After winning Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015, a lot has happened to 17 year old Declan McKenna.
He is now on his biggest UK tour to date, supporting Blossoms. In the afternoon before his gig in the ionic Leadmill, Forge managed to catch up with him.
For as long as he can remember, Declan’s been writing music. He started playing the guitar when he was seven, and since he turned 14 he’s been gigging “wherever people would let him” using a loop-pedal he got for his 13th birthday. His first single, ‘Brazil’, is a truly beautiful song as well as an ode to the corruption that rules FIFA and international soccer, and this song received such an extraordinary reaction which “really shocked” Declan.
He used ‘Brazil’ for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition and next thing he knew, he was “suddenly getting all these emails from different managing companies and labels”, all during the period when he was doing his GCSEs, making it a “really odd time”. Glastonbury was the “first big public thing” he did, in which he performed on two different stages, one called the Rabbit Hole (where the competition took place) and the other was William’s Green stage. This year he returned to perform on the Park Stage which was “a lot bigger so really cool”.
One of the main reasons that Declan has attracted so much attention is the political messages behind his music, not only ‘Brazil’ criticising FIFA but also ‘Paracetamol’ challenges the media’s representation of the LGBT community and ‘Bethlehem’ in which Declan damns religion’s ugly grip on war and hate. However, Declan explained that if he “ever gets as far” as writing a second record he would “edge away from writing about topics like this at least for a bit”. He explained that although he finds it fun to write about these “interesting and important” topics it can be intense, especially in some interviews which can be a grilling so “you really have to know your shit”.
Not only does Declan have “creative control” over his music but he is also in charge of his music videos. He does his videos in a cinematic way in which they tell different stories, other than ‘Brazil’ which he shot with his friends & ‘Isombard’ which is a tour video. Within these videos he takes a slight “back role” which allows him to take a back seat and give pointers when he feels necessary. Although in the future he wants to experiment more with different styles, and he tells me he is very excited for the next video he is planning in which he will take on much more of a main role.
There is a symbolic moment in the video for ‘Brazil’ in which Declan is singing in front of a David Bowie monument in Brixton. He tells me how he actually shot the video about a year before Bowie died (10th January 2016) and when he returned to the monument a week after Bowie’s death he was warmed by the fact that it was “covered in candles, flowers, messages written by different fans and people singing Bowie songs around it”. Declan tells me that Bowie was one of his main influences as well as Jeff Buckley, The Beatles, Nina Simone and most surprisingly ABBA –as he likes to “take influence from genres that wouldn’t really link to him as it makes something more original”.
Not only does Declan get his influences from other musicians but he also wants to do collaborations with the “tons of amazing songwriters” out there, naming a few such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra and St. Vincent. When he was on tour with Mystery Jets earlier this year he had spoken to Blaine Harrison (lead vocalist) about co-writing together, as well as writing with a mysterious artist on his unreleased album – although he couldn’t disclose who.
His debut album should be released in March/April 2017 as it is “90% recorded” at the moment but he still has to record two more tracks in November and then finish the final edits/mixes. He explains just how excited he is about this album as it means when people come to his shows they’ll be able to sing along more to the songs.
When asked about the future after the UK tour Declan says that he is jetting off to America “two or three days after” to support the Head and the Heart in “some great venues”. Then he’s going to have a bit of a touring break to work on the album and then have a proper break in December, although he is planning on doing a birthday show if he can “get decent bands to play” –but not on his birthday (24th December) itself.
Without a doubt Declan McKenna is an extremely hard working 17 year old who is doing what he loves. If 2016 is anything to go by he is definitely on his way up with his own headlining tour coming back to Leadmill in January.