Mark Banks of Monterey was 10 when he first heard Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He knew then that music would be his life.
“We were in a Seattle museum last week and I saw the guitar he played in that video,” Banks says. “Just being close to that guitar I got emotional. It was really powerful for me. Music saved me from a lot, at a very young age. I knew that that was all I wanted.”
But what was it about that particular song that did it for him?
“The pain,” he says. “I had a tough childhood. When I heard someone make sounds that I identified with and helped release all of that, it changed me.”
These days the dark clouds are gone, and Banks works as a solo act accompanying his soulful tenor voice with guitar, keyboards and live tape loops in a groove which recalls Anita Baker and Ben Harper. While many modern players employ loops, Banks’ use of them is particularly creative, and recorded live. Covering Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” for instance, Banks begins with the guitar chords, which repeat as he adds a lead lick, followed first by tambourine, then bongos and cowbell before singing the opening verse. The densely layered sounds resemble a full band.
He has been represented by Monterey talent agency Kelly Productions since 2012, which keeps him perpetually booked with weddings and shows like one at Folktale Winery Saturday, July 29. He also appears three times a week at the Intercontinental in Monterey.
“I can’t tell you enough nice things about him,” John Kelly, of Kelly Productions, says. “Obviously he’s got a great voice and is a really good musician, but what makes him unique is he’s one of those rare artists who completely connects with his audience.”
Banks is working on a new EP, his fourth: “The phase I’m at in recording right now is more real, raw, honest and vulnerable than I’ve ever been.” That connects back to the pain he first identified with Cobain’s work, and sees elsewhere.
“People want to hang a Picasso in their house, and they want to feel the full range and depth of emotion flying off that canvas, but most people don’t want to know what it takes to make a masterpiece, because it’s just too deep, too painful,” Banks says. “It makes them uncomfortable to delve into how deep an artist like Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Prince or Chris Cornell had to go to reach that level of greatness.”
MARK BANKS 4:30-7:30pm Saturday, July 29. Folktale Winery, 8940 Carmel Valley Road. Noon-3pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Intercontinental, 750 Cannery Row, Monterey. 375-4500, markbanks.com