Jacob Banks Talks Empowerment, SXSW and ‘The Boy Who Cried Freedom’
Jacob Banks inspires with his voice and his lyrics. Hailing from Birmingham, England, the 24-year-old has been bringing his music to crowds for the last few years in the UK. But more recently, he blew everyone away with a string of showcases at SXSW and was named one of the year’s breakout acts by The New York Times. Banks released his new EP, The Boy Who Cried Freedom, on April 20 and will be celebrating it with shows in New York City (May 4) and Los Angeles (May 18).
The Boombox had the chance to chat with Banks to talk about his early music days, the new EP and what he wants his music to accomplish.
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Let’s start at the beginning. What are some your first musical memories?
My first memory of falling in love with music was through Disney animated movies.
When did you realize you had this soulful voice? And what song were you singing at the time?
Ermm I always sang along to songs. But I first took notice about four years ago when I was at university, and a few of my friends pushed me to become a musician.
There’s a very old school tone to your voice but so current. Who are your influences, especially vocally, and why?
I love Kanye West because he pushes the needle, John Mayer for his musicianship and Bob Marley for always telling the truth. And vocally, there’s gospel singer called Marvin Sapp and he is a real G with the voice.
I remember the first time I ever saw you was a video of your performance on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge in 2014. I later read that you’re the first unsigned artist who got on Live Lounge. How did that feel?
I actually had no idea till after, it was humbling. But more than anything though, I was just happy to share my story.
Soul singing has never lost its stride and popularity in the UK. How did your surroundings growing up influence you? Where do you feel you fit in the music scene there?
I don’t quite know how or where I fit… I don’t even want to fit anywhere, I just want to push the needle with soul and alternative music and always tell my version of the truth.
What’s the premise behind “Unholy War”?
“Unholy War” is an ode to the oppressed, telling them to keep the faith and keep fighting the good fight.
What is “Chainsmoking” about?
“Chainsmoking” is about the standing for something even when it’s evidently not good for you to keep fighting it.
Why did you call the EP, The Boy Who Cried Freedom? Significance?
It was because of the state of the world we’re in right now. A lot of people are asking for the most basic things and they are being denied. I feel as though a small version of that happened in my life in the sense of fighting to make the music I want to make, which some would argue is a little left of the norm.
Your songs have very strong messages and can really move people. How do you go about your songwriting? And how much of lyrics touch on personal experience or outlooks on the world?
They all come from experiences and social commentary, I see myself as more of a vessel than a songwriter, I just stay open and the music does what it wants.
You’ve been really blowing up, especially in abroad, following your performances at SXSW. What was that experience like? And how do you feel about all the attention?
It was fun! I don’t really give a s— about attention, I was there to connect with the people and I think we did that, everything else was a bonus.
What is your definition of success?
To be able to buy the frosted cornflakes with Tony the Tiger on it, not the cheap stuff. And, to be happy and be in the position to aid my loved ones.
Aside from the release of The Boy Who Cried Freedom, what is else is next for Jacob Banks?
We have an album coming towards the end of the year and bunch of tours, playing a bunch of festival dates.