Jacob Banks can make you feel every word he sings. Not just through his lyrics, but with his voice: he sounds gentle and haunting, then powerful and deeply, almost desperately emotive.
On his debut album Village, the Birmingham-born soul singer flits between heartfelt ballads, uplifting R&B infused tracks and lurching, angsty electronic sounds as he muses on love, loss, self-discovery and self-doubt. It’s an album that embraces every part of life with unwavering honesty, an album to dance or run or cry or fall asleep to.
Having already been the first unsigned act to appear on BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, performed a headline tour of North America and written soundtracks for films including Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer 2, Jacob carries himself with self-assurance, speaking with warmth and clarity on his artistic vision and outlook on life.
In line with the release of Village and ahead of his UK December tour, we spoke about self-acceptance, music in film, and why he wants you to stay hydrated…
Jumper DICKIES and jeans LEVI’S
Jumper DICKIES and jeans LEVI’S
How did you get into music?
Purely by chance. There was a bunch of events that led me to feel like this is the only place that made sense for me. I wanted to know how long I could be happy here and I’ve kind of just stayed, it all kind of got out of control, and I’m still here, so…
When did you get started?
I graduated when I was 21, I’d been singing throughout my last year of uni studying to be a civil engineer. My best friend, who was always trying to edge me on, passed. And that was kind of it for me, I was like look, he was the dopest human being I’ve ever met. If he could leave this earth, then I have no chance so I thought while I’m here, I’m going to spend some time doing what I love and see what happens.
I’ve seen that you mentioned John Mayer’s Slow Dancing in a Burning Room as a massive influence, why’s that?
I heard that song and it floored me. I’d been writing poetry at this point, but I’d never seen someone express themselves so fully and so profoundly. The very title ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’, that’s poetry. The whole concept of the song is you’re in a shit relationship that you know is going to end in flames, but you’re trying to savour a moment that’s just a disaster waiting to happen. For me, it was like this is the space where I can mix my love for poetry and my love for music.
Do you think any of the music you grew up with has influenced your sound now?
I think, unfortunately – and at this point I have to say unfortunately, because me and him aren’t on good terms right now – but Kanye. I don’t fuck with him right now, but he did inspire a lot of my work because of how eclectic he was, how brave he was with pushing the genre of hip-hop forward. Regardless of what you have to say about him, this was the first non-gangster rapper to make it, you know. It was utterly about music for him, and passion. He was a massive one for me of how to reinvent myself constantly around soul music, and everything that lingers around that genre.
Your new video for Be Good To Me is extremely emotive – what influenced you to make that?
When I was writing the treatment for it, I was always writing from the point of view of a hunt, like leaving little easter eggs everywhere. I want to create a space where the listener or the viewer can watch a music video and have certain pieces presented to them, and choose what you think you see. I never really spell it out for people. I don’t explain how we’re here, or why we’re here, all my music videos start in the middle of the action.
True, it’s not a narrative with a beginning, middle and end…
I always start in the middle and I want you to draw your conclusion. Whoever’s watching is the lead character, this is your story. We’ve all had moments of struggle so you project your struggle on to it, you think that’s what the character’s running from or trying to find peace from. I just really try to map out a space that people can be a part of because once things are made they’re no longer mine. Once it goes up, I want it to belong to people.
Are the visuals really important to you as an artist?
Yeah, visuals are a massive part for me. My earlier memories of music growing up was soundtracks, I always knew the soundtrack to every Disney cartoon or animation. I love music and film and I think they’re very synonymous, I can’t separate the two. When you hear something you love it should play a memory from the back of your head, so I always try to marry the two.
What about how you dress?
My dress sense is just comfortable. I’m just out here, whatever fits! My dress style is ‘in a rush’, that’s how I’d describe it.
How are you feeling about the release of your album?
Grateful is the emotion that I feel. I think everyone expects me to be nervous but it’s too late, you already pre-ordered, the joke’s on you! I put my heart and soul into it, the team have put their heart and soul into it, whatever will happen will happen. All I always wanted is to make something that we’re completely proud of, where we’re not relying on the outside world to vindicate the work, which I feel like I’ve achieved.
I’ve seen you say you want to embrace everything you’ve lived through. Is that what the album is for you?
Yeah, it’s called Village, and it’s based on the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. It celebrates that we’re all so many things – you’re a sister, you’re a daughter, you’re a lover, you’re so many things. All these things contribute so much to who we are, how we communicate, how we love, how we accept love and I just wanted to celebrate all those things. I love jazz, I love hip-hop, I love reggae, how can I create a space where all these things I love equally can exist? That was kind of the journey for the album.
I was going to ask how do you want people to feel when they listen to it, but from what you said before, I’m guessing you want people to take their own perspective on it?
Whatever you need. People are going to hear what they want to hear anyway, their heart’s going to take from it what it needs. So I just hope it keeps you company somewhere, on the drive to work, the drive from work, just take me on these journeys with you, man, that’s all I really want.
Do you take your influence with quite a sense of responsibility?
Very much, I feel like it’s our job to push the needle I think as a black man, to be in the privileged position that I am, I get to do what I love for a living. And while I’m here I feel like I should use my platform well as much as I can, without compromising myself and forgetting to live life, because all of this is wonderful but the end goal is to be happy and have a wonderful family. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters most.
What do you have coming up next – are you dropping new videos soon?
Yeah, we’re dropping a bunch of videos. For me, I try to exist outside of Jacob Banks the artist, so I work on films, I do stuff for ads, I wrote the soundtrack for The Equalizer 2 for Denzel Washington. Those type of things, existing as a musician, as a storyteller, not just an artist. I’m working on a bunch of stuff as well to keep my feet on the ground.
And what are the big aims looking forward?
To be happy, man, and do whatever makes my heart feel full. And drink lots of water – that’s it. Stay cool.