After opening for Adele on her European tour last spring and releasing a celebrated debut LP, Home Again, in his native U.K. in March, singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka is gearing up to introduce his music to U.S. audiences. The 24-year-old will kick off a brief North American tour in Atlanta on June 9th and wrap in Toronto on June 19th, a few weeks before Home Again drops in the U.S. on July 31st. A tight collection of instantly catchy tunes that reflect Kiwanuka's vintage soul and roots rock influences, the album was recorded over a stretch of two years at producer Paul Butler's Steam Room basement studio in the Isle of Wight.
"I was so nervous at first," says Kiwanuka. "The first year was really digging around trying to find out how to create a bigger sound. I didn't see how fun it could be until the last six months. In a way, it's like I just started."
Kiwanuka, whose parents fled Uganda's Amin regime before he was born, took up guitar at age 12. As a teenager, he became hooked on the classic soul of Otis Redding and Sly Stone despite his friends' preference for Nirvana and Radiohead. Later, he would make another major discovery: the Band's The Last Waltz, the epic 1976 farewell concert captured on film by Martin Scorcese. In the group's blend of down-home lyrics and rich melodies and harmonies, Kiwanuka discovered a sound and aura that he hoped to replicate in his own music. "It had that kind of rootsy, country thing, but it was soul," he explains. "It's all soul to me."
Kiwanuka says he has aspired to be a musician since his early teens. "Whatever it was that involved music, that's what I wanted to do. But I didn't know how to make that happen." Already adept at guitar, he started backing regional hip-hop acts like Chipmunk and Bashy before beginning to pen his own material. He recorded some rough demos that caught the attention of Communion Records, the U.K. indie label co-founded in 2010 by Mumford and Son's Ben Lovett. The label signed the blossoming songwriter and quickly released his first two EPs, Tell Me a Tale and I'm Getting Ready.
Home Again is about finding peace from within, says Kiwanuka: "My idea of home is not necessarily a place." On "Lasan," the lilting, Dan Auerbach-produced B-side to "Tell Me a Tale," he sings, "Try to find new something that won't fade away in time." After hearing that the Black Keys' frontman was a fan of his work, Kiwanuka asked Auerbach to join him for a three-and-a-half hour session at Ray Davies' Konk studios in London. "Lucky for me, he said yes," recalls Kiwanuka, who still sounds giddy over the collaboration. "The song kind of cut itself. I worked really well with him. He was so quick."
Michael Kiwanuka's tour dates:
6/9 Atlanta, GA – Smith Olde Bar
6/10 Nashville, TN – 3rd & Lindsley
6/13 New York, NY – Highline Ballroom
6/14 Brooklyn, NY – Prospect Park (Celebrate Brooklyn!)
6/15 Philadelphia, PA – World Café Live (Downstairs)
6/16 Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel
6/18 Allston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
6/19 Toronto, ON – The Great Hall