Declan McKenna is currently on tour with highly-rated indie outfit Blossoms, and the 17-year-old will support the Stockport band when they play a sold-out Rock City show next week. JAMIE BARLOW chats to the rising singer-songwriter ahead of his Nottingham date
Hailing from Hertfordshire, alternative indie artist McKenna has made his name by writing politically driven songs that belie his years – the teenager’s repertoire includes a number challenging media stereotypes surrounding transgender issues, Paracetamol, another focussing on religion, Bethlehem, and his critically acclaimed hit, Brazil, serves as an indictment of the controversy at the heart of the 2014 World Cup.
McKenna played his latest track, Isombard, on the Jools Holland show that was aired earlier this week.
How are you finding supporting Blossoms?
It’s been good. They’re really good lads and a really good live band – it’s been pretty fun so far.
Have you managed to hang out with them?
Yeah, yeah – I’ve toured with them before. They’re really good fun.
You’ve written a number of heavy songs – such as Brazil and Paracetamol. Why do you choose to write songs like those?
You kind of have to find something to write about. I find it easier to write about things that I’m not so personally attached to, or things that have interested me or affected me by hearing about them and stuff. I just like to take influence from everywhere and anywhere.
Which artists have you been influenced by?
David Bowie and The Beatles as well. People like that who I’ve been brought up with and The Strokes. I listen to a lot of people like Kendrick Lamar – I like people who are very open with what they write about. All sorts of different things, I guess.
When did you first start writing songs?
I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I’ve been doing it for a long, long time. It’s something I’ve developed over time. You get better and better at it as you go along. For me, there has never been a point where I’ve felt like: “Oh, I’m quite good at this.” It (his song writing) gets better and better, I guess.
In terms of your live performances, do you think you’re still experimenting to see what the best live formula is?
I think so. I think, for me and my band, there hasn’t been too much in the way of funding and MDing our band, having someone look at all the parts which we are playing and stuff. The main thing has been sorting out all of our keys, parts and annoying stuff like that on our own. Which I don’t know too much about. It’s been a difficult process; editing these sorts of things as we go along. We’re getting better and better each time. We’re playing alongside bands, even some newer bands, who’ve been playing together for three or four years. You do get better and better with every show. We’ve had to catch up in that sense; we’ve only known each other since January, at least most of us. It’s all work in progress. I think we’re getting better and better at it, working away at our sounds and all the stuff we do live. But I think we’ve improved a lot since we started out.
Do you feel comfortable performing live, or can it be quite daunting?
I think I’m quite a confident performer. Recently we’ve progressed and got better and obviously not every show’s going to be perfect. I feel like we’re very comfortable playing together now more than ever, which I think is good.
It must’ve been surreal performing on the Jools Holland show…
Yeah, it was. It’s a show I’ve been brought up watching and a lot of the artists sharing the show were people who I’ve looked up to for a long time. It was pretty daunting but very cool.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
There’s been so much – maybe that (performing on Later… with Jools Holland). Playing at Glastonbury was pretty big as well.
What’s your latest track, Isombard, all about?
The idea behind it was to basically write a pop song aimed at a right-wing news presenter. I went along with that. It’s a song I took influence from a poem I studied at school called: next to of course god america i (by E.E. Cummings). I just wanted to do that. I actually came up with the sound for the song while I was at school funnily enough.
What are your plans for the future? Is it a case of touring around or do you plan to release an album?
Both really. I’m doing a lot of touring in the next month and then I plan to release an album in March-April time.
You’re playing in Nottingham at Rock City with Blossoms in October. What’s it been like to play in the city before?
I’ve played there twice before (in Nottingham), once before on my own with Blossoms the last time I toured with them. I played at the Rescue Rooms with them and then I also played at the Bodega with my band. It’s always been a very positive experience. The crowds always seem to be up for it and also the keyboard player in my band, Nathan, is from Nottingham. Rock City for him is like the ultimate show really. It’s very exciting for both of us I think. I’ve seen some really cool shows there.
Declan McKenna will support Blossoms at Rock City on Friday, October 7.