It's been a hugely successful year for Michael Kiwanuka. The British singer-songwriter, who just turned 25, has been voted the BBC Sound of 2012, and was picked to tour with Adele. His debut album, Home Again, has received much praise from music critics, who have compared him to the likes of Bill Withers, Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye.
Speaking with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon, Kiwanuka says he appreciates the attention — though he's taking it with a grain of salt.
"These are pioneers in popular music for the last century, and these are people who have influenced me as well, so it's pretty flattering," Kiwanuka says. "I've got a long way to go to reach anywhere near what those guys have done. But it's a good encouragement."
Kiwanuka's music draws from the more upbeat sides of gospel and blues. The lyrics, however, tend to be a little more melancholy, as on the song "Bones":
Well I long to be alone with you
And If I couldn't have you, I don't know what I would do
I guess I would leave this world alone
Without you I'm just bones
"If you're just bones, you've got no life," he says. "I thought, 'That's quite a good image.' You can kind of imagine this little skeleton running around lost."
Finding images like that, Kiwanuka says, often means taking a step back from the reality of adult life. He says that at its best, songwriting mimics the thought process of a child being read to.
"You've got such a vivid imagination of what's going on, even if there's no pictures. You just conjure up all these images in your head that are so unique to you," he says. "You need to kind of re-engage that inner child to come up with interesting perceptions."