Photograph by Lizzie Heintz
By Lily Doolin
Irish singer/songwriter Dermot Kennedy performed at Royale in Boston on October 29th. He sat down with WERS' Lily to talk about touring, new music, and his time spent busking in Boston one summer.
Lily: Obviously, this isn't your first time touring in America. But, this time you've sold out almost all of your shows on this tour. Congratulations on that. How has the response been from fans so far?
Dermot Kennedy: Thank you. [The response has been] mad, definitely. It's so good, everybody's so into it. It's funny because we toured Europe where the crowds are so good, but they're quite reserved. Sometimes they're quite polite, even. Not that it's not polite here -- there's just an energy. Not even in just Boston specifically, but the U.S. It's just fun to tour. We played Toronto last night, and it was 1,500 people. Halfway through the set I played an acoustic song and it was just dead quiet, there was no one talking. [The U.S. crowd is] definitely not a rowdy crowd, but when it's up, everyone's up. The energy is really good here.
Have you had any crazy experiences on tour yet?
DK: Not crazy, but we did get to see Niagara Falls the other night, that was awesome. We just got in for our first show a few days ago. We've been on tour since the start of September.
You've got your single "Power Over Me" which came out recently. It seems to be more of an upbeat vibe for you. You've done a lot more mellow, calmer songs before. What was the inspiration behind this newer, upbeat sound?
DK: I was somebody who only saw himself doing acoustic-like, slowed down kind of songs, but then songs just started to take a turn. I've got this song called "A closeness" and we just put a really heavy program beat on it, and it just started becoming this more upbeat thing. It wasn't quite like ["Power Over Me"], but my stuff did start to develop in that way. This one just felt right. It felt like the right thing to do. It just felt like it had that good energy. Like you said, I haven't had something like that before. The proof is in the pudding when you tour it because your set needs one of those. Usually in and around halfway through the set, you can feel it lift everybody. It feels like a great thing to have. With a lot of my stuff, it's so important to get the feeling across, and that kind of mood and passion across. It was my job to let the sound become this more upbeat thing, but keep that lyrically and in terms of my delivery, so that was my challenge.
You've got a lot of hip-hop influences in your music. Where does that come from? Do you have any favorite artists in the rap-genre that inspire you?
DK: "Nothing Was the Same," I was obsessed with that Drake album. That came around the time I was in a band. Every night, going home from practice around two or three AM, I just [played that]. That is one of the few albums I know from front to back, I know every single lyric. It's imprinted in my brain. That's when I really got into it. But then, I remember listening to 50 cent when I was thirteen, his first album "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." That stuff was incredible. It's so good. Whatever I find attractive in terms of acoustic music and songwriters, like David Gray and Ray Lamontagne, and all those guys, I just don't see a massive disconnect between that and hip-hop in terms of actual songwriting. I think some of the best songwriters in the world are in rap. I saw a quote, I think it was Boy Wonder talking about Drake, he said this around the time that ghostwriting thing was being said. He [Boy Wonder] just had a quote that said something like, "I've been in the studio and watch these stories play out in [Drake's] head. He's one of the best songwriters in the world." For some reason, I feel like that genre might not get the credit it deserves in terms of the artistry. There're artists that do drag it down a bit. But there's people like J. Cole and Kendrick [Lamar] and Drake, and that's as good as it gets for me in terms of putting a story together.
It seems like you were influenced by the songwriting aspect of rap.
DK: For sure, but also the production is crazy. It's so good. That's another world I'm interested in in terms of just getting those feelings across. Everything about it appeals to me. But I've also never lost sight of why I started music and why I picked up a guitar and played the piano. But I do think it's a really exciting genre.
You briefly lived in Boston. Is it exciting to be back and actually playing a bigger stage rather than just the streets?
DK: Yeah, definitely. We passed Newbury Street on the way here, and that's where I used to play. I think the first place I played was at Sonia in Cambridge, and then we played Paradise Rock Club, and now tonight.
You're getting up there in venue size.
DK: Yeah, it's a bit surreal. You do your best to check in and remind yourself this is what is happening now. I wish I could kind of make that real in my head, because I did use to have my shitty little speaker and go down to Newbury Street and just try for a few hours and just play Ben Howard covers. Now I get to play things like this, which is the really crazy part.
Why did you live in Boston originally?
DK: I lived here for just the duration for a summer in 2011. It was me and some of my friends. There's an Irish visa you can do called a J-1, and you have to be a student to do it, but just for the summer. You can come over for a few months. A lot of people go to San Diego or Huntington Beach, but me and my friends came here. You basically just spend the summer being an asshole. [Laughs] That's why Boston was so good, you didn't have a real job, you didn't have to be there ex-amount of days. If you were broke, you'd go and [busk].
Is that the first time you broke away and did some solo stuff, or were you still doing stuff in bands at that point?
DK: 2011, I would've been 19, so I would've been in a band. I had started writing some stuff when I was 15, and I did solo stuff up until I was 19, and then I was in a band for four years. I've been doing this since. The band was great in terms of developing my musicality and my ability to jam with other people. To have that in my past definitely benefits me now.
Do you miss busking at all or is the stage definitely where you want to be?
DK: [laughs] No, I don't miss it at all. They were great days, though. In the taxi on the way here, I said to my manager, "Busking on Newbury Street is as pretty good as busking gets in the summer here." There're so many tourists and people here are just really happy. The weather is decent. That's as good as busking gets, that's not a rainy morning in Dublin. It can be rough there. But no, I don't miss it at all. It's a weird one because your whole objective when you're doing it is to make money, so that kind of fucks with my head in the first place. I know if I play an Ed Sheeran song that does better than if I do what I want to do and play three Bon Iver songs in a row.
Yeah, you have to play for the crowd and not for yourself.
DK: Yeah, so that messed with my head a bit. I did it as little as possible, but I can't complain. It stopped me from having to work Monday to Friday.
You released an EP earlier in the year, in April I believe, and then you have "Power Over Me." Do you have any new music on the horizon?
DK: For sure. There's a lot of new music in the set. We just have music sitting there ready to go and we just have to figure out "does this current song take us to the end of the year or do we do something before then?" I think we probably will [release another single]. I've got the beginning of next year blocked off to put everything together and make an album and get together all the songs I have.
Right, because you've only done Eps and singles so far.
DK: Yeah, and I want to get my point across in a body of work and show what I can in that sense instead of just hopping from song to song. I want to have a full-length project.
For sure. Alright, final question: what song are you most excited to perform tonight?
DK: We've got a new song called "Lost" that I'm really excited about. Like you said, "Power Over Me" is a bit faster and a bit more upbeat. This song, "Lost," feels totally, inherently me, and I'm very excited for it to exist.