It seems that every time you look around, a few years have passed, and a new generation of musicians is being launched on the wild ocean of acoustic music. One who has sailed with the current generation of voyagers in spruce-topped boats is Joe Banfi, a young man whose influences are as diverse as Nick Drake and the Deftones. Acoustic caught up with him in the midst of a tour with fellow rising stars Bear’s Den.
Joe, you will be a new face for many of our readers, could you give us some of your background and what first inspired you to write songs?
I think it was more “What cool guitarist could I emulate”, my brother had a band, and I just wanted to be part of that. The only way for me to do that was to write better guitar riffs than him, so I joined his band, The Switches, an indie-pop band, and did my best. I started playing guitar when I was about nine-years-old, and I didn’t like it, because it was too much discipline; I just wanted to pick it up and be able to play. My mum made me stick to it though, and after about two years, I went to see my cousin, and he was playing Rage Against the Machine and Deftones; I was being spoon-fed by my teacher, songs I really didn’t like, and he was buying tab books and just learning; I had no idea you could get that good that fast. Suddenly I was inspired.
Later, I joined another band with guys my age, where I was a backing vocalist. Me and the other guitarist started focusing more on chord progressions and song structures, and that got me thinking about writing, but I wanted the vocalist to write the lyrics. I left that band to go to university, I was playing on my own there, and suddenly it was all on me, there was nobody else to write the lyrics. I went down to Newquay for three months before University, and the open mic scene there is amazing. I started performing covers, but soon I was playing my own songs, and when I arrived at university I realised I’d become a songwriter.
You’re signed to boutique label, Communion. What’s the journey been like that took you there?
I played many more open mics and gigs in Sheffield, and was really inspired by two really special albums; Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left, White Pony, by Deftones. I put this little demo together, with all the songs I had and sent it to everyone I could find, and only Kev Jones from Communion got back to me. I went up and played a Communion night, and put the song ‘Olive Green’ on a sampler, and from the reaction to that, they wanted to sign me.
These days new artists don’t get big advances, touring is much more important. How are you finding life on the road?
It’s great; I’m on a great tour at the moment with Bear’s Den and they’re really looking after me. They’re doing really well at the moment, and taking me everywhere with them, which is great for me. Being in the van isn’t as hard as you’d think; if I want a bit of time, I can just put my headphones in, but they’re all really good mates, and I feel like I’ve slotted right in.
What have been your most entertaining live experiences?
Glasgow on this tour was fantastic. A lot of time with support acts, you have to win the audience over, but not there. I walked on and everyone was talking at the back, but I introduced myself, and everyone just came forward and really paid attention. I enjoy playing on my own live, but ideally I want to be playing with my four-piece band, there is a different kind of energy. I’ve got a headline tour coming up that I’m really looking forward to, and that band is coming on the whole tour with me. It’s only five dates in small venues, before we do another support tour, but it should be wonderful.
Tell me a bit about your influences; I’m hearing Springsteen’s Nebraska, and Jeff Buckley, but what would help us to know what we are really getting into?
Peter Gabriel’s album So; I started reading a lot about what Daniel Lanois has produced, he’s incredible. That huge guitar sound, with loads of reverb and loads of tremolo makes it sound big and spacy. All my songs start on acoustic guitar, but they grow very quickly from that into something else, so anyone who listens to acoustic music would be able to find something they recognise and understand, but I hope it might take them to places they haven’t explored before.
What inspires you to put pen to paper and write?
If I’m watching a film or reading a book, one line will grab me and just heighten the whole thing further for me, and I’ll write that down and then think about it. I was talking to Bear’s Den about being tired, and I said, “You have to be careful not to mistake tiredness for sadness”, and the more I thought about that, the more I wondered how I’d never realised it before. That’s the sort of thing that will start me off writing; little bits of inspiration, little chinks of light that get through to you and set you off.
What guitars do you playin your live rig?
I’ve been playing Tanglewood for the last four years, it’s a great guitar, but I’m picking up a Martin soon that they’ve loaned me for six months, so I’m really excited about getting that, as it’s always good to work with something new. I also play with a Boss ME3 effects pedal. When I play I have two channels from my guitar, one which is a clean acoustic channel, and the other is going into the Boss, providing a big soundscape for the acoustic tone. I go directly into the desk with both channels.
What are your touring plans for the rest of the year?
Definitely some festivals, we’re talking about Great Escape and a few others, though nothing is nailed down yet. I really want to record as soon as possible, but it depends when we’re going to get time, and when the songs are definitely finished. I want to be able to grow as an artist; I hope to reach that point when I’m making my fourth album, and if I can build and maintain enough of a fan base to get me there, that will be great. I want the opportunity to explore my sound; to take it in new directions and let it grow. I want to be a long-term musician.
Joe’s EP Guts & Bones is out now.