Michael Kiwanuka: “I Found A Lot Of Me In My Led Zeppelin Cover”

The singer-songwriter explains how he approached his Physical Graffiti cover for MOJO, why he now might play it live, plus updates on his own upcoming second album.

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MICHAEL KIWANUKA SAYS he found so much of himself in his cover of Led Zeppelin for MOJO that he’s thinking of playing it live when he tours later this year.

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MOJO’s Led Zeppelin Limited Vinyl Edition, including Physical Graffiti Redrawn on double vinyl.

The Londoner tackled Ten Years Gone for the Physical Graffiti Redrawn album available with the current issue of MOJO (April 2015/ # 257), and while admitting he didn’t know the song beforehand, he says he found a real affinity for it.

“I stripped it back to find me in the song,” he tells MOJO. “It’s a lot more melancholy the way I do it.”

You can read the full Q&A with Kiwanuka now – including an update on his own upcoming second album – but to hear the track you’ll be wanting a copy of the latest MOJO.

The CD version of Physical Graffiti Redrawn is available with copies of MOJO on UK newsstands now, but a very limited edition vinyl version of the whole album can be ordered while stocks last.

Along with Kiwanuka’s Ten Years Gone, the double vinyl set also features exclusive Led Zeppelin covers from Laura Marling, White Denim, Songhoy Blues, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis and many more.

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE VINYL EDITION OF PHYSICAL GRAFFITI REDRAWN NOW.

Read the full Michael Kiwanuka interview…

MOJO: Were you a fan of Led Zeppelin before you approached this track?

Michale Kiwanuka: I was a fan of Zeppelin. It’s quite hard to miss them, especially if you’re a guitar player as a teenager in school. You’re always hearing a Zeppelin riff. I never actually had Physical Graffiti but I had Led Zeppelin II. I borrowed it off someone and ended up not giving it back… I forgot! I had to learn the riff of Whole Lotta Love, it was a rite of passage at school if you played guitar.

It’s a good one to bust out and impress people, isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s kinda easy to play but it sounds good. So if you’re trying to get into a band and you can play that, it helps! Jimmy Page has opened doors for guitarists everywhere. [laughs]

As you didn’t own Physical Graffiti was this the first time you came across Ten Years Gone?

It was the first time I’d delved into Physical Graffiti. I’m a fan but not a deep Zeppelin fan. I knew the hits and Ten Years Gone isn’t the first song you’d think of when introducing someone to the band, so I didn’t know it. But it was a great song to delve into.

Did you listen to the original much or were you trying to approach it fresh?

I listened to the original a lot. I really liked it, then I had to work out how to do it. So I learned the original – there’s a few weird, jazzy chords – and then I tried to play it on the acoustic guitar to see if I could make it sound like me. As much as I love Zeppelin, it would be a bit silly for me to do a power Zeppelin tune and try to sing it like Robert Plant. It would just be a bit insincere. So I wanted to work it out on an acoustic guitar before getting the band in. I listened to it loads.

“My album is pretty much there. There’s the last ten per cent to do.”

Michael Kiwanuka

How did it go when you took it to the studio?

In the studio I tried to play it like it is on the album and it was a bit karaoke, which wasn’t great! So I stripped it back again with just me playing and we went for a more stripped-back version.

You changed the song around a bit too?

Yeah, I changed the structure because there’s not much singing in it. If people who knew my music listened they might find it a bit weird if it was just guitars. So now there’s a verse chorus as well as that riff.

Is that how you approach covers generally?

I do that for all of my music really. If it works with just me, and it sounds believable with just me singing and playing it then you can do whatever you want with it. You can go in any direction you want. You can make it sound really expansive or really sparse. So I stripped it back to find me in the song.

Plus you can be both Plant and Page on a single song…

No! I couldn’t be either one of them! [laughs]

You’re currently recording your own album, so when did you do Ten Years Gone?

It was in January. I’m still finishing off my record. There’s still a bit to do with mine so it was a nice break from just listening to my own music. After listening to my own lyrics and melodies it felt freeing. You can just play music and be free. It was really fun. We had two cracks at it, the first was almost a copy of the Physical Graffiti version as I said, and then we went in again and really went for it. It was fun. I thought, It’s Zeppelin, it’s a great band, I just want to do the best I can with it!

So it was like half term from your record?

Exactly! It was a release.

How is your record going then?

It’s pretty much there. There’s the last ten per cent to do. I’ve just come back from America, I’ve been doing a some mixing with [producer and leader of The Bees] Paul Butler for some of this record and we did the last bit of tracking for Something, another tune. We’re very close. Hopefully it will be done in the next couple of months. It’s exciting.

What’s the plan after that? Hit the road?

Yeah, I prefer the performance aspect of music. I love the studio but it’s my least favourite bit, so I’m itching to go out on the road, play new songs, travel and meet other musicians. I’m really a performer when it comes down to it so I can’t wait to go on the road as long as possible.

Must be a nice prospect to be able to tour with two records worth of songs now?

I’ve been looking forward to that. The new album is different but it’s related to me, so it will work as a set. I’m excited to get out there and play. The songs get better live because you work out new ways of playing them. That’s my favourite part.

Any chance Ten Years Gone might get in the set at some point?

I think it will, yeah. I found a lot of me in the song. It’s a lot more melancholy the way I do it. I realised I like melancholy and I found that in there.

For more visit www.michaelkiwanuka.com.