British Electro-Soul Singer Jacob Banks Reveals Three-Part Debut Album Entitled ‘The Village’
There has been a surge of soul music in recent years with artists like Leon Bridges and Alabama Shakes leading the way. But now, British singer-songwriter Jacob Banks is stealing the thunder with a fresh new form of electro-soul. Banks isn’t interested in recreating the sounds of yesteryear. He’s only interested in innovation. He says the only thing missing from those old Al Green records is some low-end. So he added some bass, some electronic drums and out came a whole new sub-genre. “Chainsmoking,” a hyped-up gospel track, dropped this past spring while fans and critics alike applauded Banks’ ability to blend the old with the new, to create a head-banging, danceable blues song perfectly crafted for 2017. This song came along with an EP, “The Boy Who Cried Freedom,” five tracks of mind-bending, impassioned pieces of music.
As the young Brit tears through festivals across the U.S., including his set at Lollapalooza, he also prepares for his first headlining tour which kicks off this October. Amidst all the hype surrounding the innovative artist, Banks joined Entertainment Voice at Lollapalooza for a chat, where he revealed details about his new concept album “The Village.”
Sonically, you’re so robust, passionate and somehow both old and new. What lead to the creation of your sound?
I think it was just being honest with myself. For a while I tried to be either super old-school or super new-school and I wasn’t just really honest. If anyone tells me to do something enough, I would do the opposite just to annoy them. I’m one of those people. I feel like everybody was always asking me to choose one. Be this guy or that guy, and I was like ‘But I wanna be both.’ I listen to Al Green. I also listen to Kanye West. I shouldn’t have to pretend to the world that I only listen to one of those two. I think we all present our tastes and that’s just my taste. I love storytellers and I also love music that makes me feel triumphant, and I wanted to create that, and that’s how it came about.
Much of your new EP “The Boy Who Cried Freedom” is like the gospel/blues met with modern electronic production. Where did this combination come from?
I was just listening to lots of old-school stuff and I realized it didn’t have much low-end. There wasn’t much bass because they didn’t have gear to capture that. I fell in love with synths and I wanted to incorporate that into music. I wanted to make soul and gospel music sound like it was made in 2017. I just wanted to make music that reflected me, that made the people of now. I want to be that for my generation as opposed to trying to outdo the ones before me. They did their part and our job is to innovate and not try to replicate what they did.
“Chainsmoking” stands out amongst the others as it’s so full of fervent emotion. Can you talk about the inception of this track?
People always make this joke about “Chainsmoking” and the group The Chainsmokers, but that’s actually how this song came about. I saw the name The Chainsmokers and I thought it was a really nice word, so I came up with the (line) “Chainsmoking your love.” People are always like ‘Oh, you should get The Chainsmokers to remix it.’ I would fucking love that because they technically inspired a song just by their name. I didn’t really listen to what they did. I just heard the name and thought it was a really nice word. I’m massive on vocab and words and I like the visual of it. It sounds so painful and wonderful at the same time. I wrote the chorus while I was playing FIFA at home. I’m not the greatest FIFA player of all time (but) I just play on my Ps4. I hooked up with a producer called Stint and I sang the hook. We just knocked it out. A friend of mine called JP Sacks who’s a really talented artist helped out on piano and lyrics, and “Chainsmoking” was born out of that.
Your songs are all very poetic and personal. What inspires you lyrically?
I think life, failures and just a need to express myself. More than anything it’s just like I need to. If I don’t get it out I genuinely feel like I’m always battling emotion unless I can get it out. Once I say it and put it out into the world, it’s no longer my problem. I explain this to people all the time and people think I’m chatting shit, but once I make peace with something, then I’ve completely made peace with it. It doesn’t matter how hard it was for me at the time. I won’t hold anyone hostage over anything. As long as I can say it out loud, I feel like I can release it from my being and it no longer belongs to me. It’s just a necessity. I need to get it out of my system.
“Something Beautiful” from 2013’s “The Monologue,” like many of your songs, is deeply emotional, almost spiritual. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
I was born into a church. I believe there is a God. I believe no other way we can justify all the wonders of the world without understanding that there’s someone looking after us. I’m not big on religion. I feel like religion ruins everything. I do believe there is a God somewhere that cares for us.
Your “Into the Wild” tour starts in October, taking you across Europe and North America. As your very first headlining tour, what are you expecting from the experience?
I’m expecting to eat a lot! That’s kind of what the overall goal is. This is why I tour. As soon as we get there, we’re like ‘Ok guys, pull out the Yelp.’ We go around and we eat unhealthy stuff. I’m just looking forward to eat with my friends. I have a genuine belief that if you fuck with what I make, there’s a good chance we could be friends, because as weird as I am, you see the world a little differently, something pulls you somehow. I feel like I get to see all my friends in a three-month period across the world. That’s exciting to me.
What’s your favorite food?
Jerk chicken and rice and peas is the way to my heart.
Can you talk about your live stage setup for the tour? Will you be backed by a full band? And how will the electronics come into play?
It’s kind of a mix of both where we have half an acoustic drum set and half…electronic stuff. There’ll be three of us and we’ll incorporate electronic and live aspects at the same time. It’s a lot easier to do than to have a full classic band because everything is…on track. I leave some of the bass on track so I don’t always have to play everything live. We’re just up there having a real good time, making some noise.
“The Boy Who Cried Freedom” is almost addicting, leaving fans wanting more. You recently said you’re about 80 percent done with your album. What should fans expect from your debut?
I’m going to release my album as EP’s. Like three EP’s over a short period of time. I don’t want to play the album game. I don’t think it’s a really fair thing for me to do. I feel like, unless I’m getting the same looks as everyone else. If I get the same amount of radio plays as Shawn Mendes, I’ll drop a full album. He’s getting way more plays than anyone else I know, kudos to him, but we’re not all getting the same amount of love. We shouldn’t all be judged the same way. So I’m going to drop my album as three EP’s which celebrate three different chapters of my life. The album is called “The Village” and I’ll have three sections, “Chapter One,” “Chapter Two” and “Chapter Three.” Three different emotions, three different aspects — stuff I’ve had to walk through. Each sound is different, but it’s still cohesive, but it’s very different, but similar at the same time. It’s weird. I’ve tried to create something I’ve never heard before. If I make any song that I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere before, I won’t put it out. So I’m always trying to create something, even if it makes people uncomfortable, as long as I feel like I’m contributing as an artist. Like Kanye West does, pushing the needle. I think we’re here to push the needle. And people are welcome to push back. If it’s a bit too far, I can take that, but I need to know that I tried, that I wasn’t complacent. So it’s a very forward thinking album and I can’t wait to share it with people.
Jacob Banks performs at SF’s Outside Lands Aug. 13, NYC’s Meadows Festival Sept. 16, and Las Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful Festival Sept. 23. The U.S. leg of Banks’ “Into The Wild” tour kicks off at L.A.’s Roxy Theatre Nov. 2 and plays NYC’s Bowery Ballroom Nov. 29.