Sonder

Dermot Kennedy

Sonder

The guiding theme of Dermot Kennedy’s second record Sonder is human connection. The fact that everybody’s story is valid and important is what means the most to the Irish singer-songwriter. “A good thing for me is to write from different people’s perspectives,” Kennedy tells Apple Music. “I really enjoy writing a song from a friend or family member’s perspective and living their story for a bit.” At the emotional core of Sonder is an artist whose greatest strength is empathy, and whose soulful croon can sound yearning and melancholy and hopeful all at the same time. “There’s a lot of light and darkness in my life, and I need to honor both sides in every song,” says Kennedy. Sonder is a record that dramatically expands the sonic palette he set out on 2019 debut Without Fear, taking in plaintive, stripped-down ballads, bombastic electronic pop, hip-hop beats and soaring anthems. He says he’d be bored if he stuck to one thing. “I feel like with the type of music I make, I need to tick multiple boxes,” Kennedy explains. “I know there’s an acoustic singer-songwriter in me and so I have to honor that, but then I also know we’re getting to a point where we’re playing really big venues and stadiums so I want to have songs that thrive in that environment as well. I love making songs with big lush arrangements.” Sonder is an ambitious leap forward for Kennedy. He takes us through it, track by track. “Any Love” “Anytime anyone says to me, ‘Oh, this is a real departure for you sonically from what you've done previously,’ I don't like that. It sounds negative, but with this one, it feels like a departure from what I've done previously but I absolutely love it and it feels different. The vocal processing gives it life and a real warmth. It has my favorite lyric on the album when it says, ‘Someone I was seen by, someone who was so mine.’ It came together very easily.” “Something to Someone” “One time, I was driving through Dublin with my mum and there was a homeless guy in the street. You could see he was down on his luck, and she said, ‘Some mother's son.’ No matter how much he was ignored by society and everybody around him, she was like, ‘Well, he's still some mother's son.’ That idea always stuck with me, the idea that no matter what, and no matter how much trouble you're in, you still mean a lot to somebody. I think it's a very comforting thought, and I wanted to write a song about that.” “Kiss Me” “This is based on an idea that I saw in the book Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In that book, a psychologist falls in love with one of his patients and they have these incredible, beautiful days and then other days that are absolutely chaotic and horrific. On one of the good days, when everything seems really perfect, she says to him to remember that even on the really, really bad days, this version of me and us still exists. So in the chorus of ‘Kiss Me,’ it says, ‘Whatever may come, somewhere deep inside, there's always this version of you and I.’” “Dreamer” “Musically, this one was very important. It's stripped back and it was at a point where we felt like we had a lot of the album banked so we were trying different stuff. That piano idea in the verse is so ridiculously simple, but it feels like it works. It feels like it ignites a playful thing in me, and it reminded me of being a kid and having an imagination and letting that wander. The chorus is all about the simplicity of love and being there for somebody. It's not about grand gestures, it's not about huge moments or proclamations of love, it's about actually being reliable.” “Innocence and Sadness” “As a child, I realized I had this really powerful sense of wonder and a really strong imagination. I lived within these fairy tales in my head. There's a lyric in this song that says, ‘Innocence and sadness was a fine line,’ because to me it feels like you hit a certain age and then all this responsibility and seriousness and worry and all these things you got to think about come into your life. I battled with that because as a songwriter, it's very important for me to retain my sense of wonder. It feels like a dance I'm doing the whole time. I'm at a point in my life where I really do contend with battling the loss of my innocence.” “Divide” “This song really surprised me, because it felt strangely retro and that's not something I ever did before. It's weird for me to have a song with these bouncy drums. It was written and completed in a day in LA and it felt like a very carefree song. I need that—it can't all be me sitting at the piano on the brink of tears.” “Homeward” “This might be my favorite. I think nostalgia is a very important word for me when it comes to music. When the organ starts this song, I'm instantly transported. It’s the song that triggered the idea of Sonder, that then triggered the idea of that's what I want the album to be about. The first lyric in the song is ‘If this whole town slowed down.’ I think we all get caught up in our own lives and our own communities, and sometimes we all wish that life would slow down a little bit.” “One Life” “If you look through my listening history, it's 90% hip-hop. As this album came together, I was like, ‘I feel like I'm not touching on that much.’ But also, you can't force that, because you can't pretend to be a rapper if you're not one. And so with this song, I was really pleased, it felt like that hip-hop side found its way into the music. I could then get involved with the verses in that same way while still being a singer-songwriter. I’m very happy that this one showed up.” “Better Days” “I wrote this in early 2021 based on my own life and the encouragement I received from the people around me to not give up and keep going through everything. It came at a good time, because it was in the midst of all the lockdowns and everything. I resisted that, because I don't want to be someone who's making songs to profit from the times. If I'm going to speak on something, I want it to be very meaningful, so I resisted the idea that it was a COVID song. Then we started playing it at festivals when music came back and immediately I was like, ‘Huh, that's exactly what this is, we've all been apart and this is how people are receiving this song.’ It was lovely to see what it meant to people.” “Already Gone” “To me, my music isn't that sad! It might carry a lot of emotion, it might carry a lot of weight sometimes, but I feel like it's always hopeful and the main message is always one of perseverance and resilience. But this song feels like an all-the-way sad song. I gave in! I love the idea of writing songs for theater or for movies, and the first line of the chorus is ‘I feel like the moment's already gone/If she was in love, would've said it by now.’ I picture someone on a stage saying that to the crowd in a theater, a little bit like a soliloquy.” “Blossom” “Similar to ‘Innocence and Sadness,’ I wrote this on the piano at home. I like that it ends the album because it feels like a nice follow-on from Without Fear. That was an album all about the fear of death and the fear of losing everyone and struggling with the beauty of life because you know it's going to end someday. And ‘Blossom’ has the first line ‘This whole life is a dream that you don't want to forget.’ To me, that almost seems like two people that have had a beautiful life together are saying goodbye to each other. That's a manky thought that I wish I didn't have very often, but I do. And so it feels like quite a powerful idea to end the album.”

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