David Keenan: ‘Folk music can be really rudimentary and savage’

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David Keenan: ‘Folk music can be really rudimentary and savage’

David Keenan
Words by Nicola Eenink

David Keenan is one of Ireland’s premier up-and-comers.

With two albums, and EP and even a Christmas special under his belt, it’s no surprise his 150,000 Spotify listeners grow every day. I was lucky enough to have a sit down with David before his debut Australian tour, and lucky is the right word. Relaxed, introspective and humble, David deserves every second of his success.

“Music is like medicine for me,” he begins, “I didn’t have the language for it at first, but I felt so empowered by this secret world that I had with writing. The more I wrote and experienced, the more it felt like this trusted friend had come into my life. It’s an educator, and a passport to places within yourself.”

One glance at the plaudits he’s received tell their own story.

“A defining work of visceral genius from a soul aflame with both the poetry of his ancestors and the fire of the future,” said Mike Davies from Folk Radio. “The epic sweep of Van Morrison, the high notes of Tim Buckley, and the soul of Samuel Beckett,” was the lofty praise from Michael Mann of The Guardian. While Pat Carty of Hot Press Magazine noted that Keenan is “not just another young lad with an acoustic guitar, Keenan is the sound of Tim Buckley and Brendan Behan arguing over a few jars, while Kavanagh deals Dylan a suspicious hand of cards, and Anthony Cronin and Jack Kerouac furiously try to scribble it all down”.

David Keenan’s Australian tour dates

Support by acclaimed songstress Lucie Thorne.

  • Wednesday 24th January – The Gov, Adelaide SA
  • Saturday 27th January – George Lane, Melbourne VIC
  • Tuesday 30th January – The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
  • Wednesday 31st January – Brunswick Ballroom, Melbourne VIC
  • Friday 2nd February – Meeniyan Hall, South Gippsland VIC

Keep up with the latest music news, features, festivals, interviews and reviews here.


Keenan is no stranger to travels or experiences. He has done an artist residency in Paris, lived in London and Barcelona, and has experienced counties all across Ireland. Having found a home in so many places, I asked him what “home” means to him.

“There’s a home inside of yourself that you’re trying to find in each of these places. As I get on, I get closer to that space within myself. I’ve felt so blessed just to experience new landscapes and people and customs. I’m naturally curious, so there’s a lot of exploring and learning, a lot of that is what makes a place feel like home. Everything that you do outside of music goes into it. I see it all differently now.” Keenan isn’t just experiencing different cultures, he’s also branching out into theatre, documentary making and supporting one-woman shows.

Despite having toured prolifically all across Europe and North America, he’s never stepped foot in Australia. The artist has had an Australian tour in the works for about four years, and is so excited to be touching down in mid-January. “I’m most excited to experience Australian people. I think you guys have what we call ‘graw’ in Ireland. It’s like… excitement for being alive, for wildness, for appreciating live music. That’s the feeling I’m most keen to be around.” There are more similarities between his Irish nature and Australian culture. “Humour, especially dark humour and sarcasm is such an important tool, such an important part of being Irish. And I feel like Australians intrinsically understand and appreciate that. There are a lot of similarities between us.”

In the international sphere, Ireland has seen a boom in indie-folk artists. I thought there might be some pressure to conform to that global stereotype of what ‘Irish music’ is. Keenan pauses for a minute, “I feel like Irish music has never been healthier; it’s intellectual, social music. I’m so proud to be Irish, and to follow in those traditions.

“But, I’ve kind of perpetuated a separation from that idea of performing Irishness myself. I see myself as somewhat of an outsider. I’ve never really felt a part of anything. I’m kind of doing my own thing! Maybe I need to become more social, but I think being an outsider has helped me in a sense,” He laughs, “Maybe I’m happy being The Loneliest Boy In The World. Don’t worry, he’s really quite happy now.”

His Irish upbringing is inextricable to who Keenan is, and how he experiences the world. “Growing up with my grandparents in the 2000s on the Irish border. I was always looking for that sense of clarity and belonging. And I am so lucky to have music, it gave me that and so much more. I’m just from a small town, and because of my… compulsion to create and pick up a pen. It’s definitely saved my life and taken me on a trip. And it continues to do so. It’s almost transcendent. It’s vital to my life.”

It’s not just Irish music that has aided Keenan in his journey, he has several early memories of music. “My first memory of music, oh God; I kind of cringe, but my father was obsessed with Country and Western music. There’s a strange phenomenon in Ireland, an obsession with US country music. It might be the rural thing, or the small-town anti-hero thing. The loveable rogue. I remember him trying to brainwash me with it when I was like four or five.”

And it wasn’t just his dad, Keenan has been exposed to music his whole life, “I mean, Billie Holiday by my nan, and then I got into the Dubliners and his voice would haunt you. Jinx Lennon is definitely a musical Godfather to me. I have so many fond early memories of music, all of them fond. Maybe I was pre-empting the life I heard. I wanted to live the chain-smoking, loveable loner life. And I think I’ve done it” He laughs that disarming laugh.

Masculinity and a search for intimacy and belonging has played a crucial role in Keenan’s life. “I got a bit of work as a teenager on building sites, and moved to Liverpool. It was just me and a bunch of guys. I never thought about pursuing college or anything. I never had any self-belief in anything, but music there was always this candle of self belief. Sometimes it gets bigger or smaller. I keep it alive and it keeps me alive.”

He hasn’t always been able to tap into that part of himself, “There was just an acoustic guitar at my disposal. Hit it, bang it hard. I’m self-taught, so I sort of developed a strange way of playing. And I just focused on my lyrics and my voice – but folk music can be really savage. Really kind of rudimentary and savage, especially at first. Only recently have I been able to become more vulnerable and gentle.”

Fans and newcomers alike can expect big things from Keenan this year, with a new documentary coming out, new music in the works, and a big Australian tour with support by coming-of-age soundtrack artist, Lucie Thorn.

Grab tickets here.