British crooner Michael Kiwanuka is moving away from his sleek retro-soul and taking a quantum leap forward on second album, Love & Hate. Though the album — a collaboration with London-based producer Inflo and genre-bursting Gnarls Barkley hitmaker Danger Mouse — won’t be released until July, famous fan Adele is already calling it “very exciting.”
Love & Hate moves deeper into the expansive and lush worlds of albums like Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Opener “Cold Little Heart” is a 10-minute psychedelic R&B opus with Kiwanuka’s guitar ripping like Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel. “If that’s the first song, people will know it’s going to be different than the first album and its progression,” says Kiwanuka. “Better to go whole hog. … Not being so polite. It’s more fun being more forward and open about things ”
Rolling Stone caught up with the songwriter and the producer, who talked about how changing the creative process yielded a new sound.
What did you do differently on this album compared to your debut?Kiwanuka: I collaborated a lot more on this one in the writing process. Usually, I would write songs at home and then take them to the studio when they’re completely finished. Whereas this time we went to the studio and sometimes … just started our ideas from scratch. So we were recording and writing at the same time, which makes you write differently, you know?
Was it a hard working more on the fly?
Kiwanuka: Yeah, at first it was. It was kind freeing actually. It made it feel brand new again and I was able to let go of old things and start fresh.
Was it your idea to write that way or did Danger Mouse bring you out of that comfort zone?
Kiwanuka: Yeah, it was it was pretty much Danger Mouse getting me out of that. The [records] he enjoys the best that he’s worked on, I think he’s done it like that. … He prefers it and it was a good time for me to kind of get on board.
Did you go to Michael or did Michael go to you?
Danger Mouse: I went to Michael, actually. I had kind of been wondering what he had been up to. I hadn’t heard any new music in awhile. I … just was curious and thought I would reach out and see what he was doing.
Where did you end up hearing his stuff?
Danger Mouse: Dan [Auerbach] from the Black Keys sent me a video of one of his songs, “Tell Me a Tale.” I heard the song on the radio and I thought it was an old song. I thought it was an unearthed old soul song. Within a day I got an email saying, Hey check this guy out. … I wanted to see what would happen if we worked together. I didn’t know where he was at in his album or any of that stuff. He just said he was working on music, maybe we could do one song or something like that. The first song we did was a song called “Falling” that’s on the album and just the two of us. I saw what an amazing [guitar] player he was — [that] was the main surprise. He didn’t have to sing, he could have been a great guitar player if he wanted to.
Opening with a nearly 11-minute song is a little bold. How did “Cold Hard Heart” come into existence?
Danger Mouse: Once we did the song, we knew it was going to be the opener. We didn’t question it. We just didn’t know how long it was going to wind up being. … If you’re going to go for it, you might as well go all the way.
Kiwanuka: I just thought it would be fun to make music like that. And it would be quite a good statement of intent.
Are those real strings on there?
Danger Mouse: Oh yeah. Real strings, choirs, all that stuff.
How else did you let your creativity fly?
Danger Mouse: This is the closest I think I’ve come in making an album with somebody to the type of music that made me want to make music. You know, the Pink Floyd, the Issac Hayes, the kind of stuff that I really just love so much. This is definitely that kind of an album for me. … I actually can’t wait to try to do it again some point, which we’ve been talking about. So we’ll see what happens.