Interview: A Conversation with Declan McKenna

As soon as the doors to Manchester’s Gorilla open, the venue is flooded with teenagers intent on keeping their spot at the front for their idol to arrive. Their idol being a boy only a couple of years older than them: Declan McKenna. “I’m definitely not the best role model in the world” he tells me backstage before the show “It’s really encouraging seeing people say ‘your music inspires me, I want to do the same stuff as you’ but at the same time, I’m still the same as any other 18-year old who listens to my music”. That’s the thing with McKenna, despite his inexplicably wild and unexpected journey to this moment, he’s still as sincerely humble as you’d desire.


Since signing to Columbia two years ago, he’s been working harder than any other kid on the block. Non-stop touring, writing, recording, gigging, interviews and he only turned 18 a couple of months ago. But, in expectedly McKenna fashion he’s well aware of his position “In terms of mainstream pop and indie scenes, I think I’ve had a very fortunate couple of years, a very small number of 16-year olds sign to a major label. There’s a lot of people with the same attitudes and sorts of ideas that exist much more eloquently than I can express them, there’s other people who are good at voicing things but I just have that platform to do it”.


Despite eloquence he believes can easily be rivalled, the structure and lyrics of each of Declan McKenna’s tracks are key to why his fans love him, “I think, I guess I must have some knack for putting things into pop tunes, I suppose that’s my eloquence”. He’s not wrong, every one of his important pop tunes is accessible and relatable. Hundreds of 16 year olds sing along passionately with heartfelt enthusiasm to lyrics concerning issues of religion, poverty, being transgender and many more at his biggest gig to date in Manchester was incredible. The atmosphere was nothing but heart-warming and refreshing, a beacon of real hope for the future.


The future also holds the release of McKenna’s debut album ‘What Do You Think About The Car?’ out 21st July.  “It’s basically a clip from when I was 4 years old on a home video, we’d just got our new car and my sister was filming and was like “Deccccc what did you think about the new car? Do you like it?” and I said “I think it’s really good and now I’m going to sing my new album”.  The clip was discovered when the siblings were making a video for their Dad’s birthday and McKenna knew it had to be the title of his first album, “It’s like my first reference to having an album, it all just kind of fitted together. I also like the idea of it being a question, a lot of the songs are quite confused and come from a confused point in my life, there’s a lot of questions surrounding it”. 15-18 is the ultimate time of confusion in anyone’s life, let alone having “so much shit happen really quickly, you question a lot, that’s cool”.



He’s happy with the album and looking forward to the release “It’s a first album, I was never expecting to be able to dedicate loads of time in a fancy studio to it, obviously, I’d do it differently on the next record.” He’s not one to brag, but he has been on a non-stop journey of touring, recording and releasing music for the last two years, and it’s undoubtedly affected his debut – “It’s all been quite staggered. It adds to the confusion of it where there’s been lots of different recording sessions, but in the same way it’s just made it what it is and made it an album that I really like.”


Soon enough we get onto the topic of politics, McKenna is not one to shy away from such conversations, conversations that other 18-year olds would run for the hills to get away from. Is that just who he is? Or does he feel like it’s his duty as an artist with this platform? “I think it shouldn’t be a duty as much as it is, especially at the minute obviously with the election coming up. If the government benefitted from more young people registering to vote they would do something about it, but it’s left up to the artists and the influences to do it, because obviously a Tory government benefits from less young voters” he says assuredly “I am a young person who definitely wants better for a lot of people and I think that’s something that comes into a lot of the songwriting. I try and keep my ears open, keep reminding people to vote and reminding them to stay involved and know what’s happening to them locally and worldwide”.


For a mind so undoubtedly smart, keen and thoughtful we had to go in next with the hard-hitting question. Which does Declan McKenna prefer: politics or memes? He stares silently, so much that I did not grasp that this was the ultimate form of sarcasm. “Memes” he says blankly, as though he has never heard the word before. “MEMES! Memes are WAY better than politics – why would anyone think otherwise? Don’t register to vote, vote for Pepe!” he laughs “No seriously though, do register to vote and vote for Corbyn.” Good thing we all agree on that. We finish up talking about new music, and McKenna bigs up underground band Okudaxij and their album ‘Head’, “that’s the one that you want” he laughs going to a rendition of Grease’s ‘You’re The One That I Want’ “sorry that was Grease, I was in Grease when I was younger, well just a town hall production, pretty sure I wasn’t born when the actual one came out”.


We finish off with more revelations about Declan’s theatrical childhood roles as he gives a quick-fire answer to our final question – if there was one thing the whole world could know about Declan McKenna, what would it be? “I played a snowflake in my reception school play”. Impressive stuff, I played some tinsel. “TINSEL?!” he exclaims “You played some tinsel? How can you PLAY tinsel? just like WOOOOOOOO” squealing flailing his arms around in hilarity. I may have been taken the piss out of, but at least we know that this young man has a lot of exciting things ahead of him, and we can’t wait to see how far he goes.

Photo: Matthew John Benton