Banners Sydney Arlt

Michael Joseph Nelson, or "Banners," has a unique sound, like a blend of indie pop and alternative.

Michael Joseph Nelson, also known as Banners, grew up in Liverpool, England. He spent his early years singing in the Liverpool Cathedral Choir, (after auditioning at the age of 7) and touring with them throughout Europe until he was 15.

Wanting to go solo, Nelson contacted one of his old friends in Toronto to do some song writing. This led him to work with an independent record label run by Stephen Kozmeniuk, whose credits include Nicki Minaj and Madonna, until eventually signing to Island Records in 2015. His original stage name was Raines, until he decided on Banners, inspired by the flag that signals armies into battle.

After releasing a few singles like “Ghosts” and “Start a Riot,” Nelson combined these tracks with a few others to create his first self-titled EP in 2015. His single “Shine a Light” — from the EP — reached number 71 on the Billboard Canada Hot 100 Chart. 

Following the success of his first few singles, Nelson was featured on Spotify’s “Artists to Watch in 2016” list. His songs — those on the E.P and after —  have been included in television shows and movies such as “Lucifer,” “The Royals,” “The Space Between Us,” “The Good Doctor,” “Love, Simon” and even “American Idol.”

Nelson’s sound is kind of a hybrid between indie pop and alternative and can be compared to bands like Bastille, Coldplay, Imagine Dragons and artists like Ed Sheeran and Finneas O’Connell. 

I first discovered Banners after watching “The Space Between Us,” a movie about a teenager who grew up on Mars and falls in love with a girl from Earth. The movie in itself was the biggest pile of sappy mush I’d ever witnessed, but “Shine a Light” was anything but. The song starts with Nelson’s radiant falsetto and quickly gains momentum with rapid drum beats that sound like a quickening heartbeat. The chorus is all-encompassing and cinematic, the instrumentals swelling like a tidal wave, illustrating the line, “Cause I was lost at sea while the waves were dragging me underneath.” 

Despite the entirety of the EP being very memorable, “Ghosts” was the most gripping track, gripping at the heartstrings that is. This melancholic ballad with a slow build speaks of nostalgia for better days. The piano, with its simple minor chord progression, pairs wonderfully with the raw quality of Nelson’s voice. 

His second EP, “Empires on Fire” came out in 2017 and proved that Nelson was capable of surpassing what was already unsurpassable. I still have my favorites, of course, like “Into the Storm.” This track is fueled by fast paced guitar on the verge of grittiness and lyrics that spoke a similar message to “Start a Riot,” the willingness to do anything for the ones you love. 

Then, there’s “Someone to You.” The song starts with a racing, melodic violin and cascades into a beat-heavy track with triumphant vocals, the kind of song you’d blast on a sunny day or during a parade. 

In 2019, Nelson released his debut album with 11 tracks, titled, “Where the Shadow Ends.” A few tracks that stand out the most are as follows:

  • “No One Knows Us”: Nelson’s rugged, soulful vocals blend perfectly with Carly Paige’s vibrant tone. The song paints a cynical view of what happens to love in a world of prying eyes. 

  • “Safe”: An upbeat gem, with soaring electric guitar and a chorus that transitions into the verse with dramatic flare. The polar opposite of “No One Knows Us,” which is optimistic and boastful. 

  • “Rule the World”: If you ever need a pick-me-up, look no further. Nelson’s voice reaches new heights in this thrilling track. Remember to wear that “crown of gold.”

  • “Always Yours”: Enchanting, melodic and uplifting. The kind of track that makes you believe anything is possible. You’ll find this song in the “Always Yours” EP, released after the album as an accumulation of acoustic versions of “No one Knows Us,” and other tracks. 

Follow Nelson on Twitter and Instagram @bannersmusic for updates on his music and daily life.