Without Fear

Without Fear

“I really am the worst person in the world at recognizing what is potentially a hit,” Dermot Kennedy tells Apple Music. “But then I’m also the person who didn’t watch Game of Thrones for four years because every single person in the world loved it. Something seems to get in my way.” On a debut album over a decade in the making, nothing is in the Irishman’s way. Kennedy’s rich, emotional folk-pop swoops and soars with bombastic choruses and smart, hip-hop-owed production. It’s an intoxicating brew, and one he’s insistent stays bespoke. “I’ve been in lots of situations where a song’s needed to get done and it’s been suggested that a producer can finish things off,” he says. “Basically suggesting I don’t need to be present. I always have to drive home the fact that I have to be there because if you leave something alone, it’ll sound generic. When I play the piano or synths, I’ll play in my trademark clumsy way. And that’s what’s important, you know? Everything has to sound like me.” Who better, then, to talk you through Without Fear… An Evening I Will Not Forget “It feels right to be first in a bunch of ways. In a boring way, it was the very first song I brought out properly. This is a new version that we've been playing live; it's far more produced and it sounds huge. For me, it's important because I feel like it's the only song I've got that captures every important life event I've experienced. I always wanted to have a song that felt like a poem and that sort of rises with intensity as you go through it. I think a song I always go back to that does that for me is ‘One Mic’ by Nas. I think the way it starts out pretty chilled out and then turns into this super intense thing with sirens and everything, that was really inspiring.” All My Friends “I remember the very first thing that came about with this song was that rolling piano line. I wrote it ages ago, and I always, always want to write things that are atmospheric. So I wanted this to have a darkness to it—without becoming spooky and weird—and sound like it was from a movie. I love that it's become a key song, because it's certainly not what I set out to do. I just wasn't in that headspace in the studio to find the ‘killer hook’ like there’s pressure to do sometimes. It was this really free process and it all came about naturally.” Power Over Me “This was essentially the opposite writing experience to ‘All My Friends.’ We intentionally started with the hook and the ‘power over me’ lyric. I’d never done that before, and so the job was then to keep that sentiment and build around it. It felt quite jarring at first, but I got into it. There are things like the ‘woo!’ on the back end of the track, which was a completely natural moment. I know they seem like a tiny thing, but as I move forward and I’m deeper into ‘the industry,’ little ad-lib moments like that help me reclaim my authenticity and integrity, and all that stuff.” What Have I Done “If you just read the title, you'd probably assume this is a negative song. It sounds like sort of some disaster is unfolding. But I always wanted to capture a sense of disbelief—‘How did I happen upon this beautiful love?’ We made this out in LA, and I wrote and sang it in one day. It's the only song on the album where I kept the vocal takes from the first time I did them. I often find myself wanting to go back to certain things—it's just part of the type of person I am. Artists can often find themselves trying to do what they did in a demo because they think they should, and then just never capturing that feeling again. So I just left it alone. I wasn’t going to sing the chorus in that way again.” Moments Passed “I had come back from a trip to Toronto working on what was going to be the next single, but I wasn't passionate about it. The guy I had been working with sent me a few snippets of that opening part—just a bunch of my vocal takes mixed up and distorted. Instantly, I was so excited and felt it was what I wished we’d done. So I called off the release of the song we’d been planning and started chasing this idea. In terms of me presenting my sound to the world in an album, this song is so important. Oh, and it’s also the track that I once played over FaceTime to Travis Scott. I was in the studio with [Texan hip-hop producer] Mike Dean and Travis called so we gave him a blast. I think he liked it!” The Corner “This one came to be when management and the label were all pushing for that one song to hang the campaign on. So I spent a lot of time going around trying to write that track, which can be pretty arduous and disheartening. We then had a writing session set up with Starsmith [British songwriter and producer Finlay Dow-Smith] and another guy in London. The other guy didn’t show, and Starsmith is the most chilled-out guy and lovely, so we quickly reached a point where we just wrote whatever we felt. He absolutely encouraged me to stop worrying about finding that big single. I loved the idea of this song just having