Georgie Deaville and Charlotte Pengelly have the pleasure of speaking to Declan McKenna and watching him perform
Declan McKenna’s headline gig at the Hare and Hounds had the same electric and excitable energy that buzzes around McKenna’s future year in music – an energy which was quite literally overflowing on the night. We were able to grab a chat with Declan, whose excitement levels were buzzing way before the show had started.
So, back in Birmingham, but this time on a headline tour – how does that feel?
It feels great. I haven’t done a headline in… ever, I don’t think. I’ve done like four different support shows here and now I’m doing my first headline and it’s, like, sold out. I’ve been here before and only played to a couple of people, so to come back to the same venue doing it again to a sold out audience is a good feeling.
Congratulations on the video for ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’. Would you say that this is you edging into more personal territory in terms of songwriting rather than your previous more political songs?
I don’t know. I think I’m always kind of writing about a mixture of things – like often I write about a lot of different things at once that sort of all intertwine, but I think ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’ does bridge the gap a bit. It is something I drew from personal experience but in the same breath it’s also talking about stuff that I think should change and could be better about the world, so it’s a combination of things.
Sticking to a political theme, we’ve seen anti-Trump material released recently from the likes of Arcade Fire and Father John Misty. Is that something you think you’d like to get on board with?
Maybe not specifically. I feel like if I wrote something anti-Trump it would be a bit like old news because I’ve already written my first album, which is ready to be released. Unless he does something awful in time for my second album! He probably will. I think even before he was elected, A Tribe Called Quest outdid everyone on the anti-Trump material, especially on ‘The Donald’, so I don’t know if I’d wanna step up. But you never know what the future brings for songwriting. I could just do a load of shitty love songs.
How does it feel being on DIY’s Class of 2017 list?
It’s cool. I love all the people at DIY, it’s like… it’s DIY! Yeah, they’re just a nice group of people and it’s just nice to have them on my side. They’re always turning up to shows and stuff so having that support is great!
How about artists you’ve been listening to – are there any you’d tip for 2017?
Loads! I quite like Greasy Deep; they’re good friends of mine. They’re quite low-key at the moment but they’re kind of like a rap collective from London. I’ve known them for a while and watched them grow and develop. They’re improving so much and making some politically engaging type material, so I think they’re gonna make some really cool shit this year. I’m liking Blaenavon; they’re really cool, really sweet guys. And Let’s Eat Grandma as well… There are so many, I could go on and on.
How would you describe your relationship with your fans? We’ve noticed you’re quite creative with engaging with them via Twitter.
Yeah, the guestlist thing is pretty fun. I put five random names on the guestlist and whoever claims them first gets in for free. I couldn’t do that tonight because it’s sold out, but yeah, you know, it’s nice to just have a laugh with people and just treat people like people. I’m not gonna pretend to be like ‘fan saviour Declan McKenna, always on the hunt to make fans feel amazing’, but you know, I am just a normal teenager who’s sometimes a grumpy prick but I just try to be nice when I feel like it. When people are supporting you, it’s nice to be nice back, especially if people miss out on tickets.
How important do you think it is for the music industry to have a younger more politically aware artist?
I think there’s so much young music, young artists, young musicians coming out with a wave political music, but I think it has sort of always been there. Obviously, I like to talk about politics in a couple of my songs, and we have these younger artists kind of being someone for younger people to look up to, but also creating a sense of community within the generation that does want to make changes. That’s what I touch on in ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’ video by including the ‘#girlsagainst’ campaign girls in the video. I think the younger generation is the one that kind of wants to change things, and they often get pushed aside as silly or naïve but generally, it all comes from a good place. It’s good seeing this wave happening now because I think it’s more important than ever when people like Piers Morgan are saying stuff about artists speaking out. It’s important for artists to have a voice because they’re about happiness and enjoyment and I think that’s what we wanna bring to the world.
Do you think social media has helped that because you’ve got this platform where you can interact directly with these people?
Social media I love and I hate. I use it a lot; it’s very nice to talk to people and connect with people and express your opinions and people can converse with you about them but at the same time, it can be really toxic. It can breed more hate and it can take a lot of money out of musicians pockets, which means it can be difficult to get your voice heard as an artist since you can’t create as much as you’d like to, because you have to be signed to a major label to do so which is kind of fucked up. But yeah, it’s good and bad – people can voice their opinions but at the same time it stops you from voicing your opinions. I don’t know!
