“Everyone has been talking about me?” Jacob Banks asks with a shy, yet playful smile. He knows he is good, but his confidence comes with the humility of a newbie to the music scene and the earnestness of a genuinely nice guy. Sitting down with the 21-year old Birmingham native in the aftermath of his EP launch and a successful BBC Radio 1Xtra Live Lounge performance, we find out about his first introduction to music, using cartoons as muses and the making of The Monologue EP while shining the spotlight on the emerging soul star.
“This is my first time so I don’t know how it’s supposed to go. “ He responds when asked how he’s failed to notice the attention he has garnered. “I don’t know if this is how it’s supposed to be, or not, that’s why I don’t know how to gauge it. There’s nothing to gauge it against. I don’t know how it works or it doesn’t. So I’m just like…’cool’!”
While unassuming and relaxed towards his building buzz, his work ethic appears to be anything but. Producing his debut EP in just 8 days, he says of the process, “Each song just wrote itself. There’s more songs we came up with in the 8 days; close to like 12 songs, and only three from that session was used on this EP. Kids On The Corner, Dear Simone; those songs were done way before the sessions. Worthy was the first song we did.”
Banks’ passion for music shifts from awing to intriguing upon learning his exposure to the art came quite late in life.
“I didn’t listen to anything melodic until I was thirteen. There was no music in my house.”
The first album he owned was a Westlife CD that he won in a dance competition. The boyband provided his first aural in to melodies. “The Anastacia soundtrack,” was his response when asked if he had any other eclectic musical muses. “Anastacia was the first cartoon I watched, and the soundtrack was just phenomenal!”
It isn’t just the music that leads Banks’ to watching Disney cartoons for inspiration. The vibrant imagery of cartoons, action trailers and music videos spark Banks’ imagination enough for him to songwrite to. “I’d watch a cartoon in mute – no sound – and think, if I had to describe what I’m seeing through a song, what would I sing? So for example, Worthy was written to the trailer of Battle of Los Angeles. Me and my team, we do that all the time when we write – we find ways to paint a vivid picture.”
So, rather than environmental, the soul in Banks is innate. However, it took his late best friend overhearing him belt out tunes in the shower for him to recognise he had a gift that needed to be utilised.
“He’d say ‘fam, fam, you can sing you know?!’ and I’d say ‘nah, nah, I’m a big man, big man don’t sing!’ [laughs] We went to see Yolanda Brown at Jazz Funk & Soul, like 2 years ago, and he said ‘bruv, that could be you up there!’”
His friend passed away, and while mourning the loss Banks’ decided to explore music, in his honour. “I thought, I need to just…see.” Entering and winning an adidas competition, Banks’ won a day in the studio with Plan B. He followed this by being shortlisted for an MTV competition and the MOBO Unsung competition and garnering label attention.
Upon making the decision to pursue music professionally, Banks’ found himself travelling to-and-from his university digs in Coventry (where he graduated last year with a degree in engineering) to London for meetings.
“I thought I’d come down to London and see what may or may not happen. And I used to sleep on my friend’s couch, for six months, which was intentional. I felt like it’s a thing you have to do as an artist [he grins], just to say, ‘I slept on a couch.’”
“I could’ve got a place here from early but I just NEEDED to sleep on somebody’s couch! It’s a requirement as a soul singer, you just have to! First thing when you meet another artist, [you say] ‘have you slept on a couch?’ ‘yeah bruv, I’ve slept on a couch six months!’”
After six months and one day (no, seriously), Banks found himself a London home. Around the same time he found himself having to source a manager.
“I didn’t have a manager, because I used to make my music in my bedroom at the time. An amazing guy named Ross sent my stuff out to a bunch of managers. It’s weird – I don’t know how it usually works with managers but I had to interview THEM and see how it felt. And when I met [Wretch 32’s manager Zeon Richards] it was just wonderful, he introduced me to Richard [Antwi] and Twin [B], and we just went from there – we just rolled with it.”
While Banks recalls his somewhat fascinating, somewhat whirlwind entry into the scene with the easy disposition of just ‘rolling with it’, when talking about his future album his plans seem a little more considered.
“With an album it’s something you can never give a timeframe – when you’re done you’re done! Even if you’re done, go in again and see if you can get a better song. I think I have enough material to say ‘yes, I have an album’, but like with my EP, I like to make statements.”