INTERVIEW: Emerging UK singer-songwriter Naomi Banks talks neon soul, jazz and James Bond
The UK’s Naomi Banks has had an eclectic path to the release of her first EP. She studied music at both The Purcell School for Young Musicians and the Trinity Conservatoire before working as a jazz singer and performing backing vocalists for artists such as Laura Mvula, ELO and Gareth Malone. Banks’ debut EP Deja Vu was released last November and recently one of the EP’s standout tracks ‘Enough’ was playlisted by BBC Radio 1. With her music an intriguing mix of soul, jazz, pop and electronica, which she has dubbed ‘neon soul’, she is fast becoming one of the UK’s artists to watch. We recently caught up with Naomi to find out more about her music and career.
Hi Naomi! I'd love to start by exploring your background a little bit and take you right back to the beginning - what are your very first memories of music?
My first memories are probably my mum teaching my brother ‘King of the Road’ on the piano. I must have been about three. I remember trying to learn it after him.
Did you succeed?
I did, actually, yeah! The simplified version (laughs). Later I started liking quite old school people really. I was really into Karen Carpenter and I absolutely loved the Beautiful South. There wasn't anyone really modern that I was particularly into.
You have a very impressive background in musical education, studying at the Purcell School of Music and the Trinity Conservatoire. Was it always a given that music would be your career or did you explore other options?
For a few years I was very torn between sport and music and until I was about 16 I thought I’d probably choose sport, I did 100 metre sprints at the time. And then I realised I’d probably last a little bit longer in music than I would having a sports career and I've not changed my mind since. Although I did think [after a career in sport] I’d eventually become a stunt woman! Thank God I didn’t! (laughs)
If we're looking at a career path, how did you get from studying music to where you are today? What steps did you go through in between?
I was working as a jazz singer for ages, doing sessions at weddings and little London venues and then I started working with Gareth Malone (from BBC TV’s The Choir). We were doing loads of pop stuff and I was like ‘this is much more fun than jazz’! He really encouraged me to write my own songs and he helped produce the first few things I did. Then once I got started on writing, I was away.
Obviously your background is very much in jazz and your music is now a mix of electronica, soul and a bit of jazz in there as well. Do you feel you’ve found your musical lane?
I don't think I’ll ever go back to jazz, maybe more jazz influences, but certainly not just the straight jazz I was doing before. I don't think I will ever stay strictly within one genre. I think I’ll always be changing to different things throughout my life…yeah, we'll see.
Your debut EP Deja Vu was released at the end of last year, that must have been quite an incredible feeling to have a body of work out in the world?
It was a massive relief as I’d been working on it for about three years and constantly changing my mind about what I wanted everything to sound like. I was just so happy to have something finally out there, it was a relief. There was a hell of a lot to it, I kind of thought that as a musician you just have to be good at music but when I started doing this it was nothing to do with music, there’s so much more that you have to do. I was very surprised by that amount of work, but luckily now I've found people to do a lot of things for me, so it's a bit easier.
One of the tracks from the EP ‘Enough’ was recently playlisted by BBC Radio 1 - that must have been another incredible moment for you?
It was, but I think I wasn't that excited when I heard because over the last year I almost got other really exciting things and then they sort of fell through at the last minute. So when I was told I was going to be playlisted I was like ‘Alright we'll see if it actually happens’. And when it did, I was very pleased because it felt like nothing had been really happening, so it was a really great step forward.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Enough’?
I had written it about a friend of mine who hasn't figured out that it’s about him yet. It’s actually about him cheating on his partner and he listened right in front of me and not twigged at all! I was in LA and I had about a day left and I was told I needed another track to be on the EP. I just sort of ran into the studio and recorded it at the very last minute and we decided it was our favourite. It was quite a rushed process but it all worked out.
What does the future hold for Naomi Banks?
I have 5 or 6 tracks that I just finished and I'm working a body of work with them including getting some videos done. They will be coming pretty soon and I’m really excited about all of that, I’m really pleased with it. After that, well, I wouldn't mind doing a cheeky James Bond theme song at some point! (laughs). But for now, I'm just taking it one step at a time and seeing what's coming.