Jessica Porfiri is the protagonist of her own story. A self-confessed theatre kid who started singing lessons at the age of seven and naturally gravitated towards music as a career. At the age of 16, she was selected to join a small group of talented Aussies who were invited to the USA to record music in Los Angeles and participate in a workshop with the music director of hit show Glee. To Porfiri music was “organic. I felt it aligned.”
This experience was the catalyst to Porfiri discovering her writing abilities. Not only did she dabble in songwriting, but she has spent a number of years writing a novel – a story in which the protagist’s name was Kota Banks. In describing the process of trying to create a pseudonym for herself in the music industry, she came across the Rapper Name Generator and laughs about how she couldn’t find anything that fit. So she changed the name of the protagonist in her novel and assumed the stage name Kota Banks, “I still like the name after all this time.”
One of the earliest obstacles she had to overcome in the music industry was her own sense of shyness. “I lacked self-confidence. I signed my first publishing deal at 21, I was finding my voice. I had impostor syndrome, I didn’t feel I deserved this. It took time.”
Through Banks, Porfiri was able to manifest a figure of female empowerment and confidence. “Everything I wasn’t in the early days is what I wanted to channel. I wanted to amplify that. I was able to channel assertiveness and put it into my music. In talking about self-empowerment and self-love, slowly you become that person. I manifested it through my art.”
Banks’ talents attracted industry heavy-weights such as Nina Las Vegas, who helped her release the popular ten-track EP Prize, and now manages her. Being mentored and managed by Nina Las Vegas has had a significant impact on her. “Nina and I have worked together since I put out my first song. My publisher connected me with her. I was so nervous to meet her, but we connected as we were both ethnic girls.”
Las Vegas’ cultural heritage is Armenian-Egyptian and Banks’ is Italian. Their cultural connection helped them to build a rapport in addition to the music. “[Nina] is a very organised manager. I call her the cupid of the music industry – she’s a visionary.”
In the digital age, many artists are still learning to navigate technology alongside their creativity. Banks has made a foray into non-fungible token (NFT) art starting with a creation called ‘UP!’ which had a limited run of 300 copies. “I love the idea of artists receiving the bulk of revenue. The blockchain technology is so cool to me [having] unprecedented ownership. I’ve been excited about it from the get-go. It’s been great to have control, not to have a middle man between me and my fans. I love the exclusive aspect of [when] a certain number’s sold, that’s it. It’s intimate, between me and my community.”
When asked how she deals with the business side of music while preserving her creative energy, she says, “I stay focused on the music, [it’s] the only reason I do this. It just keeps me going. If I focus too much on the business it gets overwhelming. I have to write even better, it has to be the best that it can be [so] when the product is released, it’s the best I can do.”
Banks tends to surrender any sense of control over her creations once they’re out in the world. She admits she’d rather focus more on her music and her fans than what the critics have to say, as she explains, “Dreamhigh has been received well. I’m not looking at what’s going on, it’s not good for my mental health. I love watching what my community is doing. That’s my feedback. It brings me so much joy.”
“Build a really good community. Find who you love to work with. It takes a while [but] keep growing, put yourself in scary situations, stay true to yourself, and be obsessed with your craft and you can’t really go wrong.”
When asked if she has any new music releases on the horizon, Banks shared this little teaser, “I’m currently working on a project, I have all of the songs written and I’m working really hard to make sure it’s perfect.”
Banks returns to Adelaide this week and she is looking forward to it, “I love Adelaide! It’s so exciting for me. I have so many supporters there. It brings me a sense of peace. I feel calm, air is fresh, the people are nice, it’s a real vibe”.
Kota Banks will grace the stage at The Lab at 7.30pm on 23 July. More information about the event can be found here.