Interview: Dermot Kennedy
Saying that the last two years have been busy for Dermot Kennedy would be a euphemism. After racking up millions of Spotify streams for his track “After Rain” back in 2016, gaining him popularity across the globe and sparking the start of a hectic touring schedule, he took to the stage at many dates throughout the US, Australia and Europe, performing at Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2017, as well as Lollapalooza and South by Southwest Festival in 2018 and Coachella in 2019.
Interview originally published on dresstokillmagazine.
His debut album, Without Fear, has now spent more time at number one on the charts than any other Irish debut album in the past 1,000 years and has been receiving rave reviews from critics.
Only two hours after the world premiere of his videoclip for “Giants”, we had the chance to chat over Zoom with the Irish singer about the inspiration behind his latest clip, life during COVID and his upcoming virtual gig, a multi camera one-of-a-kind event live from the world-famous Natural History Museum in London.
First of all, congrats! You just dropped your clip for “Giants” not even two hours ago and the last time I checked, it already had over 10,000 views. Oh really? No way.
How does it feel to finally be able to share it with your fans? It feels really good. I mean, to have the song and the video out now means a lot to me. It just feels honestly in this time. It’s been kind of weird and it’s been very quiet, of course, since we’re not on the road and it’s been a while since I released a song. When I’m not on tour, it feels nice to release a song and be still and sort of just feel your fanbase kind of enjoy it while I’m in one place.
Yeah, because your fans are really out there. How have you been using your platforms to stay connected with them during these weird times? Yeah, it’s been good. And I think it made me appreciate social media a bit more probably. I did a few shows through Instagram Live and Facebook Live and stuff like that, just playing gigs at home. And I haven’t done one in a while, but they [the fans] like it and it felt really nice at the start, honestly, because obviously we were in the middle of a tour and had to cancel everything. Obviously, it’s not the same as being in a room with like thousands of people and lights and everything, but it counts for something and you still bring people together. So yeah, it was a nice sort of like happy medium.
Usually, you can feed from the energy of the crowd and from the fans during your live performances. I guess you had to fall back in love with social media in a way to stay connected to them? A little bit ,yeah. And I’ve got a habit when I’m on tour of just kind of disappearing, you know what I mean? And I don’t pay much attention to social media and stuff while I’m on tour, because I just feel like I’m busy. And that feels like the most important thing to me. Like, if I have a show that night, that’s the only thing I’m kind of thinking about. So honestly, it’s been kind of good for me to connect more, because the way I normally go into a ‘tour bubble’ is fine for whatever city I’m in, but I do kind of disappear for everyone else. So, it’s nice to be around.
Going back to “Giants,” what was your inspiration for the whole concept of the clip? For me, when I wrote that song initially, it represented so much nostalgia and coming to terms with the fact that things will change and life will change and you adapt to it, get used to it, and get comfortable with that idea. And so, for me, I basically I wanted the video to almost represent me and my life and also a sense of wonder in the world. And we see that globally, we’re kind of changing and people are being forced to appreciate things a bit more and stuff like that. So, I basically just wanted that idea that was initially from my own life and my own childhood to sort of grow and be about the world.
I really enjoyed the way you described it on Instagram, saying that [“Giants”] is a tribute to nature being a part of your inspiration from the beginning. Do you feel like, in a way, since the start of lockdown and everything, people are feeling the need to go back to stuff that keep them grounded, like nature and family? Yeah, I think so. I think we were all, myself included, moving in a way or taking things for granted. Something that I took for granted was being able to play shows all the time, for example. And so I feel like, I’ll appreciate that a little bit more when I do get the chance to do it again. And so yeah, I think everyone everywhere did — everyone’s so busy all the time and life is so hectic and it felt like we were all just like, blinkers on, kind of moving through the world. And so I feel like this is for everybody to stop and maybe appreciate things a bit more.
Not to put a negative spin on things, but while wanting to stay connected to your fans, are you afraid to come up a little bit as tone deaf, promoting your stuff and all? For sure. I can totally appreciate that. But, I just think, ‘it’s what I do.’ Right? And if you think about it, I think it would be worse for me to hide, you know? If you only make music for when times are easy, then that’s not really worth much. And you can even see that idea through the fact that sports are back on TV, and I know it seems like a small thing, but it means so much to some people. For some people, it’s so important and it really counts to them. So, I totally appreciate that like, it does feel weird sometimes shouting about yourself when there’s much more important things going on, but I just think if my job is to provide a certain amount of joy for people, then I’ve got to do it, you know?
“IF MY JOB IS TO PROVIDE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF JOY FOR PEOPLE, THEN I’VE GOT TO DO IT.”
I was listening to “Outnumbered” last night and with the current situation, it has such a different meaning, because it’s a song full of hope directly speaking to people feeling very lonely. Does it happen to you that you listen to your own stuff and you’re like, oh, it has such a different meaning now? Yeah, definitely. For example, it can happen when I’m on tour and am just feeling a certain way on tour that both the song and the meaning of the song might change. In my own head, the song might mean something different even for just one night, and a certain line or a certain lyric might just get a new sort of depth for me because of something I’m going through. But yeah, I write about things like loss and love and such broad topics, so songs can apply to things such as this current situation. I’m glad with the songs I’ve got, and when we finally go back on tour again, I’m looking forward to playing those songs, and I think they’ll mean an awful lot to me then.
You keep talking about being on tour and everything, and I feel like it has been such a huge part of your life over the last year. What does is it feel like to have some time for yourself for once?I like it a lot, honestly. And of course, I miss playing shows, but we’ve played a lot of shows in last three years, so it’s not the worst time to take a break either from playing. It’s hard to even notice sometimes just how tired you can get and how much of a toll it can take on you just living on a bus and being in different time zones all the time. And you just kind of go, go, go because you’re ambitious and you want to do all the work you can, but sometimes you can be exhausted. So, the break is good. But, I miss it, for sure. I wish I knew when we could get back to doing it, and then at least I could relax, but the fact that it’s so uncertain at the moment is hard.
Because you don’t have a precise plan right now. No, yeah, yeah. And I’m making music and working on writing, and I’m actually busier than I’ve been a lot of the time, but I would like to have shows to look forward to for sure.
And I guess it’s forcing you to be very present, in the moment. Yeah, absolutely. And it reminds me of before I had anything going on, you know, like just being at home and writing songs because it felt good instead of just being in a studio for two weeks and having to write all the time. It feels a bit more chilled out now. But also, I think I’ve gotten so used to being ‘on’ all the time that I kind of miss it. It’s hard for me to shut off now.
Like people expect a little bit less from you now? A little bit, yeah. But still, any pressure I’ve ever felt has probably come from myself. So, I still feel it [pressure] and, in a way, it feels kind of pent up because when you’re on tour, touring takes all your energy and so despite feeling tired, you feel very satisfied and very fulfilled creatively, and so I’m trying to still feel that way now. But, it just takes a lot of writing, I think.
You will perform live from The Natural Museum of London next week for a very special, one-off, multi-camera event featuring you and your full live band. How are you getting ready for this show and adjusting to this new kind of normal? We’re getting used to it. I mean, we have rehearsals all next week. And it’s gonna be interesting, I can tell you that. But, I think it’s gonna feel nice too – even though, I will of course miss the feeling you get from an audience. But yeah, it’ll feel good to be in that space and to be in that huge hall playing those songs, and for there to be no noise, and for it to be just music. I think it’ll be a beautiful thing. I’m actually really looking forward to it.