In the past two years, Michael Kiwanuka
has accomplished more than most debut musicians. After releasing the Tell Me a Tale
EP in 2011, the English singer-songwriter has sign to a major label, toured with the likes of Adele, recorded a full album and won the BBC Sound of 2012. I talked to Michael about what it was like recording his full length Home Again
, where his music comes from and where he thinks music is going to go. Michael wasn't sure what the future will sound like, but I hope we hear more of him.
What was the process of recording Home Again like for you? How was it different from your EPs?
Michael: It's not that different, like we recorded most of the EPs they were all recorded at the same studio as the album. So the process was kind of similar, kind of the same. I mean I was always pretending to make an album. An EP was like something that was recommended by people to try and get people to know you back in England. So it was pretty much the same as the others. There were a couple of songs on one EP that weren't done by Paul Butler, who produced the album. So that was different -- a different producer. I guess there wasn't that much difference.
Did you approach writing the album with a different mentality?
I approached both with the same method. 'Cause I was just trying to write songs for an album. I was just trying to pick the best ones for the album and then when the idea came to me to do an EP. So I just thought what would a few songs sound together -- like a mini album. But it was the same method. I was trying to create the same thing really. Keep that sound consistent for the EP and the album.
What do you think is a defining characteristic of the record?
I guess the defining characteristic is mix between the sound and the voice in the song. You know, my songwriting style and also the sound of Paul's production is mostly a big change and how we went about recording the songs.
You worked with Paul Butler of The Bees to produce the album, how do you think he influenced the record?
He did influence the album loads really -- the way it sounds is a big part of him, like the sonic element. Which is what I love and why I wanted to work with him. Also a lot of the music I've started listening to or re-engaged myself with at his house influenced some of the songs on the album, so that influenced me in a way too. And also he plays a lot of instruments so that was a big stamp on the album. So he was a big influence.
You and Paul played the majority of the instruments on the album- do you think you'll do that again or for your next record or do you think you'll bring in more musicians?
I think for the next record, I'd like to bring in more musicians and record like all together sometime that would be fun if that would work. I've been playing live with a band and I've really been enjoying it. Really great, really cool musicians so it'd be cool to record with them and kind of capture something we've been doing live, which is influenced by the album so it would still sound like me, but maybe some elements of the performance. I'd love to see what it would be like to recording live in the room.
Given the opportunity, would you record at the Isle of Wight studio again?
Yeah, yeah I'd do it again. I think it's good to keep moving forward though, you know. Don't just recreate what you've done before. I was really pleased with the album and there's definitely some kind of chemistry that made the album come out, so I would definitely like to do that again, but I think it's dangerous to try and do the same thing twice. I think probably I'd probably record somewhere else, not necessarily with a different producer, but in a different studio where you can fit a big band.
Anywhere in mind or just wherever you can fit the band?
Nowhere in mind yet. There's a place in London that's pretty cool, but it's too small. The guitar player has a studio, in the band his name is Miles, he has a studio in London. Might try and do some things there, good producer too. But nowhere in mind, anywhere that feels like you're just in a room playing with a group with friends. Like almost like your in the school band -- as long as the studio feels like that. I don't like the kind of posh big studios with a chandelier and stuff.
You mentioned listening to some new music. Who do you think are your biggest influences musically?
I guess for my first album people like Marvin Gaye and then like some of the obscurer records like David Axelrod, a composer/producer. He influenced the album loads actually.
Outside of music, do you have any influences?
Not when I was doing this album, but maybe now when I'm trying to write music at home. It's a mixture of films -- I guess images and films. I imagine music to it. A lot of music I listen to is like during a film -- the soundtrack. So maybe films?
Any films in particular?
Yeah well nothing like what my songs will be like, but I've been watching westerns, which is kind of weird. Westerns have a lot of interesting parts where there's not a lot of talking or dialogue and a lot of the acting is done with the eyes and the action is body language. Music is such a big part of that as well because the music adds to feel.
So you're heading out on tour, coming back to the states, playing Webster Hall -- is there anything different you'll do on this tour compared to past tours?
Yeah it might be different songs in the set. You know, pretty much the same thing. Us playing. You know, it'll be just the same. I'm pretty happy with the way I'm expressing the music. So it'll be the same band and such.
So is touring in the states the same or different as back home?
Yeah it's pretty different. It's like you know I'm inspired loads by American music so there's that so in my head it feels a bit more romantic than in England. North Hampton isn't as romantic as driving down, driving through Texas or something. You know, talking about films -- it's a bit more cool for me. And you know audiences are different. The audiences in America feel different than in England. It's completely different -- I don't know how to explain how different they are.
So do you prefer playing the bigger festivals like SXSW or smaller venues like the Rock N Roll Hotel?
I think I'm more used to, more able to do the smaller venues. I've just done that more than festivals. This summer I've getting more and more used to festivals. We did one in England about two days ago, that was really fun. So that might change, but at the minute I'm just a bit more able to do the smaller venues.
So in the past you toured with Laura Marling and Adele and such. If you could pick tour mates from anywhere in history, who would you tour with?
It always changes because of the music I'm into at the time, but I would pick...I mean the musics really different, but just to see it live I'd pick Sly and the Family Stone. I'd love to tour with him, at his peak. That would just be fun to watch every night. Hendrix I'd love to see live. Yeah I think those would be my two at the moment. I don't think I'd play, well I'd play before, but mostly just to sit down and watch them headline every night.
Most recently you won the "BBC Sound of 2012", which is a great honor, but you have kind of an older sound. So do you think music is moving in that direction? Will we hear more artists with like a Bob Dylan/Marvin Gaye influence?
No I don't think it's moving in that direction. Well I don't really pay that much attention, because music is such a personal thing when you're making it. But you know, it's one thing to be influenced by the music around you and it's another to just do it because that's the way to get a hit or the way to get money. And people do put a lot of pressure on artists, saying you should do that because they do it or put this instrument in because it will get played. So the last thing I thought I'd want is the Sound of 2012, because I thought my music was the opposite of where musics going. So...I don't know where it's going or where it will go. I don't mind too much. I'm just going to keep doing what I've been influenced by. That way I can make it more honest and make it who I am.
So what do you think your next record will be like?
I don't know. Just try and write as good as song as I can write. I've been getting more into instrumental music, so there will be more instruments and like more guitar too, because I've like gone back to mine. I love guitar music. It's why I started playing guitar. And I've really been enjoying my psychedelic records, like Shuggie Otis and stuff so that might be in my next record. But I don't know yet.