INTERVIEW Part One: BANNERS chats touring, music making process and major label experience!
Toronto living, Liverpool raised BANNERS made his long awaited return to Boston Friday night and it was well received in the form of a sold out show! BANNERS a.k.a. Michael Nelson has been keeping very busy since his debut EP dropped in 2016 with a very successful follow up EP, “Empires on Fire”, last year as well as appearing on the current season of American Idol working as a mentor/coach! Friday in particular, his band and him rocked their way through a tight eighty minute set balancing a lengthy list of songs (somewhere around fifteen) with witty banter with the audience including singing “Sweet Caroline” twice and interacting with two children that were front row. With the shows’ intro music being “All You Need is Love” by the beloved fellow Liverpool band The Beatles, the crowd was smitten from the beginning.
The show was his first headlining show in Boston and every hit was included in the set. Considering the success he’s seen with both EP’s, it truly seemed like a hit parade and the crowd was insanely receptive. Be it the stripped down version of ‘Someone to You’ to the rock and roll jams of ‘Empires on Fire’, the crowd was swooning through out the set. Pretty much every track off both EP’s were played from ‘Into the Storm’ to ‘Half-Life’ to ending off the set with one of his break out tracks ‘Shine a Light’. Nelson’s journey has been a straight hit parade and with several festivals lined up, it’s clear Nelson will only go up from here.
Just an hour or so before Nelson took the stage, I sat down with him for a one on one chat that started relatively light talking about the tour so far and went to many places. Nelson was frank about his time on Idol, his songwriting career so far and even Brexit, which is something he is very passionate about. Our chat was much more extensive then planned with us ending up chatting for almost forty minutes versus what was thought to be about ten to fifteen minutes. As I was entering the wrap up question, he stopped it and wanted to continue on with our conversation. With all of it being such a interesting view into BANNERS that I believe hasn’t been seen before, it would hurt to cut much out of it. So for this interview, and the first time we’ve done this, we are going to break this into a two-part interview series with the second part going up a week from now. We promise it is worth the wait!
For the first part, Nelson chats about these shows, major label experience and how social media affects modern music making amongst much more. Next week, Nelson chats his American Idol experience thus far, making fans feel safe and Brexit! I’m very grateful for the time given by BANNERS and encourage all to check out this talented act if you haven’t yet!
Let’s just get right into it, I know this is kind of the second leg of a tour that you’ve been doing. First being a US run but now that you’re based in Toronto via the UK, how have these dates been going? You do have the two EP’s out now?
Yeah it’s been really fun. With having more music out, it’s amazing when people just know the songs and people sing them back at you. It still blows my mind when you look out there and there’s a bunch of mouths all knowing the words. It actually makes you a bit stressed because you don’t really listen to your own music very often. You just play it live and you do the words and it makes you think I can’t get away with getting the words wrong anymore. It used to be like well they’re my songs I’ll just make them up. And now people know them, especially the songs that people really like because you meet people after the gigs or even on Twitter and Instagram and they tell you about how the songs mean a lot to them, how the lyrics mean a lot to them and then it’s like ‘well I better get the words right’. In fact, I heard one of my songs on the radio in Toronto relatively recently and I was like, oh I’ve been singing that totally wrong. So it’s kind of nice when people are singing along, I’m like okay I’m fine I’m getting it right.
But yeah, it’s been really great playing. Honestly, I’ve only had experiences with me, but the people that come and watch my gigs are just lovely people. It’s something where I don’t really know if it’s the type of music that I do or I try to be really personable and open and friendly. I try to create a very welcoming environment for everybody so maybe that’s part of it. They really are the nicest people, they come to every gig. It really gives you up for humanity I’d say. I feel a bit better for everyone because otherwise you’re just sitting in your apartment reading the news or going on Twitter and seeing a bunch of people just shouting at each other. Then you go on tour and meet loads of people from gas station attendants or people in hotels or whatever and it just turns out most people are really nice. Most people are not shouting at each other.
And they’ve been nice at the shows!
Yeah so nice.
Is there a song for you, you’ve put out the two EP’s that have both had songs that have really caught on, that maybe surprises you that seems really popular? Like maybe the song that really stands out the most?
It sounds really corny, it’s always a surprise when there is any reaction to a song honestly.
I mean you’re still pretty new to touring in the US, it’s not like you’ve been touring for like ten years.
Yeah I guess it’s like the third tour we’ve done in the US. I suppose the more you do it, the longer the music has been out there. But honestly, all the stuff you kind of write and record in such a vaccum, like back in your bedroom or with one producer then you write the songs, I wrote a lot of them with my producer. Then we record them in a room with no windows then you mix it and you get a bit of feedback from the label and stuff, but you kind of forget that at some point it’s going to go out into the world and people are going to listen to it. You get so stressed out over all the little bits and get it to sound good then when you play it to people, it’s like oh this has been out and people have been listening to it. It sounds weird but that’s a surprise every time. To be honest with you because I don’t consider it. I mean I consider it and I want people to like the music but you don’t go around thinking, everyone’s going to love me and everyone’s going to be listening to it and everyone’s going to be reading the lyrics and stuff.
