Despite his traditional folk-soul sound, Michael Kiwankua was named this year's BBC Sound of 2012 and has since scored a Top Ten album and massive critical acclaim with his debut album, 'Home Again'.
We caught up with Michael Kiwanuka ahead of his current UK tour to discuss his year so far, whether he could keep the momentum of his early-year success throughout all of 2012 and whether rumours of a potential Jay-Z collaboration were true...
How has the start of 2012 compared to the same time in 2011?
A lot busier! This year there's been a lot more travelling, and i'm getting to see more places and perform more gigs. We didn’t really have any tours last year. The tour life is different, it’s nice and just having a record out. It’s much better at gigs with a record out because people know the tunes. You still try and win them over, because they have never seen you live and it’s not like playing songs that people have never heard.
How has being named as the BBC's Sound of 2012 affected your year?
It’s just great to have an awareness of the music really. So many records get put out each year, each week, each month and people have heard mine now, which has allowed me to go on tour outside the UK, just as quickly as touring the UK as well. I don’t think that would have happened if the BBC thing didn’t happen. It’s definitely helping to open the doors.
What was your initial reaction to it, were you excited or were you indifferent?
I was excited because it was another step, a step for my career, but I really didn’t know what I was quite getting into, or what I would necessarily do but I thought it was just about the build-up. You see your promo and your schedule is suddenly nuts! That could be overwhelming buts that’s kind of exciting.
Are you going to be able to keep the momentum going throughout 2012?
I think so. So that happened and the album came out which was obviously nice and then thinking about getting ‘Home Again’ on the road. Got the UK tour starting and then you know just loads of gigs really and festivals. It's going to be a fun summer.
Considering your music is so traditional sounding, what does it say that you won the BBC Sound of 2012 poll?
I think it says that music is benefitting from the help of the internet and successful other artists, it’s breaking down a few barriers at a time. So music doesn’t have to sound commercial. Album’s like Adele’s '21', obviously a huge album but in terms of the sound of the album is pretty straight back in places. The internet, with people hearing loads of different acts and bands through other mediums, (other than just the radio) has opened up things like people like me to win an award.
When you started your music career, did you have your sights set on winning awards and becoming a huge star?
Not really, if I’m honest, I just wanted to make sure the record came out, there is so many hoops to jump through sometimes, you don’t know whether you’ll ever release your music or if people will buy tickets to come see you play. My sights were to do an album that I was happy with; musically it said what I wanted it to say. As long as it would come out and be heard, picked up over the years by anyone that would want to hear it, I would be happy. Everything has happened so fast, it’s amazing for me.
If your success continued to gather pace, and you were asked to perform at major arenas, would you change your sound to suit bigger venues?
It’s interesting, I think I would like to adapt the sound, I wouldn’t want to change, I wouldn’t want to cater for the room necessarily. I would want to make sure I’m myself but I would definitely considered that I would have to adapt in a way to show people who were buying tickets to come and see it. That’s the main thing, if people have bought tickets to come and see you; you want them to leave having got their money’s worth. That’s the important thing for me really, I would cater to at least give them a good time, festivals are slightly different to indoor venues so you got to kind of see how that works. Change a set slightly so it fits a festival but never to sacrifice your moment.
Is it true that Jay-Z has been in touch to collaborate?
No, he didn’t - but his manager did. I think he got in touch with 500 people and I must have been one of the 500. Every time his manager emailed, we would reply and then he wouldn’t email back. There were three or four emails at separate times in the space of about a month. So unfortunately it didn’t work out. But he is playing the Hackney Radio 1 weekend, so I might meet him then, you never know.
Is there anyone else you would like to meet or work with?
Loads, like Jack White or Danger Mouse, I’s love to work with them. I’m a big D'Angelo fan too. Yeh man there’s loads - but they’re all the top ones.
Michael Kiwanuka is on tour across the UK now. For more information, visit Gigwise Gig Tickets.