Jacob Banks is the musician reflecting on everyone’s basic need for freedom

We catch up with the musical mind behind the latest smash album, 'Village'.

Born in Nigeria, raised in Birmingham and based in London, Jacob Banks’ sound envelops his heritage and his uniqueness as smoothly as is effortlessly possible. Infusing soul with R&B, electronic sounds with ballad tones, Jacob’s creations are as relevant now as ever. An artist who believes in the power of music, personally and politically, Jacob Banks’ latest album Village embraces his identity and immerses us right within it. We caught up with the artist to find out the meaning of music in our changing times and how he found himself along the way…

You released your first EP back in 2012, how do you feel that you’ve evolved as an artist and person in that time? What’s different now?

I think as an artist I’ve become braver, I’ve acquired a lot more skills along the way, as I think I started out as just wanting to be an artist. As I’ve grown up I’ve more wanted to be a storyteller, I more identify with telling stories and less about it being about Jacob Banks. It’s more about someone who loves music, and I serve music now. As a person, I think I’m slower. Slower to come to my decisions, I pace myself. I think I’m having more fun now as well, I’m not too in my head about everything, I just take my time and I run at my own pace now.

Your EP earlier this year was titled ‘The Boy Who Cried Freedom’, which is an incredibly apt title for where we are in the world now. Why did you choose it?

I felt like at the time – and still – everybody was asking for the most basic thing. That basic thing being freedom. Freedom is the ability to make mistakes, the ability to get it right, to get it wrong, and the ability to try again without living confined by someone else’s rules. Very basic, everyone should have them. I felt like people were asking for simple things like equal rights, or gun laws or equal pay. No one was asking for too much, no one’s asking for more than what the average person has. ‘The Boy Who Cried Freedom’ made sense to me for that reason, I just felt like everyone was crying for the most minuscule things and it just always seemed nearly impossible to get those things, and I never understood why.

How are you influenced by the current political and social climate in the world?

I’m influenced heavily by it, it consumes my day. I wish it didn’t, honestly, and sometimes I just can’t get it out of my head. I feel like as an artist I’m a commentator, I tell what I see, so I always have to stay open to allow messages to reach me. It really affects my energy as to how dark or light my songs are, it all completely depends on what’s happening in the world.

Do you feel any responsibility as an artist to be a voice for your generation? And how do you feel when that pressure is bestowed on an artist?

I don’t feel pressure because it’s just what I would have done anyway, if that makes sense? I don’t feel pressure because I feel like your job is to reflect the times and that’s the only music I’ve always gravitated towards, to live with anyway. If feel like it’s just normal for me; I don’t feel like I’m going to war, I just feel like I’m washing the dishes. 

Who else are you influenced by now?

I’m influenced by life, more than anything. By my friends – their day to day, my day to day. But musically I’m influenced by a lot of Amy Winehouse, D’Angelo, Frank Ocean and John Mayer. But I stay open-minded, anything can happen at any time, and you have to be present to catch those little hints that the universe leaves for you to write and talk about.

Your video for ‘Unholy War’ is really visually powerful. How important do you think it is now for an artist to be pushing the creative boundaries too?

I think it’s just a good mental exercise. For me anyway, I identify with being creative, that’s not limited to music, it’s not limited to anything. You should be able to write a book if you want to, you should be able to draw if you want to. For me it’s a form of expression, so wherever I can express myself, I’ll try. I’m not always good at it but I’ll try, it’s still an exciting process even if it doesn’t come out as wonderful as I wanted it to be. And I just feel like it’s another chance to tell the story a little differently. So if you hear a song and you see a video, the video can challenge what you think the song’s about. Just open up a conversation and allow people to digest music differently.

What are the next steps for you? What can we expect?

I have an album called ‘Village’ coming out on the 2nd of November, then we have a tour coming as well, doing Europe and North America. I hope to stay happy and healthy and yeah, keep making music.

Village is available here now.

7 November 2018