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Jacob Banks’ Music Will Keep You Company

UK-based singer Jacob Banks crafts songs to be lived in. He breaks down his process, and his 2022, ‘Lies About The War,’ for Audiomack World.
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This article previously appeared on Audiomack World.

Jacob Banks chanced into his formal pursuit of music. “Luckily, I didn’t have anything else to do at that time,” the UK-based singer tells me of his entry point. Downtime in university and the general malaise of higher learning drove him to noodle around on a red guitar picked up while grocery shopping and find his voice as he recreated his favorite songs from childhood. “I wasn’t having a great time at university, so guitar was a massive help, having something to look forward to.”

The Nigeria-born artist moved to the UK in his early teens. He studied in Coventry and played his way through a swath of local venues following uni. Banks’ debut Village arrived in 2018, preceded by a series of songs he didn’t necessarily love. “In my earlier days there were songs that came out that I didn’t really want to come out,” he shares with Audiomack World. “As much as I didn’t like those songs, they were loved by other people. I always thought to myself, if people can love the things I don’t love… There has to be people who love the things I love. That alleviated a lot of pressure for me. So, I stepped back and trusted that my people would come.”

Banks’ trust lent itself to a process focused on “remembering a song rather than creating it,” allowing the sounds he hears to pull out of him a song that has always existed. This natural humility, being a vessel for the work, makes his music a flowing conversation between artist and listener.

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“I like my music to keep people company,” he explains. Learning from poetry, Banks’ music is there for you while you’re cleaning, reading, and processing life on your terms. He naturally gravitates toward artists who make music that feels like an equal exchange between listener and artist. With his latest album, Lies About The War, out now, Banks hopes to provide the same communal space for fans.

“This album was made with a lot less noise than I was used to—mentally, physically,” Banks says. “I didn’t travel as much. This was all made in my spare room when I wasn’t playing Call of Duty. It was less voices, less cooks. I was in a warm place and I wanted to offer up that warmth. But I also wanted to be fair. That’s why it’s called Lies About the War because we’re having a good time, but it wasn’t always like this. I’m still at war, still trying to get better, still trying to understand myself and be a better person.”

As I’ve been revisiting the catalog, I’m wondering if you’re a story-first or sound-first artist?

Definitely sound-first. Technically, I title songs before. If I like a phrase, I’ll write it down in my phone. When I hear a sound, it reminds me of a title I’d written before, and then I’ll be able to tell a story.

I would describe my process more as remembering a song rather than creating it. When I hear the sound, the song’s there. I just need to not get in the way. My job is just, “Don’t fuck it up.”

Would you describe that process as spiritual?

From my point of view, I’m just doing what I think everybody else is doing. It just feels more like remembering.

Let’s talk about Lies About the War. “Parachute” is my favorite.

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I wrote that song about six years ago. I know people say this all the time, but I do think it took me like 11 minutes to write the whole song. It just poured out of me.

It’s a writer’s song. People who write like it a lot. The general public probably won’t care, but the people who write and care about lyrics and literature will gravitate towards that song.

It does feel like it’s aimed at creatives.

It’s important to have one of those on the record. I could never write a whole album like that… I like my music to keep people company. But I do try to have one song in a body of work for people who come from where I come from mentally.

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Can you elaborate on making music to keep people company?

I try to get out of the way. Irrespective of what I say, people take from music what they need. I could say, “The sky is blue.” Someone could hear the sky is burgundy because their sky is. I try to tell my story as openly as possible, without defining the feeling to people.

Some songs like “Parachute” are very descriptive, there can only be one thing. I learned that from poetry—it’s hard to say what you want, while also creating space for the listener to feel like you’re on a journey together to keep them company. If I start saying my grandma’s name, then it’s a one-sided story. I like the creative where we’re both speaking, both listening.

Which song on this record was most like a puzzle to fit together?

The most puzzling song was my song with Anne Leone, “Our Song.” It was different from how I’d ever write a song. Anna is one of my best friends, and she’s a true-true musician to her core. We really wanted to do a song together—I kind of bullied her into doing a song with me. Because she’d never written or been in the studio with anyone else before, I let her be comfortable. It was probably the most tactical song, and everything else is just vibes.

What about the outro? I’m fascinated with how projects end.

As a musician, you speak in hindsight. You never know when things are happening until they happen. When I was writing [the outro], I wasn’t shooting for the end. I was just writing. But in hindsight, it sounds mad intentional and wise.

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In reality, everything is happening to me, and when I step back, I can see it clearly. But when I’m in it, I’m just trying to get through and write the song, then figure out what I’m having for lunch. When I step away, I can see everything.

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