BANKS: I think you have one of those noses that really can smell like an animal or something: really strong, hypersensitive sense of smell.
TYLER: Sharks can smell blood. Wow. It just dawned on me that fish can smell. I mean, they’re underwater. To think they can smell, that’s just crazy. My dream animal is to be a whale that’s furry like a bunny, but it has all the qualities of a lizard. I hop and climb.
BANKS: So you don’t live under the ocean?
TYLER: No, but I could if I want to. I also can go underwater if I choose to. I just can’t fly.
BANKS: It seems like you would crack all the trees that you start to climb.
TYLER: The thing is, it’s just as light as a lizard. It would be funny as hell if the lizard was heavy as hell climbing on trees but the trees never fell. I’m into that.
BANKS: I feel like my dream animal would be a mermaid that could fly and also live in the trees. She has a nest, almost like a bird. She feeds her babies like a bird, like chews the food first and then feeds it to them through her mouth. [laughs]
TYLER: So you’re like a seagull?
BANKS: I’m pretty much a seagull but I look like a mermaid.
TYLER: I understand. That’s crazy. What would you name yourself?
BANKS: Um, Fleur Elektra.
TYLER: That’s sick. I would name myself Integrity.
BANKS: Why Integrity?
TYLER: I don’t know. It just sounds right. It sounds like it fits. Are you into cars? You don’t seem like the type that’s into cars.
BANKS: No, I’m not. I’m also not a great driver. I’m an arrogant driver. When I first got my license, within the first year it was suspended because I got in so many accidents. Where are you right now?
TYLER: On a freeway.
BANKS: Are you driving or is your friend driving?
TYLER: I’m driving.
BANKS: You’re just as bad a driver as me then. I mean, are you on hands-free phone?
TYLER: One, it’s 2016, so you have these things in the car where you can plug it in and it comes out the speakers and you can just talk and put your hands on the wheel. Two, my vehicle has automatic driving, so I can just push a button and it goes to my destination without me touching the brakes or the steering wheel. Three, I know how to drive with one hand and with no hands because I have really long legs and my knees hit the steering wheel perfectly.
BANKS: I can do that, too, and I’m not very tall.
TYLER: You’re not that bad of a driver. It’s the really fucking idiot drivers out there that see that the light is green, and there is traffic, and they still stop their car in the middle of the intersection knowing that the light is going to be turning yellow in the next ten seconds. Then, when the light turns red and it’s time for the opposite side to go, they’re stuck in the middle and they just sit there like, “Uh, I don’t know what to do.” That’s what grinds my gears. I’m guessing you don’t watch Family Guy.
BANKS: No, but I know what “grinds my gears” means.
TYLER: Have you ever shot a gun?
BANKS: No, have you?
BANKS: Did you like it?
TYLER: I don’t like guns. I never was infatuated or interested in guns.
BANKS: Yeah, same.
TYLER: Do you have a knife?
BANKS: In my kitchen. I don’t carry a knife around with me. Do you?
TYLER: Nah. Knives are pretty gnarly, though.
BANKS: Yeah, I know. That’s why you shouldn’t carry one with you.
TYLER: Like, in video games, I prefer to use a knife instead of a gun.
BANKS: I don’t play video games.
TYLER: What do you do in your spare time?
BANKS: I hang out with my friends. Since I live in L.A., I can go outside and do anything I want, like hike and go to the beach. What do you do?
TYLER: Go places, drive, go to the movies, skate, golf. I do all that stuff. Make shit.
BANKS: Where are you driving right now?
TYLER: I have to go to the studio to finish something up that was due, like, yesterday.
BANKS: I hate due dates.
TYLER: Due dates are kind of trash unless we’re talking about babies. I mean, that’s kind of trash, too. You have to wait nine months and it’s like, “Fuck.” Like, seven months in, you’re trying to go to a concert, and two months later it’s like, “I want to go out right now and party.”
BANKS: Ask me more questions. Random ones that pop in your head.
TYLER: Have you been in an air balloon?
BANKS: No, but I just heard a story where someone died in one. It got set on fire. That doesn’t sound fun, but it does sound fun if it doesn’t get set on fire.
TYLER: I don’t want to go in an air balloon. In theory, it’s really awesome. It’s just scary awesome. I’m not fucking with the height thing. I want to go skydiving so bad though. I’m just contradicting myself because I’m scared of heights, but I’m down to jump out of a fucking plane.
BANKS: Well, that’s why you’re interesting.
TYLER: Aw, you think I’m interesting?
BANKS: Yeah, I do.
TYLER: The ocean is very interesting. There is so fucking much that we don’t know. The beach ain’t shit. I’m talking about the deep depths, the shit that us humans don’t know about.
BANKS: Do you watch documentaries on it?
TYLER: Yeah, all the time. They’re really sick, man! James Cameron, I think, went the deepest in recent times. [In 2012 Cameron made a solo dive to the Earth’s deepest point, documented in the 2014 film James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge 3D.] It’s just crazy. There’s so much unexplored land, and so much we don’t know. Isn’t James Cameron the nigga who did Avatar and all that weird shit?
BANKS: Yeah, but he went the deepest? No way.
TYLER: I think so, but don’t quote me. He’s heavy into all of that stuff. He obviously loves boats. [laughs]
BANKS: I went to the zoo yesterday.
TYLER: I hate zoos.
BANKS: I haven’t been to the zoo in so long, and it made me sad because the animals are caged up. There was this woman giving a tour next to me, and I started asking her all these questions like, “Do you think they’re happy?” “How did they get here?” “Do you breed them here?” She didn’t like me because I was doing it in front of everyone she was giving a tour to. It was really messed up.
TYLER: Jail. It just fucking sucks.
BANKS: There were these little kids screaming at a gorilla to come closer, and I just wanted to punch them. It felt like they were taunting the gorilla, and it was really sad, but anyways, I thought about that because we were talking about crazy animals, and when I was at the zoo, they had this exhibit on dinosaurs. After seeing so many crazy animals, I was looking at the dinosaurs and thinking that they didn’t look that crazy to me anymore. I’m sure all of these animals that aren’t discovered are crazy looking, but not at the same time. Does that make sense?
TYLER: I like dinosaurs. Actually, I like the idea of them, because no one knows what they look like. They could’ve been furry. They could’ve been pink or light blue with polka dots. Like, there’s no way for us to know what they look like. It’s interesting that your imagination can just go.
BANKS: Yeah, totally. We sound like two stoners who are like, “What did dinosaurs look like? They could’ve been pink. Whoa.”
TYLER: We don’t sound like stoners. It’s just the conversation that most people don’t get to have, but we get to have these conversations in a serious manner.
BANKS: I feel like interviews should always be artist on artist. It’s so much more interesting.
TYLER THE CREATOR IS A L.A.-BASED RAPPER, MUSIC VIDEO DIRECTOR, CLOTHING DESIGNER, AND MEMBER OF THE HIP-HOP COLLECTIVE ODD FUTURE.