BANKS is In the Pocket of Life
On her newest and fourth studio album, Serpentina, BANKS (performing tonight, August 3, at The Complex) has released another portrait of the artist, an expressive and beastly production that forays her signature dark, pop/R&B style. Serpentina is marked, among many things, by an older BANKS who, during quarantine, found a new well of strength in merging her private and musical life.
“Everybody had so much mental transformation during quarantine,” BANKS says, “… after going through that, I have such a different power in me on stage now. I feel more confident as an artist and as a person than I’ve ever felt.” It helps that this is her fourth time at it, but it took that time for her to learn how to balance life and work. “Everything was about my career,” she says. “It took precedence over anything and everything. Years and years of that can leave you feeling drained and unbalanced. I feel more balanced.”
This balance comes after 2019’s III, with BANKS describing the period around the album as one of the hardest times in her life. “I had a lot of opinions around me that I let seep into my skin too much,” she says. “I don’t really listen to [III]. I mean, I love it … but I’ve always had a confusing relationship with how much I like to share about myself and how much I want to show.” A self-described introvert, BANKS had treated her personal life as something to keep secret. “I used to be so private and so aware of what anybody knew about me,” she says.
It’s three years later, and for BANKS, a significant element of Serpentina is the juxtaposition of human and creature—an animal in a cage. The album art sees BANKS from the shoulders up, holding her face, delicately bound by dozens of dark threads as she looks at you. “It feels snakey,” she says. “Serpentina has female deity energy to it, and I think the cover has that, as well.”
The album opens with “Misunderstood,” a striking track in which she pleads to be misunderstood. The song opens slowly with swelling, multiplied vocals and synths, like a cage door creaking open. “If I had just one penny for / Every time somebody didn’t get me / I wouldn’t need this hustle, man,” she sings. “But damn, I love this hustle / You don’t have to understand.” The vocals become louder and more unified, foregrounded together. The cage door bursts open. “If I had just one dollar for / Every time somebody didn’t listen / I wouldn’t need these vocals, man.” In that moment, the effects on BANKS’ voice collide and collapse into an aggressive moment of silence that startled me the first time I heard it. On the chorus, she sings, pleading, “Please let me be misunderstood.”
The album encompasses a lot—letting go, love, falling in love with yourself and others, confronting and overcoming inner demons—but “Misunderstood” alone says a lot if Serpentina represents, as BANKS says, “one, whole human at the age I’m at, going through what I’m going through.” I had a hard time understanding this use of misunderstanding (in quarantine, I was craving connection and to be understood). BANKS suggested that, if you need to work to have someone to understand you, you’ve been challenged to keep honing your craft, and not necessarily to reduce the chance someone doesn’t get you. “As you grow, you become okay with being misunderstood,” she says. This relief, this reconciliation, is a part of what has made a merging of her different lives possible. “I just liked that concept of saying, ‘Please let me be misunderstood,’” she says. “That’s how much you don’t care. It doesn’t affect you. Not only are you not bothered if they don’t get this art, but please don’t get this art.”
BANKS seems free of several cages. As she describes Serpentina, it’s hard to not see a theme of reintegration and reclamation. At the listening party for Serpentina’s release, she showed off original paintings she had not previously shared. “I’ve been talking about [painting] more,” she says. “It’s something that I love to do.” Having loved drawing, painting and art since being a child, BANKS ramped up during quarantine and during the production of Serpentina.
BANKS’ music has always had the capacity for ferocious intimacy, as with Altar’s “Fuck With Myself” and its hushed self-reassurance or the insistent thrumming of Goddess’s “Warm Water.” Now, she’s willing to share more of the parts of herself she once held close. “Over quarantine, I let my guard down more,” she says. “When I started doing press for the album, I realized how much less stressful interviews were when you’re [not] trying to answer a question in a way that answers it but doesn’t give away anything private. I don’t even mean private things like, ‘Are you in a relationship? Where do you live?,’ I mean literally just how I think, how I feel … I just feel more at peace now. I’m sitting in the pocket of the flow of life.”
It seems like the process of making Serpentina has put BANKS in the best mood of her life. Find tickets for BANKS’ performance tonight, August 3, at The Complex at tickets.thecomplexslc.com/event/banks, follow BANKS on Instagram @hernameisbanks and listen to Serpentina.