Jamie N Commons
200 41st Street S
Birmingham, AL, 35222
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 18 and over
Born in Nigeria and based in England, 25-year-old singer/songwriter Jacob Banks creates soul music that's uncompromisingly honest but thrillingly cinematic. A self-taught musician who began singing, playing guitar, and writing songs at the age of 20, Banks got his start at open mic nights around Birmingham in 2011 and quickly won major attention for his commanding vocal presence and daringly intimate songwriting. In early 2013 he released his powerful debut EP The Monologue, earning feverish acclaim that soon saw him supporting such artists as Emeli Sandé and Alicia Keys on tour.
Now at work on his Interscope Records debut (the follow-up to 2015's self-released, critically praised EP The Paradox), Banks thrives on constant innovation in the richly textured beats and grooves that give his music such intensity. "I think the epicness of my songs partly comes from being African -- that really heavy, four-on-the-floor, foot-thumping, warrior kind of vibe has a lot to do with where I'm from," notes Banks, who moved to England at age 14. And with his nuanced yet arresting vocal delivery, Banks proves himself attuned to the darker dimensions of the human experience while instilling each track with a profoundly hopeful spirit. "I'm never defeated in any of my songs; I always seem to win," he says. "I want to use that to empower everyday people, to be their battery pack on a Monday morning and help them get through the day. All of these songs are about triumph, and how to keep going when everyone and everything is telling you to stop."
Jamie N Commons
There's a billboard for 'Skyscraper', the summer blockbuster starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson down the street from Jamie N Commons' house. You wouldn't know from the poster, but Jamie composed the music for it. Living alone in the depths of Historic Filipino Town, the blues-y troubadour has been quietly developing an impeccable reputation as a go-to songwriter for hire by the movie, TV and advertising world. Quiet and humble, he doesn't brag about it. Unless he's in the pub with some other Englishmen - like he was yesterday - watching England's soccer team in the World Cup and explaining who he is. He pointed at a trailer on the TV behind the bar. It was for 'Skyscraper'. “I did the music for that,” he said, proudly.
His England soccer cap rests on a table in his apartment, opposite a draped American flag. Both are within eyeshot of his home studio set-up. He answers the door in a sweatshirt with the word 'Chicago' emblazoned across it. None of this is accidental. It's all a part of Jamie's story. A decade spent in Chicago was sandwiched between an upbringing in England. From the age of six to 16 he was here in America during his most pivotal formative years. They were heavy years, too during which Jamie felt like he was caught in a hurricane. It forced him to go deeper into himself. Today he admits he's almost a hermit out here in the no man's land between Echo Park and Downtown LA. “Maybe I chose this as my island,” he half jokes.
Jamie's life history matches that of a vagabond's, even though much of his traveling wasn't by choice. Born in Bristol in the late '80s and following that with a stint in Chicago, he returned to England set on a music career. He studied at Goldsmiths in London, notorious for its host of luminary alumni, but notably an influx of hot new talent during his years studying there, including James Blake, Katy B and Noah And The Whale to name but a few.
When it was his turn to emerge with 2011 EP 'The Baron' (followed by 2013's 'Rumble And Sway' EP), he did so against the backdrop of a fire-and-brimstone style universe. He wore wide-brimmed hats and sang with a whiskey-laced growl about death and taxes, in thrall to his heroes Tom Waits, Johnny Cash and Nick Cave. With an encyclopedic knowledge of music, Jamie seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, seeking to justify where he fit in that canon of established greats. “There's a certain amount of intensity required to rock,” he says, smiling and chill. “It's not entirely me. I'm more of a happy go lucky character.” He felt compelled to take it perhaps too seriously, aching to sit alongside his sonic ancestors. “When you’re trying with lyrics and sound to keep pace with Dylan, Waits, etc and you're just starting out, it's impossible.” Unsurprisingly, it stopped being fun.
