Artist Spotlight: Declan Kennedy
Nashville based, Chicago-bred singer-songwriter, Declan Kennedy, writes authentic songs from the heart. His lyrics capture your attention while shining on top of his laid-back folk & folk rock backdrops.
We sat down with Declan to chat about his newest album, what he’s up to, what’s to come and more.
First off, thanks for chatting with us! How did you get into music and what inspired you to pursue it as a profession?
My pleasure! My parents were pretty adamant about all of us (older brother, younger sister, and me) taking piano lessons from an early age (about 5 or 6 years old). And for that I am thankful! I really took to the piano and continued with lessons into my teens, and I tacked on guitar lessons along the way as well. When I was about 13, I came across Matt Hutchison (ortoPilot) on Youtube, who self-produced all these awesome pop song acoustic covers. It inspired me to start recording myself playing and singing the same songs. Just a couple years later, I started writing original songs. I really can’t stress enough how much my parents’ encouragement helped me stick with music. From my mom driving me to countless lessons to my dad getting excited and filming a music video for the first song I ever wrote, they have never done or said one discouraging thing to me about pursuing music. It’s such a central part of my identity, and so a goal of mine is to always have it be a part of my career.
What’s the toughest part about being a musician? What about the most gratifying aspect?
I think one really tough part is going through periods of time where I’m not feeling inspired or creative. Sometimes I have a whole bunch of old ideas in my voice memos or notes and I don’t feel motivated to open any one of them up. I’ll listen to a song by an artist I like and I’ll just get the feeling of… “Wow, I’ll never make something as good as this” — which is obviously the worst way to think! The flip side of this, though, is the most gratifying part. When a spell of inspiration hits me and I start writing or recording a song, I’m motivated and excited. It’s the best feeling. I’ll send a demo to my mom and a couple friends and I’ll be singing it for the next week, hammering out the lyrics and imagining different sounds to try in the production.
You released your album “Guilty as Anybody” last July — how has the feedback been so far? Tell us a bit about the project.
It’s been great! A goal I had with the release was to have a stranger like it enough to write about it on their blog. So far, I’ve been written about on sites called B-Sides & Badlands and SHOUTS Music, and I got played on KCRW in Los Angeles. Exciting stuff! The album is a step in a different direction compared to my 2016 release “If I Only Had No Heart.” Whereas “Heart” is intimate and distant, “Guilty” is forward and more in-your-face.
The main idea behind the album is that in order to make progress as a society, it is absolutely essential that we must recognize our guilt and complacency regarding modern, everyday injustice. Once we recognize our guilt, we can then seek to effectively engage in positive change. It’s political, yes, and while that word may turn people off, I’ve come to believe that all aspects of society are inherently political. So maybe we should sing about these things and wrestle with them instead of shying away.
You’re one of our top artists at Songfinch writing personalized songs since 2016 (thank you!). Out of all the songs you’ve written, we’ve never had anything sent to us besides compliments and amazement. Great work with that! Explain a bit about the process of writing for Songfinch.
It’s been a great experience! I’m so happy to be a small part of these special moments in other people’s lives. When I get a request for a song, I’ll read through everything the sender has written. I’ve come to find that people often write the “hook” for their song without knowing it. There’s usually some core message that pops up within the writing — a mantra that a couple has, or perhaps a phrase someone uses to describe their child, and I’ll build the chorus around this. Depending on the genre selected (I typically do “acoustic pop” or “singer songwriter”), I’ll feel out a rhythm and a chord progression on guitar. From there, it’s all about incorporating as much of the story as I can. I usually go for more specific memories in the verses, and in the chorus I’ll use the universal truths and core messages I mentioned. The awesome stories and loving sentiments people send in really lend themselves to being written as lyrics, which makes it easy for me!
How would you explain your sound in 3 words?
I would say: Honest, Thoughtful and Engaging
Five years from now you look back and your career was a major success — what does that look like?
To me, a successful career just means that I’m able to continue working in music and live comfortably. I’d love to be working with other artists as an engineer/producer, and of course to continue consistently releasing music of my own. Hopefully at that point I can have some regional (maybe national!) touring under my belt as well.
What’s your favorite song you’ve ever written and why?
I really like “Warning Signs” off of my newest album. It really captures the phase of life that I’m in. In an honest way, the lyrics depict the bittersweetness that comes with moving away from home and pursuing (and sometimes procrastinating on) your big dreams. The hook – “As soon as I fix this car, I’ll hit the road…” – was the first part of the song I wrote, and it came from an actual experience I had with some rain-related car troubles back in February.
What’s your favorite Songfinch song you’ve ever written?
One that always sticks out to me as a favorite is “Build an Empire” — one I wrote way back when I was just starting with Songfinch. The man wrote about his first date with his future wife, where she told him: “let’s build an empire.” The story fit perfectly into a song, and I love the catchiness of the chorus. It’s a perfect example of taking a direct quote from the story and turning it into the hook of the song. It’s amazing that with all the songs I’ve written for Songfinch, I can still remember all the words to that one.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from a fellow musician about the industry?
Somebody once said to me, “If you want to be the artist, act like the artist.” I took this to mean that if I want to be successful as a musical artist, the first step is to see myself as one and talk about myself as one. It’s not helpful to be noncommittal and depict myself as someone who just “does music on the side.” If I’m going to expect others to view me as a serious artist, I need to believe that I am.
What do you have in the works? Is there anything else you want to let the readers know?
I’ve been writing a good amount of new songs and working on recording some as well. My next project will definitely take on different topics than “Guilty as Anybody,” as the inspiration to my creativity is always changing as I grow. I can’t say for sure when I’ll release something — definitely at some point in 2020 I’d say! If any readers are near Nashville, keep an eye out on my Facebook page for any upcoming shows I have!