'You need to diversify to survive' - David Kitt on brands, collaborations, and channelling two music personas
Last summer David Kitt hit the headlines for comments he made about being forced to emigrate due to soaring and increasingly unaffordable rents in his hometown of Dublin. The singer, songwriter, and producer echoed the sentiments of many other artists and commentators who feel that the creative fabric of the city is being crushed by commercial development and many citizens, including artists, are being forced into homelessness or relocation.
One year later Kitt (43) won't be drawn on whether or not he ultimately had to pack his bags and board the ferry. Given the prolific rate at which he's working right now, between collaborations with other artists (and the odd brand), and several personal projects, one might suspect he still walks among us as a citizen of the capital. We're just half way through the year and he has already released "four or five" records, mostly as New Jackson (his electronica alter-ego, born in 2011 in an effort to plough a different creative furrow), but also featuring a collaboration with Ash frontman Tim Wheeler; "quite an experimental, instrumental electronic record which people wouldn’t necessarily associate with him", and another song collaboration with the writer Kevin Barry.
Last year he released Yous, his first album under his own name in just under a decade (and his sixth studio album overall), having previously spent time working with David Grey and touring with Tindersticks, and all the while DJing and producing and dipping his fingers in many, many musical pies. Clearly he is hungry creatively, but how much of this workload is down to striving for survival in an industry unrecognisable from the one he entered into two decades ago?
"It’s a mixture of both," he tells Independent.ie. "Ultimately it’s partly to do with survival in the sense that you need to diversify to survive. The problem with that is you never stop working. You’re putting in 80 hours a week regularly and you’re potentially spreading yourself a little bit thin.
"The dream is that one project kind of takes over and is successful enough to maybe give 100 per cent to. It’s like anything in life, if you really want to succeed at something it kind of requires your full attention, but at the same time I can’t complain. I’ve created a lot of these opportunities myself just through work and overwork but getting the work/life balance is tricky sometimes. They’re all projects close to my heart so it’s not a case of doing extra-curricular things in a cynical, ‘oh maybe I should do a bit of that because maybe that could be quite lucrative’, way."
Kitt is promoting his latest venture, a collaboration with Fedah and Kean Kavanagh for Three's Made by Music campaign. They've released a track, Follow the Sound, which was written and recorded by all three artists. Three funds the media campaign to support the track and video and a second collaboration for the campaign featuring Soulé, Sorcha Richardson and Elaine Mai will relaase next month.
Kitt had no qualms about working with a brand. "Ultimately there was a lot of trust in what we were going to come up with and that’s why we were asked to do it. It’s been a pleasure. There’s some really lovely people involved. A lot of people have distrust of brands but nowadays with music, there’s a couple of people working on this job that I know from working for record labels, but record labels don’t sell as many records so they have to find another place to ply their trade so they look to other projects."
The experience was, he says, a "really good, creative experience and obviously because there is a brand involved you actually get paid, which is cool!" There was a little serendipity involved as he had approached Kean separately to work on his record prior to being approached by Three. Fedah was, he says, the artist he thought of first to complete the trio.
"It happened quite organically, quite naturally," he says. "They would have been the people I wanted to work with anyway. There was choice involved. It worked out really well. I think you just go on instinct. I We all kind of work on our own primarily so it's a certain kind of energy that just kind of fits. We're all just open to collaboration and whatever works works. It really did click from the beginning. It was very easy."
The first day involved a bit of "faffing about" with Kean, wandering down some rabbit holes, before a break and a pint led them to the nub of an idea; "I was mainly writing the instrumentals and backing kind of stuff and they came up with the melodies and lyrics on the spot. It was really impressive," he says of his collaborators. So smooth was the synergy that they're planning on working together again.
Right now, however, the project dominating his mind is the song he's working on with Kevin Barry which is part of a bigger project for the Sounds from a Safe Harbour event in Cork in September.
"I’m a big fan so I was really happy to hear that he liked what I did and that was kind of why I ended up approaching him about this project," he says of Barry. "There’s a few interesting people involved in terms of visual artists and other musicians. It’s quite an ambitious project."
What he is striving for in his work, ultimately, is truth, he says. The abandon associated with youth gives way to something a little deeper as he grows as an artist.
"I remember going to a gig one time of a 19-year-old guy and it seemed really fully formed and had this kind of pumped spirit and abandon and confidence about it and I said something kind of complimentary to this kid and he was like, ‘yeah, you can do anything when you live with your mum’," he laughs.
"There’s a kind of abandon [to youth], but I think you’re trying to, as you get older, aspire to just something that’s truthful basically, whatever that is. Ultimately for me things that have a kind of punk rock spirit; it could be a folk singer, it doesn’t have to be noisy and scary, if it’s truthful ultimately it’s worth doing and that’s the biggest thing I aspire to in everything I do.
"I wouldn’t have done this project [with Three] if it hadn’t that element to it musically and in terms of the collaboration and the people involved. You kind of get better at smelling a rat [as you get older] as well!"