This article appears in FLOOD 12: The Los Angeles Issue. You can purchase this special 232-page print edition celebrating the people, places, music and art of LA here.
There’s a boulder sitting high in the canyons between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley that Jillian Banks likes to visit. Outside of her life as a platinum-selling alternative pop artist known simply as BANKS, this is where she comes to meditate, to write lyrics, to escape. “These rocks are my spot,” she says, sitting comfortably on top of her boulder on an overcast day. “You can think up here. I feel isolated in the best way.”
She’s up here at this secret spot a few times a week, sometimes a couple of times a day, hiking through the quiet wilderness that sits amid the urban sprawl and suburbia of Los Angeles. It feels like home, partly because she grew up nearby in a neighborhood called Tarzana on the north end of the Valley. Doja Cat is also from Tarzana, and producer Rogét Chahayed has recorded some big hits in his house there, which has turned the bedroom community into an unlikely pop music mecca.
It didn’t seem that way when Banks was growing up. “It definitely doesn’t feel like LA,” she says of her old neighborhood, established and named a century ago by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs. “It feels more like suburbs with really good sushi restaurants. The Valley has the best sushi.”
“These rocks are my spot. You can think up here. I feel isolated in the best way.”
Alternative pop singer Banks (aka Jillian Banks) in a favorite hiking location in a Los Angeles canyon. She was preparing to release a new album in 2021.
As a little girl, the entertainment world was distant from her mind as she spent her days playing soccer or having adventures in her Tarzana backyard. “We had this big pile of woodchips and we pretended Beetlejuice lived under them,” she recalls now with a freckled smile. “For people outside of Los Angeles, and for many just passing through, there’s a common misconception that the town is mostly about Hollywood parties, as if there weren’t teachers and cops and insurance brokers also crowding the freeways.”
For Banks, a perfect day in Los Angeles begins at home, rising at 8 am to do some yoga in the backyard. Soon she’s out the door to buy coffee and grab some fruit and vegetables at the Studio City Farmers Market. Then it’s back to the house in the hills to make breakfast with her boyfriend. “He’s an amazing chef,” says the singer.
“For people outside of Los Angeles, and for many just passing through, there’s a common misconception that the town is mostly about Hollywood parties, as if there weren’t teachers and cops and insurance brokers also crowding the freeways.”
Banks is also a born wanderer, an insatiable pedestrian on the march, strolling endlessly over city sidewalks and trails whenever possible. “I love going on really long walks that drive people crazy,” she says. “I used to live in West Hollywood and I would walk to Beverly Hills and back. I would do that with a friend, and once my friend got really nauseous and we had to Uber back.”
Later on her perfect day, Banks would hang out with friends, going out to dinner with them or cooking for them at home. “I like having little hangs at my house,” she adds, but she also loves to work on new music there. Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, Banks spent a lot of time in her home studio recording for her upcoming fourth album. In 2021, she released two singles (with a pair of vivid, theatrical music videos), “The Devil” and “Skinnydipped.”
“I love recording and comping vocals alone,” she says. “There are certain songs that I want to go into a proper studio and record, but in terms of vibe and creating, recording vocals at my house for me is the most comfortable.”
For performing live, the Art Deco Wiltern Theatre is a special place. In high school, she saw an inspirational performance by Fiona Apple there, so it was “really surreal” when she played the same stage while touring behind her 2014 debut album Goddess. At the time, Banks was already consumed with making music and found a little keyboard in a closet, teaching herself to play by ear. “It was the most fun thing that I’d ever done in my life,” she remembers. “I just became obsessed. My family was like, ‘Shut up!’ I would just be singing so loud.” FL
BANKS’ new single “Holding Back” arrives Friday, February 25. Pre-save HERE.