Interviews Jacob Banks

Veröffentlicht am 30.10.2018 | von Sophia Kahlenberg

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JACOB BANKS – Interview

Jacob Banks ist ein Geschichtenerzähler, der viel zu sagen hat. Seine Stimme berührt dabei so tief, wir würden auch sentimental werden, würde er uns Möbel-Aufbauanleitungen vorsingen. Am zweiten November steht nun sein Debütalbum Village in den Läden – wir hatten die Möglichkeit Jacob vorab in Berlin zu treffen, ihm Fragen zur Platte zu stellen, nachzuforschen was er eigentlich für ein Typ ist und bei dem was er zu sagen hat (und unter Einfluss seiner Erzählstimme!!) ein wenig dahinzuschmelzen. Junge, Junge, ist das ein Guter!

Your first single Be good to me is about love and longing. About the vulnerability that comes with affection. Can you share a little about the background of the song? Why did you choose this particular one to announce your album?
I think it was just a natural way of leading from the previous project. I didn’t want it to feel too dispersed, it kind of picks up where the last EP left off. The song talks about asking for small things, like someone to be nice to you. But on another side, it also means looking at life from a political stand point. In the sense that everyone is asking for equal pay or equal rights. It’s all very small things to ask for, but always seems almost impossible to give to people. I wanted to find a way to tell both stories at the same time, because it’s the same thing. Love is love in many different ways. Love is love in your relationship, love is love from your peers, love is love from other people. Love is still wonderful, even when it’s not just man and woman or man and man or whatever your orientation is. Love is still love and everyone is still seeking it in many different ways.

It’s kind of the highest form of consciousness, if you will.
Yeah, yeah..

Jacob Banks - Village Cover

Can you explain what the album is about?

It is called Village and it’s based on a phrase, that is an old African saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ The album is about everything. Everything that makes us us. Love, pain, everything – on a subject matter. And on a musical matter, you know, the human being is so many things. We are fathers, we are brothers, we are sons, we are lovers, we are teachers. One human being can be a thousand things. And same with music, you can listen to a thousand things and be influenced by a

thousand things. But when you’re making music as an artist, there’s this overarching idea, that you have to pigeonhole yourself. If you rap, you can’t sing, no one wants to hear that. But if someone loves to sing, they should be able to express themselves. Same thing with me musically, when I was making the album. I love so many things equally, I shouldn’t have to just be blues or hiphop or R’n’B, I should be able to express myself fully, because all these things make me tick. The album is a journey of…

The human experience?
The human experience!!

Is that what makes it so relatable and draws people to your music?
It’s either that or boredom, who knows.

Most likely not boredom!
I always try to tell my version of the truth. And I think that resonates with people. Everyone is looking for something that makes them feel like superheros. You can survive whatever it is you’re going through and here’s the story of someone who did and they’re okay now. It’s almost looking for things to reaffirm the idea that you’re powerful. And you are! And that’s what music does, music affirms that you’re going to be okay. You’re strong and mighty and it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes, it doesn’t mean you stop being a superhero. You’re just taking a day off, you’ll come back. Maybe that’s what it is.

Is that music’s most valuable gift to the world then?
Is?

It teaches us, that we can achieve anything we want?
I think it does, there’s a music for every emotion. Any story, every weird situation that’s happened to you, someone has written about it somewhere. And you’ll be able to find it and find solace in that song. I feel like the greatest gift of music to man is that music keeps us company. You take music with you on a bus, on a train, when you drive, when you hike. We take music everywhere, it’s always with us. You don’t have to talk to nobody else, you don’t have to share your thoughts with anybody else, you can just be in your own mind and allow music to help keep you safe.

I read that you get really inspired by visuals, when you write?
I like seeing stuff, it engages my mind differently. It allows me to map out a song like a journey, as opposed to it being linear. I don’t like when a song kind of finishes like it started, there needs to be a change somewhere and unexpected things need to happen. Like life; it’s a journey and no one knows what’s gonna happen tomorrow. It’s exciting and I like when music has moments like ‘Oh, that’s interesting, didn’t think you would go there, but I like it or I don’t like it.’ When I see visuals, they never stay on the same space. There’s always a cliff hanger or a moment of revealing your heroes, it changes. When I map out a song to a visual, it allows me to know when I need to switch it up.

And you direct all your videos too! Is that something you’ve got on your mind already, when you’re in the process of writing the song?
I focus on the song, but while I’m writing it, I can usually see something. It doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s what ends up happening. But when I write a song and I can see it visually, it really has me excited and I can’t wait to finish, so I can start on the video. What I make doesn’t really have a template, I don’t really know what I’m doing until it’s done.

Sounds like you see yourself as a story teller?
Yes, very much so. I don’t really identify with being an artist. I think it’s too limiting and it’s also too vain.

