Portrait of a Girlboss: Why Liana Bank$ thinks you should be Insubordinate

 photo by Aysia Marotta

photo by Aysia Marotta

You’d never guess it from her mermaid-green hair and her debut mixtape, Insubordinate, that’s busting at the seams with swagger, but Liana Bank$ was, at one point in her life, shy. The eldest of three girls raised by a single mother in Queens, Banks took to writing every day as a way to navigate the world around her: “I didn't know how to get my point across. So I started to write, I started filling out those marble notebooks and would write a song a day. It was my escape.”

It was a year and half after high school, while Liana was enrolled in college to study business (but not exactly loving it), that everything started to click; after piquing the interest of some producers with videos she’d posted of her work on Facebook, Banks suddenly found herself right in the mix, drumming up interest from the camps of artists like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and even Kylie Jenner. But of course, underneath it all, that same girl who used to write out everything she wanted to tell her mom but felt like she couldn’t back in the day, wanted to tell her own story: “It's always kind of an internal fight. Someone is like ‘Hey, we want this for so-and-so,’ and so I’d do it because I could use that money and it’s an amazing opportunity, but [my writing] is so personal, and I want it for myself. It's definitely always a fight between artistry and making a living. But obviously when they called for Nicki, I was totally down for it,” she told us, laughing. 

At last, Banks is getting to speak for herself with Insubordinate, which dropped last week. Readers in the know might’ve caught her video for “LVLUP” or heard it on HBO’s Ballers (we suggest you put on your getting-ready-to-go-out-on-a-Friday playlist posthaste), and the mixtape in its entirety can be streamed here; it’s layer upon layer of irreverence, fun, raucousness, all the while being Girlboss-y AF. We chatted with the rising star recently about the music industry, what inspires her, and what’s on deck next.

So I think a lot of people don’t realize that so many big artists have these teams that write the songs all together, and you’ve had a lot of experience with that now. But for songwriting, which is really personal for you, is it ever hard to give your work over to someone else? How do you navigate that process emotionally with the need to keep taking the next step in your career?

Honestly, having come from a family of single mothers and really, really strong women, it's just all embedded in me, because I've seen them do the impossible. Like I've seen them like take care of their children by themselves and get this done, and get that paid, and get through, and get over that. I go up to everything without fear. I'm just like fuck this, fuck hurdles, fuck obstacles; I'm going to do this and going to get done.

Insubordinate is so full of life and youth and celebration. And badass femininity. What other artists have inspired you?

I've been listening to Solange's A Seat at the Table on repeat. It's so good. And I really like Tove Lo. I like her songwriting, how her voice is cool and quirky. But honestly, for me, Rick James is my biggest inspiration, even though that might not translate the same way musically. But his bravery--he’s just like, “I'm going to get on a track and scream at the top of my lungs and you're going to love it.” That’s ballsy! Like, “My shit is dope and you’re going to enjoy this and I'm just going to put you in a trance. It's so inspirational to me. I definitely drew a lot of inspiration from him.

Part of your job is performing, and you have to really get yourself to an amped-up place. How do you wind down afterwards and make sure you’re taking care of you?

I wish I knew [laughs]. I'm pretty non-stop; my brain doesn't shut up. Lately, my cousin's been coming over and kind of reminding me, “Hey, there's a normal life that you have to maintain in order to be sane.” And thankfully, my PR team is making me go to a bunch of events so now, so I have an actual social life outside of the studio.

What have been some of the biggest challenges of striking out on a solo musical career?

Honestly, I think being a woman in this industry is tough. There's this whole thing that’s “You're too aggressive and you're too passionate and forward about what you want.” Like, you're a bitch, basically. It’s just like the whole balance between bitchy and too nice. That's been a challenge for me because I'm a person that knows what I want, and I'm very clear and outspoken about it. That, and people feeling like they know what I should be and who I am when I'm really self aware.

Any advice you can share with girls looking to pursue a career in music, or to just get after their dream job general?

Definitely. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to speak your mind. Don't be afraid to be who you are and don't be afraid to get shut down, because people are going to tell you “no” multiple times before you get the right “yes.” And sometimes certain yes's aren't the right ones. Just stick to your gut and stick to your instincts and be true to who you are. Don't sell yourself short for anything.


Insubordinate // twitter: @lianabanks // insta: @lianabanks