Dermot Kennedy on Ireland’s underground scene and musical identity

Born in Rathcoole, a small village on the outskirts of Dublin, Dermot Kennedy realised early on that what he wanted was to write songs and so ever since that’s exactly what he’s done.

“I grew up right beside this big forest and I always had a sense of wander and that was nurtured in me. I think, when it came time to write songs, I had so many things I wanted to say and there was so much about where I was from and the sort of childhood I had had that influenced that,” Dermot Kennedy explains.

After an incredible Spotify streaming success – which now counts more than 8 million monthly listeners – Dermot’s career peaked overseas. “The first proper headline shows that started to sell out that I did were in the US and, even though we are playing arenas now at home, it felt almost as though it took a little while for Ireland to catch up.”

When thinking about his Spotify fame, Dermot knows it played a vital role for his music career. “I feel like there are so many people that are so talented and then some people just need that one moment to kind of actually push on and to have a viable career, for me that’s what that was. That moment in terms of the songs kicking off and streaming and stuff just made it actually possible for me to pay to have a band in New York and in LA and stuff, so it’s always been the thing that I look back on.”

From street corners to small venues, his fame has been gradual but steady. “I’m glad it’s a thing that happened over a long period of time and I had to have those nights where there’s barely anybody there and have those nights where you kind of question whether the songs are good or not and often question if you’re capable of what you think you’re capable of doing,” he says. With music’s oversaturation, talented artists trying to make it and leave a mark seem few and far between, however, despite not having released an album until now, Dermot has been performing at sold-out venues for quite some time. His obsession with songwriters such as Bon Iver led him to want to transmit something to people. But have his intentions changed throughout the years?

“When I was starting out, I thought I wanted to be solo on stage with a guitar in a theatre, everybody seated. I thought my ceiling was intimate shows and theatres,” he says. “The battle for me now is to pack these rooms but also to not just lose that feeling of, if it were just me and the guitar and a bunch of people sitting down and you have everybody’s attention, you need to take that intimacy and take that tension that you can have in a room and bring it to an arena.”

From peers to finding comfort in hip-hop, his inspiration may have changed slightly, but he still has a pretty clear idea of what his debut album should look like. “One thing I was adamant on doing was I wanted there to be a solid narrative running through it,” he explains. “I don’t necessarily go down the road of just bringing out singles all the time, I want to be able to look back at what I did and see bodies of work and see your contribution to culture and to art, I think that’s the most important thing.”

His advice for anyone wanting to make it? “Take your time, really take your time. As long as you’re proud of what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter. It really, really has to be something that, if it wasn’t working at all, you’d be doing anyway. You need to be patient and don’t rush anything and just always, always, always write honestly and be true to yourself and make sure you’re taking your time.”

Watch Jordan Rossi’s film with Dermot Kennedy below now and click here to follow him on Instagram.

28 November 2019