The bad news? Yes, it really is December, so the days will keep getting shorter and colder.
The good news? The shows in town are going to continue to stay white hot this month, starting with Sunday night’s performance by BANNERS at the 27 Club.
Originally from Liverpool, BANNERS (a.k.a. Mike Nelson) has been established in Toronto for most of his music career, and has quickly made a name for himself with his infectious synth pop. He’ll be bringing those synthesizers back to town, building on his last show at the venue back in April last year. This time however he’ll have a full new album of material to perform, with his latest release Where the Shadow Ends having launched this October. His first full length album showcases how his sound continues to grow, building on his first two EPs from 2016 and 2017. Fans who fell in love with his early hits “Shine a Light” and “Someone To You” will find similar positive anthems here, with “Got It In You” the most obvious heir to that throne. However, the rest of the album explores other themes with great depth, including the soaring title track which should blow the roof off the place, and “No One Knows Us” which is sure to launch singalongs Sunday night.
We had a chance to connect with BANNERS ahead of the show to chat about his rise to fame, the new album, and his current and future tour plans. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
APT613: When you released your first singles, things blew up pretty fast for you.
BANNERS: Yeah, they did really. It’s odd because, I can only talk for myself, so it’s hard to tell how typical a lot of it is. It’s funny because obviously we released a ‘thing’ and then it went pretty well quite quickly. But realistically, I’ve been writing songs and trying to get people interested for the best part of I don’t know how long. So it’s kind of funny how all this stuff kind happened.
The first thing that I released was a song called “Ghosts” which I’d had for a really long time, and I’d just been tinkering with it. It was only when I worked with a producer in Canada, it finally sounded like I’d always hoped it would. I started working with this independent label in Toronto and they put me in touch with this producer. So it was great to finally have this song that I’d had for ages finally sound like I’d always wanted it to. Then we put it on SoundCloud, so I suppose in relation to how I would do it now, it was quite a soft release really, but it’s always lovely to have such a positive response out of the gate. Gives you a lot of confidence that what you’re doing could work.
Once that first EP came out and “Shine A Light” blew up, that opened up a whole lot of doors.
In terms of that stuff, you just try to make connections with people, and anything that works in music is just a combination of a number of things. Generally it’s a really good combination, of really good people that know how to get it to the people that need to hear it.
Creatively, it just needs to resonate with people that want to listen to songs. And obviously you have all this support from radio stations that like it, and all that stuff. So as much as you’d like to take credit for everything, so much of it is the work of other people as well as yourself.
I’m sure when someone behind the scenes managed to get that song into the FIFA soundtrack around the world, that was a big coup for an independent artist.
It was a big coup emotionally for me because I’m a really, really big football fan. I support Liverpool so fanatically, and FIFA is a game that I’ve always played. So it was a pretty wild feeling playing the game as Liverpool, scoring goals as Liverpool, and then the soundtrack to those goals being my voice was pretty wild.
Especially early on, it’s very gratifying when people that you don’t even know are considering your song as something that they might want to use for their games and stuff like that. It’s a really big confidence boost, as well as a really big boost in terms of getting people into your music. It’s like you start off on a little bit of a wave that you can keep emotionally drawing on to keep going.
The new album has a wider variety in the sound, but it all sounds like BANNERS, and it crosses over easily from synth pop to acoustic when you change up the versions.
My dad is a record producer, so I grew up spending a lot of time in recording studios and spending a lot of time in an environment where, what you do is write a load of songs and then you rent a studio out for a month or however long and then you work with that one producer and everything is very unified because it’s all essentially the same small group of people working on the thing.
I think the way that music gets made is different now. You jump around far more between producers and between songwriters and things like that. I think if it sounds like there’s a slight disparity in the sound of a lot of the songs, it’s because literally a bunch of them were written in Toronto with some people, and a bunch of them over in Nashville, and some of them in L.A. with different people. So I think in many respects the struggle is once you’ve got the songs and then you start to produce things with different people to try to get it sorted through, with lines running through everything so it doesn’t jump around weirdly. Obviously, you want to try to make music that will matter to the most people you possibly can.
You’re bringing out a full band on this tour?
So it’s quite nice, really. When I first started playing live, I just had to have auditions for people because I didn’t really know any musicians in Canada and in Toronto. So I had tough auditions for people, and it’s funny, because you can audition roughly how good somebody is at the drums or guitar or any of that stuff. But you can’t really audition what they’ll be like on a five week tour where you’ve just sat in a van and everyone’s really tired. You can’t check how well you’re going to get on, basically.
Now, I’ve ended up with a really lovely group of people. And it’s really important to me, because I think the music that I make, the persona that I try to present is a very welcoming and safe place for people to come and watch music. And it’s really important to me that those in my band will uphold that and be good with fans. I think it’s a pretty underrated thing, with session musicians. It’s great because I know I can totally trust them that if somebody wants a photo with them after a gig or any of that stuff that they’ll be really, really lovely. Because that’s the main thing for me is playing gigs and then leaving town with people feeling like they’ve been looked after and cared about and catered for.
BANNERS will be playing The 27 Club (27 York St.) on Sunday December 1, 2019. Tickets are available online. Toronto’s The Man Who will open the show. Doors at 8PM.