PERFORMING alongside Blossoms on their Autumn UK tour, singer-songwriter Declan McKenna spoke to Quays News entertainment reporter Hollie Rees about his decision to put music first, the inspirations behind his music and his summer highlights.
Many teenagers would jump at the chance to see one of their favourite bands perform live.
However, 17-year-old Declan McKenna spent last Friday evening performing as a support act for one of his.
Chatting in his dressing room, before his performance at the sold out Manchester Academy, McKenna seemed to be bursting with anticipation and energy.
His enthusiasm, commitment and genuine personality shone through as he spoke.
“I just try and clear my mind of anything before a gig by listening to songs really loudly in the dressing room and trying to zone out,” he admitted.
“I guess, when you’re really nervous, you kind of overthink.”
If he was even a tiny bit nervous before Friday evening’s performance, there were no obvious telltale signs.
After winning the Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in April last year, the Hertfordshire teenager’s music career has grown at an impressive rate.
He said: “I don’t know what I imagined my life would be like five years ago but I probably thought I’d still just be in school.”
Since beginning his music career while studying for his GCSE exams, he now has six catchy singles and an impressive backlog of gigs and festival appearances, including some dates in America.
McKenna followed the traditional academic route and progressed on to study A levels, however, he soon opted out to focus solely on his music.
“Balancing the two can be very difficult,” McKenna confessed.
“Especially if you care more about one than the other.
“The most difficult thing now is seeing friends and family. You can spend weeks or months not seeing anyone so it just takes a bit of adjusting.”
As the youngest in a family of eight, McKenna explained that he has “always been engaged with music.”
Both my Mum and Dad love music and I was brought up with the indie of the noughties that my brothers listened to and the pop of the noughties that my sisters listened to.”
Wearing a David Bowie t-shirt and referring to him as one of his favourite artists, alongside Tame Impala, The Beatles and Paul Simon, it’s clear that the teenager lives and breathes music.
His first single, ‘Brazil’, was self-released in August of last year.
The song’s mature lyrics address the extreme poverty which was occurring in Brazil at the time of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
McKenna is no stranger to exploring controversial or taboo subjects through his lyrics.
‘Paracetamol’ focuses on the LGBT community, whereas ‘Bethlehem’ explores religion.
He explained that the lyrics to his most recent single, ‘Isombard’, which was released last month, were written in the style of a right-wing news anchor.
“I was studying this poem at school at the time by E.E Cummings, called ‘Next To Of Course God America I’, in which he was pretending to be this politician who didn’t really know what he was going on about.”
Referring back to ‘Isombard’, he added, “Basically, I tried to modernise that.”
As well as writing his own lyrics, McKenna also has a lot of say in the creation of his music videos.
“When you put something new out there, the music video is often the first thing someone will see,” he accepted.
“If you’re putting out a music video that’s s***, it’s kind of pointless.”
As well as receiving over 700,000 Spotify plays, ‘Isombard’ features on the FIFA 17 video game soundtrack, which NME described as “one of the most important platforms for British music right now.”
Artists such as CHVRCHES, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand have previously been featured on the game.
‘Isombard’ was also the track performed live by McKenna and his young band mates following his guest appearance on ‘Later…With Jools Holland’ recently.
@DeclanMcKenna s/o to Declan for getting on Jools Holland that's really something major!?
— Brian Nasty (@nastybrian) September 27, 2016
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” McKenna began.
“I’ve done other TV shows before but not shows that I’ve followed since I was really young.
“It was really, really crazy but I really enjoyed it once I got my nerves out of the way. It was a really good experience.”
Prior to the TV appearance, McKenna and his band mates had a packed summer with Glastonbury Festival, Live at Leeds and London’s Field Day all on the calendar.
“After playing a really small stage at Glastonbury last year, going back this year and playing the Park stage, where I’d seen Saint Vincent play the year before, was amazing.
“Live at Leeds was notoriously our worst gig of the summer,” he laughed.
“We just had a shocker. The sound check was really short and loads of our instruments wouldn’t work. We were trying to play and it just wasn’t making any noise.”
— Glastonbury Festival (@GlastoFest) September 28, 2016
Hiccups aside, he confirmed that the summer was definitely one to remember given he also played at venues in America, a personal highlight for him.
“One of our favourite gigs was in Kansas City where we filmed the music video for ‘Isombard’.”
He added, “Once I’d told them we were filming the video, everyone just lost their s***. It was just the most incredible gig.”
With even more gigs to play over the next month and another tour announcement for January 2017, this talented singer-songwriter is just at the very start of his successful career.
“I hope to be just doing the same thing but too a couple more people. If I can keep doing this and people still care, that’d be great.”
By Hollie Rees