For those of you who don’t know: total badass and savvy feminist with a goal of starting her own female-centric record label, Dina Bankole is a proud die-hard fan of 90s grunge, and a mighty force of a musician. I interviewed Dina at my house on Sunday, November 24, 2013.
Name: Dina Bankole
Current Location: Hamtramck
Day job: I am an administrative assistant / executive assistant / translator at Toyota. I’ve been there for 5 years now.
Which instrument(s) do you play?
I play guitar and bass, and I’m learning to play drums. I played the flute and piccolo from grade school through college. I also played violin and piano in elementary school, but I didn’t stick with it (though I wish I had). Oboe too.
I’m in a drum-guitar duo called Secret Twins. And Swimsuit, which is a four piece. Then I do some solo stuff (Skinny Wrists) and jamming currently.
How would you describe your music?
90s appreciation, indie — used to be more folkie — now I’m trying to do grungy fun stuff, similar to the stuff I like to listen to.
Who are the other band members?
Tim Thomas plays drums in Secret Twins. Swimsuit is Fred Thomas on guitar, Shelley Salant on drums, and Amber Fellows on bass. I play guitar in Swimsuit as well.
Where did your band names come from?
When Swimsuit started we would write songs, and we were trying to figure out what our band name would be, and for a while it was going to be Glow Machine, which someone had seen at a bowling alley, but then that became a song. We were going to be At The Falls for a second, but then that became a song. Then one day Fred was like. “how about Swimsuit?” And we all agreed it was perfect.
Secret Twins started as just me when I started teaching myself to play guitar and writing songs. I always wanted to have a twin, because I wanted someone to play music with. Of course twins are separate people, but I always imagined that another person kind of like me, they’d probably understand me. Then for a while people would be like, oh you look just like my friend/sister/cousin or whatever, even the way you dress and the way you talk. I’ve never met anybody like this, but I would like to.
My solo project is called Skinny Wrists, because I have small wrists and people would always point that out when I was a kid.
How long have you been playing together with each of your projects?
Secret Twins started in 2009, and Swimsuit in 2010.
I was in some short lived bands, and would back-up other people like Jim Cherewick or Nathan K. I was in a band with Timmy (Thomas) and two other people called Everybody’s In. That one didn’t end well.
BS happened and they kicked me out of the band – which imploded soon afterwards. It just became bro time. We recorded with J Mascis (at his house!), which was pretty cool, but that recording never came out.
Where did you grow up?
In Jackson Michigan.
Do you remember your first experience with music as a child?
No, but my dad plays piano, and he always had music playing. He has a reel-to-reel, so on Halloween he would play Thriller, and for Christmas he would bust out the reel-to-reel and play something on Christmas morning. My mom sings a lot. I started taking violin before I even started kindergarten. I just decided one day that I wanted to play the violin, and I swear it was the next day that my mom took me to my first lesson. I’m sure that wasn’t how it went, but that’s how I remember it anyway.
What was your first favorite song?
I really liked “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore. We would listen to the oldies station on the way to school. We had this Astro van and I would sit in the back, and I remember when that song came on and I was like ‘yes! I love this song!’ I was a budding feminist! And I’ve always hated being told what to do.
When and why did you start playing?
I have a really good friend named Lucas (Hollow) who’s in a band called Hospital Garden. He was playing in bands in middle school and high school and I would always go to see him and was like, I want to play! He helped me get my first guitar when I was in college. I taught myself how to play, but he’s always been very encouraging.
What was the first song you learned to play?
I’m not sure, but I remember trying to learn a lot of Nada Surf songs.
Describe your first instrument.
Well, my violin was a baby violin. [laughs] I still have my first guitar, it’s a black Fender Strat with a white pick guard – Mexican made – that I got at Elderly Instruments in Lansing. They’re one of the best guitar stores in the country.
When did you first play with a band/perform live?
The first Secret Twins show was at Totally Awesome Fest in 2009. It was just me and Lucas, and he played drums. That was the first time I played (my songs) in front of people.
What was the first song you ever wrote called/about?
I took guitar lessons for a semester in my senior year of college. That was the first time I tried to write a “real” song. It was terrible. [laughs] One of the first Secret Twins songs was called “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Save This Ship.” It’s kind of a failing relationship type of song. (I still like that one!)
What instrument(s) do you currently own/play?
I still have that Strat. Right now I play a white Gibson Flying V – it’s a “Factor X” reissue that I got a couple years ago. I’ve got a Baby Taylor (acoustic) – that’s the guitar I used to mainly play on and I like a lot. I’ve got this random Alvarez semi-acoustic guitar – that I’m trying to sell! I got that the second time I went to Japan because I wanted to keep playing. I really want to get a vintage Gibson SG.
What gear do you own? How/why did you choose it?
