Michael Kiwanuka bought a harmonica a few weeks ago. The purchase, inspired by a recent fall down a rabbit hole of old Neil Young tracks, underscores similarities between the London-born Kiwanuka’s soulful music and the Canadian classic-folkie’s work: Both have a timeless sound and spare instrumentation.
After Kiwanuka, 26, released his debut album “Home Again” last year, critics were quick to call the record a success, comparing the singer to Bill Withers, Otis Redding and other soul and R&B vocalists of the ’60s and ’70s.
Kiwanuka was named the BBC’s Sound of 2012, and he has already supported major acts like Adele and Mumford & Sons. The direction of his yet-to-be-announced sophomore album will be a key factor in shaping his musical future.
Kiwanuka says he wants to explore more unique guitar sounds and give a harder edge to his new songs. Aside from Neil Young, he’s been listening to Australian psychedelic rock group Tame Impala and Jack White’s guitar-heavy oeuvre.
“I’m still trying to remain myself and be me, but at the same time put stuff in my music that sounds new to me and everyone else,” he says of his next album. “I’ve got a long way to go … I haven’t had much time to be in the studio,” as much of 2013 has been spent performing at festivals and clubs across four continents.
Not that he’s complaining. “It’s definitely appealing to be out as much as I can,” he says, “to meet different musicians and hear different sounds.”
He thinks “New Zealand is a beautiful place.” Japan is “crazy,” he says. “It’s the future.” But he still holds a special place for England, which is why he was so excited for his debut performance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, the country’s largest music fest.
“Festivals are great. It’s a completely different vibe,” Kiwanuka says. “But I think music just sounds better in clubs.”
He’ll get a chance to prove his theory during his July 31 show at the 9:30 Club. (The show was originally scheduled for Thursday but was postponed).
“It’s fun when you’re beginning your career and going through venues that people you’ve looked up to have gone through,” Kiwanuka says. “It’s important for me to play those venues and do them well.”9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Wed., July 31, 7 p.m., $15 (tickets for Thursday’s postponed show will be honored); 202-265-0930. (U Street)