Jacob Banks is not your average soul singer. In fact, the Birmingham native tells me that his voice used to be pretty ordinary. Then, one day, his tonsils spontaneously dislodged from his throat. “I woke up and my tonsils fell out of my mouth. They just rolled out my mouth,” he tells me, seriously. “And from that point I could sing. My throat was bleeding for weeks. Then it stopped and I had this tone that people hear now”. So, following what seems like some quasi-religious experience we have Jacob Banks in the wonderfully talented guise that he is today. A lyrically driven singer-songwriter, his is a wise head on 21-year-old shoulders. And that tone that he mentions – a warm, classic, timeless tone with huge cross-over potential – has got A&R execs chomping at the bit, despite his current unsigned status.
Concerned that the above revelation could start some kind of tonsil-removing trend among mediocre aspiring vocalists, we move on to Jacob’s career trajectory, which reads like any new artist’s dream. While he was completing a degree in Civil Engineering, a video posted on YouTube led him to win a competition to record with Plan B, followed by another victory with MOBO UnSung, a stint on the MOBO tour and inclusion on the MTV Brand New for 2013 list. A year down the line and Jacob is now managed by Wretch 32’s team – another fateful irony, given that he had Wretch’s lyrics tattooed onto his chest years before he started singing. He now counts both Wretch and Plan B as close mentors. “Wretch helps me to live – we do some crazy shit sometimes. Plan has showed me how much hard work has to be done to make it as an artist.” Jacob’s debut EP, The Monologue, recorded in just eight days, was released to critical acclaim, with haunting lead track “Worthy” being championed across the industry. “It’s all about finding new ways to tell old stories”, he explains.
So life has changed pretty rapidly in this last year?, I ask. “I’m a lot happier. That’s what I feel the most. Prior to everything that’s happened I could say I hated life. I really wanted to be happy and I’m happy now. I did my degree because my mum wanted me to do it.” Jacob’s love and hunger for music was no doubt strengthened by the fact that he grew up in a house where there was no music. “I heard music first when I was 13, and I’m 21 now.” After a brief stint idolising Sisqo of “Thong Song”fame – “I thought I was him” – he turned his attentions to the Disney cartoon movie Anastacia. “There was this song called “At The Beginning” on the soundtrack. It was at the very end on the VCR. I would watch it over and over just so I could get to that song and it blew my mind. I held on to music more than others because I didn’t have an abundance of it.”
If people aren’t familiar with his sound now, who might he compare it to? “One guy called me the black James Arthur”. I suggest that he is perhaps underselling himself a bit there. “I get John Legend quite a lot. Michael Kiwanuka, Josh Osho, even Al Green or Marvin Gaye”. And if he had to pick one of his tracks for you to listen to it would be “Homecoming”. “It’s a song about me wanting to chase my dreams and understanding it may or may not be worth it – but either way I’m going to have to put up with it”. Surely with the success he’s been having, it feels worth it? He was, after all, the first ever unsigned act to perform on Radio 1’s Live Lounge. “My mum wants me to do my Masters. I said to her to give me a year. My year runs out in July. So we’ll see”.
Written by Holly Rubenstein for Notion Magazine