Dermot Kennedy: „If someone can come to my show and they’re in a good space, I just want to solidify that and amplify that feeling“

Without any doubt, Dermot Kennedy is a part of the who’s who of the international music scene. The Irish singer-songwriter has sung his way into the hearts of his fans worldwide with his deeply emotional songs. In September 2023 he came to Germany to play a much celebrated „Homecoming“ Gig at the SWR3 New Pop Festival in Baden-Baden. Because there wasn’t enough time for us to meet in person at the festival, we came together a bit more than a week later via Zoom, where the singer sat down to answer my questions and gave some insights into his songwriting process and the special connection he has with his fans during his live shows.

One and a half weeks ago, you came back to Baden-Baden for the New PopFestival to play your „homecoming“ gig there. This was your second time playing at that festival. I was lucky enough to attend both shows. I was wondering how that felt for you? 

Yeah, it felt lovely, because we’ve achieved so much since then, I guess, and so much has happened since then. But also, I don’t know, I kind of do my best to treat every show in the same way. I like to think that when I played that festival four years ago, I’d come in with the right approach, and a normal amount of confidence in what I’m doing and the songs I’m playing, but also just happy to be there, just happy to take part with all the other artists. That was kind of the same this year, I was just happy to be there. And just the fact that the theater was full, is still a crazy feeling to me. So yeah, it was lovely. 

Yeah, the atmosphere was great! So, talking about your music – when people try to describe your music, they always describe it as some sort of blend of different genres. Let’s say, someone has never heard one of your songs. How would you describe your music to them?

Yeah, this always happens to me in America. They kind of say: what do you do? And I say, I play music. And they say, what’s it like? And I get confused, because I’m like, I don’t really know. What I listen to, 90% of the time is Hip-Hop. I know that influences my music in a little way, in terms of how I write and stuff, but also, my music isn’t Hip-Hop. So, I don’t know, it’s kind of the way I often describe it. I’m sort of an acoustic singer-songwriter who spends all his time listening to Rap Music, basically. And so, that just influences me gently, I think. But it’s still just a singer-songwriter, acoustic type music. 

Y, it’s a very cool blend. In general, when you’re writing new music, would you say you have a particular pattern or routine that you follow? Like, how are your songs born? Can you describe that process? 

I think that the best results I ever get are just from me sitting there at the piano or the guitar. I don’t know if I’ve ever done something I really love where we started with the production. I think my favorite ideas I ever have, are all just from acoustic roots. Kind of like figuring it out on the guitar or on the piano, and then we build from there. So, because that just makes me nail down a melody and an idea that I actually am sure of. If I could stand up at a bar and play a song just with my guitar, then that feels solid to me, and it feels like a good foundation. So, that’s usually how I try. And sometimes it’s just not there. People always ask me, is it lyrics or music first? But I think, again, the best way for me is usually that the two go hand in hand, and one is influenced by the other. I’m not just writing lyrics out of nowhere. And similarly, I’m not just writing music with no sort of emotional direction. So, I think all these things have to happen at the same time. 

As you said your lyrics are very deep, very personal and emotional. And at one point you share these songs, these lyrics with an audience and in the best case, they connect with it. I think you do that really well. Is this just happening naturally or do you imagine yourself being on stage, playing that song to an audience, when writing it?  

That’s what I’ve done in the past. I’ve always imagined what it would be like in a venue or at a show or whatever. But I’m trying to do that less and less lately, not because that’s  unimportant to me, but I think if I look after the job of making the song the best it can be, just as a song, then the live scenario, the live setting will kind of take care of itself. You know, if I do the best job I can in the studio, it’s going to be okay in a live setting. That’s just how it works for me. And so I think in the past I’ve almost been guilty of thinking too much about what crowds are going to think about it, or what it’ll be like in a live setting. So I’m actually currently kind of actively working on thinking less about it.

Is there any song that you are surprised by the audience’s positive reaction to it? A song you clearly wrote for yourself, but actually it works super well with a live audience?

I have a song called „An Evening I Will Not Forget“, and that kind of feels like that, because it’s this song that starts off really quietly and then builds and builds and becomes this big moment. There’s no chorus and it’s just lyric after lyric after lyric, so people really have to focus on it. And I really appreciate that people do, that people kind of stick with me throughout that song, because it’s not really a normal song structure. 

And when you think of all the songs you’ve ever written and released, would you say you have one particular message, that you would like to convey to people listening to your music?  

I’ve definitely got a couple. I mean, I never want to kind of say things like: I just want my music to make people feel happy, because it’s not just that. You know, you want people to feel a range of emotions and you want people to feel multiple different ways. And so I’m always kind of reluctant to be like: Oh, I just want people to have a good time. So I think, the word I always kind of come back to is hopeful. If I can make people feel hopeful, if someone can come to my show and they’re in a good space, I just want to solidify that and amplify that feeling. I like to believe that all the emotions I’ve felt in life are on display in these shows, whether it’s grief or love, I think it’s a wide range of emotions. And so by doing that, I like to believe that anybody that’s at the show is just reassured that we all go through it. You know, we all have bad days, we all have good days. And I think I would just like to reassure anybody, that even if it is difficult currently, it won’t always be difficult. 

Yeah, I can totally see that. I guess for a lot of people, including myself, concerts are sort of that safe space, right? They just go there and they forget about everything and can just be fully in the moment. 

