2Dope To Sleep On: Brandon Banks

blame it on Wongo April 21, 2020
Photo by Jacob Kuba Bojsza

For longtime residents of this site, many of you should remember our 2Dope To Sleep On series and to that I say, welcome back. Returning as a monthly series, we plan to introduce you to a special artist we feel is destined for mainstream acclaim. Past bearers of the title include J. Cole, Bas, Sylvan LaCue (fka QuESt), Isaiah Rashad, Boogie, Casey Veggies, and YGTUT.

Now, after highlighting Duke Deuce last month, we’re off to Inglewood, CA to place our stamp of approval on singer Brandon Banks.

As beautiful or hideous the view outside our window is, we are all products of our environment. Whether it inspires us to be just like it or it serves as the motivation to be its polar opposite, our environment plays a large part in who we are today. Don’t believe me? Ask Brandon Banks.

A product of Inglewood, CA, Banks has overcome far more in a few years than many of us do in a lifetime. From deceased and imprisoned family members to moments of homelessness, all while growing up in a rather hostile neighborhood, Banks has thrived through it all. Sharing his debut project Tides in 2018, he showed flashes of a promising R&B act; ones that only became brighter with his recently released STATIC EP.

His ability to not only go with the flow but create one of his own is exactly what brought him to this moment. A month removed from STATIC, we sat down with Banks to talk about his first two projects, his artistry and love for nature, overcoming pain, and more.


How are you? How have you been maintaining and creating – if at all – during this pandemic?

The first two weeks, I just didn’t do anything. I just kind of floated around, the world has never stopped in our lifetime like this and there’s no societal pressure to do or be anything, finish stuff, and I don’t have to work here or go do this. So, I just didn’t do anything for the first two weeks and I was in a weird mental limbo and then after that, I just started focusing on the stuff that keeps my mind in a good place. Been trying to read, work out and stay consistent with that, probably been smoking a little too much, and then really just writing and doing everything that I didn’t do when life is moving super fast, feel like I’m just taking my time to stop and think, exist in the world at the moment, and figure out where my mind is at right now. I feel like life moves so fast sometimes that you don’t even have time to really analyze where you are and who you are at this moment. I’ve just been taking my time just trying to get back in touch with myself and get back discipline in my life as far as the stuff that I’m learning, trying to learn new music and write more.

What have you been listening to lately?

Honestly, I’ve been hunting for music that I haven’t heard. I was listening to some old Janet Jackson, I listened to Thundercat’s new album, listened to some Jay-Z, I dived into this Fred Hammond album called Spirit Of David, the chords on some of these songs are crazy. Some Marvin Gaye, [The] Delfonics, and I found out about this guy named Roberto Musci. I’m not sure where he’s from, but it’s like a tribal type of African music, it’s pretty crazy. I’ve just been fishing for stuff that I haven’t heard cause I feel like I’ve worn all my old music out, but I’m also running into Stevie [Wonder] albums I’ve listened to since my parents played it when I was a kid too.

Are you excited about how this added “time to think” will affect your future work?

That is something I’m looking forward to, just cause I’m able to really think about what I’m talking about and where my mind is even at right now, what my interests are, where I’m going sonically. A lot of times, especially when you’re in the middle of a rollout, you know it’s like “I have to get this video done, I gotta finish this mix, I gotta do this.” There’s so many different things that it all kind of distracts you from the process and it can have you in a weird mental state, your process can kind of become rushed and I’m not good with rushed music cause I don’t feel like I make “fast food” music. I try to think about every word that I put into a song and that requires a little bit of time. Me being able to sit down and really think about it gives me space to really elevate and then the message is clearer too when I’m able to work on it longer.

Before we get into your projects, how do you feel about your work so far–from artistic and personal growth?

I think I’m pretty happy with my growth. I’ve had to take time during these times and stop being so self-critical because I was just going through all the demos that I’ve made in the past three years and I realized how many songs that were super fire that I talked myself out of finishing. It’s a good and a bad thing because I hold myself to these impossible standards just so I’m always growing and trying to elevate. So I think right now, I’m learning to appreciate where I am cause sometimes nothing’s ever really good enough for myself I’m like, “Nah, I gotta do more, I gotta do better,” but right now I am happy because just seeing the way the music’s been resonating with people, cause when I’m making a song, I’m not thinking about how it’s gonna translate to the real world, I’m just getting my thoughts out. So when it does come out and then people are gravitating to it and you see the random online chatter about it, it solidifies the image of myself in my own mind that I had when I was making it.

You showcased a lot of pain and grief on Tides. In the two years since, how has handling these emotions changed during the creation of STATIC?

