On an uncharacteristically balmy afternoon in mid-May, I am set to meet Robin Bank$ – singer, multi-instrumentalist, and fashion influencer – in Days Park for a dose of Vitamin D. She rounds the corner on her bicycle, rocking a sporty pink two-piece with her dog, Wai, running alongside on his leash. Bank$ rescued Wai, a lowrider blond whose name means “Water of Life” – from the streets of Hollywood, where Bank$ also lived – writing music, sleeping on Sunset and in motels, and hanging with her boyfriend “Rat Bastard” between shifts at a vegan café.
Before long, we’re joined by Logan, – owner, stylist, and creative director of independent boutique FREE AGENT – rocking Vivienne Westwood pants with his signature platinum mane in a French twist. Soon, Bank$’s partner, both in music and in life, Velcro, arrives on the scene. Bank$ and Velcro perform as “Robin Bank$ and the New Spectacular,” a trippy glow-in-the-dark sensation reminiscent of Red Hot Chili Peppers, 80’s punk, genre-bending Grimes, and the 60’s psychedelic movement all at once.
Bank$ and Logan first met in Buffalo in 2013 and clicked. She did hair for photo shoots that he styled; she holds a cosmetology license and previously worked at a Manhattan salon called PANYC. And, like with the best creative collaborations, a fortuitous friendship was born.
Bank$ and Logan moved separately to California in 2013 where they continued talking online. She ruminated over where she wanted to be in California. Initially, she landed in her aunt and uncle’s senior living community, not unlike a futuristic martian.
“I was basically a stowaway,” she says. “I got chased down while rollerblading.”
But LA life can be rather unpredictable. Before long, Bank$ and Logan were cohabitating on the Sunset Strip.
“At first, I didn’t really want to go to LA.,” says Bank$. “I had started singing and playing out, and I was like, am I going to be one of those girls that’s like, ‘I’M GOING TO GET TO LA, AND I’M GOING TO BE DISCOVERED!!!!’” Bank$ imitates a strung out Valley-girl. “But that’s where Logan was going…”
“We had this connection,” Logan says, finishing her sentence, which turns out to be a very common practice between them. “It was meant to be.”
In fact, Bank$ describes herself as “shy,” having performed live for the first time at age 22. (Mr. Goodbar open mic; song choice: 4 Non Blondes).
Logan was living with a partner, though. He and Bank$ would hang out here and there, until…
“I was just about to book a motel room for that night,” Bank$ says of the months following her departure from the retirement enclave, “and Logan texted me and was like, He just took all his stuff and left. And I was thinking, Thank God that fell through.”
Eventually, Logan and Robin Bank$ were living a full-blown bohemian life, out of motels, cars, sleeping on Hollywood Blvd. and the beach, and every now and then, the occasional sublet.
Eventually, Logan and Robin Bank$ were living a full-blown bohemian life, out of motels, cars, sleeping on Hollywood Blvd. and the beach, and every now and then, the occasional sublet. “We definitely experienced homelessness for a while,” Bank$ says. “It wasn’t as glamorous…We struggled a lot.”
What happened next could be described as total destiny. While living together, they “shared a ton of music,” according to Logan, and Bank$ began working on lyrics and beats under her now well-regarded pseudonym – Agent Robin Bank$.
They would put on instrumental beats to which she would compose lyrics and freestyle.
“She would always be up for days on end working on music,” says Logan. “We lived in motels for two years. There was a point when we had no money and had to live on the streets – if we could muster up enough money we would get a motel room, and she’d be up all night in the bathroom, which was so stupid because why even waste money on a hotel room?”
“They have great acoustics in those bathrooms though,” says Bank$. Eventually she splurged on GarageBand and an iPad with which to create.
“Homeless, but with technology,” Logan says.
The alias “Robin Bank$” is rooted in the serendipitous street scene Bank$ found herself a part of – a time Bank$ herself now calls “madness,” and about when she discovered her beloved dog on the side of the road.
“I was hanging out with a bunch of crackheads and meth dealers,” she says. “No one had a real name. I was seeing Rat Bastard. His dirty musician friends, drug dealers and stuff – Lincoln, Stitches, Gypsy, Pebbles, Dirt. We were always writing, trying to put songs together.”
Anyone who has spent time on the streets of Hollywood knows you aren’t as likely to meet a powerful agent with a life-changing opportunity as you are someone with a more questionable vocation.
