Interview: Kota Banks
Image: Tiff Williams
Australian singer-songwriter Kota Banks started singing at 9 years of age and after spending several years living in Florence as a teenager, a time she has described as shaping her identity, she started releasing music in 2015. Choosing to take the slow and steady route to pop stardom, Banks then took several years out to focus on her songwriting craft before returning with a bang in 2017 with the R&B influenced club anthem 'Holiday'. Earlier this year she released her first mixtape PRIZE, and is fast becoming feted as the next big thing in Australian pop. Soon to play BIGSOUND festival in September, Women In Pop recently caught up with Kota to find out more about her career, her music and her BIGSOUND appearance.
Hi Kota! 2018 has been a pretty amazing year for you so far, what's currently going down in the world of Kota Banks?
Hi Women In Pop! This is such a cool outlet to be a part of! Well, I’ve just released a brand new 10 song mixtape called PRIZE and just finished supporting What So Not on their tour so it’s been pretty hectic recently. At the moment I’m just preparing for BIGSOUND & my first headline tour this September!
Congratulations on the release of PRIZE! How has that experience been and what kind of feedback have you received?
Thanks! It’s been ridiculously great. For such a long time I’ve dreamed of creating and releasing a body of work on my own terms, and my label NLV Records really gave me that opportunity. I was given total artistic freedom and got to work with a producer (Swick) who is known for his creativity and avant-garde approach to sounds, so there’s been this epic fusion of futuristic soundscapes and pop sensibility, which was my dream. As far as the feedback I’ve received… I’m sort of overwhelmed. People have been so cool. You never know how people are going to react to music you put out or if they’ll react at all, especially when you’re taking a creative risk, but it’s turned out to be great and actually quite interesting. People’s favourite songs were super unexpected and people have funny stories about how they relate to the lyrics. I really like hearing the feedback.
The video for your latest single ‘Fiorentina’ is soccer themed – are you a big soccer fan?
To be honest, I only started getting into soccer after I wrote 'Fiorentina'! I did play a bit of soccer growing up and was a casual fan in my early teens cos it was a really celebrated sport where I was living at the time, but I never really followed it. For me the song was more about expressing a connection with my Italian heritage. Also when I wrote 'Fiorentina' I was dating a guy who played FIFA, and so boys playing FIFA became a muse of sorts!
You are appearing at the Bigsound festival in Brisbane in September. What can we expect from your performance?
Yesss! I’m excited - it’s going to be a really different environment from what I’m used to. You can expect high energy and lots of wild ad-libs that have no place in club-pop tracks but with me being a Christina Aguilera die-hard are unavoidable!
What are your thoughts on the gender equality situation in today’s music industry, and how female artists are portrayed in the media?
It’s crazy to me, because people like to deny the presence of sexism and double standards in the music industry, but it regularly manifests itself in the form of male-dominated festival lineups, media coverage (I think more niche/boutique outlets tend to be more aware of this) and the comment sections on social media - which is particularly alarming because that’s the voice of the people. I think it’s the responsibility of promoters and journalists to continue to do better - they’re the ones with the power to make a statement and influence public opinion. It could sometimes be more convenient to have a male-dominant line-up, or just easy money to misrepresent a female artist, but at this point convenience and laziness isn’t a good enough excuse - you’re complicit.
In your career have you experienced episodes of sexism, or where you felt you were disrespected because of your gender?
I’ve for sure had sexist encounters. I was playing a show recently and this guy went nuts swearing at me and telling me to “get off the fucking stage” because I was a “piece of shit” and my music was an “embarrassment”. I thought about it for a long time as unrelated sexism, but when I consider it now I actually don’t think for one second that it would have happened were I a male artist singing my songs.
I’ve had friends who in writing sessions have been hit on by guys in a really intimidating manner because they feel like their position permits them to take advantage of young women in the industry. Or sometimes I’ll read Facebook comments and it’s just a bunch of people doubting that I write my own songs, or guys reducing whatever visual I’ve posted to a discussion about touching my boobs or calling me a slut. It’s sucks that female artists have to get used to that. That’s not to condemn men though. So many men I know in the industry are really respectful and protective of their female peers.
Do you think the situation is changing?
Slowly slowly. I think there’s a really healthy and ongoing conversation and that’s always the catalyst for social change. Half the time sexism is so intrinsic that people aren’t even aware they’re participating. I see women in the comments section on social media who say things that perpetuate the notion that women are inferior. I think we just need to keep bringing it to people’s attention until they start to self-correct.
What artists are you listening to at the moment?
Lykke Li, Charli XCX, Drake, SOPHIE, Raye.
What’s up next for Kota Banks?
Tour in September!!! You can get tickets at kotabanks.com .
Tickets for BIGSOUND festival are available now at bigsound.org.au