The Nigerian singer opens up about ‘Lies About the War’ – no holds barred.
The first thing you notice when speaking to Jacob Banks is his authenticity. This man knows what he thinks and, although unassuming, he isn’t afraid to tell you. As a man who has every reason to brag, he keeps it humble. Speaking with him you come to realise the deeper meaning behind the music, and potentially life — he’s philosophical in that way.
The 30-year-old musician is due to drop his new album, ‘Lies About the War’, later this year and follow it up with a whirlwind European tour. Before he was headlining shows and running his own label, he cut his teeth playing independent shows in Coventry and mixing CDs for his mates in Birmingham.
“I was happy to sing in my bathroom alone in Coventry,” Banks admits, “I didn’t want to be an artist, but my friends kept pushing me. The first couple of times I went to the studio were because my friends wanted my songs on CD, so they could listen to them in the car! That’s the only reason I initially started recording music.”
Nigerian-born Banks moved to Birmingham at 13. His last full-length album, The Village, celebrates his African heritage and his English upbringing — flirting with R&B, Hip-hop, Rock and Pop but never quite falling into one category or another.
After listening to a sneak peek of Banks’ new album ‘Lies About the War’ — I can tell you that the man continues to defy musical boundaries. The songs have a unique feel and I still can’t quite put my finger on the genre.
The last two years have changed nearly everything about the world. We consume art and content differently. We celebrate birthdays and holidays online, or at least we used to. Covid has also changed the way in which artists create. Banks says that creating music during several lockdowns led him to focus on the music in a more individual way.
“Due to Covid, there were a lot fewer people involved. A lot of this was recorded in my home studio. Ideas were kind of contemplated while I played Call of Duty. It was a lot more sombre — it was just me for most of it,” Banks says of the new album, “This one is a lot more reflective.”
So where does the title ‘Lies About the War’ come from? Banks says it’s a phrase from his friend and former guitarist which means that soldiers could say anything about war — because no one else was there. True, I suppose, but what does that mean? He says it means we need to believe we are the heroes of our own story.
“You would exaggerate a story in a way that makes you the hero,” says Banks, “I think it’s necessary, I think that you have to be slightly delusional about your existence on this earth. It’s a very niche approach but I think you have to think you’re the shit.” It’s a very inspirational sentiment that might be hard to pick up on without an explanation.
“You have to wake up every day and be like ‘I’m him’. You have to really convince yourself and believe that—because you are him, or her, or anything in between. You have to wake up every day and believe that you are the hero of this movie that you’re in. That’s where the phrase comes from, it’s just ‘Lies about the War’,” he continues.
‘Lies About the War’ is being released on Banks’ independent record label — ‘Nobody Records’. After playing the major label game for the better part of a decade he feels it is time to move on.
“That part of my life has come to an end. Not for any dramatic reason, I just want to be able to start giving back and be able to support artists coming after me.”, says Banks. “To be honest I’ve always worked directly with the people who help to make this happen. It doesn’t feel any different than when I was on a major label. I would be doing the same things I used to do anyway — I’ve always directed my own videos and set up my own sessions.”
Banks says he can’t pick one song from the new tracklist which speaks to him the most — I’m not sure that I can either. Each track feels unique in its own way, singling out one “big hit” seems impossible.
“I can’t.” he admits, “They all just mean so many different things. It’s like choosing your favourite emotion. I think that they are all necessary and tell different stories. I can’t really pick one.”
“I just hope that I’m able to keep people company while people are reminded that as unique as an experience might feel, it rarely ever is. You’re not alone — many people have survived before you and people will survive after you. You’re not alone and you have company,” Banks says of the album as a whole. The sentiment shows his commitment to supporting the community through his music and catches me a bit by surprise. It’s not every day you meet someone so passionate about what their art can do for others. Banks makes it clear that his music is just as much about expressing himself as it is for the benefit of his fans.
So how does Banks write his music? As someone who dabbles in music writing, I ask him the question in earnest.
“My process is more like remembering than writing — I don’t really have a method. It’s like trying to remember a dream, that’s probably the best way I can describe it. I hear the chords and I hear the music and I feel like the song already exists and it’s my job to help translate these things that I already hear in my head. I can hear everything in my head — once I hear the chords, I just have to work hard to remember it as vividly as I can,” the artist tells me.
Banks’ answer here shines through in his new album. The songs don’t seem crafted so much as stories that are being told, or as he says — remembered. The tracks hit with soul and, for me, seem to cut through the noise that can so often be in our heads.
He wants it that way, he wants these stories he has written to bring people together, to remind us of our common humanity.
“I think it’s one of the very few things that we all agree on,” Banks says on music, “I think humanity is everyone kind of living up to where you were born and what religion you were born into — what your skin looks like or what gender your feel at home at. I think for music, everyone seems to put their differences aside.”
“We’re all here for the same thing — when people come to shows, there is such a unity because regardless of race, colour or creed, you’re here because you fuck with the songs or you fuck with the art. You’re on this journey together, which is a rare thing because the experience of humanity is so unique,” he continues.
I told you he was philosophical — but, to me at least, Banks’ idea of unity through music and art rings true. The thought of standing in a crowd of thousands — as one — makes sense to me. Particularly because for the better part of two years most of us haven’t been able to experience that cherished feeling.
He says the album is a story of his rebellion and then surrender to a feeling of “powerlessness” over the past couple of years. When I ask him about his music and his public voice-over that time, he tells me that it isn’t his place to take centre stage.
“It felt selfish to talk about my job. I would get messages from everyone like ‘you should do an Instagram live thing, when are you going on tour or when is your music coming out’. People are dying, in the grand scheme of everything, singing songs felt so insignificant to me. It felt like I had survivors’ guilt,” Banks said. Then he told me, “It doesn’t hold a candle to anything, it was kind of a moment of silence. I felt like the right thing to do was not get in the way — not draw attention to myself.”
Now Banks is ready to get back out on tour again. His last tour finished just before the UK went into lockdown, and he admits he has never performed some of the music from his previous EP, ‘For My Friends‘, at a live show. He seems cautiously optimistic to get back out on the road.
“I won’t know until I’m there — it’s been so long. Before everything happened, I was lucky enough to just finish touring before everything shut down. Before that, I’d been on tour pretty much every day for four years straight. So, I am an artist who lived on the road and enjoyed the road. It’s going to be interesting — I won’t know until I’m there,” Banks admits, “I am grateful that I still get to do what I do, more than anything. Not so many people have the chance to do that.”
Banks is the portrait of a genuine artist. He wants to make his music free of constraints, hoping it adds something to the world — he has no illusions of where he stands and who he is. I’ll be eager to hear the rest of ‘Lies About the War’ when it drops later in the year.
As we ended the interview, I asked Banks what is the one thing he wouldn’t want to die wondering about, true to character, he says — “I would hate to die wondering if I should have tried.”
Album Lies About The War is due for release this spring with single Just When I Thought out now.
Photography: David Reiss
Styling: Suzie Street
Styling Assistant: Yosan Michael