On Monday, March 9th at 1 pm, I had the incredible chance to interview a kind-hearted and talented young man, whose name is Michael Joseph Nelson, also known as, British phenomenon, Banners.
From the start of when we said “hello, how are you?” Mike was a pleasure. He was so engaged throughout the entire interview and wanted to discuss as much about his experiences and thoughts and feelings throughout his tour and his musical career.
Banners has been making waves with his music as he becomes more and more popular on the scene! But he started that journey way back into his childhood, when he began singing in his hometown’s church, the Liverpool Cathedral Choir. Music started from there and was always a part of his life thereafter. We discussed how even his father was in a band and was always a supportive figure for him as he, himself, desired to wander and create in the music realm.
Nelson left home at a young age to start his solo career, and to do that, he ventured out to Canada, more spefically Toronto, where he currently resides. It was there that he found his manager and producer, Stephen Kozmeniuk, to work on his sound. Soon after, Nelson signed with Island Records in 2015.
In January 2016, Nelson released his debut EP ‘Banners.’ This included his three hit singles: “Ghosts,” “Shine a Light,” and “Start a Riot.”
The song “Start a Riot” even charted on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs Chart! Nelson is now on tour, and actually, when I was speaking with him, he was on his way to my hometown, Boston, MA.
The conversation we had flowed very well, back and forth, laughing and chatting away about Nelson’s world of music. The alternative rock/pop musician was very modest about his successes, and when I asked him how he felt knowing that his music was on the Billboard charts, he simply replied:
Yeah! I mean, uh, I think it’s funny, I don’t think you ever, I don’t think you really go into this with any expectations or anything. To me, I just wanted to make music that I wanted like to listen to. I just I just wanted to do it, yeah, and I wanted to do it as well as I can and I think when you’re in the studio writing and recording all you’re thinking about is wanting to make the song as good as I possibly can. and then you release you just hop people will like it, and you spend so much time on it and you wonder is it good anymore? haha but then you release the song and people love it and it is just such a pleasure…
He then goes on about how he loves some of the stories he’s heard from fans who have felt a real connection to his music or fixed/found relationships through his music. He talks about his own first loves and such and it is all extremely nostalgic and sweet, just like his vocals and melodies.
We then go into discussion about his tour and the excitement he has about traveling and exploring the States and seeing the different places. Nelson said, “Honestly, I’m just excited to be warm. haha. We’re going to Atlanta next week, and I think that will be the point when I get to wear t-shirts haha…”
The English singer-songwriter answered my questions about his connections between his father and music, and he made it very clear that he wanted to figure out the music industry world on his own:
It was very important for me to live on my own… I never wanted to get any sort of leg up through my dad, I wanted the songs and me to succeed or to fail based entirely on its own merits really and you know, my dad, and I guess all my parents really (including his stepfather), were at least there for advice which is so invaluable, and I’m sure that one day we’ll get do something together and it will be a lovely experience…haha
His dad had been in bands, and so he understood that the life of a musician was a lot of trial-and-error, acceptances and failures, and struggling to be heard. Banners knew that there were unsupportive parents out there telling their kids that it is “time to get a real job,” but he has been fortunate to have a dad who has always seen the career choice as something to pursue and consistently says to keep going and keep trying.
I then was curious about the music scene in Canada, he answered that Canada is really “professional,” and that he was really lucky that was able to pull a great band together. Toronto is a really music-dense city, just like his own home in Liverpool, but in Liverpool, it’s all about passion and just wanting to be on stage (whether you’re good or bad). “[In Liverpool] they’re very supportive of anyone versus in Toronto, you really have to be good…”
“..People from Liverpool are really really proud of it… One of my main considerations of music is that I really want people from Liverpool to be really proud of what I’m doing, I want to stand as like a cultural ambassador for how great music is in the city. “
As a musician myself, I wanted to know what the songwriting process was like for him, to which he replied:
To me there are two ways. One, there is your inner place. You’re on your own and inspiration hits you and you sit at the piano and a song comes out in 20 minutes, and that’s magical when that happens, because you feel something so strongly, and that’s amazing, but you can’t rely on that to happen always… the other side is, vocalizing sessions with my producer. We book a whole month off maybe, and everyday we come in and work on something, somedays you just don’t get anything, and you panic and think ‘I’m never gonna get anything good,’ and then there’s some days that are going to be really good, and I think songwriting, to me, is like a muscle, like when you go to the gym everyday. It gets stronger and stronger as you work on it and you just have to do it. First and foremost, you have to feel something strongly. It has to mean something to you if you want it to feel something to an audience. haha.
