An Insightful Conversation with Jacob Banks at Electric Forest 2017

26 June 2017
John Nowak

Jacob Banks moved to the UK from Nigeria when he was 13 years-old. It was just a few years ago he was singing at an open mic night in Birmingham. Now he has toured the world, shared a stage with Alicia Keys and Sam Smith, put out two well-received albums, and as of Friday night belted a powerful set at Electric Forest in Rothbury, MI.

It has already been quite the journey for banks but in may ways his journey is only getting started.

Plans for the future include his third album, more touring, and a dream of going to school for film musical composition. We sat down and talked about his introduction to Western music, his favorite book and more before his set on the Jubilee stage.

Meanings Stay the Same

Banks is wrapping up his first “real run of America.” The tour has been successful, selling out headlining shows from LA to New York.

“It was fun! Good vibes, good people.This is my first tour, we’ve been touring since January. A couple weeks off here and there. Selling out all our headline shows is pretty dope.”

It’s been six months of touring and he’s ready to get back to London where his younger siblings and cats are. He’s the oldest of four.

“Home is wherever my siblings are. It’s not a destination as much, it’s wherever they are. Wherever my cats are.”

Being born in Africa and moving to the UK as a teenager has allowed for a wide variety of musical influences to infiltrate Banks’ music. One of the points he really stressed was making sure that he didn’t stick to just one sound or genre to please a certain crowd, management, or radio chart.

“We’re multifaceted human beings. We don’t just listen to soul, we don’t just listen to hip hop. We listen to so many things depending on our mood or what we’re into. I’ve never understood the idea of having to pigeonhole myself to please a marketing team of some kind.”

Banks is a sponge. He immerses himself in everything that makes him feel good, soaks it up and uses it to express himself through his own creativity.

He spoke a little bit about the music he listened to growing up and then finding new sounds, genres, and artists as he traveled the world:

“In Nigeria, we listen to lots of tonal drum sounds. And a lot of Disney songs. My first introduction to Western music was Disney films and West Life. When I moved to the UK I found Motown, I found jazz, all of these things at the same time- so I was never able to tell the difference, I didn’t separate genres. To me music was music. When you hear my music you hear flavors of all sorts of music because I don’t think one is different from the other. It’s just language. People speak different languages but the meanings stay the same. I try to portray that in my music.”

By the way, his favorite Disney song is “At the Beginning” from the Anastasia soundtrack. It was the first Disney song he fell in love with.

“I fall in love every time I hear a song. When you have a song that is so beautiful, at the end I have residue of what it feels like to be in love. Or if I see a film that I adore. I fall in love at the end of every Disney film. I like all of ‘em. I know some people get stuck up like ‘Oh, I only like old Disney’- fuck you. Frozen was incredible, I love all that stuff… the animation is wonderful because there is no limit to the creator. If you think about it, you can make it happen.”

“At some point, it was just a dream”

Since coming up in the UK, Banks has had the opportunity to collaborate and share the stage with some world class artists. He has opened for artists like Emeli Sandé, Sam Smith, and Alicia Keys. Being around these artists has kept Banks motivated and inspired.

“It inspires greatness in you to see somebody achieve their dreams. They started from somewhere. At some point, it was just a dream, just an idea for these people. And to see them achieve the impossible is inspiring. And it forces you to be better. You up your game, actually. It’s good vibes.”

For many artists chasing their dreams, they could say the same about Banks. He is a textbook example of cream rising to the top. From Nigeria, to open mic nights, to a world tour- Banks too has taken his dream and turned it into a reality.

But there’s more work to be done. He still dreams of writing music for movies and films, going to school, finishing his third album, and continuing his life journey.

“My end goal is to do a couple albums and then go to school. I want to go to school for films actually. That’s kind of an end goal for me. Music and pictures are so synonymous for me. I don’t think one goes without the other. I love visuals. I’m a very visual person. I need to see it to believe it.”

Banks isn’t much of a reader, he says he falls asleep after one page. But one book he read has changed his life and helped him chase his dream.

“The only book I’ve ever read is “The Alchemist”. It’s probably the only book you need to read. That book changed my life. It helped me see so much. It’s an incredible book.”

I too, recommend this book for anyone interested in some life motivation and inspiration.

“The end goal is to keep people company. It’s really that simple. I walked through most of my life alone and I found solace in music.”

Banks is aware of his potential reach and impact as a popular artist and he doesn’t take that lightly. He has a message and intention with his music. He wants to create a personal relationship with listeners. Music has kept him going, and he wants the same thing for you.

“As artists, we’re in a position to influence so much. You’re innovators, you’re creators. You can shift a culture so much. It’s a lot of power to have. You have to use it appropriately if you use it at all.”

It’s easy to see and hear this in his music. Banks touches on a wide variety of subjects, his lyrical content varying drastically from song to song. The topics cover love, heartbreak, loneliness, and silver linings. There is something for everyone, for every situation life throws at you.

His songs read like poems, like a love letter, or a pensive daydream expressed carefully through words. Banks loves playing with words and sentences.

“I’m a massive fan of vocab. I collect titles is what I do. If I hear a word or a sentence, if someone says something and I’m like ‘that’d be a great title for a song’, I collect that. I collect titles and I can draw ideas from them when I need to get the ball rolling. I collect sentences as well. If I hear a sentence I like I’ll keep it.”

There is a raw emotion that comes with his music that some artists struggle to capture in a song.

“I think songwriting to me is more like remembering than trying to create something. I feel like I’m just trying to make sense of something that already exists.”

He is also aware that Jacob Banks might not be the artist for everyone. There may be another singer or songwriter that you identify with, that gets you through the day. And he’s okay with that. He’s happy about it.

“I just wanna be there with y’all. And if I can’t serve that purpose, I hope someone else can. I hope somebody can step in if I can’t. Life is really hard. People are doing the impossible every day. I just want to have helped. That’s it.”

Follow Jacob Banks on social media for updates on his world tour, upcoming album Village and more.