Damien Dempsey: 'I've my own house now which means I can do yoga naked...'
Damien Dempsey is a big guy. A former boxer, would you believe, who very nearly devoted himself to a career in the ring.
As a teenager, the Donaghmede man even competed for Dublin at an amateur level, eventually turning his attention to music.
Six studio albums in, and you have to wonder if one of the most recognisable singer-songwriters in Ireland has ever had any regrets about hanging up his gloves.
"Ah no!" says Damien. "Jaysus, no. I was far better at the auld singing and writing than the boxing, you know?
"Boxing is a very tough auld sport. It's a war. You have to go out and hate the other fella, and I'd just be saying, 'Well, he might be a nice bloke', but the trainer would go, 'Shut up! It's a war! You have to hate him!'"
Damien lets out a laugh. "I'm too much of a hippy, or something, to have the killer instinct that you'd need to be a proper boxer," he said.
Call it a 'fighting spirit', but the bloke who tips his cap to both Marley and Moore has almost always retained a sharp sense of competitiveness, both in the studio and on stage. Some look to 'Damo' as an unofficial, musical spokesman for the times we live in; a social commentator, even - the only one in the room with a guitar and the nerve to tell it as it is.
Back home in Dublin, Dempsey (39) is gearing up for various tour dates and recording sessions with long-time producer, John Reynolds.
"I have me own house now that I got last year," he enthuses, "so it's a great bit of freedom. I have it soundproofed, so I can just come out and play whenever I like. I didn't get to bed last night until 6 o'clock, so that's the kind of hours I keep.
"If we're playing in Donegal or Mayo or Kerry, we always drive straight back, and I can't sleep after a gig, so by the time you get back, it's about 5 o'clock anyway. I just kind of stay in the late zone, because I love going around the area when everybody's asleep, you know, everybody's dreaming. It's kind of a nice time to reflect."
Upon returning home from shows in Australia and New Zealand last year, Damien was surprised to see that his family had completely redecorated his new home. If anything, it's given the chap an extra push to stay on the road, if not to put food on the table, then instead, to pay his family back.
"I'm just doing the work now, to pay them back and just paying little bits off the album. I'm doing a lot of solo shows to do that - it's great that I have the luxury to be able to do the two - the band and the solo stuff." Indeed, and the fans seem to love both. After all, a Damien Dempsey gig remains something of a religious experience for his growing army of followers.
How and when album number seven will be released is uncertain. Later this year, the bloke turns 40. Rest assured there will be no milestone birthday panic for the acclaimed, acoustic troubadour, as Damien is no "prisoner" to his age. "It's all good," he insists, "it's how you're feeling inside."
Damien has also been making several headlines these past 12 months, quite often for reasons other than his music. Last summer, he saved a man from drowning in the River Slaney while on his way to a festival.
A few months later, he and his friend, actor John Connors of Love/Hate fame, intervened in a mugging, chasing after a handbag thief.
"Me ma wanted me to get one of the [bravery] awards," explains Dempsey. "You just see all the other people who have saved lives, you know, all the cops and ambulance men, firemen and all just normal people from around the country, who risk their lives, you know, and they don't get none of the attention that I was getting, so that's why you kind of stay out of it then."
In December of last year, Damien Dempsey joined Glen Hansard at a massive Right2Water protest in Merrion Square, where the two performed the Auld Triangle.
"It was very encouraging," says Dempsey, of the thousands who took part in the protest. "I don't think it's fair that the rich people and then people on minimum wage should have to pay the same for water. I think people realised that you can make a difference if you go out together, so I think there's gonna be a lot more of that."
Damien has had to work hard for people to hear his music. Thankfully, the audiences are getting bigger - that's what happens when you spend nine months out of the year on the road. "Ah yeah, it's a won derful job," he smiles. "The only bad thing about it is you don't really get to spend a lot of time with the people that you really care about. You get a bit sad about it sometimes."
Hence, with all the travel involved, settling down and starting a family is not something that is likely to happen soon. But he's in a good place. He has, in the past, been open about his struggle with depression.
"Well, getting me own house has been a big change there," explains Damien. "When there's a bit of sun, I've a big back garden, I'll be out there doing some yoga in the sun, you know, and that always cheers me up. The hard work I've done over the years, I can kind of see the result now for it, you know? This house, where I can play music any time I want and entertain people and do yoga in the nude out the back and all that, that's after giving me a great lift."
Damien also has a message for those opposed to same-sex marriage ahead of this week's referendum. "Love is love," he says. "Let's just live and let live, you know what I mean? Imagine being in love with somebody and wanting to spend the rest of your life with them, and being told no [to marriage] by any government. Just put yourself in someone else's shoes"
Damien Dempsey headlines the Salmon Leap Festival, Leixlip, May 29-31. For more, visit www.salmonleapfestival.com.