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The American dream

Singer- songwriter Darren Kiely told David Hennessy about his debut EP, leaving home for the states and coming home to people singing his songs.

Rising singer-songwriter Darren Kiely released his debut EP, Lost, recently.

Originally from Millstreet, Co. Cork, the 26- year- old’s style could be described as folk- infused pop combining the trad music he started with and influences such as Mumford and Sons and Dermot Kennedy.

After winning numerous honours at a national level in Irish traditional music, Darren found his way to New York in 2022 to continue developing his own music and sound.

Darren began singing in 2019 and quickly garnered attention for his raw and fervent vocals and emotive delivery.

Since then, he has entered Ireland’s top 50 viral charts on three separate occasions: with his debut single How Could You Love Me, followed by Ella and Time To Leave.

Lost explores themes such as overcoming self-doubt, struggling to find himself, questioning emotions and seeking answers.

The EP features Mom & Dad, which was released this summer as an ode to Kiely’s parents for helping him through tough times. The song debuted in the Top 40 on the Irish Singles Chart and landed him in the Top 5 on the Irish Homegrown chart.

When The Irish World caught up with him, Darren was in London fresh off his headline The Road Home Tour, which kicked off in Boston and New York before before taking him back home to Ireland for the rest of the dates, with stops in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Galway, and Limerick City.

The Irish leg of the tour sold out the same day that it went on sale.

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Additionally, Kiely will be heading out on tour with The 502s after his headlining dates, stopping in 20 major cities in the UK including Berlin, Manchester, Oslo, Paris and Zurich.

Kiely recently announced his headline North American tour for 2024, The Lost Tour.

Beginning in January, the singer will take the stage in 17 cities across the United States and Canada with stops in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, and others.

Darren told The Irish World: “It’s great to be back.

“It’s good to be back in more familiar territory.”

With his social following growing by over 250k since June, Kiely now has over 380k followers and counting across his social platforms.

Darren now has more than 8.5 million streams under his belt and has played sold out shows at Rockwood Music Hall and Mercury Lounge in New York and The Basement in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to kind of wrap my head around it.

“Releasing music, it’s a such a strange thing anyway. You’re wondering who will listen to it.

“And how will they listen to it? How will it get to more people?

“And then it does and you’re still wondering how that kind of happened.

“And then obviously now there’s some people at shows and stuff.

“You always dream of it happening.

“I mean, the goal is people will listen to your songs and they’ll be at shows but this quick or even when it does happen, it’s very hard to digest, I think.”

How does it feel to have your EP out?

“It was nice to release a collection of songs that was cohesive as a project, that kind of described a lot of my life over the last few years.

“And just to have enough people listening that you could release three songs at once and people will listen to all three songs, it’s just a really nice thing.

“And obviously then coming back playing the gigs, I was playing in Galway on Saturday night and the song had been released Friday: You’ve got people singing words of songs that should be, you feel, buried in an EP and wouldn’t really be known.

“It’s nice that it’s connecting with people.”

Darren left Ireland for New York and is currently based in Nashville.

The EP reflects on your journey so far, how would you describe it? Has it all been a bit of a whirlwind?

“Yeah, definitely the first two gigs at home haven’t sunk in, playing to a few hundred people just hasn’t really sunk in yet.

“The last few years, it’s been kind of just been one foot in front of the other and a general goal of where I wanted to get things but how it happened and how it came about was..

“I’ve ended up in Nashville for the last few months. That wasn’t even on my radar a year ago and I’ve been there six months.

“It’s kind of just been going with your gut towards what you think is the best decision.

“I guess a whirlwind is probably the right word for it.”

A personal song is Mom and Dad, what inspired that?

“When I was in New York, I was actually recording songs down in Nashville. That’s how I kind of got introduced to the area.

“I would go down on a weekend when I finished work (day job in accountancy) and I would work all night Friday night, all day Saturday, all day Sunday, and fly back to New York on a Sunday night.

“And I’d usually try and get two songs done just to make it worth my while while I was down there.

