Whether it’s in his music or the way it’s taken off, Dermot Kennedy has taken a modern and stylistically unique approach to making music. The Irish songwriter has spent much of his creative time working in Toronto, while making music that blends acoustic pop with hip hop. Even more interesting is the massive Spotify success Kennedy has generated, which keeps growing, and has turned into several sold out tours in North America and Europe. We caught up with Kennedy ahead of some Canadian dates to talk about his unusual route and Irish hip hop.
Northern Transmissions: What attracted you to working out of Toronto and how did you end up working with Stephen Kozmeniuk?
Dermot Kennedy: We have the same management, so it was just setup a few years back for me to come down and work with him for a few days. In those two days we wrote a song from nothing, and then finished it. It felt like a comfortable and fun environment, and there was a good finesse working with him so we’ve kept working since.
NT: Speaking of which, it’s crazy impressive how many sold-out shows you’ve had in Canada, which is even hard for local artists to do. What’s your take on this massive success?
DK: I’m still trying to figure it out myself. It’s just this amazing thing where we keep putting shows on sale and I’ve been lucky enough to sell them all out. And if you can sell out your first tour and make it the best you can, you’ll get all those fans back, with their friends. It’s happened in Canada, the US and Europe as well. I feel lucky with Spotify and all the streaming that the first shows sold out over in Canada. Since then we’ve been lucky to come back to constantly bigger crowds.
NT: You’ve also talked about yourself as a product of Spotify and the streaming age, so how do you think this factored into your success?
DK: What really happened was, in one day I went from a few listens in a day to 50,000. I ended up algorithmically on a Discover Weekly playlist and it just grew from there. We’ve worked on some playlists too which became this really healthy relationship. It’s been so great for me, and when I play a show people are just there for the songs, there’s no gimmick to it. It feels like this nice creative environment for me to be in and I’m glad people are discovering the songs.
NT: I also noticed you’ve taken quite a bit of hip hop into your sound, where did this fascination start and how has it found its way into your music?
DK: For me it’s the most exciting genre of music, and there’s this raw talent to all those artists. I was looking up acoustic song writers once, and the storytelling just stood out to me. Those artists have a way with words and are great at delivering them honestly. It just ticks the same boxes as some acoustic music for me. Listening to both it can sound pretty similar to me too. The best part for me is that even if you take parts away, my songs really stand on their own acoustically. I never take things too far so it’s not me either.
NT: Any Irish hip hop acts we should know about?
DK: My favourite song in a long time which is partly hip hop is “Nico’s Red Truck” by Dijon, the song plus the video is just one of my favourite things. It doesn’t even have the views it deserves, I felt like I was in a secret part of YouTube. There’s a Dublin artist called Kojaque who’s becoming the main dude in Irish hip hop. I don’t know if that’s changing now but I love his accent. With so many accents in Ireland it really lends itself to the variety of hip hop.
NT: I was interested to hear about this collection of songs you’ve recently put out, what inspired this kind of pseudo-album collection?
DK: It’s one thing with streaming platforms, if you don’t keep an eye on your releases they can become messy. There wasn’t so much of a great inspiration behind it as much as it was about being tidy. I have a proper album coming this year too, so I really don’t see this as a debut in any real way. These were all songs that meant something to me and I thought it was a good way to bring them all together.
NT: This is ahead of a full album too I hear, so how has that been going and what’s the biggest change you’ve seen focusing on an entire record beyond single tracks?
DK: It’s a funny one because I’ve built up all these songs but it’s a matter of making them all work together. I can have two songs I love but if one doesn’t fit it doesn’t get to be there. There will be time in the future for everything but if you’re trying to achieve a certain narrative you have to be careful. I have a lot to pick from so there’s some tricky decisions to make.
NT: What stood out to you about Inis Mór to shoot the “For Island Fires and Family” video?
DK: That place has always been important to me. We filmed right where my Auntie is, and she’s a musician too. She retreated there to make her album and I wanted to go there. It’s a place where my family gather a few times a year, and nowadays that time is extra precious to me.
Words by Owen Maxwell
Dermot Kennedy Canadian Tour Dates:
April 1 – Edmonton – Union Hall– SOLD OUT
April 2 – Calgary – Palace Theatre– SOLD OUT
April 3 – Vancouver – Commodore Ballroom– SOLD OUT
April 4 – Vancouver – Commodore Ballroom – SOLD OUT