Yeah, absolutely. I have a vocal coach who I was talking to about this and I was saying, you just want it to be an escape for people from real life. And she said to me: Yeah, but that is as real as it gets. The most real life is when you’re there in that moment and you’re feeling a song and it’s kind of accessing the deepest parts of you. I think that nothing is realer than that, you know? So ultimately you just want to kind of make people feel present, I guess. Because that’s what it does for me when I’m on stage. I just feel like I’m feeling emotions quite directly instead of just kind of like having a veil over things. 

During COVID, you obviously weren’t able to play a lot of live shows. How did you deal with that situation back then? And how happy are you to be back on stage?

I have a lot of different feelings, because we had toured so much that at the beginning, even though it was such a confusing time just globally, for me, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I needed a break anyway. I think at that time it was a silver lining. It kind of gave me something I probably needed, because if we just carried on touring the whole time and didn’t stop till now, I don’t know where I’d be in terms of my head and everything. But then as time went by, it just kind of got quite scary, right? Like no one really, truthfully, absolutely nobody had any answer in terms of when live music was coming back, if it was coming back. And so, I think I’ve been lucky in so many ways because for me, we came home from a tour in March 2020, when things were just getting crazy. And then we played our first show back, I think, late July 2021. I think I really was on the lucky end of the scale for that time.  

Let’s go back to the very beginning. What was, what is your first ever musical memory? How did you get into music?

My first ever musical memory in terms of me singing and being involved in music, is when my sister would play the piano and I would sing when we were young. And I remember that I wouldn’t sing if there was anybody else, no one could look at me while I was singing.  And it was all really intense, because I was just a very shy child. But I could tell it was something I liked doing. And then, it just carried on from there. And I just got a guitar eventually. I started writing songs a few years after that. And here I am. 

Very cool. And by now you have already released two studio albums. Are you already working on new music? 

Yeah, absolutely. I am. I’ve kind of never really stopped working on music. I’ve got some music coming out soon that I’m very, very excited about. It’s kind of the most excited I’ve been in quite a while. And I can’t wait for people to hear it. 

Is it going to be released this year?

Yes, I’m kind of figuring out how to go, but it won’t be long.

That’s indeed exciting. All the best for that. Obviously you’ve toured a lot in your career. Is there any particular location or spot that was just special for you and that you keep coming back to? 

I don’t know. It sounds corny, but I actually love everywhere for different reasons. Say, for example, when I toured America, you really do feel like you’re exploring some sort of vast country, because I guess ultimately you are. But it’s just like you drive through so many deserts and drive through so many mountains and you cross so many state lines, and so you feel like an explorer, which is crazy. And that’s really beautiful. But then also, when we’re in Europe, like particularly, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Czech Republic, all these places…what I love about playing in Europe is that there’s a real politeness to the crowd. People really, really pay attention to lyrics. And I feel like in these songs, that I spend so much time working on and editing and changing all these tiny details, I feel like when you’re in Europe, those things matter just a little bit more, because people are actually paying attention to every second. And so I appreciate different parts of the world for different reasons. 

A couple of days ago, in  your Insta story,  you shared some accounts of fans who mentioned how long they travelled to see one of your shows. Not just hours, but days and multiple flights, which is crazy. How does that make you feel? Or in general, fans being so dedicated to your art?  

It makes me feel a lot of ways. It makes me feel reassured that people care that much about music. I think that’s a really lovely feeling, to know that music can mean that much to people. And also, it’s crazy to me. I feel a certain level of responsibility, because I don’t want someone to take a flight and then take a bus and then rent a car, all that kind of stuff, and then see a show and be disappointed. I want it to live up to their expectations and to make them feel the way they hope they would feel. And so, yeah, I just do my best to tick that box for people. And I try my best to remind myself all the time, because when you look out into the crowd, it’s important for me to remember that there’s probably people there who’ve travelled great distances to see you. And that’s why I think I put a lot of effort and passion into all the shows, because you never know, you know what I mean? I think sometimes someone might be like: Oh, you’re playing in Los Angeles? That’s an important show in terms of the industry and in terms of your career. But also, then if you play, let’s say, in Sacramento the day after, it might seem like a smaller show in the grand scheme of things. But there could be somebody there who has had a really hard year and really needs to hear that music badly. And that, to me, is a lot more important than thinking about your own career. So I try and treat every show in the same way.  

So actually, when you are on stage, do you have any songs that you enjoy playing in particular? Or is it different, depending on where you are?  Maybe there are some songs that you enjoy playing mostly when you’re touring at home versus Germany, for example?

Totally. Let’s say in Ireland, if I’m playing for 40,000 people, I know that a song like „Power Over Me“ is going to be really well received. And so that gives me that energy to play to that many people. I know if I play like an amphitheater in America for like a few thousand people, „An Evening I Will Not Forget“ is a real key moment in that set. But also I kind of try my best to make myself happy on stage too, because then that will translate and people in the crowd will feel that energy. A song that never lets me down is „After Rain“, because it gives me so much energy no matter where I’m at. And „Dreamer“ always feels really nice, as well. I’m lucky in the sense that there’s no part of the set that I kind of dread or don’t look forward to, you know? 

All right, and one last question. How did your collaboration with Fred again… come about. 

I worked with Fred a couple of times. Basically, I was in the studio with him. We just wrote a couple of songs years ago, and then a little while later, he saw a video of me playing on the street in Paris. I was just doing an Instagram Live thing, and he asked if he could put it in a song, and then it kind of became quite a big thing, because his career is just massive now. Me and Fred have about like three or four song ideas that nobody’s heard yet, so we’ll see…

Nice. That sounds great. Thank you for your honest answers. And we are very excited to hear, that new music is on the radar. All the best for your upcoming projects.