The singer/rapper will host a listening party for his more-hopeful sophomore album on Tuesday
When Elijah Banks initially started in on his second album, he envisioned it as a darker affair — at least thematically — telling the Dispatch in late 2018 that his goal was to “sing a song that’s depressing and still make people smile.”
But a number of things have changed for the musician since that interview that have helped introduce more light into the process, including a switch to new management and a desire to reconnect with the songs that first inspired him to pursue a career in the industry.
“I've made a lot of sad music, and I wanted to make something to make people feel good,” said Banks, who will release the vintage soul-inspired Spin on Tuesday, Jan. 7. “I had to go back to my roots and say, ‘What makes me feel good? What makes a good record? What is it about this Khalid song? What is it about Frank Ocean?’"
For Banks, this meant immersing himself in the artists who served as a running soundtrack throughout childhood, including Stevie Wonder and the classic acts that emerged on the Motown record label — many of which he uncovered while leafing through his grandfather’s extensive vinyl collection with his siblings as an adolescent.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
“Back in the ’80s, my grandfather was huge in the record industry. His name was Harvey Earl Lynch,” said Banks, who was born Daniel Elijah Lynch but took his mom’s maiden name, Banks, as a stage moniker because that side of the family was better known for its musical prowess. “We’d go down to my uncle’s basement and these records would be stacked to the ceiling, and I would ask my uncle how he got them, and he started telling us about our grandfather and that he had a radio station and was an executive producer. My grandfather, we were close, and I feel like I should have had more conversations with him about these things, but he passed away [in 2012], and when you’re only 12 or 13 years old, how deep does it truly get?”
Banks was born in Germany to a military family but spent his formative years in Paterson, New Jersey, where he received his first taste of the musical limelight while performing in a Christian rap group he started with his younger brother in the fourth grade.
“We used to rap in front of our church, and during one service we recited this rap called ‘The Kids and the Word,’ and this was on New Year’s Eve, which was when everyone went to church — even the people who hadn’t gone all year,” Banks said. “After we [finished], everybody just started screaming, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is it right here. This is the moment.’”
Banks’ initial forays into music were complicated by his unsettled upbringing. Living with a father who worked in radio sales after departing the military, Banks moved with startling regularity, attending seven high schools in just four years. Because of this, Banks said he needed more time to establish a consistent rhythm and find himself both as a person and as a performer.
“The beginning wasn’t easy because I was doing what everybody else was doing and I didn’t know who I was,” said Banks, offering that he used to audition musical styles in attempt to find his own artistic voice. “I have old friends who look at me now and they’re like, ‘Damn, you’re different,’ but I think this is always who I was, I just didn’t know how to express it before because I hadn’t been anywhere long enough to learn how.”
Now that Banks has established deeper roots in his personal life (he’s lived in Columbus for the better part of 12 years), a creative flowering has taken place. The musician recently progressed to the fourth round of auditions for the NBC televised songwriting series “Songland,” which has allowed him to write for national artists such as Usher and H.E.R., and Banks' new solo album stands as a fitting introduction to the type of artist he believes he can be moving forward.
"My first album, it was more of a sampler, like, ‘Hey, I can do all of these things,’ even if I wasn’t sure which ones made me happy,” Banks said. “Now, coming into this album, it’s finally like, ‘This is me.’”