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Who, Exactly, Is Banks?

Who, Exactly, Is Banks?

Jasmine Safaeian

Many photos of Jillian Banks feature her face mostly obscured in shadow or covered with her long brown hair. Images like the one above, however, reveal the 25-year old Tarzana-bred singer to be an exotic sort of beauty -- big dark eyes, thick eyebrows, delicate bone structure. She could probably be a model, if she wasn't a rising pop star.

Banks is relatively new to the scene, having first released music this year. But while most up and comers are eager for press and exposure, Banks (and her management) are selective about where she appears and who she speaks with. In a roomful of Miley-wannabes, Banks is the gorgeous girl in the corner of the room that no one knows anything about. The press she has done -- splashy appearances in Glamour, Interview and Billboard -- all refer to her "mysteriousness."

It's an old game that seems to be working. Her track "Warm Water" has almost 500,000 plays on Soundcloud, local producer's Djemba Djemba's remix of her "Fall Over" has gotten solid blog hype and a remix of "Work" by British producer Lil Silva is in rotation on BBC Radio 1. Don't mistake it: Banks is blowing up, albeit more quietly than the modern mind may be accustomed to.

Although she's based in L.A., Banks couldn't meet in person for an interview because she was busy prepping to go on tour with the Weeknd, as the opener for the nu-R&B crooner. (The pair performs at the Greek on September 16 and 17.) It's a fitting match, as Banks' music, so far a collection of singles and the just released four track London EP, position her as sort of a female counterpart. Her music is dark R&B built on spare hip hop beats that build into moody storms of slick synth and lyrics taken straight from a diary. Her voice is the real thing.

On the phone though, she sounds young. Her answers aren't longer than what is necessary, and she giggles a bit.

Banks began writing music as a teenager, as a way, she says, to deal with her feelings of melancholy and loneliness. She found that writing music helped her figure out her own emotions. "My identity started developing through the songs I was writing."

This hobby went full speed when she was given a toy keyboard (an object she has mentioned in all of her previous interviews), and found that writing songs about things that made her feel vulnerable and weak made her feel powerful and strong. "It wasn't like, 'Oh I'm good at this,'" she says."It was more about the feeling it gave me."

A year or so ago, Banks' best friend sent two songs she had recorded on her phone to a mutual friend, who became her manager. She was off, soon working with producers including Jamie Woon, Lil Silva and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinsosaurs.

A recent work trip to England was revelatory. "It was the most incredible experience I've ever had," she says of meeting the artists and producers she worked with during her month in London, where she also performed her first show. Although Banks' EP was completed before she took off for Europe, she ended up replacing all the tracks with music she recorded there.

"Social media overwhelms me," she tells us. Her Facebook and Twitter accounts are run by her management team.

Banks has, however, put her phone number, her real phone number, on her Facebook page. (We called; it's legit.) "It's funny," she says, "because everyone says, 'Oh you're reclusive; you don't do social media,' but it's not about being reclusive. I like direct contact, and I like contact that's purposeful." She says gets a few phone calls and a lot of texts, most asking if it's really her. She responds to all of them.

Day to day, Banks is a regular L.A. gal -- hiking Runyon, drinking natural juices, going out to dinner with friends. But life right now is focused on the tour and other tangential elements of being a pop ingenue: photo shoots, meetings with stylists, this interview. When asked if there's anything else she wants people to know about her, she says no. But then again, those interested in knowing more can just give her a call.

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