Brandon Banks: “R&B Has Become A Lot More Experimental”

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Hailing from Inglewood, California, music polymath Brandon Banks broke into the scene in 2018 via his LP aptly titled Tides, which was propelled by his debut offering “Autumn” and songs like “Blue.” The singer—known for writing, editing, co-producing and creative directing everything he works on—demonstrated to the world that his sound was universal and transcended past the words that were written on a piece of paper.

Fast forward to 2020, he released his critically-acclaimed EP STATIC, a six-song diary that unpeels the many layers of an R&B singer both rising to stardom and finding himself through each song. Among songs like “BUTTERFLY” and “LUCY,” fellow fan-favorite artists in the genre like Mereba and UMI lend a hand on two of the records. After releasing a maxi-single, Caught Up, later that year, Brandon took a brief hiatus and returned to late-2021 with a contribution on one of the biggest albums released that year. Drake’s “Fair Trade” featuring Travis Scott sampled Charlotte Day Wilson’s 2019 track “Mountains,” which Banks wrote the chorus for.

Now, preparing for the release of his very own EP Natural Progressions set to drop later this Spring, Brandon Banks vaults back into the limelight with “Get On.” He explores themes of self-identity, masculinity, and trauma throughout the record, evoking a sense of emotion and nostalgia that transports the listener. On his way to being among the next generation of R&B stars, Banks is continuously getting closer to his destination.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Brandon Banks in regards to the evolution of the R&B genre, his forthcoming EP, working on Drake’s “Fair Trade,” and much more. Read on for our conversation.

As people of color, we often have a personal history with R&B and Hip-Hop—I’m curious to know yours. Where did you first hear it, and when did you decide that you wanted to create your own R&B music?

I first heard R&B everywhere around me growing up, fortunately, I’m a 90s baby so there was a lot of good music happening as I came up – Being black in America is synonymous with R&B and Hip Hop in my opinion. My dad has all the Motown jams on lock so they would always be playing the best of the best. My mom is an LA baby so she always had some G Funk or some zapp and roger playing so I got a good mix. I’m a huge hip-hop/rap fan myself so I would listen to mostly rap in my spare time.

Over the past decade or so, R&B has undergone a handful of changes sonically. How have the sounds, the people making it, or the places where it’s heard changed in your opinion? On the other hand, do you feel like anything has gotten lost in the art of R&B?

I feel that R&B has become a lot more experimental compared to what we had in the past, people are taking more risks and blending/bending each genre a lot more. as for me, I try to bring a hip-hop lyricism aspect to R&B and not make it so one-dimensional with just love or sex music.

The one thing I feel is getting lost overall in music is the pride of musicianship and performance. In a world where everything is so processed and computer-generated, you have a lot of people making music that is difficult to perform because they either can’t sing the lyrics and project on stage or there is not a lot of real instrumentation that is translatable to a live set. I would love to see more people focus on being great musicians rather than being popular. 

Where do you think the genre is headed over the course of these next few years? Who are some artists who you think are pushing the genre forward today as well as some you consider your peers?

I think R&B like most genres is in a great place, there are so many different sounds and voices adding to the space – I see a time where R&B artists don’t feel boxed into tradition, and artists who feel they are on the fringes of the genre will be embraced as R&B. A Lot of artists kind of fear that title for some reason because it means you have to sound a certain way.

I embrace being an R&B artist and even if I make a song that sounds like folk music because I’m black and my predecessors created this lane I still consider it rhythm and blues regardless. Artists that I’m really rocking with right now include Arima Ederra, Ravyn Lenae has this song called skin-tight that is wonderful, Annahstasia makes like folk-RnB and has a once in a generation type voice, Reggie, Jordan Ward, Choker, April + Vista, the list really can go on and on.

It’s been a bit over two years since the release of your critically-acclaimed EP STATIC. What’s been the timeline for creating this forthcoming project of yours, and what inspirations and experiences have been steering it?

This new project has taken me a little over a year to complete, I also keep adding songs so it’s almost an album haha. But to be honest, my inspo right now, I want to make a great song. I’m not sure how someone like Marvin, Stevie, or Kendrick can make a song that will still be great 20 years from now. I really desire to make some transcendent music that can really heal people. This project is something that I hope can bring some inspiration to people going through the struggle as I have. But overall, I hope to make a great song one day that can get anybody through the day.

“Get On” is a powerful record that explores your upbringing and some of the experiences that thread it together. How does it set the tone for where you want to go sonically?

“Get On” is almost like a cry for help, I’m telling the universe or the world that I have seen enough turmoil and chaos. I have been in the trenches and I’m ready to start living my life to the fullest. I think sonically it sets the tone because I’m attempting to make the music a lot more technical and give the instruments more time to shine within the confines of a track. 

In terms of those feelings and how you translate them, how were you able to speak about yourself so openly?

I credit my managers a lot for that, they really pushed me to express myself once they heard the things I would write alone in my room.  I used to never let anyone hear what was on my heart. It has always been very uncomfortable to be vulnerable. Even as a kid being vulnerable was never allowed, you had to be the toughest guy out in order to survive certain environments.

As I’ve grown as a man and an artist, I have come to learn that honesty is my greatest strength, and the more honest I can be, the better my music will get. I never want to create a persona or say things I don’t mean, in my opinion, if I ever feel like I’m faking the funk I will just step away from music and do something else.

Songwriting Drake’s 2021 song “Fair Trade” featuring Travis Scott is a question I’m sure you get asked a lot, although I’m curious to hear your thoughts on him turning down the GRAMMY nominations due to the disconnect between impactful music and award shows?

That placement was such a blessing. I wrote the chorus on a Charlotte Day Wilson song and drake ended up sampling the track for fair trade, i felt like when we made the song i felt like gospel so I’m glad it’s getting a lot of recognition. As far as the Grammys, I was actually pretty bummed out that he rescinded the nomination because that would be a life-changing achievement.

Either way, I’m still Grammy nominated! I respect anyone who is standing up to these archaic systems who suppress great artists’ work, they are so out of touch with the culture and I don’t know why we still give these award shows so much stock. I miss the source awards, I miss when black people gave our own importance to things we created. so I’m a bit back and forth, it would’ve been a great achievement but I respect his decision to stand up for artists like myself who otherwise may not ever see the grammy stage.

Lastly, what’s the best—and worst—music industry advice you have received thus far?

To be real I don’t coagulate with industry folk. Usually all the advice they give is bad because all or most of the people who are decision-makers in the industry don’t even care about the art that is being created. A lot of things are about public accolades and quick money. I learned my work ethic from life, my philosophy is: as long as I focus on the work nothing else matters, all I need to do is care about the quality of my art and the effort/discipline I put in.

I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the industry because I come from the real world. A lot of industry people are nepotism babies and are out of touch with reality. 9/10 industry people will give you no advice but will critique you and say “keep going” so to anyone reading this looking to make it in music, focus on the quality of your work. the lyrics, the sonics, the melodies, the visuals, the discipline in how you try to learn new things. that’s all that matters.

In other music news, Frex obtains a transparent and relatable approach to her songwriting that draws listeners to the topics she explores.