"It would have hurt my heart to release an album that didn’t tell a bigger story" - Dermot Kennedy talks his debut LP Without Fear
Since the start of 2019, Irish singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy has not stopped. Constant touring, across the UK, Europe and the US, as well as playing just about playing every festival going, all in the build-up to today, the release of his debut album.
Without Fear arrives in hmv stores today and sees Kennedy baring his soul. We spoke to him about how he put it all together...
How did the experience of recording your debut album compare to the way you’d imagined it would be?
"It was perfect. In the end. I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s impossible to sum it up, because it’s been a really long journey, but I spent plenty of time out of my comfort zone, which pushed me to be better. And I had so many beautiful days in the studio where I just felt at ease. So it felt like a good balance. I moved to New York to make the bulk of it too, which was such a special experience that I’ll never forget. That city is magic."
When were the songs written for Without Fear? Were some written years ago or are they all fairly recent?
"It’s a total mixed bag in that sense. Some are from years ago, and a good few actually showed themselves in the final few weeks, which was beautiful. I’m really proud of the fact that both can live alongside each other."
How many songs did you have to pick from for the record? Was it a hard decision to pick the final tracklisting?
"I had more to pick from than I ever thought I would have! I imagined myself being somebody who would write 12 or 15 songs, and I’d pick from those. But I started to see the value in being creative every day, and how over time I gradually improved as a songwriter. In the end, I think we had 60-70 ideas to choose from. And some of those ideas that didn’t end up on this record will definitely have their day, when the time is right."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"Of course. There had to be a theme or a narrative to it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t necessarily see the point in making an album. It would have hurt my heart to release an album made up of songs that didn’t work together to tell a bigger story. I don’t want to go too in depth about the story itself, as I want the listener to pick up on it themselves."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"This would be 'Dancing Under Red Skies'. No question. It took years. And so many different versions. It’s a very important song to me, one of the oldest ones I have, that I’ve carried with me all this time, so it was so important to get it right."
And which came together most quickly?
"'What Have I Done' was quickest for sure. It was written in one day, and it’s one of the few times in my life that I’ve kept the vocal takes from the day it was written. I’m a perfectionist, as so many artists are, and so I find myself always redoing vocals. That’s not always for the best, as I feel your vocals can lose whatever magic was in the air when the piece of music was new and exciting to you. So with this one, it just felt right to sing it a few times and trust that it was ok."
When did you decide on Without Fear for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"A good while ago. It felt like a really big deal and so I was stumped on it for quite a while. It feels perfect though. It’s something to aim for, on this musical journey and in life. Kind of like a reminder to myself."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"That’s the most exciting thing! I’m on tour right now, and the next time I’ll be home will be four days before Christmas. I’ll be home for Christmas, and then gone again on our biggest US tour yet early next year. So touring is what we’ll be doing for the foreseeable future!! Which I love. You get to present these songs to people, and connect to people every day in different cities, doing what you love most. It feels like such a privilege."
You’ve had a busy summer of festivals, any shows stood out as real highlights?
"Electric Picnic in Ireland this year was extremely special. I have never ever played to that many people. I honestly never thought I would. And the intro to our set was a recording of the Irish President, Michael D Higgins, reading a speech that he wrote especially for our set! So that was a proper “tell the grandkids” moment."