On The Radar: Dermot Kennedy

On The Radar: Dermot Kennedy

Dermot Kennedy exhales and lets the silence linger. He’s enjoying a sunny morning in Paris after the final date of his latest tour and he knows he’d best savour a few hours off. The last couple of years have been busy and there’s no sign of any respite for the Irish singer and songwriter, whose spacey ballads are a streaming sensation. Tipped in January by the BBC and MTV, Kennedy is on the books at Tap Management and finds himself on an upwards curve that has included performances at O2 Academy Brixton, Coachella and a spot on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “That was great to do, the big wall slides apart as she announces you and then everybody stands up, that took me by surprise,” he says of a the “surreal” TV experience. “Music is so saturated these days that it’s really reassuring and exciting to feel that something heartfelt and true to me is working on any kind of scale.”

Saturation is a hot topic when Music Week meets Kennedy: Lewis Capaldi’s debut album has just become the fastest-selling of 2019 so far, in the wake of fellow breakthrough chart-topper Tom Walker and George Ezra’s runaway success in 2018. Kennedy acknowledges that emotional guys with guitars are big business, but he speaks candidly about the need to stand out and do something different with his voice. “It’s crowded, there are a lot of people doing it now. The people I look to like Justin Vernon and James Blake, they’ve found their own way to be unique and not to fit into a genre too snugly. You don’t want to seem so crowded in the world you’re existing in,” he says. “You don’t want to make it too easy to be compared, it’s important to try to stay unique.”

Even if you’re racking up big numbers it might be from coffee shop playlists

Dermot Kennedy

Kennedy, who grew up in a rural town outside Dublin, uses Damien Rice to illustrate his argument that “this kind of music has always existed”. As a struggling young musician, he would trek to Dublin and busk at the same Grafton Street hotspot that helped Rice break into the music business. He’s “very grateful” he no longer has to pound the pavements, but says his musical ethos remains the same. “Before, I didn’t play real gigs that often, so when I did it was the most important thing,” he explains. “It was so easy to access a really passionate part of myself then, whereas now if you play a couple of hundred gigs a year you have to make sure you’re not on autopilot and don’t lose any potency.”

And Kennedy has to be potent, otherwise the crowd will drown him out. “I’m very lucky, everyone sings every song,” he says of his gigs. “I was really worried they’d chat until the one big song, hear it and leave. That would break my heart.” Kennedy’s vital organs should remain intact: with sold-out crowds across Europe and America, plus almost 6million monthly Spotify listeners, his music is connecting just fine. His debut album is almost ready and he’s hopeful for big things. “Even if you’re racking up big numbers it might be from coffee shop playlists,” he argues. “But then you get on the road and see whether people care or not. When it’s a full room and people are singing along it feels like a really solid thing.”

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