When it came to sitting down again to work on his own material without this prior mask on, it took a while for him to find a reason to be standing beneath his own name again. He thought about protest music but eventually he drew from a different side of his musical heritage: shameless, romantic, '80s blue-eyed pop. Think Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Steve Winwood, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, etc. “Music is supposed to be fun,” he offers. “That's what I want to achieve: fun, joy, levity, a lightness.” His latest material is a far cry from the Jamie of yore. It's almost an answer to the thick, heavy swamp laments. “It doesn't mean it's not about heavy things, but it's about moving forward, rather than singing about murder and death.” These songs that started as a personal revitalization project soon started to get a positive response from the label and friends.
“It's the complete opposite of cool,” he laughs. “It's fucking Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel but I love that stuff. It's goofy as fuck. There's moments in these songs that you remember because of the innocence. 'Call Me Al', 'Dancing In The Dark'… That's what I needed in my life. Now I can write this music I never dreamed anyone would give me the thumbs up for.” The songs are written about past relationships and those yet to come. “Their emotional but they're not banging down the door. There's still a wallop though,” he says.
Ruminating upon former girlfriends in this style meant that Jamie found a new solace in his writing. “The songs are a tale of modern isolation and loneliness,” he says. Having lived in London for most of his career he upped sticks to LA some years ago. “I came to America, I left friends and family behind. I was writing these songs to imagine close relationships and to re-establish intimacy because so many relationships are vapid, passing and symbiotic in LA. We've never been more connected and more alone. I want a deeper connection. I've tried to actualize that in the songs.”
The one relationship that he seems to have struggled with most is his relationship with himself. Hence the need for validation by an audience. Jamie needs to know that there's a purpose for his craft. “A lot of artists say they write for themselves, but I am the other way around,” he says. “I want people to listen to my music. I guess it's having a Northern dad. The idea that you sit here and strum your little guitar in Hollywood blah blah blah. It doesn't seem like hard work. So I always feel a little guilty if I get too self-indulgent, it’s fans that make the music the music.”
Jamie's workmanlike approach has been fed further by the work he's doing for others. Among his successes, he co-wrote the hit 'Jungle' for X Ambassadors with Alex Da Kid and Sam Harris, and toured with the band. That song was synced on “Orange Is The New Black” and “Pitch Perfect 2,” and it was remixed with a verse from Jay Z. He also had a Beats by Dre ad, and was featured on Eminem's 'MMLP2' album. He won Music Week's Sync Artist of the year in 2016. This year he has a song with Kygo coming out. These experiences opened his ears to a spectrum of genres, making him more interested in the path pop music is taking.
The downside was that these career wins gave him permission to go deeper into himself and become more of a workaholic, escaping through the jobs he's inundated with, hiding from his own perceived 'self-indulgent' writing. It took him out of the live space too where he'd previously opened for everyone from Bruce Springsteen and BB King to Catfish And The Bottlemen. Recently he's been getting into the mindset of touring again, but it's been a minute and he needs to gear himself up. “I went to a gig the other night, stared at the person onstage and said, 'Wow I could never do that.' It's ridiculous. When I'm on the other side I have no nerves whatsoever.”
For Jamie, however, he's come to a fork in the road where he's realized that he must stop waiting for life to happen and choose to jump in feet first. “I had this idea in my head that if you have a hit album then you can relax. It's a complete fallacy.” Of course, that was corroborated by all his prior Goldsmiths' friends, and it became a sticking point. Seven years later, the idea of putting out a constant stream of songs is a way to keep a steady flow, have more manageable expectations and put less weight on lofty goals. “Not living with fear is the key,” he says. “Not obsessing about music to the point of detriment to friends and family when you just disappear in yourself.”
The songs – “Paper Dreams,” “Closer,” “Won't Let Go” (hilariously written after watching that scene in 'Titanic') and “Heartbreak” – are '80s redolent with lots of space and a rhythm-led structure. They position him close to the likes of Francis & The Lights and Jack Antonoff style production and match his drive. “A mad ambition brought me to LA,” he says. “Not knowing what else to do with myself I put so much of my self-worth into music. The songs are meditations on trying to find a deeper connection with someone, trying to find out who you are and become a mature adult.”
Jamie N Commons V2.0 is ready for his own billboard. “I'm forcing myself into an uncomfortable position and I have to give 10 out of 10. It's uncomfortable to do this style of music because it's synthetic sounding and if you get this genre wrong it's the worst thing you've ever heard.” It's scary perhaps but it's also time.