"Skip Kanye's music and don’t follow him on socials, and your life will be better”
After releasing three EPs, Jacob Banks is set to unleash his first album Village on November 2. Born in Nigeria, Banks moved to Birmingham when he was 13, and has cut his teeth supporting the likes of Emeli Sandé, Alicia Keys and Sam Smith. Here, the soul singer talks to NME about music, getting a Denzel Washington tattoo – and why he can no longer listen to his (former) hero Kanye.
Tell us about your debut album ‘Village’, Jacob…
“The title refers to the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. I wanted to pay homage to all those things that make me the musician I am. From my African side to British youth culture, my love for soul, gospel, jazz and all those things. I was born in Nigeria and grew up in the UK, with heavy influences from both sides of the pond. I’ve lived exactly half of my life on both sides, and wanted to celebrate the magic from both.”
So when did you discover you could sing?
“When I was about 21, I heard ‘Continuum’ by John Mayer and, off the back of that album, wanted to learn how to express myself. Growing up, I never had that outlet and music allowed me to be whoever I wanted to be. If I wanted to be bold and strong, if I wanted to be delicate – music made me a superhero.”
Musically, what was influencing you?
“I’m more inspired by stories. I call myself a storyteller, and serve them using whatever musical genre they demand to be told by – whether that be through jazz or whatever. The story I’m proudest of telling is [the track] ‘Slow Up’. I’ve always felt that people from disenfranchised groups – like people who are oppressed – have to grow up quicker than others. And I think we’re usually robbed of our childhood memories, robbed of communication skills, robbed of so many things. I see so many people my age undoing so many childhood traumas – even for myself; I wish I’d been younger for longer. I wish I didn’t have to grow up so fast.”
You’ve worked with producers Malay, Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder. What appealed to you about them?
“Me and Malay worked for two weeks straight – he’s literally made all my favourite Frank Ocean songs. To know I’ve made enough noise where the people I admire email me and ask to work together, it’s larger than life for me. Like Paul Epworth; I love working with people who are musicians. It sets off a bunch of ideas in my head. I wanted a track that he would play on and we could build as two musicians. We have a wonderful song on the album called ‘Nostalgia’ where he’s playing drums and I’m playing guitar. It’s about a girl who was adamant she was over me, but she never truly was, and every time we’d see each other, there was chaos.”
After you wrote the track ‘In The Name Of The Love’ for the movie The Equalizer II, you tweeted: ‘Wrote a song for Denzel. Getting that tatted on my lower back’. Have you been inked yet?
“No, but it’s actually going to happen. I was meant to go to the premiere and meet him, but I was touring at the time. One of my earliest memories of soul music was hearing Al Green’s ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’ in a film called The Book Of Eli, which starred Denzel, so it felt like everything had come full circle for me.”
You’ve said the record that changed your life was Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. What have you made of his recent behaviour?
“I’m so disappointed, if I’m being honest. I’m one of those people who’ve defended Kanye to the bone. But now if Kanye’s music comes on in my car, I have to switch it off because I don’t feel like he represents me any more. I can’t separate the two. I don’t have anything in common with Kanye anymore. And that’s okay. I will just have to go somewhere else to get my super powers from.”
What was the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s back moment for you?
“I’ve stuck with Kanye through everything – even the questionable stuff – but as soon as I heard the TMZ comment, that was it. Even when he did a radio show a few weeks ago and told everyone he was sorry, I was like, ‘Cool, fine – let’s go back to how we were’. I’m very forgiving. Then two weeks after that, it was back to him saying that wearing the Make America Great Again hat was punk for him. My thing is, that’s not punk – that’s fucking stupid. If I wore a hat with a Swastika on saying ‘This is punk. I’m claiming it back’, that’s wack. It’s irresponsible. You think you’re so cool that the feelings of people don’t matter? That’s not punk! He’s allowed to have his own opinions and he’s his own person – you don’t have to agree, but just skip his music and don’t follow him on socials, and your life will be better.”
You direct your own videos…
“It was harnessing that Brummie energy. I was waiting around for people for ages to do my video and thought, ‘Fuck that! My mate’s got a camera. We’ll figure it out.’. I take my videos seriously because it’s a chance to challenge a narrative – whatever you think a song means, I get to make you see it differently and make people have a conversation about things they’re clearly aware of, but choose to act like it’s not there”.
Did growing up in Birmingham affect your music?
“Birmingham and Manchester kept grime alive while everybody else was busy doing what they were doing. I feel like grime is the energy of the UK – the UK’s punk. Growing up, we always felt like the outsiders; we were always the middle-finger to the people inside. To be from Birmingham is to be proud and not care what anybody thinks of you. It’s about not seeking the approval of London – and being unforgiving and bold.”
– ‘Village’ is released November 2 via Interscope Records. His UK tour begins in Glasgow on December 10