5 Minutes With Banners

After an incredible 2023, award-winning Liverpudlian singer-songwriter BANNERS (aka Michael Nelson) is set to release new album, 'All Back to Mine' next month.

In celebration of the record, he is also heading across the UK for a run of headline shows.

We caught up with BANNERS to discuss what to expect from the tour and the album, and more!

Check out the full interview below.

Firstly, you’re heading out on tour this May – how does it feel to be gearing up for life on the road again?

I'm excited about it! I think the whole point of making music is to connect with people, to feel part of some shared experience. Releasing music can be really weird because the song comes out and, generally, your only experience of people listening to it are numbers going upwards on a computer screen.

There's social media interactions but social media can be alienating in it's own way. So I'm excited to play songs to actual people in an actual room and get to feel that connection with people.

I love touring because it simplifies everything. I need to wake up at this time, we have to be at the venue at that time, load everything in, do a soundcheck, there's only a small amount of options for dinner and then I'm on stage and then I just have to try my best. Then we load everything out and I go to sleep to wake up at a certain time. Everything is just there, all laid out, and I know that I'm right where I'm supposed to be doing the thing I'm supposed to be doing.

There are only a handful of UK shows, will these to be road testing the new record ‘All Back To Mine’ with more dates to come later in 2024?

Yeah, hopefully! You really find out about songs when you play them live. I'm not really sure what's going on there. Sometimes you have a setlist that you think is gonna be really great before you head out, and even in rehearsals it's feeling great, and then as soon as you're in front of people you just think "this isn't really working for me" and then you change it up or find ways to make it better.

I love that, even though modern technology has changed our lives so fundamentally, there is still the universal truth that music is made to be played to people and it's only when you play it to people do you really find out about it. There's a magic to playing to an audience that is impossible to really understand. The magic just happens - or it doesn't - and you just have to trust that.

You’re also heading across Europe – what are the differences between playing a show there and within the UK?

I'm really not sure there is one, you know. People are great everywhere - that's my experience. We're sort of forced to live such a huge part of our lives online now and unfortunately the internet amplifies the very tiny amount of people willing to say the stupidest, loudest, stuff. So it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking we're all different and that the world is one big argument. But it's so divorced from reality.

Any travel makes you realise that the human race is so overwhelmingly made up of lovely, kind people doing their best no matter where in the world you are. So touring is such an incredible privilege, not only because of the opportunity to visit different places but also to get to connect deeply, in my opinion, with people through music every night. People in Cologne singing words I came up with in a bedroom in Liverpool. What a thing. We'll have to remember to drive on the right hand side of the road though, that's different.

Speaking of the record, what can we expect from it?

I just tried to write songs that I thought would make people feel a little bit better. I've got this thing that I'm a bit obsessed with where when we wake up we've all got this clean slate
- bare with me here - and an opportunity to either make things better or make things worse for people. And when you go to bed that night there's a great big set of scales that measure whether you've made the world marginally better or marginally worse.

I see music as my opportunity to make things a tiny bit better for people. So that's what I've been trying to do with it. I'm sure that's misguided but I think trying is probably the point. So I've tried to make an album that'll make people feel a little bit better.

Were there any major differences to the way you approached ‘All Back To Mine’ compared to the previous records?

It'd be so great to have a powerful narrative anecdote here, like I went all Bon Iver and popped myself into a cabin in the woods for two weeks and emerged with a masterpiece, but I think so much of making music is hanging on by your fingernails and taking opportunities to write and record what you could with people you really like. I just made sure that I only recorded the songs if they moved me in some way.

Sometimes you have songs that tick all the boxes, like they're a cool concept and the melodies and sonics and all that stuff are totally right but they just don't move you. Sometimes people you trust really like them but I think you have to trust your own instinct with it. I just concentrated on trying to write songs that I thought would make people feel a bit better. I'm a bit obsessed with that!

Does each album make it more difficult to curate a setlist, or does the flow come naturally once you sit down with everything?

It actually makes it so much easier! Especially since the songs are new so you're naturally more excited to play them live and you've got more options for when you want to change the flow of the set. Maybe you need a slower, piano-ey song because you've got three guitar bangers in a row and you want give everyone a break. What's this? New slow piano song on the album. Welcome to the set, new song. I really love getting to play with the flow of a set.

If you're playing for longer than say an hour then you've got the chance to take everybody on a bit of a journey. When I first started touring about eight years ago I had like seven songs and three of them were piano ballads and two of them just weren't very good. There's not much you can do with that! So I love having options. It also means there's some - in my opinion - really good songs that don't make it into the set and that has to be a good place to be.

What else can we expect from BANNERS across the rest of 2024 and beyond?

I'll keep going as long as people keep listening. I'll keep going even if they're not, to be honest. I don't really know how to do anything else!

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Photo credit: Marieke Macklon

Hey - I'm Callum. Fan of The National, collector of vinyl, season ticket holder at Leeds United, owner of Dougal the cat.

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