Liana Bank$ might be a newcomer, but the Manhattan-born, Queens-raised singer is already on all the Ones to Watch lists for 2017. She’s been a professional songwriter since her late teens, and the 25-year-old formally introduced herself as an artist this year with the 12-song Insubordinate mixtape and a video for the vibey “LVLUP.” Liana’s full-length debut is expected early next year. Raised in an artistic family, the singer brims with different musical influences, but she primarily channels a mix of club-friendly R&B with graceful nods to the Motown greats. PRØHBTD spoke with Liana to learn more.
You did a lot of different things over the years, including writing for other artists and briefly being a backup dancer for Chris Brown. How would you sum up what brought you to this point now?
My entire family is musical as far as everyone can sing. My grandmother does Broadway, film, sings jazz. My mom also sings jazz, and they both sing in the gospel choir. I grew up in that. I started writing when I was eight. I was really shy and had inappropriate things to say, so I wrote it down in journals. I would write every day as it was kind of like my escape. Eventually I got to a point where I started to play the songs when my friends came over, and everyone was like, "These are really good! You should do something with them." I was still really shy, so I was like, "Cool, whatever." I knew I wanted to do it, but I wasn't yet sure how I was going to approach it.
After that, I went and auditioned for Chris Brown for this backup thing. I totally did not think I was going to get it because I was never trained or anything like that, but I got it. That was amazing, and at that point I realized, just because I wasn't formally trained or in vocal lessons or piano classes like other kids, it didn't mean I couldn't succeed the same way. It just showed me that my passion actually outweighed any kind of training or class I could have taken.
Your song "Plead the Fifth" is about a wild night out. Any chance I could get you to confess about a wild night out?
That song was a culmination of different nights out. As far as a specific night, my friends and I went to a nude beach, and I wasn't really ready for the nude part. You know the clothing-optional side? I was like, "Let's just chill on this side." My friends were high, and they were like, “No, let's go to the real side." I kind of eased my way into it, but after that, the whole night was just crazy.
You filmed a video for “LVLUP,” a song that appeared in the HBO series Ballers this past summer. How did it come together?
I was in the studio with pretty much everyone I shouted out in the song, and we were just having a party. It was my first time in with these specific producers and actually my first time working on music with my current manager. So, we set up for a session, and this is what we got from it. We were just sipping our wine and a couple of blunts, and it was really organic and fun.
I apologize for being the millionth person to ask you this, but what inspired the bright hair color?
I was bored, really bored, and I wanted something more in my life. I felt like my hair didn't show who I was. I have so much character, and I am vibrant inside, and I was like, "I'm going to bleach my hair platinum and dye it neon green. Fuck it." Then I came home and my mom said, "Whose child are you?"
You released the Insubordinate mixtape in November, and your first official album is coming out in February or soon after. How did you decide what songs go on the mixtape and which ones go on the proper full-length debut?
I have a ridiculously long catalog of songs, so it's super hard to pick anything, but we literally started from scratch for the new album so there’s not going to be any picking. We may use some songs I've had before, but we just wanted it to be a new batch of creations. I'm at a point now where everything is coming out really special.
New York is one of the most competitive cities in the world for a music artist, but it is also the most diverse. What do you think were the benefits growing up in this environment, and what challenges do you face that you might not have experienced elsewhere?
Queens is, to me, one of the most diverse places ever. I moved a lot, so I've literally lived in different situations around different races, different cultures, different foods, all in this one beautiful city. I drew inspiration from so many different things, and I feel that made me versatile. It makes me able to switch up very easily. Because of that, because I'm so open, some people may not know how to take me. That may be a challenge when I go other places, but when I'm here, it's all good.
Tell me about Squad Sundays.
Squad Sundays is the best thing ever. My friends and I all work in the same studio. It started because my friend's girlfriend usually cooks him food, but she was out of town, and he was starving. I cook often, and they know that, so he's like, "Liana, you have to cook for us. I'm not asking you, I'm telling you." I was like, "I got you." It was eight of us, we each put in $20, and I made a huge feast. Now it’s a regular thing on Sundays. We buy the ingredients at the grocery store, then we buy a whole bunch of liquor, they come with their weed, and I cook for them. We just have a good time trying to eat really well. It's cool because they're all creative so we vibe and talk about the industry and things like that. It's really fun.
Do you want give a shout out to the person in the group who always brings the best smoke?
Probably Mike. Yeah, Mike brings the best weed. He's an engineer.
Do you have anything else big coming up?
There's a show called Star coming up on Fox with Lenny Kravitz, Queen Latifah and a whole bunch of other people on it. I'm performing at their premiere event.
Didn’t you write the lead single for the show?
I wrote a song that may be the lead single, but I'm still waiting for confirmation. It's going back and forth. I don't count my eggs before they hatch. Sometimes they do, sometimes they’re like, "Uh, we'll save this for later,” so we'll see.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photo by Kenami.