Because it’s just another label?
I’m an artist, I’m also a son. It goes back to my point earlier – I’m so many things. But overall, I’m telling my story in real time and I’m the lead character. Not Jacob Banks, just Jacob, my mom’s son. And I think being an artist is a vain profession. It’s about you, you, you, you, me, me, me, me and that can really limit you. I want to be many things, I want to write a book if I feel like it. It doesn’t always have to be my face or me under the spotlight. I have to serve the story; and my intentions when approaching music can create anything, when I’m serving what I need to do. For example, when I’m writing a story for a film, I have to think about the film, not about ‘Oh I have to get a Grammy of that’. There are so many distractions, and I’ve worked with people who were concerned about nominations. But when you do that, you’re not serving the story. It may or may not come as a byproduct. But if you bet on that happening, that becomes how you value your work.

I guess it’s a lot more honest and raw as well. By the time you think about nominations and such, you basically look for whatever judgement is coming from the outside. Right?
You value your work based on these expectations that you’ve set. But I want to value my work based on how good I think it is. And how honest I’ve been in the process of making it. It’s a lot easier on my mind mentally as well, to understand that I’m just a story teller and none of this defines me. Doing this album, everyone thinks I’m nervous, or that I should be. But I’m really not, because I’ve done my part. I’ve served the music with my friends and we worked hard and toured heavy. I’ve released all these stories off my head for my own health and mind. And second, it only needs a few people to keep it alive. It’s like giving your baby to the world and saying ‘hey, please look after her for me, she’s yours now, keep her safe and on rotation now and again.’

That way I guess you’re able to make it for your soul’s purpose. And whatever you put out there is always gonna be your truth.
Yeah, which is important. It’s all you’ve got!

You grew up in Nigeria and moved to the UK aged 13. How much do you think that has changed you as a person? You seem to have a very grounded and humble outlook on life.
I think it’s been a massive blessing. Most people only have one home, I have the luxury of two. And in many ways, I have so many more experiences to pull from; imagery, references. If I’m writing for example, I have more songs at my dispose to someone, who only lived in one country for most of their lives. I’ve heard sounds on both sides, I’ve experienced stories and point of views on both sides and two different cultures.

How has your heritage influenced your musical journey?
Making the album, it was definitely something I didn’t want to shy away from. I didn’t want to not celebrate my African side or not celebrate the other. I wanted to pull as much as I can of myself to the middle and talk about all of it. If I hide a part, I’m not doing myself justice and I’m not representing. All I hope to achieve at the end of the day is that I represented a choice. An option for people. For the oppressed to see someone who looks like them, who’s from a similar background or someone who had disadvantages against them and has been able to be seen. For me to do my job well, I have to make sure to be seen. So I can give people from a similar background the right amount of options, when they’re choosing who they want to be for the rest of their lives. Only if I put myself out there fully, will people be able to relate to me.

Can you remember your first encounter with Blues and Soul music?
My first introduction to soulful music was Let’s stay together by Al Green, when I was around 15 maybe. Before that it was all 50 Cent and Kanye. When I heard Al Green I thought, what the hell is this. I’ve put all the R’n’B dudes to the side for a second and I just fell in love. I think it was the first time I’d heard passion. I never classify soul as a genre of music. You can write poetry that’s soulful, hiphop can be soulful or jazz. Soul to me is just passion, anything that’s passion to me is soulful.

It seems like you grew up around music. But you only started writing your own songs aged 20. What was the reason for that?
Yeah, I didn’t start writing music until I was 20 or 21. I’ve always been a fan, I’ve loved music and took it everywhere. I was the kid with the CD player and I had this mesh pack with all my CDs labelled. I loved, loved music, but it never looked like an attainable option. One of my best friends passed at the time and he was always the one who said that I should do it. He is still the greatest person I’ve ever known and my logic was that if he can die at 21, being so exceptional, then me being a very mediocre human being, I have no chance. So while I’m here, I might as well do something I’m happy with. There was no pressure or trying to make it.

Going back to the album – you said there’s no template whatsoever – but when did you start writing it?
It took about a year to pull it together. We’ve been touring so much, it was about finding little pockets of time to get these ideas out of my head. It’s been super fun to learn so much about myself and certain things and trying to be as brave as I can with these sounds and choices. I’m really proud with what we’ve made.

How do you feel the album differs from the EP’s you’ve released before?
It’s braver. This one wonders a lot more, it asks a lot more questions. The most important difference is, that it’s introspective. I’ve always been more of a commentator than a narrator. I’ve always said what I saw from everybody else for the most part. I’ve done the hard work this time, I had to look at myself.

Did you ever question releasing your reflections and own vulnerability into the world?
I feel safe. I feel like the people who come for my music usually look after me. Your groups of friends are unified by your taste of music. My logic has always been, if I make music that I’m proud of and I love, essentially the people who would come to listen, would be people I could be friends with.

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