David Kitt tells Ed Power why it makes good sense to have two different music personas
DAVID KITT doesn’t miss the old days. In the early 2000s, the softly-spoken Dubliner became one of the faces of Irish confessional pop. This was the era of David Gray and Damien Rice and Kitt was hailed the final piece in their Holy Trinity of acoustic mopery.
But, in truth, the acclaim never sat that easily, says Kitt, as he prepares to release his long-awaited comeback LP Yous. Still very much the polite introvert of formative hits such as ‘You Know What I Want To Know’, he is too considered to publicly distance himself from any of his perceived peers.
Yet it’s clear he never regarded the aforementioned conjurers of mannered angst as kindred spirits. He had come of age not listening to Bob Dylan and Nick Drake but to post-rock, house and hip hop. Just how far removed he was from his public persona became obvious only later in his career, with 2009’s infused The Nightsaver LP and then via his second incarnation as DJ and producer under the New Jackson alias.
“I was forced to freshen things up — for my own creative reasons. And also because it was foolish to be constantly getting bank-loans in pursuit of making records,” he says.
The Nightsaver was arguably Kitt’s best album to date. Alas despite positive reviews it failed to sell in meaningful numbers. A moment of reckoning had arrived. Things had to change. For the better or the worse. The choice was ultimately his.
“It was all slowly ebbing away for 10 years before New Jackson,” he says. “Having two projects eases the pressure — you can just about survive. It eases the pressure in terms of getting gigs.”
New Jackson helped pay the rent and kept life moving forward creatively, as did a stint as auxiliary touring guitarist with besuited indie institution Tindersticks. He’s basked in some of that old acclaim too, with From Night To Night, New Jackson’s darkly groovy debut album, nominated for the Choice Music Prize.
Kitt wasn’t done with songwriting, though. He applies his gentle vocals to two tracks on From Night To Night (his preference had been guest vocalists but he decided it was easier to do it himself). And with Yous he confirms that, in the nine years since The Nightsaver, he has lost none of his affecting subtly as a balladeer.
“I made it for a small group of people out there — the hardcore fans,” he says. “It’s not a huge amount of people but they would have wanted a document of some of the stuff I’ve been playing at live shows. I felt I should just seize the moment and do it.”
The initial plan was to release Yous online. But then All City Records became involved and the record started to generate international attention. Without having planned it, David Kitt, the wobbly lipped troubadour, is making a comeback.
“It isn’t a shouty record,” he says. “It’s not looking for too much attention. There are no obvious singles. Maybe that’s what I like about it. The Nightsaver was quite “singly” — this one is very true to my sound and perhaps my strengths as a songwriter. I feel it has hit upon a timeless quality.”
Aged 43, Kitt has seen the music industry go through historic upheaval. On balance life is probably better for independent artists today. You no longer have to worry about being dropped by your label, as Kitt was by storied Rough Trade. But it’s still a challenge to draw and maintain an audience — particularly if you aren’t a natural-born attention seeker.
“There’s a really healthy electronic scene in Dublin. It’s as vibrant as ever,” he says. “The difficulty now is getting above the noise, which is why I wouldn’t envy someone starting out. You have to be so clever and on top of all the social media nonsense to make it work — it’s a quirk of the system that goes against shy artistic people.”
New Jackson perform at the Choice Music Prize on Thursday. Yous is out on March 9. David Kitt’s gig at AMP, Cork, on Saturday has been postponed; he will play De Barras, Clonakilty, March 11; Roisin Dubh, Galway, March 23, and Dolan’s, Limerick, March 31.