Kota Banks details her show-stopping debut mixtape, PRIZE
In our latest track-by-track, the Sydney-based musician dives deep into the creation of her surprise new release, out now through NLV Records.
Header photo by Tiff Williams.
The unexpected reinvention of Kota Banks over the past twelve months has been praiseworthy, to say the least. Once a behind-the-scenes songwriter and collaborator working with Australian electronic names such as MOZA, 2017's Holiday completely reinvented Kota Banks and everything we thought we knew about her in every way. Arming herself with Swick's bouncy, typically left-field productions and the guidance of NLV Records head Nina Las Vegas, Banks emerged a more confident and self-assured pop-star-in-the-making, disrupting the typically quite 'safe' boundaries of Australian pop music with her club-centric sound and commanding vocal presence, something which was smack-bang in the limelight in every release she's put out since.
PRIZE, her just-released surprise mixtape, explores every facet of this assertive and dynamic mixture. Tracks such as the mixtape-opening Prize and the immediately following Child are bright and triumphant, showcasing Kota Banks' confident saccharine vocal as it twists and turns above Swick's warping productions, each one as captivating and forward-thinking as the last. Fiorentina, a Capo Lee-featuring highlight that shines a light on the musician's rich Italian heritage and upbringing, sits perfectly amongst the typically sun-soaked sounds that are heavily featured across the mixtape's ten tracks, whether it's sped up on singles like vocal-led, high-tempo Backstage or slowed down and sultry on tracks like I'm It. However, just as you become accustomed to the mixtape's summery brightness, Kota Banks and Swick deliver something more grimey and sinister such as the pulsing and menacing track Toy - a single that really highlights the versatility in both Kota Banks' vocals and Swick's already well-proved production dexterity.
On the surface level, PRIZE is much like Charli XCX's dynamic and boundary-pushing mixtapes Number 1 Angel and Pop 2. They're both noticeably different to much of the current pop market, providing insight into what a club-focused future of pop music could possibly sound like at the hands of producers like Swick (or in Charli XCX's case, the consistently adventurous PC Music roster and names like SOPHIE). However, while Pop 2 and Number 1 Angel lean on big-name pop features and big-name experimental producers, Kota Banks' PRIZE is much more refined and slick, showcasing the seamless combination of Banks and Swick's perfectly matched sounds without any distractions - it's experimental and forward-thinking pop music at its rawest level.
Dive into the ten-track mixtape below with Kota Banks' track-by-track walkthrough of each song's central themes and creation (also, grab a copy of the mixtape HERE). Then, be sure to check her out on an east-coast tour this September - dates at the bottom of this article.
Prize was the first song Swick and I worked on together from scratch. At the time I was seeing so many of my friends be underappreciated by guys they were seeing, and I was mad. I was dying to write a song about women and their beauty, value and strength, but I wanted to portray the sentiment aggressively, assertively. It’s meant to get the gals all feisty and bossy. It’s my hype song.
Fiorentina is me flexing and repping my Italian heritage. It actually started almost as a joke with me after promising Swick I'd write a song about FIFA, but as we worked on it I realised how much I resonated with it culturally, and how much I needed a song on the project that evoked Italian flavour. There’s also an Italian version - I think people who don’t speak the language will still understand it, the vibe is infectious and self-explanatory. My nonna gets down to it when she cooks.
I took a trip down to Melbourne for the weekend to write the mixtape, and this song was the first one that we wrote there. Swick is a huge Prince fan, which you can definitely hear in the song. The track was a puzzle for me when I first heard it because I’d been wanting to get something serious off my chest, but the track was a dance track. It ended up being perfect because the beats’ energy transformed the lyrics from scathing to tongue-in-cheek, and I couldn’t be mad at the guy I wrote the song about anymore. When I think of him now, I just wanna dance.
I was in Melbourne in December 2017 and was reflecting on my year, I realised that the biggest contributors to my happiness and growth were all the new friends I'd made that year. Rappers always talk about “Day Ones” being important, and I almost wanted to write a rebuttal to that. I’d had “time got nothing on loyalty” written in my iPhone notes ages ago, (I wrote it when I was tipsy in a club and made friends with a group of girls in a bathroom, lol) not really knowing how to make a song from it until I rediscovered that iPhone note in the session.
I had a really crazy dream one night that all my exes were my puppets, and I was pulling their arms and limbs from strings. It was scary but also thrilling (super sadistic, I know). I find that feelings will stick with me unless I put them into a song, so I needed to write a song that sounded like tension and unease. It was a little bit of an out-of-body experience, the lyrics are abstract & psychopathic at times. This is a rare instance where the song isn’t autobiographical - it’s really conceptual and focussed on going to huge lengths lyrically in order to convey the emotion. I think of the writing process as a really fun role-play.
Swick and I made Insomnia half an hour before I had to catch a flight. When I heard the pretty, dreamy beat, it made me want to sleep in the best way. I actually hadn’t slept the night before because I’d been obsessing over someone I hadn’t seen in a while. The melody & words ‘you give me insomnia, that’s how bad I’m wanting ya’ kind of just popped into my head. It was really quick to write, which is my favourite way to write a song. Swick found a little voice memo that he accidentally recorded of the two of us mid writing it, we sound like huge nerds but it’s pretty funny.
It's about the confusion you feel when you see someone you used to be really close with, and they’ve turned into someone completely different. In my case, I was seeing someone who, even after we ended things, I still had huge respect for because of who he was. A few months later I saw him on social media doing everything he used to hate, and it was weird for me - even his mannerisms were different. This song is me holding a funeral for the old him, an “RIP you” moment if you will. The tropical beat keeps it somewhat chill though, I didn't want to completely berate him!
This little song about strength stemmed from a string of really bad personal days. I didn’t have a self-love/empowerment song on the project, which made me feel like something major was still missing, because I’m all about telling yourself you’re the sh*t every day. We had all the songs for the mixtape already done, but it was really important for me that this was on the mixtape, so I snuck in to record it last minute, my label was a lil mad that I couldn’t chill and not write for a week, but it was worth it I reckon!
Backstage is about that person that suddenly wants to get in touch when you’re doing ok without them. I'm kind of lamenting about how annoying that is, and how important it is to connect with people because they’re people, not for ulterior motives. I’d had the chorus in my head for ages, and I recorded it on the mic for Swick before he had any type of beat idea laid out. He built all the chords and drums around my chorus vocal, and we thought the delivery was cool and raw on the original demo, so I actually never re-recorded those vocals.
Swick and I wanted to have a track on the mixtape that was extra experimental and wild. For me, that’s creating a song that exists in a parallel universe melodically and lyrically. For him, it’s having free-reign to make as many of whatever sounds he wants. It was really fun to make this song, we got excited about all of Swick’s sounds and kept adding really random noises. It’s lyrically about the darkest parts of myself, and my potential to scare myself.
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