Damien Dempsey | Irish Troubadour

dempsey_75.jpgThe difference between Irish and American crowds? The Irish will be a little bit drunker.







Irish troubadour Damien Dempsey may not yet be a household name, but he soon will be, nabbing the opening slot on the sold-out Swell Season (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of Once fame) tour currently underway. More folky than fellow Irishman Damien Rice, Dempsey’s a down-to-earth talent with a love of the past and a thick brogue. We had the chance to speak with this charming man (a conversation that included its fair share of "Excuse me?"s on both our parts) when he hit the States to begin the tour.

Who beat you out for the best Irish male this year in the Meteor Awards?

It was some little fella called Juke Special.

I saw you were up for your third consecutive best Irish male Award this year.

Yeah , yeah, well I won another Meteor Award I didn’t expect [best folk/traditional].

dempsey_350.jpgWhat does winning all those awards mean to you?

It doesn’t mean much to me, you know. My mother loves it.

I bet. She’s got to be so proud.

All the awards go back to her house.

Well, at least your mom’s happy.

That’s it, yeah. It’s enough to win the awards for me, but all of the awards like the best male is a vote-in: people vote in, they text in. So that means a lot. When someone has voted, when the public has voted and then you get the award, that means a lot more than an award picked by a committee, you know.

Well, that’s still cool.

Yeah, OK. It’s better than building your own, I suppose.

Your bio says one of your influences is traditional Sean-Nos. What the heck is that?

Sean-Nos means "old" in Gaelic; it means like the old singing style of Ireland. It’s sort of all the old stories meets singing. It’s still big in the west coast of Ireland; it’s similar to north Africa. If you hear singers from Morocco and Algeria, it sounds similar because they recognize the ethnic mixture of Ireland. See, a lot of the people on the west coast are really dark: black hair and brown eyes in Ireland. And they found gold there and monkey bones and stuff like this. People in Ireland before the Celts were like probably from North Africa somewhere; they were people of the sun.

I was surprised to learn that there was actually a rock school in Ireland; over here, it’s just a movie.

Oh yeah, the movie, that’s right. I haven’t seen the movie but I’ve heard it’s pretty good, yeah?

In terms of classics and supporting your heroes, what did you learn from playing with Bob Dylan or Morrissey?

I suppose a stagecraft, you know. Some of them guys come out and own the audience. And then how intricate their songs are, and their lyrics. How much time they put into the lyrics and so many twists to their lyrical content. Songwriters, they want to be like writers; you would think they would want to write books or literature.

What do you expect from the current opening slot with the Swell Season?

Well, it’s been 12 years since Glen Hansard gave me my force to play with him. It was a theater club in Dublin about twelve years ago so ya know. It was nice to be onstage with a big gang of songwriters in Dublin; it was myself and Damien Rice, Paddy Casey…artists that play quite a bit down in Ireland at the moment. It’s great to be on the road again with him. I adore the Swell Season album. It’s such a boost for me to see him doing so well over here in America because I’ve seen how hard he’s worked.

He’s like myself; we’re both playing and working very hard. As for him and me, I’ve put everything I am and put it back into coming to America and Australia and Europe after working so hard, and doing so well in America is a huge boost. He hasn’t forgotten his old friends from Dublin.

What is the difference between the Irish and the American audiences?

The Irish will be a little bit drunker.

Usually in my crowd over here in America, in my audiences, there used to be lots of Irish. Nowadays, there are less and less Irish and more and more American people, which is what I always wanted. Because you can just go home, you know. If all you have is Irish people coming to see you, next year you come over and they’re gone so there will be nobody there. All those American people there was brilliant. We actually had them singing on every chorus, so it was really going like the Irish gigs going.

I kind of want to try and send the people out the door on Cloud Nine, you know? I want them to feel like they are taking ecstasy or something, but a natural high that you get from music. If you sing, if you can get everybody in the whole world to sing together, it creates a great a very strong feeling of well being and people walk out the door happy. It’s like meditation when everybody joins in unison and sings together. Like they forget all their any troubles, any problems or worries they have.

Tell me a bit about your upcoming album that is coming out this summer.

It’s just like a traditional album; some songs are hundreds of years old. We wanted to get these songs to the children in Ireland now because they don’t know the stuff; they don’t know about their culture, their history. Kids have gangster rap on MTV and boy bands; I want them to have an alternative to that. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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