"I felt way down," she says of her teenage years. "I felt very sad and very angry. I didn't know how to express it, who to talk to. I felt like a mute. I felt helpless. I felt crazy. I wanted to shake everyone. I would try to talk about what I was feeling, but no one would get it."
A former psychology student at USC, Banks for the most part detests social media. Twitter, she says, makes her "uncomfortable." She prefers that fans simply text her (she has more than one number). She is also wary of the news media. Although she is open about her emotional struggles, including the divorce of her parents, she expresses dismay that journalists keep citing them as catalysts for her music.
"Like that? That sigh. That's what I felt like," she says. "I had too many words to say, and I didn't know how to say them." Music, she says, was "the major exhale."
In interviews, she's frank and distant, albeit colorfully so, and if not quite shy, she's deliberate with her words. Although one would never guess by the way she commandingly saunters around the stage, she was once reticent to share her music.
Banks is at once flowery (describing a female fan she met on tour as a "beautiful little fairy") and cutthroat (swearing, raising her voice and swiping her hand at the couch while slamming people "who have walls up" when it comes to romance). The contrast manifests itself in songs that play with extremes.
"Sometimes you need a growl," Banks says. "You need a heavy atmosphere. There's no separation between electronic music and acoustic music. It's all one thing. Each song has its own heartbeat. Each song has its own soul. The song 'Stick'? That needed to be chunky and sexy. It's human. It's human to be the girl in 'Stick' and feel spicy as heck."
"Most of them are really wonderful and just saying how much they connect to the music. People open up so much because it's not public," she says. "It's not Twitter, so people feel like they could tell me really personal, amazing things. I think it's really special. I see no reason why I should ever stop doing it."
She is comfortable acting as a sort of spiritual advisor to fans — or even a reporter. During an interview, she is her most casual when giving dating advice. It is relatively easy to open to her. There's an intimacy in her music — a closeness that probes deeper than a peek into someone's diary, a nearness that results from hearing every quake of her vocals.
It's suggested that some of her songs, such as the aggressive "Brain" and the serpentine "This Is What It Feels Like," frame courtship as a game in which everyone is overthinking and the person who reveals the most loses. Best, perhaps, to expose nothing? "Don't do that," she says, waving her hand before saying two words that get to the heart of "Goddess." There's torment, sure, but first and foremost it's a record simply about feeling. "Embrace it," she says.