Fiona Garden

Banners on His Touching, Captivating New EP

With over seven million monthly listeners, it’s easy to assume that BANNERS has a global reach, but statistics prove a point. On Spotify, the top cities streaming the latest release from BANNERS are London, Sydney, Melbourne, Mexico City, and Madrid. Our office spins his tunes quite frequently, too, and that is the Greater NYC Area, so, yes, BANNERS is a worldwide success.

If you listen to BANNERS, also known as Michael Joseph Nelson, your mind might float away to a place of comfort. The Liverpool artist’s music comes from a place of love and strikes an emotional chord with his fans. “I make music that I love and have faith that other people are going to love it, too,” the singer shared with us. 

His 2015 song “Shine A Light” is a sweeping, epic tune that captivated audiences. The track, which came from his self-titled EP, has revolutionary dynamics for an alternative hit. Now the singer is ready to share what he loves and what he does best, carrying that torch of awakening music to his next project: I Wish I Was Flawless, I’m Not ? This EP features another set of songs that pack a powerful punch, once again soundtracked with melody and sentimental songwriting. 

BANNERS sat down with The Aquarian’s Robert Frezza to talk about his move to Nettwerk Records, his palpable songs and lyrics, and what it meant to put together an EP during a pandemic. 

Do you think it was easier to find the solace working on this project isolated and by yourself? Do you think songwriting and making music helped you thrive during the pandemic? And on that note, what is the meaning behind the title of the new EP, I Wish I Was Flawless, I’m Not ?

Yes, this EP was written in 2020 and 2021. In fact, I wrote “In Your Universe” three or four days after the very first lockdown started.

Well, it was certainly easier to find solitude, but I don’t think that isolation is all that conducive to creating music. I think some time to yourself is important creatively because we all need space to come up with original thoughts, maybe a lyric or a melody. A recording is the product of a close-knit collaboration of a lot of people, so not being able to see people made writing and recording physically tricky. The songs that came out of that time happened in spite of the circumstances rather than because of them. I do think we were very lucky that certain technologies existed that made things possible. Zoom, for example, was a godsend, but even the ability to send large files quickly over the internet was really important because you could easily send ideas back and forth – even properly recorded vocals. The backing vocals on “In Your Universe” are the [vocals] my friend Todd recorded and sent when he was locked down in Nashville.

The other thing to remember is that songs come from real life experiences with real life people, so it’s hard to write something interesting when the only thing that is happening is that you’re alone staring at the same four white walls day after day. I spent the whole of 2020 alone and that’s a pretty profound experience, I suppose. I struggled with it. I got really obsessed with my appearance and just hated looking at myself in the mirror. I think strange things are going to happen to your brain if you haven’t had a hug for five months. This is the way my brain decided to be weird. The music industry really is an industry of very beautiful people and it’s easy to feel like an imposter, even at the best of times. That’s what the EP title refers to, wanting to be flawless like all these other people. Of course, nobody is flawless and actually it’s not something to want to be, anyway. It’s our imperfections that make us us. I wanted to call the EP I Wish I Was Flawless, I’m Not to remind myself.

Your sound has not changed that much since your last project. How do you see your type of music fitting into today’s pop landscape?

I don’t see it fitting into the pop landscape, really. I’m sure it does somewhere, but I don’t know where. Writing a song that really means something – and that you love – is hard enough without worrying about external forces that you can’t control. I can’t say where it fits because that isn’t up to me. What I can do, though, is make music that really matters to me. I know from experience that that is the only way that it is going to matter to anyone else. Any time I’ve tried to write something for the purpose of fitting into existing structures (i.e. radio, etc.) it just ends up sounding like a poor imitation of existing music because it doesn’t come from a real, heartfelt place. So, I don’t do that anymore. I make music that I love and have faith that other people are going to love it too. People can feel it when you mean it and they know when you don’t. 

Most of the songs are about relationships. Tell me about the lead single, the aforementioned “In Your Universe.” Where did you get the inspiration for that particular tune? Do you think it sets the tone for the record?

Most songs are, I guess. There’s really not many themes at all in pop music, is there? Life is about people; hw we are with one another and who we want to be to people. Like I said, I wrote this during the first lockdown when the importance of people, and how much we took being with people for granted, really came into focus. “In Your Universe” is about loving someone so much that all you want is to be somewhere in their life. You’re just happy that they exist at the same time as you do, sharing the same oxygen. I love this song and I’m really proud of it because it came out of a time when everything had just become harder, bleaker, scarier, and sadder. We couldn’t see and hug our friends and our family. So much beauty had been taken away and yet I wrote this song with my friends over Zoom, in spite of everything, and we made something beautiful. In that sense, it does set the tone.

You recently left Island Records only for Nettwerk Records to scoop you up. Why did you leave Island? How is your new home at Nettwerk?

I signed with Island in 2015 and it was an absolute dream come true – a total privilege and I’m so grateful to them. Before I signed with them, I’d never released a song, never played a gig, and now, nearly eight years later, I have a career doing my dream job, living a life I never thought I’d get to have. They’re a huge reason why that’s true. I’m particularly lucky to have signed with them when I did because it was really just before everything was dictated totally by social media, so there was a least some sense of having a bit of time to get things together to develop a little bit. I’m not sure that’s true now. You’d only generally sign with a major record label it you’ve got a certain number of TikTok followers. That’s not at all a criticism, it’s just different now, and I’m glad I did the 2015 version instead of the 2023 one. When I signed with Island I wasn’t on any social media platforms and I only had five songs on an EP I’d recorded. That was a huge show of faith in me and I’m so grateful for that.

I left a year or two ago because there was a big turnover of staff and my ‘thing’ wasn’t really the direction the label was going in. So many people get stuck on record labels and aren’t able to release anything, so it was lovely the way it all worked out. Nettwerk have been my publisher for many years, so it made loads of sense for them to be my label, too. I love working with them and it’s the last few years that have been absolutely ace. They’re super supportive and I’m really excited about the next few years.

You are going on a tour starting [now] in February. How do the audiences differ stateside than overseas?

Yeah! People are the same everywhere. The only difference is the accent. Getting to travel around and play shows has been the privilege of a lifetime. You really do see how we’re all just exactly the same. We just want to get together and have experiences. We want to give ourselves emotionally to one another and sing our little hearts out. The one big difference, though, is that the US is absolutely massive and the UK is tiny, so drives are far, far shorter and I get to have far more sleep.

When can we expect you back in New York City?

Soon, I hope! The last time I was there was early 2021 to play a TV show. Everything was locked down and it was weird. It’ll be great to come back and see it as it’s supposed to be: full of life and people and connection. That’s all that really matters.