“And this one night, before I left for Nashville, I had one song, and I was like, ‘I don’t have anything else I love that I want to write’.

“I was really trying to force a song.

“I was really trying to be like, ‘Come on, you need something’ because the next time I would get to go down would be two or three months later and it might mean I miss out on a release, things were that kind of tight with how I was doing things.

“And I just got a riff going on the guitar and usually it’s subconscious. It just came out in like half an hour, an hour and over the whole weekend, the song was written.

“And yeah, it seems to be the one that people probably connect with the most right now and it’s still a recent enough release.

“But at the time, it was obviously very emotional writing it.

“I feel like it’s a celebratory song, rather than the initial emotion it was probably written with.

“It’s more of a growing up kind of a thing.

“And my parents don’t mind it too much now, I don’t think.

“I didn’t ask their permission to have their names on the title but it could be someone else’s mom and dad.

“For me, it’s for everybody that’s stood by anyone or that’s been there for anyone through anything.

“It just happens to have the title Mom and Dad but there’s plenty of mom and dads out there.”

It sounds like your parents were there for you in hard times..

“Yeah, exactly. Through so many different stages in my life and so many different decisions.

“So many different tough moments that were obviously very hard for them, which I knew in the time, but when you’re going through anything, you’re just in survival mode.

“I think you’re only thinking about yourself, so it’s only on reflection, you can think about them the way you should.

“But they’re great parents. I’m very, very lucky that way.

“I know not everyone has that experience too.

“But yeah, I’m very lucky to have great parents.”

You shared your childhood and family life in the video, we get to see your family in it too..

“Yeah, we’ve a tight family.

“My grandmother would have lived with us for 10 or 12 years and even with cousins, I know some people aren’t close with their cousins but I’m close with most of my first cousins.

“I think that makes moving away from home a little bit easier too, you’re always just a message away, especially now or a FaceTime or something.

“But yeah, I have a great family.

“They were nearly all in Galway on the first night on Saturday.

“They’re class really.”

You said you were surprised by how people were singing along to songs that had only just been released. Which songs were they?

“There’s two in particular.

“The first song I played was a song called How Could You Love Me which isn’t even on the EP, it was the very first song I released back in August of 2022.

“Even the first verse and into the first song, I couldn’t really hear myself coming back, hear the feedback I was meant to be getting from the monitor.

“I was like, ‘This is bizarre’.

“I’ve obviously never experienced that.

“And then there’s a song that came out on the EP called Sunrise.

“The single that we chose was Lost and Found obviously preceding the EP.

“It was between that and probably this song called Blood Red to be the main song from the EP, it wasn’t Sunrise. It was kind of buried deep in the EP, I thought, and there’s a certain section of it that people were like chanting back.

“It had only been out a day.

“Obviously, I’d teased it on social media and stuff.

“But it was bizarre.

“You see numbers on a screen, I guess and then when it’s actually in person, you’re like, ‘Wow, those numbers are actually real people who’ve made the effort to go to a gig.

“Obviously I haven’t wrapped my head around it yet but it was a really, really nice feeling.

“It’s kind of a hopeful song too and it feels like when people sing it back, there’s a lot of good positive and hopeful energy in the room.”

A previous single, which is also on the EP, was Ella.

“Ella’s one of the first songs I ever wrote back during the lockdown.

“And again, it sounds like a darker song but it’s definitely hopeful.

“It’s just about hanging in there when things are tough.

“I think there’s different things that people say you should do when things get tough but a consistent thing for me is just really hanging in there and riding out the wave.

“That’s what that song is about.

“And that you can come back, you can come back from whatever has happened. I do believe that.

“I think that’s what I wanted to get across in that song.

“At these gigs, I’m doing a nice moment where I actually go down into the crowd and just sing it acoustic.

“And the outro of the song is just ‘hold my love’ and the crowd sings that along which is just a nice thing to echo in a room, I think.”

Who’s Ella? Was she someone special?

“I haven’t said this. It’s actually about me.

“I just picked a character and I wrote it about me kind of leaving home and stuff and kind of running away a little bit.

