Jacob Banks

Young songwriter Jacob Banks is best known for his 21st century take on r’n’b and soul. We quiz him on working with Plan B and his forthcoming debut album…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 14 Nov 2014
  • min read
Jacob Banks is the very definition of ‘one to watch’.

This twenty something singer songwriter has enjoyed a meteoric rise ever since winning a new talent competition and mentorship from Plan B.

His blend of soul and r’n’b styles has led him to support Emeli Sande, become the youngest artist to appear on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and has culminated in him working with a range of producers including Ed Sheeran collaborator Jake Gosling and dance music luminaries Chase and Status.

So far he’s released a well received debut EP, The Monologue, and has been busying himself preparing a much anticipated debut LP. Ahead of his performance at the Jazz Voices concert at the opening night of the London Jazz Festival, we quizzed Jacob about his big break, debut LP and love for all sounds…

How did you first get into music?

I grew up around a lot of African artists, people like Fela Kuti and Daddy Showkey - these sort of people. As I grew older I discovered soul music - artists like Al Green and Sam Cooke - it’s just never stopped for me since then.

None of my family members have ever played an instrument and aren’t particularly musical. It was weird. Music was never played much at home. When I heard music it was always outside of my house. In a way, that allowed me to love it a lot more.

How did you first start songwriting?

I just wanted to try it. I love poetry and read a lot of that before I started writing my own songs. I just wanted to give it a shot. There was nothing too dramatic. I wanted to give it a go and by constantly going at it, it got better with time. I didn’t start wanting to be an artist. I just wanted to see if I could write songs.

What was your big break?

The first thing was a competition with Adidas judged by Plan B. The prize was a chance to work with him in London. I was living in Coventry at the time. It was the first thing I’d ever done, the first display of me being an artist. I put a video up on YouTube and ended up winning. Off the back of that I realised just how much I wanted to keep on doing it, to keep the happiness that music brought me.

How was working with Plan B?

I was a massive fan. I still am so it was a big deal for me. He taught me so much in a short amount of time. In a way he gave me a big head start as I knew what was required. It wasn’t as much trial and error as it would have been for new artists. For me, it was sitting with him and he let me know so much from early on. I didn’t make as many mistakes as I might have otherwise on the way up.

Were you nervous working with him as a fan?

It was cool. Going in I was very nervous but after you spend an hour with someone they just become human beings, he’s just a guy who totally loves music. It went above and beyond for me really. We could have just done a backing track but we spent the whole day with his band. No breaks. He took so much care. It was humbling, he made me feel so welcome. I was shocked in a good way at all the commitment he gave to me.

How did you get involved in the Jazz Voices concert?

It’s a weird one. My manager got in touch telling me the festival organisers were interested in doing something. I’d done the BBC Proms and I love anything that allows me to be a different person, a different version of myself. It gives me a chance to learn and work with an expert in their field and see what makes him who he is. The jazz event approached me and asked whether I would be up for getting involved as they are big fans. I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to get the ball rolling.

I’m a soul man by trade but over the last couple of years I’ve really got into jazz artists, people like Miles Davis and Gregory Porter. Both sides of the genre really. I’ve been listening to both artists over the last year but I’m going into this to try and learn and embrace new sounds and ways of working. This is me coming in a soul artist to see what these musicians can teach me.

What else are you currently working on?

I’m finishing my debut LP - that has all my time and emotion, trying to deliver the best record I can. It’s all about having an identity. I’m the type of person who loves everything. When I found music, it wasn’t about genres. But I've had to work to find something that identifies me as Jacob Banks. I think we’ve got there. It’s been fun trying all sorts and seeing where my heart really lies. The hardest thing has been discovering what this album says about me. I’m glad we went through the process.

Who are your biggest musical inspirations for the record?

D’Angleo and John Mayer – proper soul artists. It’s a hard genre as my challenge is making it 2014, making it now. If you make soul music which sounds like Al Green, people will go and listen to Al Green. It’s a hard genre to re-invent. It’s getting just as much emotion as those earlier songwriters.

Have you any tips for aspiring songwriters?

Always tell your version of the truth, whatever your version of the truth may be. There’s no right or wrong way of going about it. Listen to as much music as you can. We spend so much time trying to be artists but you also need to remember to be a music fan. Listen to everything and everyone who talks to you. Inspiration can come from anywhere. So be attentive for that to happen. Keep those ears open.

Visit Jacob Banks for more information.

Read our interview with composer Guy Barker ahead of tonight’s Jazz Voices concert at the London Jazz Festival.