Arts artist interview

Listen to him, he likes zucchinis

Why you should be excited about singer-songwriter BANNERS coming to Boston

Café 939
April 20, 2018

In one of the final scenes in the movie The Prestige, two magicians confront each other and one of them says something along the lines of, “Don’t you get it? Magic is all about the audience. People live in a gritty, sad world … and if you can take them out of it for a second, and make them believe in something better, your trick is worthwhile.”

I’m sure most people understand that. It’s hard to be completely optimistic on your own, what with famine, poverty, and the confusing architecture of the stud. Luckily for me, I have music to turn to. I have every kind of playlist, from my Dad’s ’80s classics to the angstiest Foster the Peoples to the soundtrack of The Social Network.

Granted, only a few artists really cheer me up, and BANNERS is one of those. Part of this, interestingly enough, is because I recently got to speak with the singer-songwriter himself.
When I received the opportunity to interview Michael Joseph Nelson (which is the off-stage, actual person name of BANNERS), I already knew who he was. A few of his songs — including the popular “Someone To You” and the hidden gem “Gold Dust” — were an integral part of my Spotify account. BANNERS has the likeable English throatiness of bands like The 1975 and Amber Run, but the soft surprise of his high notes is a unique pleasure. His songs, generally upbeat, can be glum, but they’re nowhere near as moody as Bastille’s.

Anyway, BANNERS is playing at Café 939 next Friday. A couple of weeks ago, I would have encouraged you to go — but now that I’ve spoken to BANNERS himself, I am adamant: this concert will be worth going to, 100 percent. Or, at least, BANNERS wants to make it that way for you.

First and foremost, this will be the first time BANNERS has come to Boston, and he’s wanted to be here for a while. One reason is Boston’s similarity to BANNERS’s hometown, Liverpool — the Boston Red Sox, BANNERS pointed out to me in our phone interview, is owned by the same group that owns the Liverpool Football Club. “I like the architecture of Fenway Park,” BANNERS said. “I’d like to come and have a look at that.”

“Also,” he added, “I think a Liverpool accent and a Boston accent are the two ones that are impossible to do an impression of.”

BANNERS likes Liverpool. “I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else,” he told me. “The way I see it is that, when I’m out away from Liverpool, I’m an ambassador from the city. So anybody that I meet …  I want them to think, Oh man! People from Liverpool are cool. There’s so much great music from Liverpool, and I would love to be even a footnote of that.”

As you can probably see at this point, BANNERS is a super optimistic man. “It all seems like such bad news,” he said, as we chatted about climate change, politics, and the general state of the world. “I’m always trying to think of ways to make this better. And the thing I’ve landed on is music. I can’t change how political systems work, but I can spend an hour-and-a-half on a weeknight playing for people, and I can make that experience positive for them, and they can go away feeling respected and loved. More and more, that’s the thing I am determined to do.”
So he’s well rehearsed in performing live, though of course it took a while to get to this point. “Performing live is a lot harder than you would ever really appreciate until you’ve done it,” he said. “Just trying to get the lyrics right, just trying to get the chords right, trying to remember to mute your guitar every time you take it off … it takes a little bit of time to really make it a show, to really express that you’re enjoying it. It’s tough, but I’m starting to get the hang of things.

“I like to talk to the audience as well. I don’t like to rehearse stuff to say. The audience that night is so special, that specific gig, and those specific people. It’s such an honor that people would spend their money to come and watch. It still blows me away every time that there are people there.”

Fans of BANNERS might like to know that one of his personal favorites of the songs he’s written is “Ghosts,” which he described to me as “very personal.”

“I wrote it on my own,” he said, “in the middle of the night on the piano in my dad’s house. It just sounded so great for a specific arrangement in that room and came out really quickly and is about quite a specific experience of mine. And now, every single time when I get to play it onstage, and there’s people singing it, I really have a moment with that song because I didn’t really write it for anybody. I just wrote it for myself and somebody I was with at the time, and it’s such a mind-blowing experience that now I can play that song, and there’s people that know it and have had their own experiences with it! It’s such an honor and such an amazing thing.

“There’s a moment that happens with that song that just shows you how special music can be.”
So we know that BANNERS, like that one guy in The Prestige, understands a principle of performance. I encourage you to watch him on the April 20 — regardless of whether you’ve heard BANNERS before, you’ll enjoy his preview of an unreleased song and something quite like magic.

Also, he told me his favorite vegetable (if tomato and mushroom don’t count) is zucchini. How can you not want to support someone like that?