Jacob Banks

Early Show

Jacob Banks

Support from JP

Thu, May 4, 2017

Doors: 6:30 pm

Mercury Lounge

New York, NY

$12.00 - $15.00

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This event is 21 and over

Jacob Banks - (Set time: 8:00 PM)
Jacob Banks
Born in Nigeria and based in England, 25-year-old singer/songwriter Jacob Banks creates soul music that's uncompromisingly honest but thrillingly cinematic. A self-taught musician who began singing, playing guitar, and writing songs at the age of 20, Banks got his start at open mic nights around Birmingham in 2011 and quickly won major attention for his commanding vocal presence and daringly intimate songwriting. In early 2013 he released his powerful debut EP The Monologue, earning feverish acclaim that soon saw him supporting such artists as Emeli Sandé and Alicia Keys on tour.

Now at work on his Interscope Records debut (the follow-up to 2015's self-released, critically praised EP The Paradox), Banks thrives on constant innovation in the richly textured beats and grooves that give his music such intensity. "I think the epicness of my songs partly comes from being African -- that really heavy, four-on-the-floor, foot-thumping, warrior kind of vibe has a lot to do with where I'm from," notes Banks, who moved to England at age 14. And with his nuanced yet arresting vocal delivery, Banks proves himself attuned to the darker dimensions of the human experience while instilling each track with a profoundly hopeful spirit. "I'm never defeated in any of my songs; I always seem to win," he says. "I want to use that to empower everyday people, to be their battery pack on a Monday morning and help them get through the day. All of these songs are about triumph, and how to keep going when everyone and everything is telling you to stop."
Support from JP - (Set time: 7:00 PM)
Support from JP
In each of his songs, Toronto-bred singer/songwriter JP Saxe hones in on the smallest of moments to spark a quietly powerful shift in emotion. On his debut single “Changed,” the L.A.-based artist brings that ineffable detail to a mesmerizing meditation on transformation and loss.

“‘Changed’ started one day when I was walking home from the studio and it was abnormally cold for Los Angeles,” says Saxe of the starkly arranged, piano-driven track. “For whatever reason, the feeling of my hands being freezing in L.A. made me remember someone I hadn’t thought about in a long time, which set me into this whole process of recognizing how much I’ve grown away from that part of my life. The song became about looking back on a past relationship and a past version of myself, and wondering what my responsibility is to all of that now.”

With Saxe showing a poet’s sensitivity to the nuance of language, “Changed” channels both anger and affection in its gently devastating lyrics (“I hate that my whole family’s gotta ask me how you’ve been/You know me better than I wish you did”).

Accompanying his soulful vocals with sparse beats and luminous piano work, Saxe also shapes his R&B-leaning sound with a precision that he partly attributes to the influence of his grandfather, Janos Starker (a musician widely regarded as one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century). At the same time, the multi-instrumentalist matches his elegant musicality with a purposeful inventiveness.

“Our goal in the production was to avoid any of the obvious approaches to eliciting emotion,” says Saxe, who created “Changed” with producer Ryan Marrone.

“So instead of using strings to indicate sadness or huge drum sounds to indicate something triumphant, we wanted to find new or different ways of getting feeling out of the music.”

With its delicate synthesis of kaleidoscopic sounds—fractured grooves, blurry synth lines, dense beats, cascading guitar tones—Saxe’s forthcoming debut EP is both formally defiant and meticulously composed. Whether he’s reflecting on unbearable desperation (“Anybody Else”), the chaos of a tempestuous romance (“Screaming to Myself”), or the lovely thrill of surrender to longing (“The Few Things”), each track embodies a deliberate vulnerability. “What excites me most as a songwriter is focusing in on these very intimate moments that symbolize a bigger feeling, like love or pain or something else altogether,” says Saxe. “I want to make every song so honest and close to my experience that it will feel personal to whoever’s hearing it, and hopefully they’ll feel more connected to a deeper part of themselves.”

Another track featured on the EP, the slow-burning and gracefully frenetic “Broken Parts” served as the catalyst for Saxe’s songwriting approach. “I remember listening to ‘Broken Parts’ in the context of other songs I’d written and thinking: ‘This is what it feels like when a song feels like me,’” says Saxe, who wrote the track three years ago. Rather than rushing to release “Broken Parts”—a song about “choosing to move forward instead of defining yourself by what’s gone wrong in your past”—Saxe devoted the coming years to examining and refining his artistic process. “I spent a long time figuring out how to turn that song into a body of work, to expand on it and build it into something that was both artistically and emotionally exciting to me,” he says.

For Saxe, the batch of songs included on his EP represent much more than that three year period of exploration. “It feels like the culmination of my four years in Los Angeles, and then the eight years before that of learning to be a writer,” he says. Now 24, Saxe set out on his musical path by beginning piano lessons at age two. At age 11, he took up cello in order to get to know his grandfather: a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who went on to become the first cellist for the Chicago Symphony, then a Grammy Awardwinning solo performer. “So many of my ideas about the purpose of music-making are rooted in me through my grandfather,” says Saxe. “He taught me that no subtlety should be ignored, and about the value of pursuing beauty on that minute a level. As a result of that I’ve gotten to the point of refusing to compromise with my music. If I’m not going to be that particular about what I’m putting out into the world, then there’s no reason for me to do it at all.”

Soon after learning cello, Saxe started singing and—by his mid-teens—added guitar and jazz piano to his repertoire. At 15 he landed a weekly gig playing piano at a bar in Toronto, and within a couple years shifted his focus to songwriting. While he lists Carole King and Joni Mitchell among his main inspirations, Saxe notes that the improvisational nature of jazz performance still informs his music today. “Because you’re composing instantaneously, the emotion is just immediately in the music, which has always seemed incredible to me,” he says.

Once he’d graduated high school, Saxe spent three months volunteering at a Kenyan orphanage, a decision inspired by years of volunteerism with the international charity

Free the Children as a teenager. Upon returning from the orphanage, where he and the\ kids played music together every day, he resumed his songwriting and soon received an offer for a production deal. Although that deal brought him to L.A., Saxe ended up striking out on his own and immersing himself in the music and poetry scene of Los Angeles, becoming a regular at Da Poetry Lounge (a poetry performance space). While performing a cappella at the venue, an attendee introduced him to a producer working with legendary hitmaker Babyface. “Not long after that, I was at Babyface’s studio five days a week, working and growing as a songwriter,” says Saxe. Today, he’s written songs that have been released by up-and-coming artists like Jacob Banks, Foxes, and Snoh Aalegra, with several tracks set to be released by some of the biggest artists in the world.

Along with fostering his songwriting career, Saxe’s time with the poetry community has had a major impact on his lyrical development. “Hanging out with poets helped me think about my process differently,” Saxe says. “Instead of trying to be impressive with some clever melody or cool chord change, I try to imagine how the song could be effective with just words, and how to be as honest as possible.”

In bringing so much intentionality to his music, Saxe ultimately hopes to inspire a subtle awakening that, in the end, gives us a more colorful understanding of our own emotions. “Apart from looking someone in the eye and having a conversation with them, I think art has the most power to make you feel deeply connected,” he says. “I know that when I listen to music I love—or watch a movie I love, or see a work of art that speaks to me—I come away from it feeling more in touch with the part of myself that makes me want to breathe in the world, have meaningful conversations, call my mom, that sort of thing. With my own music, what I want most is for people to hear a song and feel what it means to their own experience, and hopefully return to their life in a way that’s more connected to that deeper-rooted part of themselves.”
Venue Information:
Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St.
New York, NY, 10002