Paddy Dennehy on his new album, early inspirations and how to write a song

paddy dennehy
"At the age of six, I announced that I was going up to bed early because I was going to write a song. I don’t remember a point where I wasn’t really doing it."

Arts reporter Sadhbh Pearse sits down with Limerick folk rocker Paddy Dennehy ahead of his upcoming ‘Love and Be Brave’ album tour

Limerick-born multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Paddy Dennehy released his first album ‘Little Light’ to critical acclaim during the pandemic, and has since shared stages with the likes of Mick Flannery, Glen Hansard, Imelda May and Lisa Hannigan. He played an intimate gig in Dolan’s earlier this week ahead of his tour of the album ‘Love and Be Brave’, which will be released later this month. The album’s first single ‘If I Can’t’ was released in March.

Paddy Dennehy performing in Dolan’s in December last year. Photo by Sadhbh Pearse

When did you start playing music and what inspired you to?

I actually didn’t have a choice. Neither of my parents had any musical education so they really wanted us to have the opportunity. So, I was shipped out every Thursday to piano lessons at the age of six and hated it until I was fifteen, but I had a particularly good teacher. He was great for asking me, “What songs are you writing at the moment?” He’d go through the core progressions with me and give great constructive criticism. He was great for that kind of stuff and has played a big part in how I structure my songs.

Where did you learn to sing and write songs?

I bumped into an old babysitter, and she told me that at the age of six, I announced that I was going up to bed early because I was going to write a song. I don’t remember a point where I wasn’t really doing it.

What is your process for creating new songs? What inspires you?

The most important thing is just to get your ass in the chair.  A lot of people talk about how they “open their receivers”. That seems to be the way a lot of people talk about it. David Gray and Nick Cave would be good examples. They just make themselves receptive to ‘the muse’, which sounds lovely but I’ve never felt that.  I’d be a lot more negative in how I write. It might only take me a couple of days to have a song but that’s unusual.  Usually, it’s at least a month or two. You try to keep a couple of them on the boil but there’s usually one that pops into your head a lot. It’s like having this big chunk of stone in front of you and trying to chip away at it and, nine times out of ten, you end up making a complete arse of it and throwing the whole thing away. But the one in ten times where it’s something good, you feel great when you have it.  I think that’s worth it. 

What genre would you categorise your music as?

I don’t really know, probably folk rock? But to be honest call it whatever you want, good or bad. As long as somebody is actively listening to a song I’ve written; they can call it whatever they want, they’ve met me halfway.  That’s all I want out of it.

How long has your new album ‘Love and Be Brave’ been in the works?

I started it about two years ago. You’re always tipping away at it, always tipping away at writing until you get to a point where you think, “Yeah, that’s a solid collection of songs”.

How did you meet your bandmates?

I know Jack (guitar) from college and Paul Leonard (drums) was just recommended as a great local drummer when I lived in Cork. We met, I sat in on a gig and Paul was fantastic. Emily Donoghue, I saw a video she did on Facebook and I thought she was fantastic. I said, “Hey, would you like to come and do some backing vocals?” We met up and she said yes, and we’ve been buddies since. I was looking for a violin player for a long time. I saw (Ryan Parsons) doing covers one night and that was it. He’s incredible and so magnetic on stage. I’m very lucky to get to play with him.

Do you have a preference between piano or guitar when creating and performing?

Piano for writing – it’s all there in front of you. It’s different to a guitar, I feel more at home. I like my music theory and it’s very easy to see your intervals, core progressions and where a song can go. I’d be a better piano player as well, that’s probably why. As for performing, I’d love to be able to play the piano a little bit less; to be able to stand up and move around a bit because you sometimes feel tied down by the piano. For some of the heavier songs, it’s way more fun to play the guitar. You get to interact with people more.

What are some of your favourite songs of your own?

“Little Light” is one, and there’s a song called “Saint Peter’s Replacement” on my first album. I think that one is the best thing I’ve done lyrically. 

How are you feeling about the upcoming album release and tour?

I’ve been really happy with the response to the ‘If I Can’t’ single release, and now I’m just waiting for the tour to start. We’ve even had to add an extra date. At this point, I’m excited and tired, but I’m still really happy with what I’ve done!

Paddy Dennehy’s second album ‘Love and Be Brave‘ is due for release on May 25.

His album launch tour of the same name will begin in Dingle on May 19, and conclude with another much-anticipated gig in Dolan’s on June 4. 

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