Grace Rivera/Courtesy of the artist
The first thing you’ll notice about musician Jacob Banks is his voice — a mesmerizingly deep baritone with timbre so rich, you can almost feel it wrapping you up in song. But that’s not all the 27-year-old R&B singer brings to the table.
The U.K.-hailing artist was born in Nigeria but grew up in Birmingham, England and got into music seriously about seven years ago. After years of releasing well-received EPs and performing for fans both across Europe and in America, Banks has released his major label debut album, Village, out now via Interscope Records.
Banks poured all of his influences growing up — his Nigerian roots, his love of blues, his stories with friends — into creating this debut. Even the title of the album comes from the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s taken some time to get the music just right, but Banks is grateful for the path that led him to this moment. “I’ve always strived for the feeling that I have now,” Banks says. “I didn’t want to make an album that I was dependent on to solidify my position as a human being.”
And although Village positions Banks to be a rising star, he remains lowkey. Case in point: Instead of having an album release party, Banks stayed home to play FIFA and hang out with his two cats. “The cats loved it,” he says. “I enjoy being at home. And it was a good way to bring it in for me. I felt like I had my foot on the ground.”
The singer-songwriter spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish about the long road to releasing his debut, the emotional toll of performing and more. Hear their conversation at the audio link and read interview highlights below.
On the cost of love inspiring his song “Chainsmoking”
My mom’s a nurse, and she has four kids and she chooses to work nights so she can spend the days with us. So she would work 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., come home to us ready for school. Then while we’re at school, she’ll sleep, and then she’ll pick us up from school, and then spend the day with us and go back to work at 8 p.m. And that was her system for years on end. And as time went on, it was kind of obvious that it wasn’t the best option because she’s now 52 and had to have her knees replaced. She just had the appendix taken out a couple days ago. [That] shouldn’t happen to someone who’s 52. And, I guess, the point of the song is love is expensive. It’ll cost you time, hell, sometimes your sanity. But it’s all we have, and it’s all we have to stand by, and it’s the only thing that keeps us going.
There’s a political side to that same message; [it’s] we have to stand up for love every time, even though it’s expensive. These are dark times, but all we have is each of our own and we have to stand up for one another.
On tapping into emotions and memories in order to perform
I think this is a double-edged sword, because I don’t feel that the audience should care, in a weird way. … My approach to being onstage is this: You’ve given me your time. Time is the only currency that matters to me. Money can be replaced, anything else can be replaced, but time, if you choose to come see me, if you choose to spend your 30 minutes or an hour or whatever it is, and you’ve given that time to me, I will put anything aside and give you a good show. That’s one side of it. And the second side is these songs come from such a real place and to do your job properly, you have to keep that window open and you have to go through these emotions again. It always feels like it’s just happening, for me, anyway. It can be tough but I think over the years, old songs take on new meanings, and hopefully they’re more wonderful than the one before.
On writing notes to his younger self through music
[“Slow Up“] is about me, it’s about me being a child. I’m the eldest of four kids, and I see so much of me in them. Unfortunately I see the need to want to break free so quickly, and I feel like people from marginalized groups, we often have to grow up a lot quicker than everybody else. And in your growth, you skip stuff, you skip communication, you skip love languages, you skip affection, you skip like how to talk about how you feel properly. You have to be so defensive so quickly, and you have to know how to protect yourself. And you give up freedom for that. So this song was a note to self, was a note to my younger self saying like I wish I was younger for longer.