Declan McKenna – Interview – 2016

Forget that he is 17-years-old – Declan McKenna is a talent three times his age. A smart mind when it comes to songwriting – on the outside you hear a catchy indie pop track that will get any body moving, but delving in a little deeper and you find that Declan’s music is far more complex, commenting on the wide range of modern issues that affect us all. His latest single, ‘Isombard’, is a song that will be stuck in your head for weeks, yet is also a song that comments on police brutality, xenophobia and from the point of view of a news anchor that’s getting it wrong. We spoke to Declan to find out about him and his upcoming album.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hertfordshire in a town called Cheshunt. It’s kind of a boring commuter’s suburbia.

What kind of music were you brought up on?
My dad likes a lot of classic rock like Wishbone Ash, The Who and The Beatles – classic dad music. My mum is into classic mum music like 80s pop. For example, for my fifteenth birthday she dressed up as one of The Nolans sisters – that kind of sums it up really.

Can you remember the first album you bought?
The first album I bought I shared with a friend. It was Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. I must have been about eight or nine-years-old and just getting into guitar. A pretty decent one for the first one.

When did you start to write songs?
I think I was about seven-years-old. I started writing when I was really, really young, I don’t think it was very good. I have kept writing for as long as I can remember but over the past couple of years, I’ve been getting better at guitar and been able to make it work more.

Tell us a bit about your recent single ‘Isombard’?
I came up with the idea of the song at school. I went to one of the piano rooms and just started playing the Alberti bass piano part, which is the introduction to the song. Around the school were these signs which had quotes on them – one of them was by Martin Luther King Jr saying, “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” I had the pattern of the piano part in my head but nothing to go with it, so I kept working at it till I could kind of merge the two.

Have you been thinking about the next release?
I’m hoping to release an album early next year, which is the plan, and then a few singles up until then. The working title at the minute is, What Do You Think About The New Car. When I was younger there is a video of me when I must have been five-years-old, we had just got a new car and we were outside my grandma’s house. My sister was filming, turns to me and goes, “Dec, what do you think about the new car?” I go, “I think it’s really good and now I’m going to sing my new album”, and then start belting out these songs – it’s really funny.

What has been a musical eye-opener?
Seeing Ray Davis at Hop Farm. I must have been about ten-years-old and it made me want to be a musician. Him alongside Jonny Flynn, Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons and a few other bands pretty early on. It was a really cool festival and quite a big thing for me.

Who would be in your ultimate super group?
I would have St Vincent on lead guitar and vocals, Paul McCartney on bass, Mozart on piano and then Keith Moon on drums. That would be a pretty solid group!

What would be your perfect line-up of any three acts for a concert you are putting on and where would it be?
It would be at Alexandra Palace as I really like that venue. St Vincent, Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Tame Impala would have to be the headliner, but I love them all equally.

If you could work with any artist, who would it be and what would they bring?
David Bowie. I don’t really like anyone’s music as much as his. He brought so much creativity to everything he did and does it really well.

If you could give a musical award of the year, what would it be for and for whom?
To MF Doom for always having a great flow.

What music are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve been listening to a bit of The Lemon Twigs recently. David Bowie as usual, I listen to him all the time. I’ve been listening to clipping.’s new record. Blaenavon have got a new track out. There’s lots of great music out at the moment.

What are your future plans till the end of the year and after?
I got the tour of the UK which I’m doing with Blossoms as well as a London show on my own, all of which is sold out which is cool. A big US tour with The Head and The Heart, which is very exciting. I’ll be finishing off the album in November and a bit of time off hopefully as next year is going to be pretty intense.