David Kitt: a rare songwriter that prefers to stand in the shadow
On the eve of the release of his new album Yous, David Kitt reflects on songwriting, avoiding the limelight and staying true to his musical instincts
Davit Kitt: “I think I’m a better singer and guitar player than I’ve ever been, so that’s a good feeling.”
“Following the imagination...” David Kitt says late into our conversation. We are talking about commerce versus art, and he is referring to his chosen career path, which, he will agree, is as opposite to a following-the-money career route as he can imagine.
Songwriting, he says, is “an obsessive, solitary pursuit where you look for job-satisfaction, inspiration, a sense of self-validation. Music industry intrusion makes it morph into something you never originally wanted, something that is more desperate and which can affect the work.”
For Kitt, it is all about having the freedom to choose which creative outlet feels best for him at any given time. Right now, it’s the release of his new songwriter album, Yous, which lands this weekend. In April, he releases funkier, dance-oriented music under the guise of New Jackson. David Kitt is busy. David Kitt has options. David Kitt is in a very good place.
It hasn’t always been like that, however. He recalls around and after the time of his previous song-oriented album, 2009’s The Nightsaver, that he “was in trouble, very much staring Plan B in the face, whatever Plan B was.” In terms of making a living, he confesses, it was very much a case of needing to do something else because his own work back then simply wasn’t connecting with people that bought records or went to gigs.
And so he made what he viewed as easy pragmatic decisions to join first Tindersticks and then David Gray’s band as a touring member. Such time away from his own work gave him much needed creative perspective as well as regular pay cheques. His New Jackson work may have been interrupted, he says, but he learned a lot from what he now regards as ongoing working relationships.
Despite the notion of many that Kitt belongs to the singer-songwriter community, the reality is that he has regularly played supporting roles in a band format – not only with Tindersticks and David Gray, but with Irish acts such as Jape and Somadrome.
“Within that group of friends,” he remarks of the latter two, “I’ve played the supporting role quite a lot, and I’m comfortable in it. What works in my favour is that because a lot of the sounds l make are quite bassy and rounded off – even my singing voice is like that – I tend to sit quite easily behind lead instruments. With the David Gray set-up, I was very much there to provide texture and a warmth behind more brighter sounding elements. I love it, to be honest. I think it naturally suits my personality more to be in a supporting role; I’m quite happy doing the kind of stuff that isn’t noticed, but if it weren’t there you would know something was missing.”
Less vainglory Everyone has a different way of getting what they want, and the more supportive roles you take, he reasons, the less you’re vaingloriously trying to stand out. In truth, Kitt is the rare songwriter that would prefer to stand in the shadows. A highly likeable and sociable introvert, he epitomises the solitariness of the songwriting craftsperson. “Hell is other people,” he jokes, but there’s a tone to the words that leads you to believe otherwise.
Everything is better, Kitt notes, than when he released The Nightsaver (a time he describes as “in many ways, a real scary, S.O.S. moment.”). Now, there are tangible reasons to make music. “Back then, I was starting to feel like Daniel Johnson; I actually felt that perhaps I was just a bit strange, continuing to make music in my bedroom.”
No one was really buying it, he recalls none too cheerfully, and it wasn’t making him a living in any appreciable way. Looking back on that period of his life from a safe enough distance, Kitt now views it calmly. He is proud, he states, that he stuck at it.
“Everything that I’ve done from the point I started out has led to being able to figure out what I’ve figured out in the last four years, which is how to separate things. If I was guilty of anything over the years, it was trying to fit too many things into one area. I was trying to put all my love of house, techno and dance music into the songs – you can hear that on The Nightsaver and on any other record I’ve made. What the last five-six years have been about is trying to find the strengths within the music – taking specific parts out and letting them have their own lives.
“That way, you’ve got nothing to hide behind, neither the music nor the production – the songs have to be good, or better, and you have to stand by the lyrics. A lot of the time, I was writing songs to make them the vehicle for all the other ideas I had that I felt were interesting. I definitely fell out of love with songwriting for a good few years; even singing about your feelings and all of that kind of stuff, which I still find quite strange to do in such a public manner.”
There is an argument that releasing Yous on New Year’s Day is a continuation of David Kitt’s stubborn non-engagement with the music industry. As if to prove this further, he remains the only Irish songwriter we know who has no problem setting up his stall, literally, in Dublin flea markets to sell his wares. Ultimately, he concludes, he has never consciously followed any zeitgeist that might have provided him with a bigger audience.
“I’ve always been myself, and I’m still that way. I think I’m a better singer and guitar player than I’ve ever been, so that’s a good feeling. Certain parts of your craft just get better, and that’s quite an exciting thing to see at the moment, because the seeds I planted about 10 years ago are resulting in things I’m seeing now. Sounds that I’ve been trying to achieve since my first record I’m only really now starting to achieve.”
“I guess,” David Kitt says, as casual as you like, “I’m still obsessed with those sounds.”
- Yous is released on January 1st, and is reviewed on page 10