Interview | Declan McKenna

From the confetti cannon introduction to the balloon popping curtain closer of ‘Brazil.’ King Tut’s and its inhabitants were transformed and transported into a mini Mardi Gras on Sunday night.

It’s been a while since I’ve experienced that much energy, enthusiasm and excitement from a crowd, and looking back on it with fond memories has certainly made this impossibly difficult week that little bit easier.

I caught up with Declan McKenna for a quick chat in his van before his euphoric sold out show at the venue on Sunday night.

Did you feel there was a certain stigma attached to being labelled a singer/songwriter when you were starting off and before you got the band? The reason I ask is, that from experience, for me it meant that I’d have to go on first at gigs and drunken hen parties would ask if I could cover Ed Sheeran..

Declan: I think there is a stigma attached, I find it so strange that on iTunes and stuff it’s a genre now. It’s like indie, it’s kind of meaningless. It doesn’t actually describe anything, it’s just this person sings and writes songs.

Like that time when NME invented nu-rave and none of the bands actually associated themselves with that genre…

DM: Yeah, exactly. So yeah I wouldn’t really call myself a singer/songwriter, I mean I might do to simplify what I do to someone who’s not aware of what I do, but past that it’s not something I would really identify in. It’s got a bit of an “anyway, here’s Wonderwall” kind of connotation.

Just touching on political stuff, thoughts on Corbyn coming out and speaking at The Libertines show last night?

I think that’s cool, I think it’s good that there are artists getting involved and trying to get people to vote. I think that’s the main thing, political parties aside. More people need to vote really, because it’s so important. I’ve been quite vocal on myself and the school system – I didn’t really have that much education on it and it’s been a Tory government for the majority of time I’ve been in school. I think that kind of explains it, because the less young people that vote, the better they do. It’s great seeing Grime artists and seeing The Libertines, all these different people, encouraging people to vote. Having speakers at their gigs is pretty cool.

It’s free publicity for him (Corbyn) aswell. You wouldn’t get some other parties going out and doing that. For a while, bands have been championing political parties or politicians, but it’s not often met from the other side where politicians are mixing with the bands and their fans.

Yeah, exactly. I think there’s often a weird rift between certain politicians and bands, like when I think David Cameron asked for tickets to see Johnny Marr and he got rejected for guest-list. There is a rift, I guess because people see youth clubs being shut down and they see venues/clubs being shut down and they’re like “well you’re killing our culture, so fuck you.” Whereas you see The Libertines and Jeremy Corbyn or your favourite band and a politician, it’s like “oh wow, this is actually interesting and they care, so I should care” which is oversimplified, but it’s cool.

On the topic of venues shutting down, I interviewed the Pigeon Detectives a few months ago and the venue they were playing was due to shut a few weeks later and only a couple days ago another venue in Edinburgh has announced it’s closing and getting made into flats.

Is Electric Circus still there?

No, that’s the one that got binned, as did The Picture House that had folk like Editors, Bloc Party etc playing there back in the day and that got turned into a Wetherspoons…

Yeah, in London we had Fabric close and Madame JoJo’s and all that, big cultural places we’ve seen go. I think it’s pretty sad seeing that in a lot of big cities, especially with the smaller to medium venues. It kind of kills a lot of the scenes, especially with youth clubs and stuff, it’s where a lot of bands meet and create these scenes. Now the scenes are created by The NME, DIY or the cool mags. Once a musician gets to a certain point their lumped into a scene, but I think it should be more of a growing together sort of thing. People talk about Thames Beat, all that sort of stuff, it’s very much harder to create that and collaborate in the way bands used to.

I think even with that there’s not even really a voice, music press wise now aside from blogs. Printed press like NME, I had supported until the end, but it’s at the point where you’re picking it up and it’s not relevant anymore. That’s sadly the way music is, but there’s less you can associate with now.

