Declan McKenna has a problem with authority. For a suburban, Bowie-worshipping 17 year old who dropped out of school to record his debut album and slog round the country in a tour van, that’s hardly surprising.
But this waif-like dreamer’s issue with being told what to do extends further than mere rebellion: his songs are gunning for the people who misuse power for the purposes of corruption and oppression. Set to melodies that evoke fond moments of The Strokes and Tom Vek, his messages bite hard.
Rachel Ducker speaks to Declan about his rise to fame and his upcoming appearance at this year’s Latitude Festival.
R: When did you first get into music and how?
I guess I always had an interest in music and I was involved in music at home. It sort of developed from not being much, into, what I am doing now. I used to play in a couple of bands with friends when I was 12 or 13 and I was quite young. It then progressed into me doing my own stuff and I started making music, putting stuff online. I had two albums worth of demos on the Internet before my first proper single.
R: Wow that’s quite a lot of songs!
Yeah it was a lot, that was the start, then when I had ‘Brazil’ that was when things kicked off.
R: Who were your musical inspirations growing up?
I used to listen to a lot of classic rock with my dad, bands like Wishbone Ash, I also listen to a lot of pop punk and pop like Busted and Westlife…
R: We’ve all been there…
R: You’re best known for winning the Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015, what was it like to win?
Yeah, it was cool, I guess it kind of started it all off. It wasn’t something I was really expecting to happen, it was a bit of a whirlwind at the time. In the same way, it wasn’t too much, I didn’t really have much happening at the time, so it was nice it gave me a little positive push.
R: What I particularly like about your music, is that you seem to have very powerful messages and references within them, touching on taboo subjects. What do you hope to achieve through your lyrics?
It really depends on the track, a lot of the time we write stuff it is to express certain kinds of things. It can often be quite difficult to create an emotional response to something. I feel for myself, I have to put that into some kind of art and music does that for me. At the same time, it can also be a really good output to promote change, and I often think ‘who can I reach out to with this’ to actually help a cause.
R: I guess you are trying to connect with people who can relate to the lyrics, ‘Paracetamol’, in particular, which touches upon the struggle of young transgender people, is something that’s really on topic but also a sensitive subject, the fact someone is out there writing songs about it and bringing about that awareness is
I think with LGBT, in a bigger way, it needs to be normalized within mainstream media. We are starting to see more and more of that, but it is important to try and represent things in a normal way, that’s what I wanted to do, to reach out to people, everyone’s important and everyone matters and that’s a really big thing for me.
R: Do you ever get compared to other artists? If you do does that ever annoy you?
That depends, sometimes it nice when its someone you really like, once or twice I have been compared to Jeff Buckley or David Bowie, and I listened to them a lot and take a lot of influence from them. Although, there are ones where you are just like ‘what in the f*ck’ and you don’t understand where it comes from.
R: Touching on the festival scene, we have Latitude just around the corner, our local music festival, we will be seeing you there this year, what stage can we see you on and what can we look forward to?
I think we’re playing in the NME Radio 1 stage on the Saturday. I have been to Latitude three years in a row now and I played last year, which was great. I am just looking forward to a bigger and better show this year. Festival season is really fun for us you know, me and the band. I am really looking forward to a fun, high energy show and I am in-between The Lemon Twigs and Maggie Rogers which will be cool.
R: There’s a great line up this year, do you get to enjoy the festival after your performance?
I am not going to be able to this year, as we have a gig in Norway before and then we are off to Spain. We have a lot of the festivals this year… its one after the other. I am sad I can’t spend the weekend at Latitude I might stick around for a few hours as I like Latitude.
R: When you have a set schedule, it must be tough you must get tired on tour?
Yeah, its mad how it can take it out of you, you don’t really know which country your in you don’t know where you are, your eating not very healthy food, it is hard.
R: Last question, What has been your most embarrassing festival moment?
I fell off the stage once!
R: Well hopefully you will be safe this festival season! Good luck with everything and we will look forward to seeing you at Latitude 2017.
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