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Dermot Kennedy Talks Playing Mo Pop, His Future Music, and More

Dermot Kennedy is an Irish singer-songwriter who rose to fame through his soulful, critically-acclaimed acoustic EPs. Starting out as an independent artist, Kennedy’s music quickly garnered popularity after analytics brought his songs to the attention of Spotify. The music streaming platform put some of Dermot Kennedy’s songs on their playlists —Taylor Swift even added one of his songs to her personal Spotify playlist. He has since amassed over 200 million streams globally and has played sold out shows across North America and Europe, despite not having a full-length album released yet. In the weeks leading up to the Mo Pop Festival, I began listening to his music and I can honestly say that it is my new obsession. I had the opportunity to interview him about his music at Mo Pop and I can’t wait to see what’s next for him as an artist.

How did you get into music?

My cousin played. He inspired me to do it. He played in a band and he was just a great singer. I saw him play at family parties a bunch of times, so I decided I wanted to do it and be like him.

Who are some of your musical influences?

Most important is Bon Iver who was here last night. We actually went to the soccer game at the Michigan Stadium yesterday and Ubers afterwards were like $400 to get here, so we missed him last night. I wanted to be here so much because Bon Iver is probably the most important influence.

Being a huge Bon Iver fan, what is it like knowing that you’ll be performing on the same stage as him?

It is a bit bizarre. This festival is the one where our names on the poster were the closest together, so that is definitely a moment that I’m most proud of. I think that it’s really cool.

How did you go from being an independent artist to being signed at a major record label and what advice would you give to independent artists hoping to be successful?

That’s a good one. Just take it as far as you can until you really have to [be signed at a label]. What kind of got labels interested in me was Spotify going well and picking up in that way, so they started to show interest and wanted to sign me. I kind of just delayed and delayed and delayed and took it as far as I could independently with just my manager. I mean, we did a show in New York and LA and I did a smaller tour. I realized that if you want to tour in the States, it’s just so expensive and Spotify won’t pay for that in terms of what you’re doing. We just took it as far as we could before we had to sign a deal. I was in this lovely position where when I did sign a deal, it was already its own thing, everybody knew what it was, and the people who were signing me knew what it was. That way I could continue doing what I was doing before and continue down the same path instead of [them deciding] what it’s going to be. We basically took it so far so that they were just getting involved in a project that already existed. I know it sounds easy. It’s easier said than done, but just take it as far as you can before other people get involved.

Describe your songwriting process and what drives you to write such emotional and beautiful songs?

It’s different all the time. Sometimes lyrics can come first, sometimes an idea lyrically can spark the whole thing. These days I’m really enjoying being in the studio and working off a musical vibe and then writing to that. Often it’s lyrics —that’s probably my favorite way to do it. It can be a challenge, too. I try to be as honest and good as I can every time. I put pressure on myself, but I’m sure everybody does. There’s no set way that I do it — I haven’t figured out my best way to do it at all. I kind of take it how it comes and wait for the good stuff to show up. It’s fun though, but also a challenge.

How has your love of hip hop and poetry influenced your music?

I was actually talking about this yesterday and they were saying it shows in my lyrics, even though my music is acoustic and not [hip hop]. I would never try to take it too far down that road and become something I’m not. They say that my lyrics and the way I deliver them has a cadence or rhythm to it that’s similar to hip hop. It’s not something that I do intentionally and it just kind of happens, so I think it does influence [my music] lyrically.

Having gone through a little bit of a change in music style in the past, what new genre of music, if any, are you considering to perform in the future?

I’m not sure. The way it kind of progressed from acoustic to this was so natural. It just kind of came about and felt right, so I just kept chasing it. Rather than find a new genre, the challenge for me is to stay true to the fact that I started playing because I wanted to write songs on the guitar and piano. It’s rooted in that first Bon Iver album and Glen Hansard and David Gray — that sort of acoustic, raw world. The challenge for me is to keep pushing myself in that world production wise and never forget that it’s where it kind of started for me.

What would be your dream collaboration?

I’m not sure. With the Bon Ivers and Ben Howards, they are so so amazing, but they’re also their own thing. Of course it would be a dream, but when I was doing the mixtape with Mike Dean, there was one day where Travis Scott was going to come over. That would have been insane if we could have done something together, so I think something like that [would be a great collaboration]. Again, to follow on from the same conversation, I would like to challenge myself in that way and to take it somewhere a bit weirder would be an awful lot of fun. Someone like Travis Scott, or there is an Irish band called The Gloaming, who are like Irish traditional music mixed with something a bit more modern. It would be my dream to get them and Travis Scott featured on my album. To get those two worlds to clash would be insane.

Overall, what can fans expect from you in the future?

Just a lot of music. So much is planned in terms of a tour already. We are going to continue touring, but we’ve kind of played everywhere a few times, so new music is going to come out — it has to. People are going to be seeing the show for like the fourth time, so we have to push on. As soon as I get home, I’m just going to be in the studio making a new project and whether it’s an album or not, I’m not even sure. It might even be like a mixtape or EP — a long EP with six or seven tracks. I might even get a whole album out, but I’m not too pushed about what it becomes. I’ve spent this year writing when I haven’t been playing gigs, so I’ve got about 80 or 90 songs to work through.

Cover Image Photo Credit: Trevor Dernai

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