Last week, Champaign-Urbana lost a member of their family. On April 19th, musician, student, and Smile Politely contributor Westley Banks passed away at the age of 21. We’d like to share a few words in remembrance from some people that knew him best.
Although I had known him for almost a year, I first met Westley Banks in person just over a month ago, at a Smile Politely function. Amid the conversation and merriment, he chose not to press himself into the scene. Instead, he was content to watch from the background, observing and taking in information, with a half-smile and warm, kind eyes. He let you come to him.
I have read every word that Westley published with Smile Politely over the last year, and it was a true pleasure. When he proposed a piece, I would get excited, because I knew it was going to be good. His writer’s catalog is dense. Each word is weighty, with careful thought behind it. The articles are representative of his personality: measured, thoughtful, intelligent, and caring. I’d like to share my favorite.
Although he usually chose a more wallflower sort of way, Westley wasn’t afraid to put himself out there. He was on the scene to cover giant annual events like The Great Cover Up and the two biggest days of the Pygmalion Festival, C-U’s biggest musical event of the year. He was comfortable as performer and spectator, and he did a truly excellent job. Part of why Westley wrote so well was that his heart was in his work. Music was always his passion, so writing about it came naturally. It was his realm, and will be, always.
Here are a few words for Westley, provided by some of his friends, classmates, and loved ones, in order to honor his memory. — Julia McAnly
I met Wes when we lived two doors down from each other in Allen Hall. We hung out a lot my Sophomore year (Wes’s Freshman year). We shared music with each other and hung out from time to time. I got him into Swans, he got me into Death Grips. [He] and I still kept up after I graduated. I hadn’t talked to him since February, but he would always reach out and ask how things were going. I would do the same. He had some really beautiful ideas and great creative approaches. I always admired his desire to pursue drums and writing and to work through discouragement. Westley really had this demeanor that was different from anyone else I knew. I may not have been extremely close with Wes, but I feel hurt knowing how long he battled with depression over the years. Wes really mattered to all of us. And I see this is an example of how depression and emotional anguish are battles that need to be addressed without fear of judgment. It is okay to feel the way you feel, and it’s not shameful to seek help.
Over the last 10 months, I have spent increasing amounts of time working with Westley. Now, I feel profound loss at his passing. Like many of my colleagues, I had the pleasure of regularly making art with Westley – he was truly the most laid-back drummer, and an equally hard worker. He was someone who made things happen. He was intensely creative, gentle, kind, patient, and inquisitive.
The last time I saw him, we recorded his music. He played drums, synth, sang, and recorded the rain – Westley was all about the ambience.
I am a bigger person having known him, and I am going to miss him a lot.
Wes was one of my first friends I met back in Allen Hall. Wes was hilarious, in a subdued, absurd way. He’d take phone calls from inanimate objects–would pick up deodorant and start a convincing conversation. There’s no way to explain him. He was an experience.
Westley was such a beautiful soul. Very often you wouldn’t notice his presence at first. He could be sitting in the corner of the room, silently, watching. But as soon as you knew he was there, it was such a strong feeling that he brought to the room. He didn’t have to say a word, you just knew that he was there. Always listening. His music I think really represents that on soundcloud. He would use a lot of things he recorded on his phone. Listening to his music you can almost feel what it was like to be him, sitting there, silently listening.
Everyday our house was filled with his sweet sounds banging out from his drums or droning from his electric keyboard. He worked multiple hours each day recording and tuning his work. He would spend multiple hours on a single piece just listening to himself play it over and over until it was perfect. Westley was one of the hardest workers I know. He strived to better himself each day. I miss him so much.
I know this isn’t much but I hope it can help you understand Wes a little bit more. He enjoyed writing for Smile Politely even if the topic didn’t interest him. He strived to make every piece of his work perfect.
I would describe him as one with a truly musical soul. I feel so lucky to have had him as a friend and bandmate. He was a deeply caring friend to many people. When I started making music he was the first person I showed it to. I spent the summer after my sophomore year of college writing and sending Wes my sketches. He gave me encouraging and thoughtful comments for each track. He then sent me his own music and I think we inspired each other to write and most importantly share our vulnerable creations. There was one song of his that always stuck out to me in a haunting but honest/stream of conscious kind of way. When he showed it to me I remember listening to it three times in a row. It was infectious. The song is called ‘siren’.The track started with an elongated keyboard line with a gong at the end of the phrase and brushes in the background. The lyrics were abstract and then pulled me in when he talked about ‘four weeks gone by without a job’. He had a way of connecting surreal images with everyday life in his words and his art. Recently I encouraged him to record through Fourth Street Records and I was so happy to hear that he choose to re-record that track.
This is track in my mind describes who Wes is; thoughtful, gentle, maybe a bit out of this world.
A memorial service for Westley will take place Wednesday, April 26th, at 5:15 p.m., at the Community United Church (805 South 6th Street). Musicians are encouraged to get to the service 30 minutes early with their instruments and join in during the service if they’d like, in order to represent Westley in the best way possible.
If you feel you are in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, 24-hour hotline, reachable at 1-800-273-8255. Locally, The U of I Counseling Center can be reached at 217-333-3704 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or at 217-359-4141 outside of those hours.