Dermot Kennedy: ‘I don’t want to be the guy with an album full of love songs’

The number one troubadour is next in the line of singer-songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi but, he tells Roisin O'Connor, there’s more to his music than ‘false sincerity’

Sunday 26 April 2020 21:05 BST
Dermot Kennedy: ‘Songs to me are so sacred. When you think of Leonard Cohen, it’s like, woah, that guy lives in a story’
Dermot Kennedy: ‘Songs to me are so sacred. When you think of Leonard Cohen, it’s like, woah, that guy lives in a story’ (Leonardo Veloce)

Dermot Kennedy isn’t the guy writing schmaltzy songs with his acoustic guitar. “I think there’s been enough in my life, enough turmoil and loss, to bring darkness into my music,” he says. His music is concerned with more complex subjects than your average crooner. It was the death of someone close to his family, just when he had met and begun a romance with his long-term girlfriend, that gave him a unique insight into how fleeting and serendipitous everything can be. “The worst thing that ever happened to me took place at the same time as the best thing,” he says. “It taught me about the fragility of life, but also how to love somebody.”

Poignant as those themes are, it took something as unromantic as an algorithm to give the Irish singer-songwriter his first taste of success. The 28-year-old was busking on the Dublin streets when his song “All My Friends”, a dramatic ballad that draws as much on neo-classical piano as much as it does Ed Sheeran, was swept into Spotify’s crucial “Discover Weekly” playlist. From there, his career has gone A-list, from being given a shoutout by none other than Taylor Swift to being subject to one of those mythical major label bidding wars (won by Island in the UK; Interscope in the US).

On the advice of management, he held out on signing for as long as possible. “Why would you sign over all your music for a relatively small amount of money, just so they can own it for a long time?” he says.

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