Interview: Declan McKenna
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“Why aren’t we talking about those blessings more often?” Declan McKenna asks. “So versatile yet so underrated.” He continues… talking about avocados and tea. Two of his greatest passions.
Declan’s social media states that he’s inspired by the Nolan sisters, but influenced by Gandhi. Having been continually dubbed as the most ‘exciting’ act of 2015 after winning Glastonbury’s emerging set, and making Sky News, they’re not wrong.
Declan and his music are absolute whirlwinds.
Crafting electronically sonic, pop music with endearing charisma, the Hertfordshire teen’s lyrics contrast in an exhilarating way. At times brutal, but at times fun. A wonderful contradiction.
After self-releasing his debut ‘Brazil’ on SoundCloud and convincing a venue to lend it to him for free so he could host his own gig (cause if you don’t ask you don’t get), he took over the internet.
Underneath the spotted synth and jangly rhythms, 'Brazil' has a much deeper middle. Its catchiness makes sure that the political lyrics stick in your head.
The protest song ralies against FIFA and its role in taking football to the poorest country. The contrast of the track’s upbeat nature and sweet vocals made their impact. ‘I'm gonna burn your house down to spread peace and love’ , he soothes, leading up to a stupidly infectious hook. And a slot on Sky News to chat about it.
Speaking about the track two years on, Declan says, “I mean it was the only thing I released for a year, so I guess people who were listening to me were listening to that, and it just had time to brew and progress.
“Then it had support from Radio One and Alt Nation and stuff like that, so more and more people were hearing it. I tend to just think it is luck, just that one moment where I created it, it was just a fluke that it would be a tune that lots of people would enjoy hearing. It’s strange.”
Latest single ‘Paracetamol’ is washed with melancholy. Vocals move with sincerity, more solemn and bruised. Keys stab in the back, building a dark atmosphere with synth feedback. Lyrics slice ‘There’s a boy fifteen, with a gun in his hand’ and ‘there’s a girl fifteen, with a gun in her hand’ as an electronic chorus picks up tempo, sounding like a gleaming retro 8-bit arcade.
“It was inspired by the story of a transgender girl who committed suicide. I wrote the song about freedom and expression being restricted, but from the perspective of the oppressors of the world, who force people to stick by social standards and pretend they are doing it out of love, essentially.
“It’s morbid and the lyrics are mean but it’s also powerful and hopeful, satirical in a weird way.” Declan explains.
With a societal stance and a burning passion for change, Declan’s tracks have become notorious for spreading the word.
“I take inspiration from everywhere really. The weirdest place would probably be in school, I could never imagine such intense boredom leading to a good number of the tunes that I’ve written! Though I’ve genuinely got a couple that I wrote in my head during classes, and then playing during break on one of the broken guitars or pianos.
“There’s one which you’ll hear if you come to my live set which has a pretty intricate baroque-ish keyboard part in it. I wrote that during a history lesson. That song was partially inspired by a Martin Luther King quote on the boards around school.”
Interesting that he mentions school. Though you’d probably not guess it, Declan is seventeen, and everybody loves to bang on about it.
“Yeah, it can be quite patronising really. Especially when people talk about maturity and stuff like that. Like yeah, I get it. I write like a seventeen-year-old mate. Now please just move along and whack Definitely Maybe on your turntable in peace.
“I know I’m not the most mature person in the world, but I’m not trying to be. If anything, I actively try and write like the seventeen year old I am because being young is fun and much more fun than being the kind of person who questions whether I’m mature enough to be pursuing a music career.
“In simple terms, yeah, I don’t care that I’m 17. I’m a musician and I should be viewed in the same way as other, older musicians.
“I don’t want to be a special snowflake because I’m young. If I put out something that’s shit I’d rather be told it’s shit and not good ‘for my age’.
“I could write an essay about it.”
Proving this in his music, he talks with a strong head on his shoulders. Dismissing the critics who write only about young successes, and stays true to his form. Hinting at what to expect from the future, it’s a mix of guitar and synth based tracks. Half 'Brazil', half 'Paracetamol'.
“It’s not really that I’ve changed my sound, I’ve just always written and merged two different styles. I wanted my second single to contrast my first sonically so people wouldn’t be able to box my music into being one genre or sounding like a group of bands. As well as it just being, at least what I think is, a good tune.”
Dark electro heightens futuristic ‘Brew’ with swirling psych chords. Whilst the reverb on ‘Basic’ fits his cool style with distorted instrumentals and muffled vocals.
A king of reinvention; a Declan McKenna track sounds as though it takes a trip to the past and picks a favourite trend of the underground, then brings it back and reinvents it with electronica, before sending it into a future cosmos.
If you want to hear more from Declan McKenna, though you’re already likely to, you can check out his weekly radio station broadcasted from Periscope. Taking time to chat to his Twitter followers, give a weekly wipe on the news stories and basically piss about with his band.
“It kills some time where both I and they (the viewers) could be doing something productive.”
Midway through a tour with Lisbon, Declan is heading back on the road with Mystery Jets this coming February.
“Playing with the Mystery Jets is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, they are genuinely one of my favourite bands so I’m crazy excited for that.
“And being able to headline the Barfly, I feel like I’m repeating myself here but I am just really excited for it. It’s gonna be my fist headline with the band, so it’s gonna be crazy! I’ve always wanted to play on stage with a band and it definitely is just much more fun and there’s a lot more energy to the shows now, as well as the sound being ten times better. The live side of things is the best part of music, it’s so fun!”
It goes without saying that Declan McKenna has a lot to be excited about, with plenty of new ventures coming his way. Apparently some avocados are coming his way as well, as a fan threw one at him whilst performing last night…
“I wouldn’t say I’m scared of the future, I’m just having a great time now and I feel like that’s all that matters really. People worry too much about the future and preparing for a steady life, but you’re never gonna have fun doing that right?”