Liana Bank$ knows how to make a bold entrance. Beyond her signature neon green locks that have garnered attention at New York Fashion Week, the Queens native debuted her first solo project last fall titled Insubordinate, a collection of 12-tracks that sifts through fluid R&B takes on infectious trap beats, outspoken odes to wild nights and overtones that tap into being true to yourself.
But she first jumped on the scene as a songwriter straight out of high school, and the 26-year-old has already made her mark on the charts as the scribe behind PnB Rock’s hit “Selfish” (which peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100). She also has credits on Lily Allen’s forthcoming album.
Bank$ is continuing her own journey through the spotlight with the premiere of her slinky number “Ghost” — which she created on the spot under boozy inspirations — and the first single off her upcoming EP apt 210.
Billboard spoke with Bank$ about her new track, transitioning into a solo artist, crafting “Selfish” and working with Allen. The unsigned artist also opened up about navigating industry rejection and her genre-bending identity that she refuses to compartmentalize.
You grew up in a family of musicians. What kind of music were you surrounded by?
My grandmother would have Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown on. My mom would be playing Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston and she would have Shania Twain on all day. I started venturing out really cool, unique sounding artists. After that it was all over, I was grabbing everything.
How did you get into songwriting at a young age?
It was really just writing my frustrations and thoughts down and turning them into songs. I was extremely shy for no reason but I had a million things to say. So I was like ‘maybe if I write them down it will help me get through the day.’ I always had a mouth but I was really shy.
Do you remember one of the first songs you wrote?
I was working at 14 at Cold Stone [Creamery, the ice cream shop]. I had a really bad altercation at the store, like a customer was rude to me, and I went home and I wrote this song called “I Don’t Want to Work.” I had to work because I had to help out around the house, but I wrote this song and it was really simple, fun and lighthearted, but still a powerful kid anthem. I think at that time I was like ‘yeah, this is definitely what I want to do’ because it empowered me. I was singing it every time I left work.
I remember at Cold Stone, if you tipped the workers they had to sing for you too.
Yes! That’s why I liked the job. I also worked at Johnny Rockets where you had to dance. It was fun. I got to what I wanted to do while doing what I didn’t really want to do at the same time. And I made great tips.
What made you want to pursue songwriting first?
Money. I think I wanted to do my other career first but it’s going to take money. It’s going to take investments. So I was like I might as well just write for people, I have a whole bunch of songs that don’t necessarily fit what I’m trying to do.
How was working with Lily Allen?
She’s working on something coming out soon. The producer Dre Skull does a lot of reggae and works with Popcaan. We went in and we did some really cool stuff. It was crazy because I just never thought that I would be in the studio with Lily Allen. I used to listen to her stuff all the time. She was really quirky and cool, and she had this really thought out demeanor, which kinds of remind me of me. We had a great chemistry in the studio.
How did “Selfish” come about with PnB Rock?
It was actually really random. I’ve written for a lot of Atlantic artists in the past so their person at A&R called me up and was like ‘Hey, I want you to get in with this guy PnB.’ And I didn’t even know who he was at the time, but I said ‘Cool.’ I got there and P happened to be with a producer that my manager used to manage, so it was kind of like a little reunion. And P didn’t even know I was there to write. He was smoking, getting high, and I was listening to tracks. I’m sitting there and I guess I was nodding a little bit harder than most people nod. He came over and was like, “You’re here to write? I saw your head bopping crazy.”
It’s weird because he had a girl in the studio that he was trying to talk to. He came up and was like ‘I want to write this song about her.’ She was just sitting right there and we’re passing back notes and writing lyrics back and forth about her. He’s awesome, actually. I’m working on his next project as well. We’ve got a couple of songs.
Did you expect the song to get the attention that it did?
You know it’s crazy. I knew it was going to work, be a single. I didn’t think that it was going to chart so soon because they didn’t put any video promotion behind it. It started to chart and I was just like ‘holy f–k.’ And then Kylie Jenner posted it, singing to it. The “cash me outside” girl posted a video singing it too. I’m like pop culture is taking “Selfish.”
How is that experience, as a songwriter, to hear your work from someone else?
It feels good! It feels amazing that people are connecting and it’s able to reach so many different people.
What pushed you to do your own solo work?
I was working with a manager and we were supposed to be working on my project, but somehow it turned into me completely writing for other people. I would get all of these like almost placements where the label would love the record, and then the artist would cut in and be like ‘Oh it doesn’t sound like yours. We’re not going to take it because it doesn’t sound as good as yours.’ Well buy me out. Bring me to this record or something. I got really frustrated with that and I just went for it. It made more sense to put out my own work.
How was the transition from writing for other people to writing for your own work?
It was awesome because I get to be my truer self. A lot of the times when I’m writing for other people there’s certain things that they won’t say. And say whatever comes to my mind. I don’t like to hold things in and I like to be as raw as possible. It’s nice to be able to have that complete open honesty in my music.
You play around with a lot of sounds. Do you think more people are embracing the idea of genre-less music?
Absolutely, and I love it. For a while, a barrier for me was that a lot of people didn’t know how to market me. What I got a lot of time was ‘oh I love her, she can do that and do that, but let’s pick one thing and stay there.’ But I’m not that one thing. How are you going to make me dumb myself down? So it’s pretty cool that now people are starting to get it. Where as before they were turning me down.
Talk to me about “Ghost.” How did you come up with it?
I was leaving the studio with one of my producers, there are two of them, and the other guy was at the crib. I just moved in with them and he was working on a track in the living room. I heard it, I came in and I was like ‘What is this? It’s giving me Casanova vibes. Loop it and add some drums.’ And then I just started recording on this little mic and I freestyled it in the living room. I’m like this is going to be my first single. This is it.
What was going through your mind when you freestyled?
Honestly, I was drunk [Laughs]. We were drinking at the studio and I was just really happy. I was imagining myself on a vacation, an island somewhere, and because I’m with people that I love and I was in the zone, it just came out. It was about getting lost in whatever moment you’re in.
Do you tend to be the one who ghosts on people or do you get ghosted?
I ghost almost all day. I just zone off and I start writing something or I start doing some graphic design. Whenever I get an idea I go into a whole other world. I really get tend to get lost in things that I’m passionate about.
Style and fashion is also important to you. How does it intersect with your music?
It’s awesome because when I was young I would draw clothes all day. I always wanted my stuff to be customized. I never wanted to be the same as everyone else. It’s cool that people are embracing the style thing and wanting to collaborate. I’m actually working on some merch ideas right now and they’re coming out really soon.
How long have you been rocking the green hair?
Five years now. I think we’re married now.
What is your dream venue to play?
I would love to do Madison Square Garden just because I went to so many things there, like basketball games to a Beyoncé concert. It was a staple for New Yorkers growing up. That would be like a dream come true.
Anything else you want to add?
Tell Bruno Mars that we need to work, that’s all. He gives me James Brown vibes and his performance is electrifying.