Nelson took the opportunity to then segway to the meanings behind his songs, more specifically his three singles. If you haven’t heard his music before, think of the most beautiful, harmonious intonations– haunting, yet pure. The tunes he develops are ear-catching and the beats keep you nodding and swaying along. In each track, you can feel yourself drifting off, zoning out, or even sprinting away. No matter how his strong ballads and intriguing vocals move you, you will feel like you’re escaping the real world.
Banners explains that his track “Shine a Light” is about being lost at sea, and searching for salvation. “It can be a girl, a boy, or God, or anything really.”
“Ghosts,” one of his earlier, more raw and natural tunes, is about a relationship with a past girlfriend, and still really caring about her, but feeling like a ghost at this point in their connections. “The song is saying that even though we break-up in a relationship, don’t think I don’t care about you, and that I really love you.”
His big chart-hitter, “Start a Riot,” is targeted to about really anyone in a meaningful relationship,“when that person you really care about is having a hard time and you’re just there to say that you’re on their side and that it’s you, me versus the world, and I’ll go start a riot for you…”
Here is the music video for his single “Shine a Light:”
I then transitioned the theme of my questions to be more geared towards fun, lighthearted, and personal questions. I asked Nelson what his favorite place in the world was. He explained that in his family, watching Liverpool football (soccer) games were always a special time for him because it was a chance for him to see his grand dad and his family every other week. He describes football in Liverpool as something so positive and supportive and he, naturally, compares it to performing music on a stage to soccer on the field. Everyone seems to care about the same thing in that environment, and to him, that is something incredibly powerful. His other favorite place is The River Mersey, a body of water that runs through the country and leads to the ocean. Banners explained that he used to go down there a lot to think or relax or write music.
When I asked him who his inspiration was for music, he included an amazing legend: Jeff Buckley. Nelson was so modest when saying this because he doesn’t want people to think that he thinks he’s at all on his level, but that he truly adores his music and talent.
I had a little fun asking Nelson some other questions that didn’t have much to do with his music directly, but had a lot more to do with him such as if he was not a musician now, what would he be doing instead? Banners chuckled and said that before all of this, he was working in the recording studios helping out other artists, and that he never would truly leave music. So if anything, he would stick to the domain and pursue promotional jobs for artists and labels, or as he described it, he would “be selling chocolates on the street on the cold, windy streets of North England.”
I asked Nelson that if here were to have someone act as him in a film, if they decided to make a film on him, who would it be? Well, with my approval, he admitted that he would want Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) or Martin Freeman (Sherlock).
Martin Freeman… I think he’s an absolutely brilliant actor, and I would just love to spend an afternoon with him and just find out how he does it…
I wanted to know if Banners had every had a funny experience during a performance that would remain a memory to him forever. He then went into explaining how at every gig, something funny happens…
“But once there was a real beauty…”
In the song, “Start a Riot,” he explained how one of his musicians started the song far too early and had to fill the void and compounded the problem by shouting funny sounds and words in order to start the song on time, and everyone just started laughing and it was all good fun.
We neared the end of our conversation with some words of advice. He went into depth for each one, but to sum it up, here is what he said:
- Be nice to everybody, because you really don’t know who you are going to work with or need some day.
- As long as you like what you do, don’t be shy about playing it for people, because you never know who they’re going to show it to, to get you to where you want to be.
- Take every opportunity, even if it costs you money, you’re gonna earn that money back, that opportunity might not ever happen again.
I then asked, as my final question, if he had one word to describe himself, what would it be?
He replies almost instantly and confidently, “enthusiastic,” and then chuckles.
As I am sure you were able to tell, I had a wonderful time speaking to Nelson. He is an incredible musician, as well as, an incredible human being, and I was so glad to hear that of a lot of the interviews he has had, this was one of the nicest ones. I was so honored.