Banks’ III is, of course, the beloved singer’s third studio album, but that’s not why she’s titled it as such. “For me, III represents a life cycle,” she tells Apple Music. “It's like the beginning, middle, and end. It feels like everything that comes to an end is kind of represented by threes, and a big theme on this album is letting go and being able to start a new chapter and be more present." The project, which explores the many peaks and valleys of a relationship and the renewal that can come from leaving an unsuccessful one behind, features songwriting and production contributions from BJ Burton, Buddy Ross, and Hudson Mohawke, as well as a duet with Francis and the Lights—the first guest feature of Banks’ catalog. Here, she explains what went into each of III’s revelations, track by track.
“Till Now” “I think I cried when I was singing the first verse. I just felt angry, so I wanted to get rid of the anger that I had been carrying. And I like that it starts the album, because it's kind of like this announcement, an ode to where I've been and a declaration of where I'm at now. It's like, 'You've been my see-you-around, till now,' and 'You've been doing this, till now.' It's a really nice beginning to a new chapter and a new album, just letting go of the old and announcing where you're at in the present.”
“Gimme” “I feel the most badass when I'm singing. Not always, but sometimes, songs like [2016's] 'Fuck With Myself' and 'Gimme,' there's this inherent power in speaking quietly but saying really savage shit. I feel sweet and dangerous on it. So I wanted the beat to feel dangerous, and I met up with Hud Mo, and I mean, I had never worked with him before, but the second I met him I was like, 'I want to dive in with you,' because he's just so fucking dope and brilliant.”
“Contaminated” “‘Contaminated’ is kind of an ode to being an adult, I guess. It's like, when you want something so badly to work out, but it's just too fucking toxic. Something feels so good in the moment and it then it feels so bad later. It's like a drug. And 'Contaminated' was me realizing that no matter how much you want something, it's just negative, period. You want to find little pockets of belief and hope. And that song is kind of mid-realization that it just can’t.”
“Stroke” “‘Stroke’ is about a narcissist, first of all. So it's like, ‘You want me to stroke your ego, beg for it, die for it.’ Like when someone's just like an empty pit of needing validation and kind of sucks you dry. But at the same time, those types of relationships can be sexy and addicting, and 'Stroke' is singing from the perspective of ‘You're a narcissist, and I know that about you, but I'll play into your game,’ kind of teasing him, like, ‘Keep begging and I'll stroke your ego.’”
“Godless” “I dated someone and we broke up and I hadn't spoken to him in a few months. I wrote about him on The Altar and I felt really awkward. It's weird when you write about someone and they'll probably know—I put everything in my music, and people who I love and love me probably know that I will. But I hadn't talked to him in a long time. A few years later, I ended up seeing him again, and he plays me this song that he had started that he didn't ever finish, but it was about me, and it was a verse of 'Godless.' It was just like a little seed of it, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I need to finish this song.’ It's kind of funny—we're great friends now, but it's like, you couldn't get more closure from a relationship than collabing on a song about what you've been through, I guess.”
“Sawzall” “A Sawzall is actually a tool. It's a saw, but in order for it to work, it goes back and forth, push and pull, and that's exactly like some relationships—every relationship, really. So 'Sawzall' is sung from this really loving, unconditionally nonjudgmental place of looking back on a relationship and thinking, like, ‘Was it my fault? Were you just depressed? Is that why? Because you weren't you, you were just a depressed version of you? Should I have known that? Am I just overthinking this?’ It's just thinking about why things didn't work out with somebody that you really, really, truly loved.”
“Look What You’re Doing to Me” “So, I was in the studio with BJ [Burton]. We were in LA. And he's super close with Francis [Starlite], and I had actually never met Francis. He just ended up stopping by the studio in LA just to chill. And when I needed a break from the song I was working on, I went in the other room and it just...it wasn't like he came to write a song with me. I didn't even think that was going to happen. I just walked in the other room, and the chords he was playing—he’s so brilliant, and they just inspired this melody. I started singing, like, 'Look what you're doing to me.' It just came out so quick, and then I was like, 'Fuck, this is so good.'”
“Hawaiian Mazes” “When I stopped touring The Altar, I felt so drained and I just needed a break. I wasn't feeling good physically or mentally, and I just needed time to, like, digest how much my life had changed. I went to Hawaii for two weeks with my best friend to try and silence my brain. And the last morning, I went on a walk and I discovered this labyrinth. And it was lined by rocks and it felt like somebody had set it up to be some sort of meditative place. But I walked through it and I had this revelation that I needed to let something go. And then I turned and there are these other people walking up, and I thought to myself, like, ‘Fuck, I don't have a bra on. Should I leave?’ And then I was like, ‘Nah, I'm going to keep going.’”
“Alaska” “When I write a lot, sometimes I dream melodies. Then, I'll wake up and I'll be like, ‘Oh my God, I wrote a song in my sleep last night. It was so good.’ And there have been a few times in my life where I wake up and I actually remember what I wrote, and it always trips me out because it feels like it's this crazy melody that wouldn't have existed if I didn't tap into some weird unconscious state. I woke up repeating this one morning: ‘He’s going to leave me for Alaska. He's going to leave me for Alaska.’ It just felt so easy. That's why it sounds all trippy. Because it's from a dream.”
“Propaganda” “‘Propaganda’ is about feeling like you're too deep into something and you need help getting out of it. There's one lyric in there that says, 'I decided that suicide is on my side.' It's pretty dark, but it's actually not meant to be like that. It's supposed to be that unsureness that could possibly be negative for you but it's also exciting and intriguing and you're like, 'Oh no, I'm about to fall down this slide,' like, 'Mom, help me out here, help me out of this.'"
“The Fall” “I only play the piano—I don't play other instruments, and I always wrote on the piano. But before I started working with other people and collaborating and going to studios, I would hear a guitar line, a synth line, how the drums should go, and would record them all on my computer in separate takes with my voice. And so I got kind of in the habit of using my voice as background instruments, really. Most of my songs have melodic chants in them, just because it's kind of the language I'm most fluent in. But 'The Fall,' it started like that. And I like how it's got rapping on one end, but on the other hand there's this really beautiful acoustic guitar and that type of melodic chant in the back, so it's kind of like a whole mix of things.”
“If We Were Made of Water” “Sometimes when I write, there are certain things—phrases that I sing or say or kind of invent—that mean something to me. And when people ask me what they mean, I'm hesitant to say what they mean, because for somebody else it could mean something so meaningful but something different. But 'If We Were Made of Water,' that song was just wishing things could be simple. If we were made of water, we would both be made of the same substance; we can just, like, melt into each other and things wouldn't be so complicated or painful.”
“What About Love” “I don't know when exactly I wrote 'What About Love,' but I wouldn't shut up about it after. My management was like, ‘We get it, you like that song.’ I was like, ‘You guys don't get it, this song is amazing!' I don't have a favorite song that I've ever written, but there's something about that song that felt life-changing to me. I've been listening to a lot of gospel the last few years, and melodically, it feels so full. It feels like it's written from the exact thing that I feel like my album is about: the life cycle. It's an adult situation—‘I belong to no one, and you belong to someone else’—yet it's sung from this really innocent perspective of, but what about love? It doesn't matter if that's an unrealistic situation, what about love? Love can make it work.”
Look What You're Doing to Me (feat. Francis and the Lights)