It’s barely been a year since Kota Banks signed to NLV Records, but that hasn’t stopped the young Sydney artist from making an incredible mark on the landscape of Australian pop music.
After two huge singles, Banks dropped her Prize mixtape in June this year. Written and produced alongside her label-mate Swick, Prize is a balance of electronic and dance music topped with infectious, confident pop lyricism that will get stuck in your head after one listen.
Fresh off a national tour which ended with a sold-out show at the Oxford Art Factory Gallery Bar in Sydney, Don’t Bore Us got to chat with Kota Banks about music, self-love, and what we can expect from her collaborative set with CXLOE at Spotify’s Front Left Live event next week.
Watch: Kota Banks – “Zoom”
How do you stay so grounded even though you know you’re the future of Australian pop music?
Oh my god. You know what? I think the key is to not know anything. Just make music and do the shows, have a good time and do it for the right reasons. Do it because you’re wanting to express yourself and put good energy out into the world.
When did you first sign to NLV Records?
I signed in May 2017, I believe. I’m not sure of the exact date but it’s been a year and three months or so. It hasn’t been very long, to be honest.
It’s been a very short time but you’ve already released two massive singles and then you went straight into releasing the mixtape in June. What influenced your choice to release a mixtape over an EP or album?
I think probably the fact that I wanted to keep it organic and raw and not put too much pressure on myself so soon. Releasing an album is a huge statement to make to the world and when you put out a debut album, there’s only one debut album. So, I felt like being in my early twenties, still experimenting with my sound and wanting to take a bit of a risk, it would be better. It’s just felt right to put something out in the name of a mixtape to test the waters and gauge people’s responses whilst experimenting and exploring the sounds.
A lot of the vocals on the track have only been recorded just the one time by me and Swick. We thought we’d leave them there because we wanted it to be the most raw version and have this effortless feel almost. That’s the logic behind it.
Like you mentioned, you wrote and produced the mixtape with Swick. How was it working together in the studio?
The dynamic is great. I love watching him work because he thinks outside of the box and he’s a very quirky human being. He’s so talented, he has this incredible brain and this knack for layering beats in a really cool way, making it different and unlike anything else. I just love being in there and watching him work.
We have a bit of a goss usually when the sessions start. We just go back and forth and analyse them. We have a good time, I’ll just watch him for hours playing with drum sounds. He’s just a nerd and I’m a nerd too so it’s great.
Who else would you like to collaborate with in terms of making music?
Okay, it’s ambitious, but maybe Charli [XCX]. That would be sick. I know she loves futuristic sounds and pushing boundaries. I’d love to work with Cardi B. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen but maybe in my wildest dreams. All the strong women that are doing something cool and different. They’re tough and risky, that’s my shit.
Following on from that, which artists inspire your music when you’re creating it?
I think its less artists that inspire me and more just concepts. I’m growing so much, I just feel like early twenties is the time when you want to be experimenting and finding new ways to express emotion. Definitely there are some artists I look up to and I like what they’re doing but I think its more emotion and experiences, new environments, new ways of looking at things and poetry. That’s the type of stuff that inspires my art and makes me want to push the boundaries, I think.
Outside of music, what do you get up to?
I love to write poetry. That’s been something that I’ve really delved into recently. I like to just go out with the girls, have a night out and go dancing. I have so many hobbies and now when you’ve asked me the question, it all goes blank in my mind.
I really like to go to different markets, vintage markets and collect random souvenirs, ornaments, just shit that is clutter and makes no sense for me to have.
Watch: Kota Banks – “I’m It”
“I’m It” is the self-love anthem that 2018 needed, and all of your music and lyrics exude a lot of confidence in yourself, where does that come from?
It’s kind of me pep-talking myself sometimes. It doesn’t always come from a place of natural confidence. “I’m It” actually came from me having a really shit day and feeling like I needed to put something out into the world that was confident and almost over-compensated for the lack of confidence I was feeling at the time.
Then the natural progression is that you convince yourself that’s a thing and so I guess confidence is not my natural stance necessarily from when I was a kid. I think I’ve grown into myself a lot more, it’s definitely been a journey and hard work. I’m much more confident inherently now but it comes from work and I think these songs are the place where my confidence has burst almost.
What’s your favourite lyric you’ve ever written?
Oh my god, I think about this so much. I think all the lyrics from I’m It are probably my favourite because I feel like self-love is almost becoming this cliché in the mainstream media because it’s so often talked about. Things are cliché for a reason but also, it’s becoming this topic that is almost overlooked at this point because everyone is talking about it so much that we’re a little bit desensitised.
I was able to take self-love and approach it in a different way in the song. It’s not so serious and there’s a bit of humour in it and a bit of character and engage people in a way that wasn’t so typical when it comes to the self-love.
Every morning I wake up and remind myself, “I love myself and that’s not cocky.”
I try and actually say that now too. I try and actually wake up and be like, “I’m the shit.” I need it. It helps.
Watch: Kota Banks – “Fiorentina”
You spent a few years living in Italy when you were younger, do you feel at home when you go back there?
I lived there for three years when I was ten until when I was thirteen. That’s the most time I’ve spent there. I went back three years ago and I think Italy is my home. I love Sydney, I just really identify with the culture over there and I get along with the people, I understand the people. I love the food, I love the architecture and I love the history, you can feel it when you’re walking down the street. You can feel it in the air, the air of this history, romance, art and culture that I love. So, it definitely feels like home every time I go back.
You just finished up a massive national tour that kicked off at Big Sound and finished with a sold-out show at the Oxford Art Factory. How have you found transferring your music to a live setting?
This music was meant to played live so it’s been really easy. The music was made to make people dance and was meant to be brought to clubs and live venues. So, it was a natural progression of what we made in the studio.
It’s really cool when people have live bands but I think just me and Kritty was the perfect way to do it. It was simple and everyone loved it. We have a really cool onstage chemistry and there’s always a bit of banter.
Speaking of more, you’re performing a collaborative set with CXLOE at the Spotify event coming up. What can we expect from that?
It’s very different for me because usually I just have a DJ but this time we’re using our buddies from Moza to do the live. They’re super talented live performers and they put so much work into it.
It’s a bit of a different process but we’re very excited. This is really an integrated, one-off collaboration between me and CXLOE.
CXLOE’s music is very different. We’re almost on polar opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to our music style so it’s going to be fun to show people that it can work even when you wouldn’t expect it to work at all. It’s going to be fun.
How did that all come about? Were you guys approached by Spotify or did you just talk about it and come up with a concept?
Spotify actually approached us. They know we’re good buddies and we’ve been on the come up together for a little while hustling. We used to do sessions all the time, that’s how we met.
So, they just thought it would be a really cool power move, two young women coming up together, doing a one-off show is such a cool vibe.
2018 has obviously been a pretty massive year for you so far, what are your plans for the end of the year?
I think definitely an album is in the works. I’ve been working so hard on it and I’m really excited about the songs I have so far. So, an album eventually and I just want to kill Falls [Festival]. I want to make sure that Falls is a really good show and there’ll be more shows coming up in summer next year which I can’t talk about just yet. There’s a lot I want to achieve still obviously.
Kota Banks is performing a one-off collaborative set with CXLOE at Spotify’s Front Left Live event on Thursday 11th October, check out all the details here. Her debut mixtape Prize is out now, listen here and check out the video for “Child” below.