How would you define your sound? Because there’s quite a difference between tracks like ‘Brazil’ and ‘Basic’?
I think at the minute I don’t have a definition. I’ve kind of been analysing what I’m doing, but I think I’ll have a better idea when I come to making my second album. I think the thing I’ve realised is because I’ve been releasing music under just my name, I don’t want ‘Declan McKenna’ to be a genre – I find that quite weird for myself because Declan McKenna is just a human being. I don’t see what I make as a genre and I don’t want to just make one thing forever. On this first record, I didn’t really have time to think about what I wanted to make genre-wise or anything, so I just kinda made songs! It didn’t really have much of a theme. People like to bracket it in indie, but I don’t think it is. Indie is too broad a bracket now – it doesn’t really exist, and anything with a bit of edge is indie! I think personally I make pop music, in terms of the singles I’ve released: they’re pop songs. But people don’t want to say that, people don’t want to like pop music! But, at the end of the day, The Beatles made pop songs, David Bowie made pop songs.
You won the chance to play at Glastonbury last year. How would you compare a festival atmosphere to an indoors winter gig such as this?
The vibe is very different. The Glastonbury set was quite early in the day, so people were quite sleepy, so I like the gigs late at night where people are a bit more up for it. But there is something really nice about playing outside. It’s quite free and open and there’s no stuffiness that you get inside, unless you’re playing a really hot festival. It depends on the show. The summer festival shows were some of the best we’ve ever played but I love them both.
What’s the plan for after the tour?
A billion more tours I should expect. The album is pretty much done. It’s being mastered this week. I’m hoping to have that released before summer. I’ve been working so much on it. It’s quite sparse as I’ve said – it’s not really a genre or a theme or anything but it kinda spans from when I was fifteen to almost eighteen so there’s a definite progression in terms of the quality of the songs, but it kind of leads me nicely into my next project. So yeah, I’m excited about that. Got Coachella in April which is crazy… I’m not sure if many UK festivals have confirmed their lineups yet so I think I’m sworn to secrecy, but we’re doing some big ones, which I’m excited about. But yeah, it’s going to be a really big summer for us!
McKenna’s boyish charm shone through as soon as we set eyes on him; it was clear he was absolutely loving this alternate teenage lifestyle he’s created for himself, setting us in high hopes for the evening’s show.
He was supported by Clay, a band from Leeds who entertained the crowd with synth-y and catchy tracks, such as ‘6AM’ and ‘Sun Dance’. Personable front man Joe Harvey’s chattiness worked up the crowd. As the support act, Clay had an impressive stage presence, and with an ever-growing presence in the electric-indie genre we’re all going mad for, they left us itching to see what the future has in stall for this band.
Every bit an image queen, McKenna emerged on stage clad in a ‘I want to go home’ tee, contrasted with pink glittered cheeks and eye liner, embodying every relatable teen when chatting with the crowd throughout the night with gems like, “the feels when you want to get the sweat off, but you don’t want to ruin your glitter.”
Accompanied by a strong band, with exquisite lead guitar from Isabel Torres, Gabi King on drums, Sofia Heustice on bass and Nathan Cox on keys, McKenna performed an impressive selection of released and unreleased songs which the crowd responded to with equal enthusiasm. Alongside the hits such as ‘Isombard’, ‘Paracetamol’ and the newly released ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’, McKenna treated the crowd to a few new songs which highlighted his artistic flexibility in their musical nuances and differences, and hinted at an impressive debut album. The stand out new track was ‘Listen to Your Friends’, a song McKenna revealed he had written with a friend in LA. McKenna is known to dabble in different music styles, but this track featured an arresting spoken verse which hinted at the limitless possibilities that mark the future of this star.
McKenna’s relationship with his fan base was tangible in the atmosphere of the room; McKenna worked the stage and appeared to be in every aspect loving life, as you can imagine any eighteen-year-old on their headline tour would be. The gig came to a triumphant end during ‘Brazil’ as the audience stormed the stage to a bewildered look from the security guard – and the joy of the fans. After order was restored and the crowd was removed from the stage, McKenna and drummer King finished the gig by jumping into the crowd, to the further dismay of the security and the delight of the audience.
Overall, it was an electric night which highlighted the strength of a beautiful fan-artist relationship that revels in the promise of a voice for a generation – a generation that refuses to accept the boundaries older generations may attempt to force upon them.