a couple of choruses and opening out into this big, triumphant end section. I had Mumford & Sons in mind, actually. We perform it live and play that end section around eight times. I actually wrote a newer version that was a bit more cryptic, but decided it needed to be this direct.” Lost “I wrote this with Carey Willetts [British bassist, songwriter, and producer] in London. We also wrote ‘Moments Passed’ and ‘Without Fear’ together, and he is one of my favorite people to work with. My favorite thing in making music is when Carey and I get five days to really go in on a song. In the studio, there's a lot of time spent kind of just sitting around and talking, which was leaving me quite fed up, so I went downstairs to the piano and started writing. The first verse and piano part just sort of fell out of me.” Rome “I started writing songs in the first place because I was deeply affected by songwriters and straight-up acoustic songs. Tracks like ‘Shine’ by David Gray and Foy Vance’s ‘Homebird’—that was the type of music I fell in love with. Over the last few years my music has developed and I’ve branched out into using electronic and hip-hop production—things that make all this so exciting for me. It’s where I want to be creatively, but I also like to go back to reminding myself why I started writing songs in the first place. A lot of the album has very big, fleshed-out production, so this became vital as it’s a ballad with just piano and organ. We tried beefing up the production on it, but kept stripping it back. This is where it needed to be.” Outnumbered “This is an example of good things happening when you don't overthink absolutely everything and analyze every single choice you make. And believe me, I did analyze it to death afterwards. I had got into London on this stupid 6:05 am Ryanair flight from Dublin. I don't go to sleep early, so I think I’d slept for two hours. Now, I personally think good things can happen when you're knackered because your super-alert conscious self isn't necessarily there and so you just think, ‘Fuck it. I'll be out of here soon and I can go to bed.’ Maybe because of that, this song came about pretty much in a day. I wrote it a good while ago in certain circumstances that, luckily, I'm free of now. But I wanted the song to be a small element of solace and comfort for somebody.” Dancing Under Red Skies “I was 17 when I wrote this. Maybe you’re never more romantic than when you’re 17—you’re spoiled by the world. I first played this in a band called Shadows and Dust. The version we played then was seven minutes long because we were all falling in love with Bon Iver and wanted everything to have four-minute intros of ambient sounds. It’s another example, in my opinion, of how you’ll likely strike gold if you’re left to your own creative devices. I like it here, too, because this section of the album feels very nostalgic. I have a lot of songs—including this one—that I wrote while I was in love with somebody that I wasn’t in a relationship with and couldn’t have at the time. I was basically writing love songs trying very hard to not sound like I had nothing to base it on.” Outgrown “I had a lot of fun with this. I was writing the song with [US producer] Scott Harris in New York and he instantly told me who he wanted to produce the song. He had bumped into this 19-year-old kid called Jonah Shai at an NYU music workshop. So we go with him into the studio for this song, and it was just the most exciting thing, because he’s so young—there was zero ego.” Redemption “This one was quite scary. It’s different to anything I’d done before, but it’s exciting to be out of your comfort zone. I think of people like Francis and the Lights and Chance the Rapper when I hear it. It’s very easy for someone like me to get bogged down on lyrics and trying to make things sound as emotional as possible. But I also put a lot of importance on what the guys in my band think—and they all love this one. They’re people who latch on to music and melody and the way songs are built. It’s easy for me to worry about the feel of the song, because it’s uplifting and hopeful as opposed to being a super sad thing. I’m bringing out 13 songs, so I should be able to mess around with one, you know?” Without Fear “It’s always nice when you find a song you wrote ages ago and are still proud of. So I thought it’d be a nice thing to name the album Without Fear, too. Recently someone asked me whether the title is a reminder to myself. It’s a lovely way to put it. In terms of how the album moves—with the highs at the beginning, then the lows, then nostalgia, and then the hopefulness at the end—I feel like the title captures the whole story within it. This song went on a journey, too—from a little acoustic track to this big, giant album closer Carey and I wrote on one of our five-day stretches. He was the first person I ever wrote with in London, so it really was a lovely way to bring it all full circle.”

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