Jak Bannon has made a name for himself by capturing what he sees in front of him and turning it into art as a videographer, so it was second nature to take what he heard and use it as the driving message behind his second-ever single as a solo artist.
“I just had an old friend. We were close, and she was a really sweet girl. Really, really nice. Super funny. Cliche as it is, she just had a light about her,” the 21-year-old says. “She was telling me about how she used to be in a really, really bad relationship. I remember she told me about it on a weekend, and then me and Carmack were in the studio on Monday or Tuesday, and that just was on the top of my mind.”
‘The Story,’ produced by Mr. Carmack and released Oct. 7, followed Bannon’s debut single as a solo artist titled ‘The Trade’, which has a story of its own.
But before being able to fully appreciate the stories behind ‘The Story’ or ‘The Trade’, Bannon’s life story needs to be told. Or at least, a condensed version.
It was July 2017, and Bannon was with three of his friends driving home from a Seattle Mariners game. A woman ran a red light, causing the car Bannon was in to hit hers before rapidly spinning out on the side of the road. “I don’t remember too much, but there were two suicide doors, so I couldn’t get out,” he says. “I don’t remember anything after that, except laying on the ground and just being like, ‘Holy shit, you can literally just die whenever’. ‘What would I have left behind if I’d just died then?'” Bannon was riding in the backseat of that car, but the life-threatening crash inspired him to move into the driver’s seat of his life.
Bannon had grown up in Atlanta – playing bass in a jazz band, playing baseball, making videos – before graduating high school in 2017. He took a gap year with the plan to attend St. John’s University in New York, but instead, he got a job at Driveline Baseball in Seattle, where he filmed marketing content for the data-driven pitching and hitting company. “There was a guy named Tim Lincecum, who was a huge deal for me growing up, and I was filming him,” he says. “Super close contact, talking about music and songs with him. That really got me prepared, I think, for the music industry, which is kind of funny looking back on it.” After the car accident, Bannon had a newfound motivation to refocus his filming on musicians: emailing any and all artists rolling through Seattle, offering to film their shows or edit videos or do “literally anything I could do to say I worked for an artist.”
He adds: “I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’ve worked for a couple artists, I should move to L.A.!’ I was 19. That was the greatest idea, to move to L.A. and work in the music industry as a videographer. So I literally just bounced to L.A. and got into USC Film School summer program. It wasn’t the actual school. It was literally just the summer program. That was an ability to live in L.A. for three months.”
He didn’t need three months. After a day or two in the program, Bannon was tapped to edit a music video for YG. That was all he needed. Proof he could do it. He dropped out and, through even more networking and delivering quality cinematography, landed on tour filming KYLE across Asia and Europe. By the time he returned to L.A., word about his work had traveled, and Diddy’s personal photographer Kaito Araujo reached out to Bannon.
“Kaito was like, ‘Yo! You should come to Atlanta and film the Super Bowl with Puff’,” Bannon says, noting the full-circle nature of being asked to return to his hometown in an entertainment icon and mogul’s inner entourage. It was January 2019 — Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots — and Bannon intimately documented Diddy at club appearances or other festivities during the weekend so impressively that Diddy pulled him aside and told him to come work for him permanently. Bannon stayed by Diddy’s side for about a year before leaving to pursue his own burgeoning musical instincts. He left what most would consider a dream job to chase a different dream and took with him lessons that most new artists couldn’t possibly know.
“When you’re watching from the sidelines, it’s like, ‘These people — they have to be on a different wavelength!’” he says. “But just being around them, you see Mary J. Blige will come up to you and talk to you. It makes you be like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ When you’re around them, you’re like, ‘Oh, never mind;. These people just have insane work ethics, but they’re literally just like me and I can have conversations with them just like anybody else. For me, it mentally levels the playing field. It’s not as scary. It wasn’t as scary to jump into music.”
Bannon’s rare experiences have allowed him to quickly leverage his instincts.
“I’ve always been outspoken, I think, and just comfortable speaking up and not being too worried about what I’m saying,” he says. “I guess when you’re thrown in to the water working with somebody like Puff, you see what your character is. Feeling more comfortable in situations like that has definitely helped me be confident in studio sessions and sharing my ideas. It’s just a confidence thing. You get confident when you’re around people like that because it’s literally an energy thing. I know it sounds crazy but just the energy of being around so much talent and drive, it leaves a mark on you.”
In January 2020, Bannon made ‘The Trade’ with a producer named quickly, quickly (Graham Johnson). Their relationship began as one of the artists Bannon had cold-emailed while still living in Seattle, leading to Bannon filming one of his first-ever shows in 2017. The duo developed into close friends and roommates in L.A. from mid-2018 to mid-2019. Bannon directed quickly, quickly’s first two music videos that will roll out with his debut album next year, and that is closer to the timeline Bannon anticipated for introducing his own music. But when the pandemic struck, Bannon decided to jump in head-first.
“It just felt like the right time to start something new,” he says. “It was down time, and it was stale, and I was just trying to make a new reality from being in my house.If you were to tell me in January that I would be putting out music in April, I would have been like, ‘What?’… The halt of everything just made me think, ‘OK, well, I might as well put this stuff out. Who knows what’s gonna happen.’ When a pandemic happens, anything can happen. That was the attitude going into it. Like, fuck it. Let’s just dive into this. Anything can happen.”
Here’s what has happened so far. ‘The Trade,’ where Bannon’s ethereal voice sings of restlessness over thumping instrumentation, is nearing 420,000 streams across Apple and Spotify. ‘The Story,’ initially released because it is his mom’s favourite song, has caused listeners to cry or get goosebumps. The accompanying music video for ‘The Story’ showcased Bannon’s vocals and vision side-by-side.
“The video idea is essentially I’m watching how we learn about love through movies and TV,” he says. “When you’re growing up, you see the glamorised versions of it. So, the idea of the video is to show me watching this TV screen and trying to get close to love.”
Bannon couldn’t have been prepared for what life has thrown at him through screens. He had to experience it all for himself, and the goal now is to provide a soundtrack for people as they push for a deeper understanding on matters of the heart and beyond.
Bannon is coming at life’s most unanswerable questions the same way he approached that friend behind ‘The Story’ or anyone in front of his cameras: with his ears open, his hand out, and the intention to make you feel something.