I would say Tides was a life or death thing for me. I dropped out of school, I was running track, I had a track scholarship, I was living at my grandma’s in the hood in LA and I didn’t like where my life was. I was so stressed out, I wasn’t sleeping, working at Best Buy, going to school, dealing with stuff in the hood, there was so much going on I had to stop. I dropped everything and I was like I gotta dive 1000% into the music or it’s never going to move and at that time I really had to go through a lot of different things. When I first started recording Tides, I was sleeping in the car and just going to the studio and work every day, eventually, I got my own place and stuff started growing from there. I really had to deal with all my past trauma, that’s kind of what it was. I have very vivid dreams and I used to just have dreams of me fighting demons, every night when I go to sleep I have recurring dreams. After I finished the last song on Tides, I haven’t had one of those dreams since, cause it kind of dived all the way into my childhood and where I am now and where I’m trying to go. I felt like that project was something that I had to do for myself and I had to get it out for my own mental health and once I put that out, I felt a release and I feel like my music changed sonically after that.

Closing out Tides with “Castaway,” you say you wish to “turn back the tides” and on STATIC, it sounds like you made that turn. What sparked that?

I was in a crazy place. I had tunnel vision for years and I was going through hell in my life just in every aspect, just trying to figure some stuff out. When I started out, I didn’t know anybody, so I just started going to open-mic nights cause I didn’t know what to do, I was like “Alright, well imma just start where I know I can play guitar and sing,” so I just started doing that and eventually things started going. When I put Tides out, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Somebody asked me [afterward] “what’s next?” and nobody asked me that in three years and it f**ked me up cause I was like “Damn, what is next? I have no idea.” I felt like I was lost for a month or two, and then I linked up with his guy named Danny Dwyer, he co-produced some of the stuff on STATIC. When I linked up with him on the first day he made like the craziest song and we just started making stuff. I was just experimenting, I got in the studio on a blank slate. I did have the idea that I wanted to elevate sonically, but I didn’t really have a set direction, I was just recording, just getting the thoughts off and stuff started coming together.

A bit analytical, but following the literal definition of each, tides have to do with the movement of water, while static is more so the movement of energy. Tell me about your fascination of sorts with movement in your work.

I’m a big nature nerd, I watch the clouds move, I watch the waves, I watch them crash on the shore, cause everything in the world is moving, it all comes down to vibrations –– even us, we’re tightly packed atoms vibrating together to create mass. That is something I try to correlate, some type of natural phenomenon with my music and I correlate life a lot with the elements too, you’re on point. When I’m coming up with the names of the projects, that’s not my direct intent but just overall the way I make my music, I like the movement, I want it to flow. I feel like by the time you get the end of a song, it’s taken you to a different place, it’s a journey. So that’s how I look at each track that I make, starting at the beginning and you get to the climax of it.

Another analytical dive, but water plays a big part in your music. The title Tides for the EP and song, we hear it in the background on songs on both EPs, what about it in your life causes it to have a big presence in your music?

There’s just nothing more calming than the sound of water flowing, whether it’s rain, the ocean, a river flowing, the waterfall, the sound of water is like a cleansing sound and it’s a calming sound and it’s the most powerful force on the earth, but also it’s the most peaceful thing too and the most tranquil. So I love to put water cause it just adds more depth to the music and I think as humans, we like to think of ourselves as super-advanced robotics creatures, but at the end of the day we are still a part of the Earth and we come from the Earth. There’s certain frequencies that affect us, there’s a reason why you get in nature and you feel completely at peace and then when you’re in the city you feel on edge, the frequencies of the sounds can change your mood. I think of my music as something you should immerse yourself in, so I think the sound of water is like a healing effect. 

“Mirrors” is such a great song on the new EP, one that focuses on self-reflection. What about self-reflection makes it antagonizing for you?

The song “Mirror” is talking about self-reflection, but it’s dealing with self-reflection in a relationship. I feel like as men we choose to demonize women in certain aspects, but we never look at ourselves. A lot of times it’s like once you get mad and you can be very absolute, I know I can be sometimes. Even if somebody else is in the wrong, cause I was writing about a past relationship, even though she did some things that were wrong, I also wasn’t perfect. You have to look at yourself, like the reason why our whole relationship is toxic is because we’re both in the wrong right now. We hold the power in most relationships just based off of how society is built and not enough men look at themselves like, “I’m pressing her about her actions and how she’s making me feel, but how am I making her feel? How do I feel about myself? When I look in the mirror am I happy with the person I see? Am I disgusted by it? Does it stress me out? Do I look away?” That’s kind of what “Mirrors” is talking about when I say “Who’s the fairest of them all?” like, who’s better out of the two of us? You did some sh*t, I did some sh*t, that doesn’t make you any worse or make me any better. You can point out things in other people, but before you do that, you should look at yourself.

