Last week I had a little chat to British soul sensation Michael Kiwanuka, who, despite being the same age as me, has already accomplished far more to date than I can probably hope to accomplish in my entire lifetime. Fortunately, though, the envy melted away as soon as he started talking, thus scientifically proving that no one can stay mad at you if you’ve got a British accent. I asked him all kinds of hard-hitting questions, like what his Spice name would be if he began touring with the Spice Girls, his relationship status, and what kinds of alcoholic beverages we can buy for him during his upcoming gigs this at Webster Hall (9/18) and Music Hall of Williamsburg (9/21). (Then, moments after I hung up the phone, the executives at Tiger Beat offered me a full-time position which I politely declined!) So let’s get started learning all about those things AND MORE, shall we?
So where are you right now?
I’m in Paris right now. It’s a bit rainy, but it’s nice.
JEALOUS! Okay, so before we get started, what’s your least favorite question to be asked in an interview? That way I’ll know not to ask it, and future interviewers will (hopefully) know not to ask it.
I guess it’s kind of unique to me, but I don’t really like when people ask “What was it like touring with Adele?” I’ve had that one for a while. If you want to ask that I’ll answer! But I’m being honest.
Okay cool, that one wasn’t on my list!
So I guess just tell me everything! How’s 2012 been for you so far?
Yeah, it’s been great! It’s definitely been a roller coaster, but a good one; ups and downs, but the ups have been amazing. I’ve traveled loads, more than I’ve traveled ever before in my life, and I’ve seen so many places and met so many people. Released the album, which was great…yeah, I’ve enjoyed it! It’s been good every day. Exhausting as well, because I’ve done so much, but I’m just over the moon, higher than a kite. It’s been great.
Amazing! So how did you get started out playing music in the first place? Were you pretty small when you began?
I was kind of small. I got a guitar when I was twelve, and I pretty much started playing music then. So yeah, a good couple of years, but I loved it from the minute I picked it up, and I’ve been playing kind of constantly.
So what inspired you to start, then? Was it just for fun, or did you have a family member who encouraged you?
Yeah, it was for fun, really. But when I went to secondary school there were a lot of people who played guitar and were in the band; that wasn’t the case in primary school, so I thought that would be a cool thing to do. I definitely wanted to try it out…I wanted to play the guitar and be in the band, as well, so those two things were really appealing to me, and that’s what influenced me to get started playing music.
And what is it about soul music in particular that speaks to you?
There’s some music (all music, really) that just gives you a feeling; you feel something right from the singer or songwriter because it comes across in their song, their guitars, whatever they’re playing. And that’s what I like…I like that feeling of getting emotion from music.
By the way, where are you based now? Where are you living when you’re not on the road?
I still live in London, but I’m never really there.
And is there anything you get super homesick for when you’re on tour, or is it just nice to be away?
It’s nice to be away, but I do get homesick for pubs. You know, good English pubs; they’re really cool, and the beer selection that England has is great. I miss walking around London, too, like Carnaby Street and Denmark Street, places like Soho and Camden…I love London, so if I’m away for a long time I start to miss that. But a good drink in the pub is always something I miss.
Speaking of London, I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but the Spice Girls are getting back together. SO, I’m going to cautiously proceed in asking you the following questions: if the Spice Girls were all, “Hey, Michael, do you want to accompany us on our reunion journey?” 1) would you do it, and 2) what would your Spice name be?
Oh. Well, I wouldn’t do it, but I’d still have a Spice name. And the Spice name would be…I don’t know, this is kind of boring and obvious because I don’t have much time to think about it…if I was prepared I might’ve had a better one, but maybe something like Souly Spice? I don’t know, that’s kind of lame, but I can’t think of another name. It’s got to be better than that, but that’s what I’ll have for now. But yeah, the truth is I probably wouldn’t do it. But maybe if they paid me millions.
Money talks, that’s for sure. So you’ve obviously played shows in New York City before (we’re pretty excited to have you here again) but what are your favorite spots here in the city? Have you had much time to explore?
Yeah! I love New York. I know everyone says that, but I really love New York. And the Village, I love that area; there’s a couple of cool guitar shops around there, and there’s cool record shops as well. I also really like Joe’s Pizza. And then there’s Brooklyn; I love Prospect Park and that area. I haven’t been to Williamsburg yet, though. But yeah, those are my two favorite areas: Greenwich Village and Brooklyn. I like Manhattan, but those two specific areas are my favorites.
Now, you’re playing two shows this time around in New York; are there any shows you’ve done that stand out to you as particularly amazing, or maybe any that were just terrible / awful / horrible to play?
Yeah, you definitely get both. We had a really cool show in Brighton, England. For some reason it was just really cool; I love club gigs, and it was a basement club with a really low ceiling. It was a really raw gig, and it was one of the best hour-and-a-halves of my musical life. And then for a lame gig…yeah, there’s been LOADS of lame gigs. Some festivals have been pretty dry, like we did one in Norway that was just…hardly anyone was there while we were playing; it was made for kids who go to festivals all the time, so everyone was freaking out and puking in the bushes, and no one was actually watching the show because they were too busy falling apart and OD’ing on the drugs they’d taken. So that was a pretty lame gig, because there was no one there to watch it. But most of the other gigs have been pretty good. I love New York, though; I’ve played Prospect Park and Highline Ballroom, and they were both really fun, so I’m looking forward to next week.
They should definitely be good shows, I think. And so what are your future plans aside from the obvious things like touring and making more music? Do you have any plans to collaborate with anyone anytime soon?
Yeah, definitely! I’d like to collaborate with some people a bit more, like I’m trying to collaborate with Dan Auerbach and work with him a bit more one day. And people have heard the album and like the voice, so I’ve started to meet more people just by having an album out; there’ll be some cool things coming up, some cool collaborations. I hope by the end of the year there will be some more music out, and some more interesting things for people to hear me in a different context.
Well we hope so, too! Now, I don’t want to keep you too much longer, but I will ask you one last thing, and that is: are you single?
Yes, I am single. It’s just me and the road and the music for the minute.
So what drinks are we buying you, then?
Well, a whiskey’s good. Any kind of single malt whiskey, or a lager, or like, an ale…do you have ale in America? I don’t know, is it hard to get ale?
I actually don’t know, but we’ll make a note of it to find out.
But yeah, whiskey’s good.
And a gin and tonic is quite nice as well.
Amazing. Well any final words for us, then?
Oh, yeah! Well, if you like soul music then come to Webster Hall and check out a good show! I’ll be happy to hang out with some more music lovers!
We hope to see ALL OF YOU at one or both of the shows, but if you can’t make it out, STAY TUNED for our coverage of tonight’s gig.