I think music news is a lot less saturated, it’s kind of watered down. People can choose more what they look at music wise online, more than a magazine can offer. Someone can just put it online straight away, so people have so many more inputs, they’re all kind of individually a little bit weaker which you could say is good or bad, depending on how you look at it. It’s interesting how it’s changed in the way that people consume music has been watered down into lots of different streams, rather than one main one.

Moving onto the album, ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ coming out July 21st. It feels like the end of a long road and almost like the start of another one for you. Talk me through it, what song are you most proud of on it and how does it feel that you’re finally reaching the end of that journey?

It’s great, it feels really good to finally be releasing a full work and project that I’ve been working on and off for a long time. There’s obviously been a bit of a manic time where I’ve been doing a bit of recording and touring, so it’s all been very split up and confused, but I’ve come out with a record I really like. The song I like the most is probably the first one ‘Humongous’, the most recent one that I wrote for the album. Most of the songs came from when I was 15/16 and this was when I was 17, so closer to me now (18). Singing and performing it feels like it sums up a lot of the stuff that happened to myself personally in the last 2/3 years with all the music stuff and being written about and seeing a lot more of yourself and different opinions on you. That sort of self-analysis feels quite important to me as a song.

Off the back of some of the songs being written a couple years ago, have you got an eye on the next album? I know with that it kind of seems a bit like one of those “Save now for Christmas 2018” hamper adverts, before this one’s even hit. Are you going to try get as much touring done with this one as you can before you go onto the next one or are you focusing now a little bit as well?

I’m trying to get as much writing done now as possible for it really, it’s going to come really quickly and I don’t want it to come at a time where I don’t think I’ve got strong enough songs for it.

Yeah, without naming names, there’s plenty of examples of bands rushing releasing a second album that’s not very good.

Dangerous second album isn’t it? Bands quite obviously struggle making an album as quickly or as well as they do with a very thorough first album that they’ll have a lot of time to make it. For myself, it’s definitely time to start thinking of ideas or concepts to make the second album better than the first, you’ve always got to try and improve. Especially as I’m going to be a little older when I release the next one and there comes a bit of expectation with that. I’m definitely working on it already, I finished writing the last album in October last year so there’s been a lot of time to think. It’s a bit difficult to do it when you’ve got so much going on, before when I had more time and there was less restriction, but now it’s trying to control and navigate your energy into songwriting at one time is a different experience altogether.

Finally, looking through a lot of interviews you’ve done, there’s been a lot of focus obviously on your age, and to me I see that as lazy journalism, it’s such an obvious go to place. Is it hard shaking off that kind of thing or do you not really notice it?

I try to read about myself less and less. I never read an interview or a review of something about me that I go “Oh yeah, that was really good..”

Apart from this one obviously…

Haha, yeah this one will be great (no sarcasm detected whatsoever…) When you read about yourself you’re picking and you’re going to be like “that’s not what I meant by that” or you’ll do this big 15 minute conversation and it’ll get cut down into a couple of headlines or whatever can be sensationalised (I’ve literally copied the whole conversation down just to avoid this) You’re never going to be happy with it, so I’ve kind of started to ignore that sort of things, you know people are going to talk about my age, but I wouldn’t choose it as a focus point for myself as an artist.

Yeah, I mean that’s kind of what I’m getting at, obviously it’s more about the music now and it should be about the music. I think it’s just trying to get that across.

I think this sort of culture we’ve got of Britain’s Got Talent sort of thing give people the idea that if a young person can sing an Elvis cover well, then that means they are crazy talented and when they’re older they’re going to be the next Elvis. I think it should just be the talent as it is and if people aren’t quite there yet, then they’re not quite there yet. I think people will develop as they get older, and I will develop as I get older. The music has to do with age in that it’s about me now, but past that it should be treated in the same way and not patronised as I guess the TV’s taught us to patronise young performers.

I’ll start cheering tonight after the first 3 bars of Brazil.

Haha, “you’re amazing, you’re going to go far!”

I’ll turn my chair around in approval with tears in my eyes.

“You’re amazing, you’ll go so far” and then nothing happens…

Post Author: Richard Cobb

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