Jacob Banks moves quietly. Rather than shy away from life’s difficulties, Banks prefers to confront them directly in his songs, often courageously charting into territory over things that are too painful, embarrassing, or difficult to talk about.
“If something isn’t as simple as you would like, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth fighting for,” Banks said. “Things can end and still be beautiful. Endings can still be wonderful.”
The Nigerian-born and London-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist’s music has taken us from joyous and upbeat, enchanted by romance, to broken by loss in the span of Banks’ almost decade-long career.
Banks’ breakout hit, ‘Worthy’ from his debut EP “The Monologue,” garnered critical acclaim in 2012. Already, he had established himself in London with his powerful vocals, emotive lyricism, and prowess for guitar and piano.
“Devil That I Know,” released last month on October 14, is a melancholy ballad. His deep vocals only accompanied by a soulful piano, Banks bares his struggles of finding love and joy in a hopeless state.
“The devil that I know / is better that the devil that I don’t.”
Although Banks’ rich baritone is a central facet in all of his music, this track carries something more personal from his songwriting — exposing his soul in a way he usually never does.
“Life and love – you choose it – sometimes it’s the devil that we usher in,” Banks said of the song. “Love is ultimately an expensive tradeoff. We should celebrate the destination more than the journey, but love ultimately ends in pain. Even if you die together, you will experience pain. You have to ask yourself, which person is worth that pain?”
“This is for people that need a reminder that you’re not alone in all of this,” Banks said.
Banks has stayed out of the spotlight for most of quarantine. Naturally a homebody, Banks set up a studio in his spare room when the pandemic hit. He enjoys his time in his cozy North London apartment with his two furry roommates — Cuba and Cuppy, his two cats.
For the singer-songwriter, what distinguishes these songs from his previous artistry is not necessarily the content, but rather, the method in which the listener should experience the music. “These songs are meant to be listened on their own,” Banks said, unlike many of his more cheerful tracks, which are enjoyed in large groups. One of Banks’ most memorable tour moments was his sold-out show at the Brooklyn Steel in February of 2019.
Today, Banks released an acoustic version of the first song in his latest string of singles, titled “Stranger,” which was released as a single in September. Sparse beats, hypnotic handclaps, wailing guitar, and delicate piano stitch together a warm soundscape as his vocoder-wrapped vocals carry a hymn-like chant.
“No one makes it out alive, even time will have its time / Stranger, once upon a time.”
“For me, songwriting feels more like remembering a song,” Banks said in a press statement. “I’m trying to remember a vague dream. The song already exists. I just need to be present enough to pull it out of the sky. Nothing is truly new. We’re trying to tell old stories in new ways. Every sound, sample, kick, and snare has been used, but you can put your own little twist on them. Whoever has the best memory wins.”