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Rock with Ed Power: crying... all the way to the Banks


Mysterious girl: Jillian Banks' debut album is released this week

Mysterious girl: Jillian Banks' debut album is released this week

Mysterious girl: Jillian Banks' debut album is released this week

Like the elusive heroine of a Philip Marlowe novel or Humphrey Bogart movie, singer Jillian Banks comes to us veiled in mystery.

Absolutely nothing was known about the Los Angeles artist when her first single, a slab of brooding, minimalist trio-hop called Before I Ever Met You, arrived late last year. Even now, with a debut album upon us, she consents to the publicity game reluctantly, granting few interviews, rarely appearing in public.

No doubt this persona - glamorous and inscrutable - is absolutely authentic (half an hour in her company leaves you no clearer as to what sort of person lurks behind the glossily downcast exterior). Nonetheless, it also cleaves conspicuously to pop's present infatuation with enigmatic young women - a trail conspicuously blazed by Lana Del Rey.

Typically, these artists, with their downcast pouts and bullet-proof moochiness, are haunted by a deep, dark secrets from the past. In Banks' case, the seismic event that altered the course of her life is a matter of record. Shortly after her 11th birthday, her parents divorced. Shy and skittish to begin with, the separation knocked her world off its axis. You could interpret her entire music career as an attempt to make sense of the heartache and confusion.

"It was one of the biggest traumas I have ever experienced," she says, her breathy patter not terribly removed from her singing voice. "I had all these feelings that I didn't now how to process. Eventually I understood music could be my salvation. From nowhere a melody would come to be. It felt better than talking to anyone about my issues - it was truly cathartic. Once I discovered writing, it eliminated the need for outside help. I didn't require it. I had a keyboard and all these weird chord progressions in my head - that was the best escape in the world.

"I became addicted to songwriting. It got me through some though times. I owe music a lot."

Still, the leap from bedsit crooner to international star in waiting was not straightforward. Aged 26, it's only over the past several years that Banks could muster the courage to put her songs in the public realm. Until then, singing was just what she did in her bedroom to chase away the blues. She never guessed her secret passion could one day be her career. Even today, she can't quite wrap her head around the fact.

"I was writing for over 10 years and it was my secret," she says. "It was a necessity for me; a life-line, a place I could run to. Only my best friends were aware. My family knew I had a giant love affair with music. It took a long time for me to want to put my songs out there: they are so personal, like diary entries. It's difficult - showing that to the world."

She still suffers chills thinking about strangers hearing her sing. And while slowly coming around to live performance - bread and butter for any rent-paying musician  - stage fright remains a reality.

"I am definitely growing, learning ways to centre myself before shows -  to keep my nerves in check. A lot of the time it is adrenaline now rather than fear. It varies: a lot will depend on the day."

Banks has surfed a wave of buzz since placing first in the influential BBC 'Sound Of' Poll at the start of the year (you may have heard of some of the survey's previous picks - they include Adele, Florence and the Machine and 50 Cent). This both delights and fills her with dread. It's nice to be appreciated. And, yet acclaim brings pressure.

"It is exciting. At the same time, definitely it feels overwhelming. It's an onslaught at moments. I'm not used to cameras - all that stuff is very new. It is definitely an adjustment. You wonder if you are going to be able to cope. For me, it's about the music - singing and writing help me think straight. I'm in the middle of my first festival season which is fun. However, the longer it goes on, the more I want to get home and back to the studio. I absolutely crave those moments of solitude and creativity."

As has been remarked upon endlessly, Banks is one of a growing number of artists maintaining a distance from social media. She does not tweet; rarely updates her Facebook page. She shrugs: in what way is this a big deal? Is it now mandatory for musicians to keep fans appraised of the minutiae of their lives? She never signed up for that.

"I didn't have a Twitter or Facebook account before my career - why should I have them now?," she says. "Everyone makes their own music: why shouldn't they have their own way of connecting with their audience?"

Curiously, she has made her phone number available:  in theory anyone -fans, journalists, stalkers - can pick up a handset and call. "My mom thought I was crazy," she recalls, laughing.

"That's what I'm like. I follow my own path. Hey, it's a only a phone. You can turn your phone off, can't you? I have received some incredible texts and voice messages from people listening to my lyrics and feeling encouraged. That is inspiring and humbling. There were a few silly ones, a few that felt weird. Really, it's the same as going online - people say horrible stuff on the internet. You have to get past all that."

Indo Review