Liverpool bred singer-songwriter and musician Michael Joseph Nelson, AKA BANNERS, boasts an impressively dynamic catalog. From sweeping, cinematic choruses, addictive melodies, and goosebump-inducing falsettos, his music carries it all. Music has been a huge part of Nelson’s life for a long time, from his musically-inclined family to his participation in the Liverpool Cathedral Choir, his work as BANNERS has been a long time coming. We recently caught up with the life-long musician to chat about his latest EP Empires On Fire, his writing process, his upcoming appearances at some major festivals, and what else we can expect from him this year. Keep reading and get to know BANNERS now!
As I understand it, you come from a musical family and your dad has even worked with Coldplay! What was your first memory of wanting to play music yourself when you were younger?
I don’t ever remember it being a decision really. Just something I was always going to do. That sounds like a cliche but I think that’s how it works. There’s so many ups and downs to a career in music that I think you need that certainty, the lows would be unbearable otherwise. I grew up with music everywhere, my mum plays loads of instruments, my Dad is a record producer and I sang in choirs from a really young age. Music just gets in you until it’s just the thing you do. I remember going to see my Dad in the studio and him showing me how the desk worked, how you could isolate a vocal or bring a guitar up in a mix and it totally blowing my mind. I’ve always been fascinated by recording studios. The idea of spending a day recording and by the end of the day a thing that didn’t exist before now does. I always thought that was magical. Still do!
Can you talk a little bit about the writing and recording process for your Empires on Fire EP? Do you have any specific musical or non-musical influences that you saw pull through in your writing for this project, or that you felt inspired the songs?
Well the different parts came together over quite a long period of time. The title track “Empires on Fire” has been done for about a year and a half. Which has been good because in that time I’ve been able to play it live and test it out on audiences. You really start to get a good understanding of the song that way I think. Then when it comes to mixing it you’ve got a much clearer vision of how it should sound. I really like that song so i’m really happy that people can finally hear it! I wrote “Someone to You” with a friend of mine called Sam Hollander. I’d been in LA doing a month of writing sessions with people. The session with Sam was the very last session before I flew back to Toronto and we wrote the best song of the whole lot. It’s always a massive relief when you get something good. Writing can be so hit and miss and when you’ve got a record label waiting to hear new songs there’s a lot of pressure.
You’re from Liverpool, but currently live in Toronto, right? What are some of your favorite aspects of each city, and do you think both locations have influenced your songwriting and sound in a way?
Yeah I live in Toronto but Liverpool will always be home. Liverpool is a city with a real sense of itself, of it’s own identity. It’s confident and defiant. It has that mix of people and cultures that only port cities can really have. I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else in the world. And of course that informs you’re writing. Loads of my songs are about the sea! Really, your influences are a culmination of every experience you’ve ever had and nearly all of my life so far was spent in Liverpool. Toronto is great too and I’m so fortunate to have ended up here. It’s been so supportive of me and my music. Canadians are naturally quite self deprecating so they’d never admit it but Toronto has a claim to be one of the great music cities in North America, there’s so much great music being made here by so many talented people that it can’t help but rub off on you.
In general do you have any sort of rituals or habits that you use to get into a songwriting flow?
I think it’s just a case of doing it regularly. It’s like a muscle, the more you work it the stronger it becomes. If you take a break from it, like if you go on tour or something, when you get back you feel really rusty. I like writing with other people that I trust and being totally open to their input. It’s easy to get stuck in your own little rut with songwriting so writing with other people keeps things fresh.
I hear you’re big into football/soccer! Any other hobbies or interests of yours that your fans might be surprised about?
Liverpool Football Club are my darlings. I spend too much time agonising over those lads. Honestly their ability to shape how I feel for an entire week after a match is horrifying. I read a lot (god, so pretentious). Music is one of those professions where it can be really hard to give your brain a break. I suppose all creative endeavours are like that. You’re always thinking of melodies or lyrics, or stressing over a release or whatever, so I find reading a really good way to relax. I just finished “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac for the millionth time so I’m not sure what to start next. 1984 might be a good fit for the Orwellian nightmare we all seem to be inhabiting.
Who are some of your favorite up and coming bands at the moment, or albums that you’ve had on repeat lately?
I’m heading out on tour soon and I’ve invested some money in some stage production stuff. I’ve spent the last few months programming lights so i’ve been watching a lot of live sets for inspiration. These are in no way up and coming but I’ve been watching a lot of Bon Iver live, there’s one gig on Youtube (I think it’s in Cork in Ireland if anyone wants to check it out) that I’ve honestly watched every day for the last month). I’ve been listening to The National a lot recently I’m a bit late to the party but I’ve really gotten into War on Drugs. The band, not the disastrous foreign policy.
This year you’ll be performing at Firefly Festival and Hangout Fest, and the lineups are insane! Are you already planning any special surprises for your sets at the festivals?
Haha! Surprises? Like what? No, I’m just going to try to play my songs to the best of my ability. Maybe that’s a surprise. It doesn’t bode well for my general reputation if it is!
Who else on the Firefly and Hangout lineups are you hoping you get the chance to watch?
I’m looking forward to seeing Arctic Monkeys, I believe they haven’t played live since 2014 so it’d be good to see what those lads have been up to. Man, I love festivals. They’re so much fun to play and then you get to hang out with loads of people that really like music. They’re a great opportunity to watch how other singers do it, how they act on stage and how other bands put their shows together. And then steal all the best ideas and pretend you came up with them!
Besides the festivals, what are your tour plans this year?
I’ll be touring North America in the spring and then I’ll be announcing more stuff throughout the year.
Any other goals for 2018?
Oh man, I just want to get to the end of it without the world imploding. Honestly I just want to get better and singing and playing and writing. Hopefully release a bunch more music and play live to a load more people!
Banners will be in town on March 30th, playing at SPACE. Grab tickets here.
This article was originally posted on ANCHR Magazine