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The Selfless Sounds of Jacob Banks

The soulful singer opens up about his melting pot of cultures and how his music represents that

The 26-year-old English singer-songwriter sits down in front of me and is physically looking down at me. He immediately offers to switch seats so we can meet eye-to-eye. We laugh for a moment because at 5’2, the top of my head is a common view for many. But, that moment was a clear sign indicating the type of genuine person Jacob Banks is. Banks tells me that he’s been traveling for a while, including making a stop at Coachella for his first appearance. This is his first time at Shaky Knees Music Festival and he tells me Atlanta has his heart for a couple of reasons. “Atlanta has always been good to me but two of my friends are part of my band, and they’re from here. It feels like a bit of a homecoming,” he says. Another example of Banks showing his compassion.

Since his debut EP The Monologue was released in 2013, Banks has had songs featured in the EA Sports game, FIFA, the television series Suits and The Blacklist: Redemption. His sound has varied over the years, but his stories have always managed to maintain a consistent voice. “When it rains it pours,” he says. “Once you find what you’re trying to say, it won’t stop.” On his newest single “Chainsmoking,” Banks says that on the surface, listeners can probably hear the typical “boy meets girl” romantic love story, but if you dig deeper, you will learn his storyline. “Choosing to understand love is expensive. It costs time, emotion and learning someone else,” he says. “You always have to stand up for love and it takes a toll on us. We always have to argue about what is so basic to us, which is love.” As we sit across from each other, now seeing eye-to-eye in more ways than one, we bask in the idea that we’re able to have a conversation about a political and societal issue. Banks reminds me that we’re able to have a conversation because we both agree that everyone deserves the same rights. “It’s like chain smoking and love… they’re expensive,” he adds.

Born in Nigeria and currently living in London, Banks beholds a melting pot of cultures that all play a role in his musical style and lyrical inspiration. “London is Indian, Asian, Black, White, Christian and Muslim. London is built on culture,” he says.

His debut studio album Village is slated for a September release and Banks tells me that as his fourth musical project, he felt he needed to focus even more on opening himself up and telling his story to the world. “I’ve been fortunate enough to exist in many different villages. My album celebrates all those different sides to me,” he says. As an artist, Banks says that he’s felt at times that there were certain expectations of him but on Village, he embraced his truth, which is his culture. “I’m African. I’m also British, I also grew up with West African culture, and I shouldn’t have to choose one percentage of myself to be represented as.”

Though his new music is not going to be playful, Banks did make an effort to be far less politically-charged as he has with previous music. Eventually, he says he might be able to be more playful, adding, “maybe if the world gets a little better. But right now, I try to stay away from things that aren’t my reality.”

With another hour or so before his performance at Shaky Knees, Banks appears calm and excited to show an audience his music. I ask him how he handles the stress of the job and in true Jacob Banks fashion he responds with, “It takes a village. I have a team of people who I treasure because they help me make sense of everything. I couldn’t do it without them.”