YOU SHOULD KNOW | 001
“I started off playing because I was inspired by songwriters like David Gray and Glen Hansard,” explains 26-year-old singer/songwriter Dermot Kennedy whose sound, judging from his latest mixtape, has come a long way since his early days doing open mic nights in Dublin.
“I probably then used Bon Ivor as an influence and stepping stone to go past just the acoustic thing. I also listen to a ton of Hip Hop and it’s probably showing in the production of my acoustic songs. I’m never trying to be something I’m not but it’s just there, especially in the percussion.”
The moment I sit down with Dermot Kennedy I’m instantly struck by his warm aura, he’s open to letting me in from the very beginning of our conversation. The smile on his face says it all. He’s obviously someone enjoying life and seems to be doing so as the best version of himself. And you would too if you’d gone from performing in tiny Irish bars in front of maybe five or six people to supporting Lana Del Rey in London and having Mike Dean produce your music.
Dermot’s journey to where he is now isn’t quite as cut and dry as you might expect. Singer/songwriters, for the most part, are almost bred to be that way, be it through a family member who does music or early music lessons in school. Not this songwriter. In fact, Dermot was more concerned with playing football than he was music – he only stopped playing football last year and it’s something he says he misses a lot.
“I didn’t come from a family where I was immersed in music all the time,” he admits. “I mean everyone in my family likes music – who doesn’t? But I wasn’t directed down that path and so what I’m doing now feels really organic.
“That’s why I love the first three songs I put on Spotify because I just gathered some money together from playing in the street and then recorded them on my own. Rather than being like, ‘Oh yeah, I was writing all of the time,’ I think I wrote maybe five songs that whole year but it was a totally cathartic thing that felt really natural, it just felt like the right way to express myself.”
Leading the charge that has now earned him over 90 million Spotify streams, “After Rain” – an early song of Dermot’s that hears him singing about a love lost and a love that’s moved on – is the perfect example of why he’s someone you should be listening to. Impassioned lyrics to the point that there’s no way you can’t feel something listening to the song, once you add in the delicately arranged guitar chords you’re left melting away at this brooding wonder.
A fan of extremes as far as his music is concerned, Dermot’s quick to visit both sides of the coin when putting pen to paper.
“Even within verses, like line to line, it can alternate between the subject being love and then the subject being loss,” Dermot says, elaborating on his songwriting process. “Take for example death and losing somebody versus something beautiful like falling in love. It’s worked well in the sense that they can both live in a song and it can have a consistent story throughout whilst toggling between those two ideas.”
Managed by Ed Millett, the same person who co-manages Lana Del Rey, this is just another reason why the young Dubliner is destined to make it. In an age where most musicians are firing off countless emails to known managers in the hope they’ll get picked up, for Dermot to be headhunted by a proven professional just goes to show that hard work, talent and persistence aren’t just buzz words used to sell an artist.
And it’s not just the radar of Lana Del Rey’s management that Dermot popped up on, he also turned the head of Mike Dean. No, not the referee, I’m talking about the legendary Rap-A-Lot Records engineer who went on to become Kanye West’s music director and one of the most sought after producers in music. Having worked with the likes of JAY-Z, Beyoncé, Scarface, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, and many, many more, it’s fair to say he’s a good person to have on side.
“I’m definitely not the sort of artist he’s usually seen working with,” Dermot says of Mike Dean. “It was a connection we were always trying to make because he’s legendary in that field and I think it really came from being signed through Interscope.”
Eventually getting Mike to agree to remix his song “Moments Passed”, what started out as one song turned into an entire project after an impulse visit to Mike’s home in L.A. resulted in the beginnings of Mike Dean Presents: Dermot Kennedy.
“It’s nice to be bringing out a body of work that’s sort of like a surprise,” Dermot says of the new mixtape. “It’s not my debut album, it’s not a standalone thing, or even a new EP, some of the songs probably won’t even feature in my live shows. It’s just nice to be able to bring them out without kinda giving it too much thought and not have them rot away on a shelf.
“As far as it being called a mixtape, it’s just a word isn’t it? I like that it adds a sort of informal tone to the whole thing, instead of it being: ‘Here’s my new EP.’ It’s just some songs.”
Nearing the end of our chat I decide to broach the subject of comparisons. In my experience a lot of artists don’t like being compared to other musicians. For Dermot it’s Bon Ivor he’s often set side by side with, someone who he admits is an influence and someone whose music he enjoys.
“I understand why some artists don’t like comparisons. I get it, you want to be unique,” he begins. “But it’s going to happen, that’s what people do, I even do it. For me if someone’s going to compare me to Bon Ivor then it’s definitely a good thing. I just think you have to be aware of if it’s worryingly close, I mean it’s usually obvious if you’re just trying to rip someone off. I don’t intentionally try and be like them at all so to draw the comparison is always a really lovely feeling because it makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
While he feels comfortable with companions Dermot isn’t so much a fan of starring in his own music videos. Directed by NABIL (Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, James Blake, Foals), the beautiful new video for “Moments Passed” sees Dermot front and centre as both performer and actor (he looks like a pro getting bucked off that horse). However, Dermot’s not so convinced at being in front of the camera:
“I guess for my first official video it was probably important to show the world who I am and to be a part of the story I was trying to build but I’m not so sure where I stand on being in another video because it’s just weird.”
Dermot Kennedy’s new mixtape Mike Dean Presents: Dermot Kennedy is out now. You can listen to it here.