Who or what to you is “Lucy” and what did you hope to gain and/or better about yourself in escaping with “Lucy?”

I gave it a name –– really I got that from Kendrick [Lamar]. The way he used “Lucy” on To Pimp A Butterfly and the way he always gave the evils of the world or the evils of your mind a persona, that was something that I wanted to do too. “Lucy” to me is any kind of static, any type of external friction. It’s like the driving force behind all bad things: hatred, temptation, evil, all these things. To me, “Lucy” in this particular song was my external environment, dealing with cops and people and then also my internal environment, dealing with my mind and that voice in your head tells you to procrastinate, or tells me to go kick it with all these shorties or something, or do these drugs, or slap this person that says something crazy to me. All these different things that you have to constantly check yourself on and stay disciplined and stay in a good mental space. 

“Lucy” is short for “Lucifer,” the devil, and I don’t want to be pushing religion on people like that in music, but it’s more so like the devil isn’t this person, the devil represents all of the bad in society. It’s like this driving force with what’s going on in our country. Like, why do cops hate us so much? The belief has been reinforced over the course of thousands of years and that’s what “Lucy” is to me, it’s that force that keeps people hating you, or keeps people in bondage doing things, or keeps you addicted to these things.

Of all frustrations on Tides, you directed some to your city on “Moor.” In the time passing and the new music you’ve created, one that isn’t so much rooted in pain, do you look at the things that frustrated you differently?

None of that stuff has changed, it’s all just kind of been a build-up, so my view still hasn’t changed because “Moor” was me going in-depth about specifics, like how the education system is so bad and we don’t have any type of support. The biggest issue in America is we look at the action, but nobody ever asks why because when you ask why this is happening, then it forces you to be aware of the way society is run. I moved to Louisiana when I was younger and I moved back to LA during college and my circumstances didn’t change. When I moved out there [Louisiana], I went to one of the worst schools in the state, we didn’t have books, we didn’t have teachers, we had substitute teachers every day. We all go to the same point, it’s like you go the school-to-prison pipeline or the school-to-death pipeline and in the urban areas, we don’t have any of the resources people have in rich areas, but then they wonder why we have crime. 

It’s as simple as if you know better, you do better, if I never realize my whole life I’m survival mode, cause a lot of people don’t even realize that they’re in survival mode, they just think things should be this way like “I gotta do what I gotta do because I’m thinking on the day-to-day.” Everybody’s always like “You gotta think positive and change your mindset,” but how am I supposed to change my mindset when my homie just got popped yesterday, I gotta walk through this crazy place, there’s no money around here, I can’t get a job, all the food around here is trash, there’s liquor stores but no libraries, there’s just pawn shops and check cashing places. So, no my view hasn’t changed, the government is still bad, and we’re all seeing it now. It doesn’t matter what race you are; rich, poor, white, black, we’re all seeing how much the government is f*cking everybody that’s not a billionaire, it’s bad and it shouldn’t be that way. 

What song holds the most meaning to you on STATIC?

I would say “Lucy” probably holds the most meaning to me, “Lucy” and “Balance.” When I first made “Balance,” “Balance” almost didn’t make the project, that was one of my favorite songs I’ve written, but getting the song done, it took me six months to get the mix right. I had to go through three different engineers and these chords were messed up, I had to redo all the production, by the time the song was done, I was like this kind of soured me on the track, but now I’m able to appreciate it again. But I would say “Lucy” is No. 1 and No. 2 is probably “Balance.”

What would the Brandon Banks of STATIC say to the Brandon Banks of Tides?

Do more chord changes and turn the autotune down on “Blue.” *laughs* That’s sonically, but I don’t really know. When I look back at Tides just knowing what I went through to get that project done, there were more days than I can count where I had to choose on getting an Uber to the studio or eating that day and there was a lot of hard decisions I had to make, I got evicted from my spot for working on that project. So right now looking back, I don’t really have any advice to tell myself back then because I just had tunnel vision, I was just like, “Yo, imma get this done or I’m gonna die,” and dying didn’t mean like physical death, but spiritual death. The main thing about life is setting goals and finishing things, seeing something from start to finish no matter what and accepting that you’re gonna go through things in the middle, but that’s the point you know? That’s character building, so I look back at it as that built a whole lot of character.

I feel like I grew in every area that I needed to, I would say maybe try to get better with my technical musical skills as far as my scholar knowledge of music, but I listen back like there’s a lot of flaws in that music that I hear, but I think it was right for the time that I was in. That’s how it kind of was with Tides, I know where I’m going so I’m just gonna finish this and whatever happens after that, we gonna cross that bridge when we get there.