“But I wrote it to a character as opposed to in the first person.

“People always wonder who Ella is.

“That’s, I think, the first time I said it was me.”

So it’s about leaving home. Although it has worked out so well for you, it must have been daunting at times as well..

“Oh, yeah.

“You’re obviously hoping to come back in a better place than when you left and I think there’s that pressure with it too that you’ve committed to something, like I committed to leaving and going away, and if I didn’t come back in a ‘successful’ or a better place, it’s gonna be hard to come home.

“So that was always there.

“That fear of coming home and then all the things that come with moving away, you lose touch with some people not out of any badness. It’s just you’re out of sight, they’re out of sight. And all those things.

“So yeah, it wasn’t easy.

“But I obviously couldn’t wait to come back.

“It was my own decision to leave too, I brought it on myself but coming back to family and friends and rooms of people singing stuff that I wrote when there was not a ton of people around, it was worth every second of it.”

Lost and Found is the current single.

“I think it draws on just my experience of trying to find out what I was meant to do, trying to find out what I was meant to do or where I was meant to be.

“I think for me, it was just kind of losing myself a little bit, just putting one foot in front of the other. No real plan and trusting my gut, it’s written in a perspective of a love song, where you see someone you love lose the light that they once had.

“But it can very much be a song to yourself too.

“It’s about, I guess, not staying in a place that slowly kind of wastes you away, whether that’s a mental state or a physical place.

“That’s what Lost and Found is about for me.”

You started with trad music, were you a real ‘Fleadh baby’?

“I was a little bit.

“My sister played trad music as well and that was kind of what we grew up doing was just going to lessons for trad.

“There was a little bit of classical that went in there at some stage but that kind of fizzled out.

“Yeah, I was competing at Fleadhs playing fiddle and stuff.

“I was never amazing at it but I was decent.

“I would go to Willie Clancy week and do the summer schools.

“And then I got involved in ceili bands when I was like 15 to 18.

“And then I guess when that kind of structure of having planned lessons and planned competitions kind of ended, that’s kind of when I started picking up the guitar and kind of translating that music into what I what I do now.

“I wasn’t growing up when I was five, six, going, ‘I want to be a singer. I want to write songs’.

“It’s just kind of one thing led to another, I think.”

You love your sport, don’t you?

I read a funny story of you setting up your phone on the mic holder so you could watch a hurling game during a gig..

“I’m afraid to say what game it was because if someone could like pin it back to the gig I was playing.

“It was Limerick against Waterford in the semi-final of the All-Ireland and I’m not sure what year it was.

“My dad and a lot of my family’s from Limerick so I kind of grew up going to Limerick hurling games.

“I missed that semi-final because I had to play that gig.

“It was tough. I got to watch it though on the mic stand so it wasn’t the worst.”

So it’s Limerick that you have some GAA loyalty to as well because it’s Millstreet, Co. Cork you’re from, isn’t it?

“The town I’m from is Millstreet and then I went to college in Limerick.

“I guess I kind of lived there for five or six years.

“Most of my cousins and my dad is obviously from Limerick, maybe it’s helpful that they’re winning a lot at the moment that I can transfer loyalty a little bit.”

Now the EP is out, what is next? Is an album in the plans?

“I’ve got a few more shows to play in Ireland and I support a band called The 502s in the UK and Europe for the next few months so that’s kind of the initial kind of plan, just touring and stuff to kind of see out the rest of the year doing that.

“Obviously, writing as much as I can as I go.

“And then yeah, I still love albums.

“I know they’re probably not as consumed as much as they were before but I would like to work towards some sort of project that meant something that was cohesive and probably try get some more singles under my belt again.

“So I think it’ll be hopefully a lot of just releasing and hopefully, every so often, there’s a project that ties together the songs that I’ve been releasing.

“But yeah, there’ll be hopefully an album sooner rather than later.”

Darren is currently touring the UK and Europe in support of the 502s.

He also plays the Academy in Dublin and The Limelight in Belfast as well as dates in London, Manchester and Glasgow on his European tour in May next year. 

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