In Conversation with Declan McKenna

Walking into Holloway Road’s Nambucca is exactly how you predict it to be. The music venue is a phoenix of a building, rising from the ashes following a blaze back in 2008 and hosting everyone from The Libertines to Wolf Alice. Now it’s Mr McKenna’s turn. Bowie murals line the walls alongside signed vinyls from the stars of yesteryear as Declan McKenna occupies an empty stage, recording a live version of his track ‘Basic’.

The 17-year-old indie-pop musician has made many a wave already in the music industry with his politically loaded lyricism, friendly presence amongst fans and a series of well rounded, well executed music videos. We catch up with Declan fresh off the road with Blossoms and days before he heads to America.

How’s it been with Blossoms?

They’re a really good bunch of lads, really great live. We’ve got our last show with them tomorrow and then we’re doing a festival with them in Manchester the day after. Playing Kentish Town Forum in London with them was a big one. For me, being from London and having seen shows there it was quite special. The whole thing’s been quite fun.

That’s such a big venue compared to here tonight, do you prefer playing at the bigger or smaller venues?

It’s a very different environment here. It’s always a bit more fun to do a show to a crowd like this because bigger crowds on support slots aren’t necessarily that familiar with your songs. When people are into it, you can bounce off the crowd more and have a better time.

There are fans already outside the venue preaching about how they’re your biggest stalkers.

Are there? That’s so funny, it’s really strange.

I think they’re American or something.

I know exactly the one’s you’re talking about! I did a show in Kansas or Denver or Colorado and then they came to see us support Blossoms in Bristol and they were like ‘aw we’re coming to your London show too’.

And you’re just about to head to America, aren’t you?

Yeah, I think in three days now! We’re there for about a month, it’s a long old tour. We’re doing a little bit of recording in LA at the end too. A lot of the shows we’ve had in America are so much fun but it’s always nice to be able to come back home after a week of touring here. We’re touring with Blossoms and Cabbage are also supporting and theyve got a song that goes ‘death to Donald Trump’, which is pretty, um. They’re hilarious guys, it’ll be fun.

You’ve just been on Jools Holland, how was that experience?

It was so good. Obviously, I’ve always wanted to perform on there so it was really fun. I was very nervous. Performing in front of Nora Jones is just crazy. The whole lineup was so good. I’ve done a couple of TV gigs in America and in France, but it’s a different sort of thing when it’s a show that you’ve grown up watching. It was just amazing.

And you tore off your top at the end to reveal a t-shirt that said ‘give 17 year olds the vote’

I’ve lowered the age to sixteen *points to the t-shirt he’s currently wearing that says ‘give 16 year olds the vote’*. I made both at the same time just because I thought it would be funny.

You made them? Well if music doesn’t work out for you, you could become a fashion designer!

Exactly *laughter*

What made you decide to wear the t-shirt on TV?

I had to do something, I was going to be on Jools Holland for god’s sake. I was actually going to wear ‘keep the fox hunting ban’ shirt but I thought people would just be like ‘ugh hippie’ so I stuck with this.

With this whole t-shirt things and how politically motivated loads of your tracks are, how important do you think it is for young musicians like yourself to sing about stuff that matters?

I think it’s cool. It shows that young people aren’t stupid and young people want a voice. I’m glad to be part of that generation of wanting to speak out and have a say and have a vote.

Does that mean we have a song about Brexit on the horizon?

I dunno, it might be a bit boring to write about *laughter*

I saw you did a gig in front of a load of Tory MPs in the Houses of Parliament, I bet that was a barrel of laughs…

It was interesting, that gig. They brought me in and I started performing and they were just chatting. They came for the free booze and didn’t listen to my set. It wasn’t quite right. The people who set up the gig were nice but the fact it was Tory MPs was… I don’t know.

You’ve also voiced your anger at female band members being discredited

Yeah. I get that a lot on the American TV shows. There are lots of comment like ‘aw that guitarist isn’t good’ or ‘aw she’s really fit will she marry me’ or ‘aw she’s just a showpiece’. You wouldn’t say that if there was a fit guy in the band. People feel threatened because they’re used to seeing male band members, its a confusing and pointless argument. I think I get the most angry. I’m enjoying myself, I don’t really care.

If anything, saying we got the job because we’re women is a shame.

What do you think about the recent scandal with MattyBRaps?

I was really disappointed. It just turned out to be a publicity stunt. I was so frustrated with that. I thought he had actually been grounded and that it was genuinely hilarious. Whoever is behind his marketing is a genius because I was sold, I thought he was never coming back. I heard the song he did, it wasn’t the most artistic I’ve ever heard. I thought his rapping was uncomfortable. A white, rich, privileged boy rapping is just really weird with some seven year old girl drinking from a fountain makes it worse. It’s really weird that.

Who are you listening to at the moment?

All sorts. Scors who are opening for us tonight are very good. MFDoom, I like them. Sufjan Stevens. I always listen to a lot of Bowie and the Beatles too.

Sound of 2017 is coming up soon, who do you want to see on there?

Maybe like The Lemon Twigs. Theyve come out with one song and a b-side and they’re very good. I saw them playing in Amsterdam at a festival and it was really cool and vintage sound. I just got into them recently.

Words // Dean Eastmond
Images // Ben McQuaide for HISKIND