From touring with Emeli Sandé to perfecting the roll on his signature beanie, Banks serves as a vessel for music he calls “digital soul”. Having started at the age of 20, the man of many beanies has created three original albums, co-directed video “Unholy War” and collaborated with industry heavyweight Timabaland. In the thick of his first headline tour for EP “The Boy Who Cried Freedom”, the eccentric Banks talks visuals, sounds and industry truths. He still wouldn’t tell me where he got his beanie though…
DISORDER: What did you learn from spending time with Emeli Sandé?
JACOB BANKS: Emeli always told me – just make what you like. It sounds so simple. If I had to perform a song I didn’t like every day it wouldn’t feel nice. I love music and songs and I’m excited to sing them. As long as you like them, somebody will like them. Think about all the weird-ass stuff that gets heard. It’s because it resonates with somebody. Somebody is hearing themselves in those songs. So Emeli was like, just make music that you like.
Were there any obstacles to discovering your vocal ability?
I don’t know if I still have. I think I’m an okay vocalist. For me it’s been more about understanding my voice and its limitations: What it can and can’t do. Where I should push it to be better. Because I started so late, I was literally learning on the job. I was putting myself out there to be scrutinised. I was learning from and in front of everybody. I feel like the part of understanding my voice has been learned. Now I’m trying to acquire different skills and push myself. So maybe about a year and a half ago I was like, yeah, I'm at a vocal level that I’m cool with.
This is your first headline tour. How’re you finding it?
It’s been incredible. It’s a real blessing being on a bus with really incredible people, singing every evening. Everyone is drunk all the time; it’s fucking hilarious. I’m very particular about making sure that – even though we are at work, travelling – that we find time to create wonderful memories. Music is great but we’re not curing cancer, so lets not get too carried away. Lets just have a good-ass time and everything else will fall into place.
How do you control the energy on tour?
I make sure that people have to eat together. To unify energy just before we rock on. It has to be a feeling of togetherness between everyone before we step on stage. We have to step on as a unit, come off as a unit.
Are you always hunting inspiration?
Health of mind is key. We have to learn to be in one place at one time. So when I’m touring, I’m touring. When I’m writing, I'm writing. I’m open to ideas and taking stuff in, 24/7; I write it down, and when I get to the studio I’ll execute it.
Is writing the start of your creative process?
When I’m making music I start with the music, I start with the chords. I see myself as just a vessel; I hear chords and I feel like I’m remembering a song I’ve heard before and just pull the words out of the sky. The words will come, but the melody and the chords are the reason. I’ll keep mumbling until it makes sense.
Any other aspect of the industry you’d like to dabble in?
I love visuals and sounds. I’m getting into scoring films. I want to score short films and Disney films – making music tailored to scenes and bringing visuals to life.
Your music has featured on the TV series Power. How did they go about approaching you?
Omari Hardwick [who plays James 'Ghost' St. Patrick on the show] got hold of my Instagram DM, and said he was a fan. I’m scoring an episode for the new season but I don’t know how they keep getting away with using my songs without someone pulling them up. For me it's such a proud moment to have that world welcome me in, as it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It means more to me than anyone will ever know.
What has surprised you about the music industry?
How irrelevant most things are. Most things actually don’t matter and people constantly try to force people to believe that they do. What matters is getting in front of people and letting people make up their own mind. I hear: "She doesn’t have a hit, though." Does that fucking matter? I hear it about Kehlani: "She doesn’t have a hit"… but she sold out her whole tour in about 20 seconds! That’s the end result. To have people buy your stuff, support your show, be your friend and champion your music. She has done all that, skipping over a "hit". She’s already at the finishing line. That’s the biggest surprise; it’s being constantly made to feel as if minuscule things matter. And they don’t.
If you could go back to before you started out and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
It will come. It being everything. Good days, bad days. Everyone's trying to prevent the inevitable. Shit's gonna happen. I can give you advice to prevent you from going through the exact same scenario that I went through, but you’d have to collect advice from everybody to be foolproof. That’s the lesson. It's not about trying to avoid being hit, it’s about understanding that you will be hit and you just have to get up.
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