Rising indie-pop star Declan McKenna has had a fantastic year.
Not only has the young singer-songwriter toured far and wide with his intelligent and melodic rock songs, he’s released a debut album that’s received plenty of praise from the critics.
But it’s not over yet. The 18-year-old whizz-kid is currently on an autumn tour of the UK (with a few gigs in Europe), which takes in Brighton’s Concorde 2 on Friday, October 20 (7pm).
“The scale of it is quite daunting,” says Declan, speaking just before the tour begins. “But I’m quite excited for that challenge of playing bigger shows to more people.”
Growing up in Hertfordshire, Declan found himself performing music from a young age and realised that it meant more to him than his other childhood activities like acting or sport.
“It kind of felt like a proper expression in a way that I really like,” he says, describing how he’d perform in bands with school friends or put on living room concerts with family members.
Naturally, Declan was drawn to popular acts of the time like Green Day and the White Stripes. But as he grew up he found his musical taste changing and expanding, and he became interested in artists like Jeff Buckley, David Bowie and Nina Simone.
These influences can be detected in Declan’s recent output but, being in the early stages of his career, he admits that he’s still figuring out what he wants to achieve artistically.
“I think that’s part of the fun,” he says, explaining that his music is somewhat shaped by what’s happening in his life, which is always likely to change.
“I want to create stuff that I’m happy with and make some cool, creative projects over time,” Declan states. “I just want to keep doing it and keep enjoying it. Whether that means changing entirely I don’t know.”
“I tend to start with an idea or motif,” he says, when I ask about his songwriting process. “Just something smaller you can build on.”
“Recently, the main thing behind my songwriting is working on one little idea and then expanding it,” he continues. “Developing it over a song and keeping those same ideas, but pushing them out as far as they can go. That can be a lyric, that can be a melody, and then you kind of build the song around that.”
Declan’s first album, What Do You Think of the Car?, came about in a similarly loose way.
“There was never really a theme behind the album,” Declan says. “It evolved over a long period of time from when I was maybe 15 years old to nearly 18 years old.”
“It was just kind of me learning and developing over time,” he continues, explaining that the record is really about questioning and comprehending.
Even the title is a question, albeit a rather mundane one.
“It’s from a home video from when I was about four years old,” says Declan. “We’d just got a family car, which we’ve still got today.”
“My sister filmed me from the car asking: ‘Hey what do you think of the car? Do you like it?’ And I say that I think it’s really good and that I’m going to sing my new album now. We sampled it at the start of the album, which kind of made sense.”
What Do You Think of the Car? may not have a strong, overarching theme but there does seem to be a political edge to some of the tracks.
For example, Declan’s first hit ‘Brazil’ was critical of FIFA’s decision to award the World Cup to Brazil in 2014 despite its serious problems with inequality and poverty. His second single ‘Paracetamol’ tackled the issue of transgender teens and media misrepresentation.
But, as Declan says, we live in a world that revolves around politics and, thanks to the ever-present internet, we’re exposed to more and more events from around the globe.
“I think the internet plays a big role in me actually seeing things that are happening,” he explains. “A lot of the time songwriting comes from an emotional response to something, and there is so much going on around the world that you can respond to.”
Whatever direction Declan’s music is heading in, and whatever messages he wants to convey, there are certainly a lot of people who want to listen, and Declan’s having a great time travelling the world with his guitar.
“I think playing at Heaven was a big gig for me,” says Declan, when asked about stand-out moments from his live concerts so far. “I grew up going to shows in London and Heaven’s such a great venue and such a cool place to play. Just playing there in front of my family and friends was a really special one for me.”
Playing Lollapalooza in Chicago this year was quite an experience too.
“It was so much fun,” Declan says. “We had a really strange first-on slot but it was amazing. Performing to people half way across the world at a festival like Lollapalooza is always going to be a special moment.”
“I’d never really done a festival where there’s a city skyline backdrop,” he adds.
To sum it up then, a music career is a dream come true.
“It’s all I’ve kind of ever wanted to do for a long time,” says Declan. “Just being able to create and perform as a full time thing. Whether you could call it a job of not, I don’t know, but that’s how I’m living my life at the moment.”
For tickets to the upcoming Concorde 2 gig call 01273 673311 or visit www.concorde2.co.uk.
To find out more about Declan’s music or see his other tour dates visit www.declanmckenna.net.
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