Buoyed by the smashing success of his recent trio of EPs – The Monologue, The
Paradox and The Boy Who Cried Freedom – Nigerian-born British singer-songwriter
Jacob Banks releases his eagerly awaited full album debut, Village, November 2 nd on
Interscope. The 14-track disc is a sprawling, deeply immersive experience on which
Banks’ throaty, expressive baritone weaves its way through a mesmerizing mix of
musical styles and textures.
But whether he’s riding a hip-hop groove, fiercely updating soul or jamming to neo-
blues, the connective tissue throughout the album is Banks’ profound commitment to
exploring human themes through his vibrant and insightful storytelling.
“That’s how I really see myself – a storyteller in songs,” he observes. “I find so much of
the time that musicians don’t really come across as human because they only celebrate
a tiny fraction of what they are. With this album, Village, I tried to embrace all that I’ve
lived through and experienced, and that gave me the mental freedom to let go and
express everything I’m feeling, the good and the bad. And I think when you can pinpoint
what’s really going on inside you, those themes are universal. We’re all striving for the
same things – love, acceptance and an understanding of who we are.”
Banks spent the first 13 years of his life in his native Nigeria, where his exposure to
music was limited to church hymns and songs from Disney films. It wasn’t until he
moved with his family to Birmingham, England, that he was hit full-force by Western
music. “Right away, I was like a kid in a candy store,” he remembers. “There was rock,
there was hip-hop, soul and pop music. I would make up own CDs of everything I loved.
I couldn’t get enough of it.”
While studying civil engineering at Coventry University, Banks began toying with singing
and songwriting, accompanying himself on the guitar with the four basic chords he
knew. “It was all for fun at that point,” he says. But then he heard John Mayer’s album
Continuum, which changed everything. “There’s a song on it called ‘Slow Dancing in a
Burning Room,’ and I was mesmerized by it,” he notes. “I thought, ‘It would be incredible
if I could have this feeling forever.’ So I knew I had to try to express myself the same
way. That song put me on my path to being an artist.”
While at Coventry, Banks dedicated himself fully to writing, paying local studios 20
pounds an hour so he could record his songs for friends who played them in their cars.
Their response was so enthusiastic that he summoned the nerve to try his hand at open
mic nights at clubs. “That was the hardest thing and the best thing I ever did,” he
admits. “You’re struck by this fear, but you have to face it right away. You have to grab
people’s attention and keep it. Very quickly, I learned what songs work, and I learned
how to be a performer. Because if you don’t, you’re done – get off the stage.”
Banks’ career in civil engineering ended after he recorded an EP’s worth of songs that
became The Monologue, which contained the electrosoul rock-reggae gem “Worthy.”

BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe jumped on the track, dubbing it his “Next Hype” record, and
the song soon racked up over five million streams on Spotify. “From there, everybody
came calling,” Banks recalls, who was soon picked by British Emeli Sandé to support
her 2013 UK tour.
After The Monologue, he watched his career soar even higher with 2015’s The Paradox,
which packed his biggest smash so far, “Unknown” – over 12 million streams and
counting; and his Interscope Records debut from last year, The Boy Who Cried
Freedom. Raves and encomiums attended the latter release, with no less than Time
magazine singling out the track “Chainsmoking” as one of the year’s best songs. With
these releases came more touring opportunities, opening for Sam Smith and Alicia
Keys. Following knockout appearances at SXSW, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits,
Banks embarked on his 2017 Into the Wild global headline tour, playing to packed
houses in the States and Europe. Earlier this year, his debut at Coachella was one of
the event’s most talked-about performances, offering fans a generous preview of what’s
to come with his ambitious 2018-19 Village tour – fall European dates have just been
announced, with an extensive worldwide trek to follow.
“All of this time, I was still figuring out record making,” Banks explains. “I looked at EPs
as a safe space. I was making music and putting it out at a comfortable pace, learning
my craft as I went. Having my music accepted so well gave me the confidence to finally
say, ‘OK, now I’m ready to make a full statement on a proper album.’”
Village gets off to a righteous, roaring start with the gospel blues “Chainsmoking,”
peppered by Banks’ stinging guitar licks and volcanic vocals. Although the earlier
version from The Boy Who Cried Freedom had already made waves, it is this new
production that stands as the definitive recording. “The song is so important to me as it
celebrates love,” Banks says. “Much of love is free, but it can also cost you – your time,
your attention, your money. Sometimes love can kill you, but in the end, you have to
show up for it, because it’s the only thing that makes sense.”
To that end, he makes a bold case for that universal need on the hard-edged, pop-
reggae stomper “Love Ain’t Enough.” Over a crushing percussive groove and savage
piano blasts, Banks wails, “See my love ain’t enough!” with revival-meeting force. “Love
requires action,” he explains. “You have to be willing to fight for it, to go to war for it. As
beautiful as love is, it can’t exist without you making it happen.”
Earlier this year, Banks teamed with Swedish singer-songwriter Seinabo Sey on her
heavenly pop hit “Remember,” and the two reunite for the first single from Village, “Be
Good to Me,” a striking, hypnotic neo-soul dynamo that buries itself in the thicket of
one’s senses and doesn’t let go.
“I love singing with Seinabo,” says Banks, “and it was wonderful to perform with her on
this track because its message is so important. So often in life, we’re not asking for
much; we’re asking for the tiniest of things, but they can mean everything. It’s

everyone’s wish: Be nice to me. Be good to me. It’s the bare minimum, isn’t it? I wish
everybody would just listen to that notion and live their lives that way.”
On The Paradox, listeners were spellbound by “Unknown,” a gripping, confessional
ballad that traced the remnants of a relationship gone sour. The song and its meaning
haunted Banks, who revisits it on “Unknown (To You),” fine-tuning its sweeping
production and turning in a towering vocal performance for the ages. “As good as the
old version was, I didn’t feel like I did it justice,” he says. “The song has been a friend to
me and it’s kept me company, so I put my best foot forward and captured the energy
that I give it on stage. Now it’s right. I believe this version, and I trust it completely.”
Village concludes on an elegiac note with the “Peace of Mind,” a minimalist yet powerful
torch jazz-blues balm for the mind and soul. “Letting go of somebody is hard and
painful, but it’s necessary,” Banks observes. “I sing, ‘Maybe one day I'll wake up and
you're no longer in my head,’ and it’s like a mission statement. It’s me saying, ‘I’m not
good right now, but one day I’ll be fine.’ It’s a song about survival.”
To navigate the multitude of moods and textures of Village, Banks worked with a host of
the world’s most talented producers – among them are STINT, Paul Epworth, Malay
and Yonatan "xSDTRK" Ayal. “The reason why I asked different people to produce my
songs is because I’m so intrigued by people’s minds,” Banks reasons. “I have various
stories to tell, and sometimes that requires new approaches to production. I just don’t
feel like the magic in the world lives within one person, but that’s the great thing about
music: There’s room at the table for everybody.”
Assessing his own work on his official full-length debut, Banks likens Village to the way
he started making music back in the day. “I’ve made my favorite album to listen to with
my friends. I worked with the nicest team of people, and they carried me through this
process. From that experience, I now have a body of work that I can share with the
people I care about, and that includes the rest of the world. I’m very proud of this
achievement.”

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.

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