For the follow-up to his Mercury-nominated No.1 Love & Hate, Michael Kiwanuka was reunited with producers Danger Mouse and Inflo for a stunning third album. Here, the singer-songwriter reveals the inspirations behind a self-titled record featuring themes of self-acceptance and soul searching, as well as bold lyrics that channel some of the greats…
MICHAEL KIWANUKA: “There was a bit of pressure, but I had the same team working on this album as on Love & Hate – having people I could trust definitely helped. [Producers] Danger Mouse and Inflo are incredibly talented, so it allows me to be as true an artist as possible, because I know I’ve got a strong safety net. It’s a pretty privileged position to be able to work with people like that.
You Ain’t The Problem, Rolling and Hero were key songs – the beginning of those songs came during the first week of sessions for this record. So I knew early on there was something exciting happening, and that’s when things took off. It was pretty much out of the gate, I thought, ‘This sounds like it could be something cool’.
The whole point of making another record is to show another side to yourself, to show some kind of growth. When you’ve got Danger Mouse and Inflo, it’s limitless what kind of music you can do. It was intentional to make sure it was a continuation, but just not a rehash.
In terms of making the record sound modern or older, you don’t go in trying to do anything like that – you just play and let it happen. I feel like that maybe helps with keeping something fresh.
A lot of classic songwriters and legendary artists are among my influences, whether it’s Jimi Hendrix or Gil Scott-Heron – his [debut] album Pieces Of A Man really influenced me lyrically in having something bold to say, especially on songs like You Ain’t The Problem.
There’s definitely no anger in the lyrics, it’s observation and then a bit of soul searching, which is generally how I find inspirations for songs – it’s stuff that’s going around my head. It’s a record about celebrating and accepting what it is to be unique and completely yourself.
I wrote as we went along, so a lot of songs were written in the studio, I would just turn up and start writing. New York was really where the album started taking shape and I found my rhythm with the record, artistically and lyrically. We were in the Brooklyn studio [Atomic Sound] for two or three weeks, then in LA and in Metropolis in London.
But New York felt important just because something clicked there for me. So even though I wasn’t there that long, that’s where I started to get a lot of the ideas and the theme to the record, and where I started toying around with the title of the album, as well as the possible sequence.
The studio was in a place called Red Hook. I’d walk from my hotel, which was just by the Brooklyn Bridge, through Brooklyn Heights, with my headphones on and listen to records or to stuff we’d been working on. Stopping for coffee and just people watching really helped creatively, and the 40-minute walk cleared my head and got me into a good creative space.
I believe in the value of an album, 100%, and the label has been very supportive. It means so much to be nominated for Album Of The Year. I’ve been watching the BRITs since forever, I grew up watching the BRITs. It would be amazing to win.”
PEAK CHART POSITION: No.2