Dermot Kennedy on his first album, tour and standing out as an artist

Dermot Kennedy
Maggie Einstein

In the music industry, there certainly isn’t a lack of talent. In fact, it seems that now more than ever there are artists showcasing their abilities on every platform and gaining fame almost even overnight. For Dublin native Dermot Kennedy however, his main objective isn’t fame, it’s being unique.

The singer-songwriter started out as a street performer after falling in love with the way songs allow artists to tell musical stories, and since his first live performance he has been working tirelessly on standing out. That effort has certainly been fruitful. Kennedy’s first studio album, “Without Fear” came out last year, and since then the 28-year-old has embarked on a 33-city US tour bringing his distinctive abilities and performances with him.

Kennedy sat down with Metro to discuss his inspirations, what he hopes people take away from his shows and dive into more on why standing out is vital to his musical identity.

What inspires your writing? 

Initially how it all started, I just wanted to play the guitar. Then I started coming across videos of artists like Justin Vernon and David Gray and Glen Hansard, and I was just completely enamored with the way they told stories through song. The amount of passion that was involved, I was just so taken by it. So then I kind of realized I wanted to sing songs too, and I started doing covers of their stuff, and just over time I think around the age of 14 or 15 I started writing my own songs. It just felt like the right thing to do. I started playing gigs in Dublin around town, just little open mic nights and that was my first experience playing for people. My writing process though is still changing, and by no means do I feel as though I’ve figured everything out. There might be a certain lyrical idea that triggers the inspiration or a musical idea that triggers certain memories or makes me think about a certain time in my life. But I think what I have changed, I used to kind of wait for inspiration to show up and I wouldn’t necessarily be creative every day. Nowadays, I find myself trying to be creative all of the time, and trying to keep that part of my brain sharp. I just try to write as much as I can to make sure I’m on top of things.

How did it feel to put your first studio album, “Without Fear” out? 

It felt like it had been a long time coming. I definitely had sort of held off on doing that for some time. Especially for fans of my music, it was about time I brought that out. It was nice for me because I guess the way the industry is set up these days, there is a focus on singles and people do kind of debate the importance of albums now anyway. But for me, it was very important just from a personal point of view. I wanted to tell a full story. I didn’t want to just be putting out one song at a time for my whole life. In my mind it was about time I brought out a full body of work and told a full story in that sense.

Are there any songs from “Without Fear” that stick out to you? 

I think my favorite song on the album is the first one, “An Evening I Will Not Forget,” because for me that song kind of contains everything I want my music to have in it. From a production point of view, I think you can tell that I’m influenced by hip-hop and that I listen to an awful lot of it, but it’s also still poetic from a lyrical point of view. Just for me, there is no one idea that is contained in that song. An awful lot of my life is within that song— from childhood to being a teenager and until even more recent than that too. So I’m really happy with what it does lyrically and also it’s just a very exciting song for me musically —I think it shows that I’m not just a standard singer/songwriter and that it is a more interesting project than that.

Kennedy will be hitting the stage in Philly this week

You’ve said before that one of your favorite things about the music you make is that it’s tricky to pin you to one genre. Is that something you’d say you’d want to be consistent throughout your career? 

I think so, the industry is saturated nowadays and there are so many people doing similar things. I don’t necessarily want to be part of that. I would always hope to be doing something exciting enough or fresh enough that it isn’t comparable to other artists, and I think that’s a good thing to shoot for. It’s just fun too– I don’t stay in my lane the whole time, I like to get into the studio and try different things that I haven’t tried before whether they work or not. But I’m pretty determined to be unique.

What genres do you gain your inspiration from? 

I think my main sources of inspiration are singer-songwriters and hip-hop. I think it’s a 50/50 balance between those two things. When I listen to a lot of hip-hop for some time, it’s important for me to go and refresh and listen to the singer-songwriters. But I do think hip-hop is the most exciting genre of music right now, there is just so much happening.

What do you like the most about taking your music on the road and getting to perform in front of audiences? 

Getting to perform in front of people always gives me a renewed love for the music I’ve made. When I see how excited people are in the crowd to sing with me and hear those songs— it’s the perfect antidote to becoming bored or to just feeling tired of singing the same songs. I think you see how much it means to people, and it’s just a very beautiful sort of reminder as to why you do all of that work.

What do you hope audiences take away from your show after attending one of your concerts? 

I would love for people to just realize that it’s not your normal show by a singer-songwriter. It’s not just a guy with a guitar, it’s much more than that. I think one of the privileges with the venues getting bigger and the tour getting bigger is that I get to sort of operate the production and take things further. We’ve put a lot of work into production, visuals, the lighting—-all that stuff is really important to me because I write all of these songs and I need to pack in as much imagery as I can to make it vivid and to be able to elicit some feelings for people and make them think about certain times in their life. It’s very important to me that the show matches and the visuals represent that.

Catch Dermot Kennedy Feb. 29 at 8 pm at The Met Philadelphia. For tickets visit themetphilly.com

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