By Taylor O’Connor
Irish singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy wants to write songs with a purpose. Every detail in the artist’s career—from shows to lyrics to album structure—all have a deeper meaning than what is seen at first glance.
The purpose behind all the details: true emotion and vivid imagery.
“I want my fans to feel something real for a certain amount of time, to take a step out of everyday life and feel something authentic and real and deep,” Kennedy says. “I think that’s what my favorite music has done for me and I’d like to do that for them.”
Released in October, his debut full-length album, “Without Fear,” has sent the singer on his longest and biggest tour, with more than 30 dates in North America performing in historic venues like Radio City Music Hall in New York City and The Wiltern in Los Angeles.
“Some of them are so beautiful,” Kennedy says. “Stuff like that is just a massive deal. It’s very important to me. I don’t want to take anything for granted.”
As for Phoenix, Kennedy is set to perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, February 8, at the Arizona Federal Theatre.
“What people often expect is just me and a guitar or me and a keyboard in a venue that’s super intimate and quiet,” Kennedy says. “That’s not it. It’s the four of us on stage now and the production has gone up a gear completely and it’s quite a big show.
“A really important thing for me is trying to paint a picture with my lyrics and have really vivid imagery in my songwriting and I want it to come across in my show.”
Kennedy’s imagery is apparent in “Without Fear,” which he considers much more than a collection of songs he wrote.
“I wanted the album to have a narrative. I wanted to have a very strong story,” he says. “The album almost runs in parts. The first part is the beginning of falling in love and then the second part deals with loss and grief and toward the end is like a renewal. It’s someone who’s been thrown an awful lot of good and an awful lot of bad.”
Fans can store this away, but Kennedy doesn’t get into too much detail about what the songs mean to him.
“I don’t necessarily want to go into too much detail in describing what the album is about because I don’t want to get in the way of what people feel and what people take from it,” he says.
With such a specific goal for the album, Kennedy says he had to be very selective with his songs.
“You’ve got certain songs you love and sounded good in the studio, but they didn’t necessarily fit in the story. I was working off of 80, 90 song ideas. I wanted the story to make sense within the album,” he says.
“I was really determined not to have a compilation of songs listed in this way for no good reason. I wanted it to be a project as opposed to a compilation of songs that were listed in no particular order.”
“Without Fear” closes with the title track, a song very close to Kennedy. Now 27, the songwriter wrote this tune years before any he had any recognition as an artist.
“It was the song I had ready to go from when I was younger,” Kennedy says. “The song changed over time, but I wanted to run with it. Now, it’s our favorite song to play live and it’s one of the most precious songs on the album.”
He chose to name the album “Without Fear,” because of his connection to the song.
“To have a title that’s so personal … it’s a reminder of what I loved about music before I had a career. Then, it’s also a reminder to myself to live and try and create that way, to do everything I can to live and be an artist in that way,” Kennedy says.
As Kennedy gains traction within the industry, it’s important for him to remain himself.
“I’m just trying my best to hold on to what I truly am, to not change or fall into certain holes within the music industry,” he says.
“There are so many ways to get big quick and to jump ahead of other artists. There’s so many gimmicks and so much trouble and so many people are crying out for something real and to actually feel something.”
His authenticity and vulnerability are the reasons he has any fans. Leading up to the album release, Kennedy had more than 9 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 600 million streams across all platforms. “Without Fear,” landed at No. 18 on the Billboard Top 200 and debuted at No. 1 on the Official U.K. Album Chart.
This growth follows two of the album’s singles, “Power Over Me” and “Outnumbered.” The songs reached the charts in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada.
Being authentic, Kennedy says, is a blessing. “I don’t have to pretend or put on a face when I go onstage. I don’t have to be something I’m not and that feels good. I want to continue down that path.
“I want to make sure with all the touring I don’t lose the love of performing. I don’t want to become someone who just goes through the motions. I want my performances to be powerful every night.”
Dermot Kennedy, Arizona Federal Theatre, 400 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, 602.379.2800, arizonafederaltheatre.com, 8 p.m. Saturday, February 8, tickets start at $29.50.