I’ve got a Fender Bassman head from the 70s. I don’t have a speaker, so I borrow my boyfriend’s Music Man 210 to play shows. I use a Boss Loop Station for my solo stuff. I started out with an Akai, because I saw this band Make Believe in Japan, and Bobby from Make Believe has a solo project called Love Of Everything, and he had an Akai, so I got one too. That one died, then I got the Boss Loop Station. I want to try the Line 6. A lot of people have that, Fred uses one in Swimsuit.
What are your current influences?
90s bands like Hole, The Breeders, Nirvana, L7. I really like newer bands like Grass Widow and Chastity Belt. I really like Pylon and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
What is your favorite thing/type of music to play?
Um… I like things that are fun, upbeat, grungy. When I do solo stuff I use loops, so I like to sing things that feel good to sing and build stuff that way.
How do you balance your music with other obligations?
It’s kind of hard, because I commute, work all day, and then commute back home, and then I’m tired. I also am kind of private when I play, so I don’t really want my boyfriend to hear me practicing and working on stuff at home. I like working alone when I’m working on the details, so that’s a little tough. But I practice after work in Ypsilanti as it’s close. Swimsuit pretty much only practices when we have a show.
What was the first record you bought with your own money?
I’m not sure. I remember having the DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince cassette (2nd album “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper”) as a kid, and I think the first CD I ever got was TLC’s Crazy, Sexy, Cool.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
I think it might have been Destiny’s Child at the Jackson County Fair!
Who is your all-time favorite musician/band(s)?
I really love Courtney Love, Hole, The Breeders. There are the bands that I really like, and then there are the bands that I did the craziest things for… I saw a lot of Nada Surf on the East coast when I was in school in Connecticut. I would travel a lot to see them. When I was in Japan I saw this band called Art-School, and me and my friend would travel to go see them all of the time. I also had near complete collections of their releases.
Who is your favorite Detroit musician/band(s)?
There are so many! I really love Loretta Lucas. She’s amazing. Mexican Knives are always fun.
What is your favorite local venue to play?
PJ’s Lager House. The atmosphere is always really good.
Have you toured before?
Secret Twins and Swimsuit did a three week cross-country tour together in 2010.
Did you enjoy that experience?
It was a little rough. Because I had to do double-duty it was tough on my voice, and a lot of random bad things happened.
What is your favorite non-local venue?
Schubas in Chicago. I liked Death By Audio and Glasslands in Brooklyn. Grasslands is really nice now.
What was the best show you’ve played?
Probably the Hole cover band show that I did last Halloween, because I really love playing those songs, and all of a sudden this whole group of girls came out of nowhere and rushed the stage and were like freaking out! They knew every word, and it was the best feeling ever.
What was the worst show?
Probably the last show I played with Secret Twins at The Old Miami. If I feel bad about a show, it was probably good. And I was like, that’s wasn’t so bad, so it was probably even worse than I thought.
So, you think the show you felt the best about was probably your worst show?
Probably, yeah. This last one was one of the best shows I’ve been to, because it was Chastity Belt and Ponytime from Seattle, and us. There was hardly anybody there, but they were so good.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Momentum and organization. For Secret Twins, I handle all of the business, which is difficult and time consuming and stressful. And nowadays you really have to use social networking to get out there. We also struggle with things like recording, photos and website stuff. I wish there was more I could do on my own. It’s a lot of work.
Have you recorded?
Yeah, we did a record for the label we’re on called Quack!Media in Ann Arbor, in 2010 or 2011. We recorded at Keyclub, which is in Benton Harbor. It’s a really awesome place run by a couple in an old movie theater. They’ve recorded The Kills, Fiery Furnaces and Electrelane. It was a really nice studio, and we got to be there for a week, but it was expensive. We’ve been trying to do more recording, but also trying not to spend too much money, and trying to be more prepared for it.
What advice would you give to other women who play or want to play music?
Just do it. As long as you’re having fun, just do what you want to do. You don’t have to be polished or wait that long, you can just go for it. Network, and be supportive. Just get out there.
What are your immediate (1-3 year) goals for your music?
I really want to do another solo recording. It would be nice if both Secret Twins and Swimsuit would record. I really want to start another band, a lady band.
Are you interested in working on new projects with new people?
Yeah. I’m really hoping to do some new stuff.
What kind of stuff?
I really want to be in a band that works hard. I pretty much write all of the songs for Secret Twins, but we edit them together. It’s personal, and kind of hard for me to be objective. Swimsuit is very collaborative, but it’s hard for all of us to come together at the same time and we don’t really practice. I’d like to have a band with goals that practices and works very hard. It would be nice to tour again. I want to play something grungy, with good flow. I want to write songs that are more involved. I like simplicity, and I kind of like repetition, but I’d like to add more dimension. And I want to play drums in a band!
Do you have any shows coming up?
Where can people hear your music and/or get in touch with you?
Facebook and Soundcloud and Twitter and stuff too!