“These two women said, “Oh, you have an ID right? We need to cash this money order, but we don’t have an ID,” says Bank$. “Tyrone asked me. He hooked me up with this girl whose name was ‘Red.’ I was told they would split the cash from the money order with me. Before I went in, she smeared lipstick on it. I didn’t ask questions. I went in, cashed it. After that, I did it a couple more times.”
Turns out, this colorful crew made counterfeit money orders — unbeknownst to Bank$ and Logan. The realization immediately set off a creative tsunami in her mind.
“Once I knew what was happening, I went back [home] and put on this bandanna and was like ‘Yo yo yo — wassup everybody/take out your money/and hand it ta me — ba da Ba-dada/My name’s Robin Bank$.”
“The name came organically,” says Logan.
(For the record, Bank$ immediately distanced herself from the money order crew).
“So that happened. I was hanging out with homeless musicians and started dating this guy named Rat Bastard who was a really good guitarist and we would do a bunch of drugs and play a lot of music,” Bank$ continues. “Every now and then, I’d sleep.”
“She’s the best freestyler ever. She really is,” Logan says, “ You never take credit for it. Give her a YouTube backing track and she will write a whole song to it. I have so many recordings. I do. I keep threatening to release them. I told her that if she dies I will release all the songs.”
“I get into really creative modes,” Bank$ says. “It will come in waves. I’ll go a while without playing piano or singing, and then all of a sudden, it’s like, I GOTTA DO THIS, I GOTTA PLAY THIS SONG, I GOTTA WRITE THIS DOWN. If you also walk around with a notebook in your hand, you will be looking for it.”
The thing about Bank$ is that she possesses a unique self-assuredness, an impulsivity that is, in fact, deliberate – a fearlessness that lends itself to the development of certain demons. Today Bank$ is an example of an artist who overcame drug addiction.
The years spent in Hollywood held a particular magic in that she was mature enough to manifest her talents, write things down and create with a passion, and also bounce back from the negativity and struggles that inevitably accompany heavy drug use. Once, the duo found themselves in the bright green, infamous and now-condemned Grand Motel on La Cienega in which Amy Winehouse shot the video for “Tears Dry On Their Own.”
“She would roll out of a dumpster and go right to work,” says Logan.
“I’d pull twigs out of my hair and go in for a little bit,” Bank$ says of the closed down vegetarian/smoothie spot The Flowering Tree. “We would have to ration – Do you want to sleep on the street tonight and then get a hotel tomorrow?”
The duo migrated all over Hollywood. They lived behind Sushi King with a rack of very covetable clothes behind a dumpster.
“It makes life real easy; everything’s a walk-in closet,” jokes Logan.
But of course, Bank$ and Logan are back here now, and have been for the past few years. Logan opened up FREE AGENT, a spy/goth concept boutique, first downtown and now located in the Niagara Falls Fashion Outlets. Bank$ is his right-hand, even modeling the stunning pieces from avant-garde designers such as Dope Tavio and Scooter LaForge (two new labels that are coming soon to FREE AGENT are Seks 5th Avenue and Base Bich – you heard it here first).
Bank$ and Velcro met downtown back in 2017, and now are partners and creative collaborators, performing as “Robin Bank$ and the New Spectacular.”
“I had a feeling that my man, whoever I was going to meet, was going to be back at home in Buffalo,” she says. “Also I was getting heavily back into drugs [in LA]. I was hurting myself; I was killing myself. It consumed me. It was a really long road that had to come to an end and I wanted to be with family.”
She and Velcro got sober together. They perform around the city at venues such as Mr. Goodbar and Gypsy Parlor (although all shows are currently postponed).
“It forces me to have an online presence,” she says.
During this Quarantine Period, Robin Bank$ and Velco have been posting raw, unfiltered tracks to Facebook, some written during the LA years, others new. This includes a raw lyrical piano solo she wrote in 2014 with a rebellious, Tori Amos/Fiona Apple-gone-punk vibe.
“Light a candle/ I can make you cry/ I can — I can — I can make you die inside.”
Another is called “Andy” that Bank$ wrote in LA in 2015, about an obsessive/addictive kind of love.
“Came the fastest/came up latest/ came into/Andy gets me all – Andy gets me all – Andy gets all of me.” In the video, Velcro backs her up on acoustic guitar.
The world of the singer-slash-songwriter-slash-pop star is about to be shaken up by the charismatic and divinely original Robin Bank$, who can not only write songs, but sing them with a passion. And not to mention, she has indie fashion street cred to spare.
Check out Robin Bank$ and the New Spectacular on Facebook.
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