photos / Eric T. White
makeup / Mark Edio
hair / Elsa Canedo @ See Management using Oribe
styling / Jonatan Mejia
story / Miz Kane & Tiffany Diane Tso
Liana Bank$ cut her teeth writing music for other ferocious powerhouses in the industry, including Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. Now on the cusp of releasing her debut mixtape INSUBORDINATE, the hip-hop, R&B newcomer has been dropping hot single after hot single, including swaggy “LVLUP,” featured on HBO’s Ballers.
Born and raised in Queens, Bank$ has always approached her work with honesty and determination, citing dominant women like Nina Simone and Grace Jones amongst her role models. As sure as she is building out her musical repertoire, the neon-haired artist also recognizes the importance of building strength in character, always choosing honesty over anything else. LADYGUNN had an opportunity to catch up with Liana before the release to discuss womanhood, heroes and emotional authenticity.
You’re really open about standing your ground as a woman in the music industry and protecting your energy to get shit done. Do you ever feel like you have to forfeit your womanhood at times in order to be respected?
Definitely. A lot, actually. It’s weird. I was just talking to my manager yesterday about that. A guy I did a song with, he told me to reach out to him. I [was] like, ‘Okay, I wanna reach out, but when we were in the studio, I got a vibe that he was trying to kick it to me.’ So I didn’t want to close that down and have him not respect me or think that I was interested in the wrong way. He was like, ‘Oh no, just hit him up.’ I was like, ‘You don’t understand!’ [Laughs] It has to be done a certain way. He’ll think the wrong thing or whatever. There are always little steps I take to make sure I’m still respected, but still get business done at the same time.
Can you just go through your manager for that?
Yeah, definitely. There are other ways, but at the end of the day, I don’t wanna just depend on my managers to do everything for me. I wanna be a strong businesswoman and be able to navigate those things myself. I’m just trying to prep myself for the future.
What do you think about the shifts in R&B? Where it was once more about emotion and love, it’s now become more of this open expression.
I think I have a love/hate relationship for it. I like a balance. I think it’s always cool to have a balance, just because no person is like, one way. We’re humans, we have a huge array of emotions. To portray just one is just unrealistic, you know? At times I’m super aggressive, and at times I’m super loveable. I like to portray me as a human overall. I think that’s important—to stay true.
If you could pick one song to describe yourself to other people, which would it be?
It would have to be a psycho song, because I’m crazy. Maybe like, probably…“Crazy” Cee Lo Green! There’s so many elements to me and I think that song is all over the place. That would probably describe me.
Who are some strong women that you’ve always looked up to for guidance?
Grace Jones. Tina Turner. Beyonce. Michelle Obama. And even though a lot of people might not see her as strong: Marilyn Monroe. I feel like she was strong as far as completely embracing her sexuality and not caring or giving a fuck about what anybody thought. She played on who she was… Oh wait! Nina Simone! That’s number one.
Why do you choose her above everybody else?
She’s a whole other animal. She was completely outspoken. Just watching her perform is completely an experience: She’s in the moment, in the song, and she believes in what she’s saying, every single word. It’s crazy. She was one of my huge inspirations musically, and as a person overall she definitely gives me strength.
Your songs sound like journal entries. What’s the importance of humility and candidness to you?
Those are really important to me. Everything I write is truthful. I started writing from eight years old. They literally were journal entries—I wanted to start writing in a diary, but they turned into songs. So I started singing them and making melodies and I would write one every single day. It was literally my journal. And because I was so shy and scared to tell people how I was feeling, but I had so much passion, I kept writing and writing. Now, it’s habit. Everything I’m feeling, sexually, emotionally, whatever, I write it down. They are definitely journal entries.
What kind of impression do you wanna make on the music industry or even in pop culture?
I just wanna be that person who is honest, more so than anything overall—honest with myself, accepting of my flaws. I feel, right now, everything’s got a standard. You have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way. You can’t be too this, too that. I think that’s ridiculous. It’s not realistic. You go out into the real world and nobody looks like Kim Kardashian. I think that’s really it: being truthful and honest, and understanding that people are people. We all have feelings. We’re all human and we’re all flawed and it’s okay. Life goes on.
I will always support that: being yourself and owning up to your truth and whatnot. All the fakeness is gonna fall at some point, so you might as well be honest.
Exactly. I used to try so hard to be goody two shoes. I have two younger sisters and I used to want to make the best impression for them, so I wouldn’t do anything or act on certain things I felt. After a while I was like, ‘This is like I’m in a jail. I can’t be me. I can’t express myself.’[But then you realize] you’re just missing out on life. And life’s too short to miss out on anything.
Where does your musical inclination come from?
My mom, she sings in jazz bands and at weddings, all kinds of things like that. [My parents] both sang in church, so it’s kind of hereditary. But I’m the only one who writes, so that’s how I got into recording music and doing my own original music.
Have you ever felt compelled to try to rap at some point?
I mean, I kind of play around with it. Sometimes I rap things, but I wouldn’t consider myself a rapper per se. When I was young, I tried to make a little group with my sisters. I gave us each a part and I gave myself a rap part. I didn’t really sound so great! [Laughs] But I tried.
You’re really aesthetically charged. What inspires you visually? Are there any artists that you would love to work with and accompany your work visually?
That’s a great question. I was just talking to my friend about this. I don’t really have one particular person… I seek out all different artists all over. I’ll be on Instagram just searching artwork or on Tumblr. There is this one artist that I’m in love with right now. His name is Dax Norman. He does this weird, trippy, almost Picasso kind of shit. It’s colorful and disturbing. I’m in love with that right now.
Was that ever annoying that you write it in a song versus how people usually write journal entries?
Yeah, it’s annoying because of the fact that when you write a journal entry, you can write it in there, let it out, forget about it. When you write a song, it gets stuck in your head or now I have to perform it. Sometimes I might not wanna go back to a certain feeling, you know? Some things are painful, some things I just wanna get over because I’m like, ‘Okay, that was my ex, I’m done.’ But it’s a song and people wanna hear it. That’s the trick with that.