Jacob Banks might have had a great career in politics were it not for his very promising career in music. The British singer-songwriter is thoughtful, candid and has been keenly observant of American life while touring to support his musical endeavors. His latest trek through the States includes a stop Friday night at the Bronze Peacock at House of Blues.
He says, in some ways, being an artist is like being a public servant.
“I just feel like I’m a commentator, I’m a glorified commentator. We just comment on what’s happening,” he said. “I don’t particularly go into the darkness all the time, it’s just we’re just in a really tough spot right now. And songs keep you company through that process. I’m just trying to do my part, that’s all.”
The Houston Press met with Banks last month ahead of his set at ACL Music Festival. When we sat down for that chat, a full week hadn’t yet passed from the shootings at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas. He spoke freely about the tragedy and applauded Texans for not abandoning ACL. Since that discussion only weeks ago, there have been mass shootings in Texas and northern California. Because he hails from Birmingham, England, we asked him about American gun violence at that time.
“It’s super weird because if you get rid of guns in America, (there go) half your problems,” he said. “Say for example, as a black guy, if you take a racist cop, if I flinch, he’ll shoot me because of all these issues he has. So, now, in the U.K., we don’t have guns. Because we don’t have guns, the police don’t have guns. So, even if the police is racist, even if he hates me, at least he’s not afraid for his life. So, we can deal with situations to a certain degree of maturity.
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“If you take someone who’s already racist, hates me, hates life,…if you flinch too fast, they’ll shoot. Every time I see a police officer shoot someone in America, they don’t shoot once, they empty the whole clip. Do you know how petrified you have to be? He’s not trying to disarm him, he’s so petrified that he just keeps,…irrational,…” and Banks’ thoughts trail off.
Banks admits these matters are complex, but notes the most effective way to deal with them might begin by recognizing the humanity we share with one another, no matter our differences. It’s a concept that comes across loud and clear in his stellar songwriting and through his commanding voice on songs like “Unholy War,” “Silver Lining” and “Chainsmoking,” arguably his biggest hit. Those songs pull from soul, R&B and hip-hop genres and should resonate in the intimate space of Bronze Peacock. Banks says it’s not his first trip to the city or the state. He was in Austin for SXSW earlier this year and has played Houston before.
“I love the food here so I’m always finding an excuse to come back,” he said.
He’s whet the appetites of music fans with a very busy year, which has included gigs on major music fests like ACL, Life is Beautiful, Firefly and Lollapalooza.
“A festival’s a lot more rowdy. People want to hear more up-tempo, fun stuff. Intimate shows, it’s different, there’s a connection,” he says. “People want to experience a plethora of emotions. Intimate shows are more like, ‘How can we connect with people?’”
Banks began his musical journey as many others do, by frequenting open mikes and paying his dues. Unlike others, his career advanced fairly quickly. He was 13 when he moved from Nigeria to the U.K. He started pursuing music in earnest at 20 and within a few years found himself touring in support of major acts like Alicia Keys and Sam Smith. His latest release, The Boy Who Cried Freedom, was released by Interscope Records. He shared a message with his fellow musicians in Houston who are still trying to find the right music industry support.
“The industry’s always the last to the party,” he says. “My only advice is to exist outside of the industry. It’ll help you when you’re in it because you don’t need nobody. I think it’s important to go and do it and they will come. (They’re) always the last to get there. So you have to learn to win without the industry and then they will come. And at that point, you’re in a position where it’s like you decide whether or not you need them, because you already know how to survive without them.”
Speaking of Houston musicians, we ask Banks if he’s familiar with any.
“I know Beyoncé. That’s kind of all you need, really,” he says jokingly.
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“Chopped and screwed was a massive part of my childhood. I used to be a dancer, so chopped and screwed stuff was nice,” he said. “Love that stuff very much. That was right around the time that E-40 was out, Ludacris chopped stuff, a lot of down south like Paul Wall was chopped and screwed. Yeah, I grew up on a lot of that stuff.”
We’re kind of amazed that music from the southern United States translated so well in Birmingham, England. But then again, it’s not surprising at all. Banks is a thoughtful and open-minded individual and artist. He’s not a politician but he is out there stumping and bringing a special message to his tour stops.
“Togetherness is all we have and I believe the only reason God made so many of us is we’re supposed to help each other, “ he said. “I think we’re supposed to help and love and be loved.”
Bronze Peacock at House of Blues Houston hosts Jacob Banks 7 p.m. Friday, November 17. $15.