Well that’s a good thing.
Totally! I hope that never goes really. I think that would be a shame. That’s something you can work on, isn’t it? You can work on it, always being good I think.
Then these songs, were they all kind of older songs or were some of them written fresh for each EP? You said that you work with this producer a lot.
Yeah well one of them was old. One of them I wrote pretty much on my own then worked on it a bit with my friend, Dan, but I had it for ages. It’s a song called “Ghosts”, which is the first song I ever released, then the others are all ones I wrote with my producer and just co-writes and stuff. Whenever I got a bit more professional and a bit more into my music career. But I like co-writes because it gets you out of your comfort zone. Unless you’re really on the pulse of what people are listening to, it’s kind of hard to tell. You get very insular about everything but “Ghosts” is really cool. Especially being here in America because honestly I wrote that on the piano in my dad’s house in the middle of the night once. Just for my girlfriend at the time really and it wasn’t like I’m going to write a song and everybody’s going to hear it. I just wanted to play it to her, just give her a CD, because she was having a bit of a hard time. Growing up in England, America is so exotic. It’s the other side of the world. Really, it’s on the other side of this massive ocean. We all go on holiday in France and Germany. I remember when I was in school and kids would be like they went to America on their holidays. It’s like oh my god, someone went to Florida, what?! What?!
So now being here and I’m playing that song that was just a very personal thing, I always have a bit of a moment with that one. Where it’s like wow! It’s funny what can happen if you’re enthusiastic and you just take opportunities and you try hard. I always think of it like when back in the day, you used to be born and die within ten miles of the same place hundreds of years ago. I always think, man, I’m really far away from my bedroom should be. I’m like 3,000 miles away from Liverpool and what a crazy thing. With a bunch of Canadians and an American sound guy. Like talking to you. It’s an amazing thing really. Any career is stressful isn’t it? Any business that you’re trying to start up is hard and music is totally the same. It’s frustrating how much of your time you’re talking to lawyers or accountants or your managers or labels. Then when you do a tour, it’s like oh I remember why. I remember why I wanted to do this, I wanted to play for people.
It’s kind of part of it.
It’s the whole part of it.
You’ve released the two EP’s, and a lot of artists have been doing that. They’ve been releasing several EP’s. EP’s are becoming a much bigger thing. Is it something where you think you’re going to continue on that route or do you think a full length is something that may come out?
Well it’s a very different world now, isn’t it? With Spotify and the way that the playlist thing works. And people’s attention spans. You really are playing on people attention’s spans a lot of the time. So there’s a song that you kind of want to be a single, there’s a very small amount of time that you have before the vocal comes in. Because of Spotify data, you can see when people are turning off and it’s about nine seconds.
You can see that?
Yeah, you can see all these metrics now too. How many Shazams you get, where people are listening from, how far through the songs they’re getting, where they’re discovering it. As great as that is, it’s also a bit of a shame because you’re really catering. The danger is that you can start to cater to a platform as opposed to just doing the music.
So I think, especially with record labels, that’s kind of what you sign up for. It’s going to have to be a give in. We’d all love intros that were like “Bittersweet Symphony” for example or whatever but if you want to do that, don’t sign with a record label. With a record label, you have to be up for working with them. With almost all of the music, I don’t know what I’m doing. So I’ve surrounded myself with people who do know what they’re doing and I just take people’s advice on that stuff really. And if the best idea is to do another EP, then we’ll do that and if we should do an album I’ll do that and if I should quit and work at McDonald’s, I’ll do that as well.
And you’re on a supportive label with Island. They don’t sign too many artists. It’s not that big of a label in terms of having many artists signed.
Yeah it really is a funny world, major record labels. First and foremost, it’s very flattering, that ultimately they think it can fit into their business model.
Label mates are like The Killers, Fall Out Boy.
Yeah there’s been a load of great people. In fact, I’m a really big fan of Nick Drake who was on Island in the sixties. With major record labels, there’s always a bit of romanticism with it as well. You go through any of them and they’re will be artists that you absolutely love. So yeah, like I said, it’s all a collaborative effort. The lads in my band, for when we play live, if I didn’t have them, it would just be a loud jam going along on an electric guitar. Or my front of house guy, Jeffrey, if I didn’t have him, you could sound amazing but if he’s not there or he’s not very good, and Jeffrey is amazing, it’s going to sound awful. You have to rely on everybody and get the people that you trust and go from there because you can’t do it all on your own. Then you need the people to show up and watch you as well.
It’s kind of crucial.
First and foremost. Because if there’s no people listening to it, it’s just a bunch of nerds making sound to no one.
Come back next Monday for Banners, round #2 where Nelson chats American Idol, Brexit and making his fans feel safe!