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Declan McKenna Talks Collaborating With Rostam, Writing During Lockdown and Returning to Live Shows After a “Very Intense Year”

Declan McKenna Interview
Declan Mckenna, photo by Reuben Bastienne-Lewis
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    Following the September 2020 release of his excellent sophomore album Zeros, singer-songwriter Declan McKenna has opted for a different approach. His latest track “My House,” which features Rostam on vocals, marks a new era for the 22 year-old musician — one that prioritizes intimate, direct, and immediate songwriting.

    Previously, McKenna has been heralded as one of the voices of his generation, writing incisive and conceptual protest songs about corruption, climate change, and, well, growing up. But throughout lockdown, McKenna was inspired to dive into production and turn inward, to reflect on his own life and create music that felt as authentic as possible.

    Furthermore, it seems that McKenna hasn’t quite lost the creative bug during the pandemic. Consequence spoke with Declan McKenna this week about the new track (out today, June 9th), what he’s been up to during lockdown, his return to touring, and more.


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    When did you write “My House,” and what was the recording process like?

    It came about in March of last year. It was this funny period where, even though everything was kind of going to shit, I really needed a break. Everything shut down and I had this all this time — I was like, “I’m at home, I can write songs again, l can do all this stuff that I just haven’t been able to do.” I was just in this place where I really wanted to flip what I had been working on before, since [sophomore album] Zeros was very band-heavy.

    With “My House,” I was really coming back to just wanting to produce stuff myself in my own space and getting more confident with production. So it was born out of that, and the sort of immediacy of it, and the feel-good nature of it, set a precedent for the music that I’ve been working on since, really. This sort of immediate and direct production, skipping the demoing process and going straight in. I finished it off later with Neil Comber, who’s a great producer I’ve worked with before, but most of the parts I recorded then, in one morning, pretty much, when I was at home.

    What’s the inspiration behind the song?

    It’s just a nice, feel-good track, and it felt like a nice thing to return to, especially since people might have been expecting something more serious. I just couldn’t handle more serious stuff — I’ve had a very intense year, as everyone has had, and I couldn’t go through promoting a new single that was super serious and super intense. It’s just a love song, and it’s also about the joys you can find when you’re on your own and coming to face your demons and monsters and all of that. And just finding a little bit of peace in there somewhere.

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    Do you feel that throughout the pandemic, your songwriting has been a little bit more intimate and personal?

    Yeah, I think to some extent, I really wanted that as well, just because I’ve grown in confidence. I’ve worked with a lot of great people over the last few years, and it’s helped me come out of my shell. The quirks of my production and my songwriting are there in the music and not taken out by a re-recording or by going in and doing stuff with my band, which was great for Zeros. But now I’ve just been getting kind of weird with it all and surprising myself, and just trying to experiment and have fun.

    This sort of directness and immediacy is in the way I write the lyrics, and the way I approach the parts as well — it’s just going for it and making something happen and worrying about whether it’s perfect later. I’ve been getting a lot of joy out of just saying the first thing that comes to my head, even if it’s a little silly, because I like contrasting what I’ve done before and jumping from a new place, surprising people and doing things in a way that people maybe aren’t used to me doing quite so much. I just wanted to approach it a little bit differently.

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    “My House” features Rostam on vocals, who also worked on a track for your first LP. What was it like working with him again?

    That was one of the last things to get added to the song — I sent him the track and got chatting to him again. He’s one of those people who I can always get a really honest opinion from. He’s so direct as a writer, and I really appreciate that. He was pretty blunt — he said, “It needs more vocals.” And I was like, “Have a go then.”

    [I got together] with some of my friends who were also on the track, and we all spent a day together doing these fun, group backing vocals to get that vibe going. And what Rostam sent over really surprised me. It actually never really fitted in the way I think he kind of intended, just because it builds so much space. [He] turned it into this really romantic-feeling thing. I was just kind of expecting him to do more of what I’d already done. But obviously, it’s Rostam. So he was never gonna do that [laughs].

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    Zeros came out last fall. What was it like releasing an album in the pandemic? Did it feel weird to put out a record and then not immediately go out and play 70 shows to support it?

    Yeah, it was weird. It was pretty saddening at times. A large part of that time just felt very, very intense and very, very difficult to know what I should be doing, and know where to find joy in all of it. I didn’t really have time to create or work with the band that much. And when I did, it was insanely intense — the amount we had to do in the short space of time that we could be together was very, very overwhelming. So it was all around really, really tough. The week where we put [the album] out, we got a great response. People were rooting for us and so excited about the songs, and we had so many good reviews, so I couldn’t say anything bad about all of that.

    But the process itself, as most musicians will say, was a weird time. I think everyone found it hard last year setting the goalposts, or setting the boundaries for what you can do and what you can achieve when you’re just stuck at home. Obviously, I love working and collaborating with people. That’s a huge part of promoting a record — going out and recording things with this person, or, playing a show to all these people…that kind of helps get you through it, but when it’s just you, you’re like, “Oh, am I recording another video of me playing today?” or like, “Am I making a TikTok?”

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    Fortunately, you’re playing some gigs this summer. How are you feeling about the prospect of getting back on the road?

    Yeah, a couple festival gigs. I’m so excited, things seem to be looking a bit more positive here. I do feel hopeful right now, because I think things are changing. Now we have so many people vaccinated. And as dull as those conversations are to have at this point, it does feel like that is a really big shift in where we [England] are at as a country, at the very least — obviously, the whole world still has a long way to go, but it does feel like there’s a bit of a return to normal on the cards for people like me that chose this for a living.

    And my band and my crew and everyone who’s been out of work for the past year and a half, that, at least on our part, is exciting and good to know that we’ve got at least one show soon and a whole plethora of shows afterwards, which look like they’re going ahead. So in fact, it feels good. It feels really, really good. Because we’ve been waiting to do this, and there’s only so long that everyone can kind of not be doing this.

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    When it comes to your performances and overall aesthetic, you do have a little bit of a flair for the dramatic. Have you ever thought about doing theater or writing a show?

    I’m actually writing songs for the theater right now! I can’t say what for, but I’ve been getting into a lot more co-writing and branching out in terms of writing. That’s been one of my new hobbies throughout lockdown — over Zoom, of course. So I’ve got some pretty exciting stuff coming up. I used to be obsessed with drama, acting and theater. I was into it, but I think I could never commit to it because I like having control. I think music is a way of doing that entirely and having it be completely your creative vision. I’m always interested in what’s going on in that world.

    I’m excited to find out if we’ll be getting Declan McKenna on the West End.

    There might be, or even maybe a song or two. I am seriously working on some theater!

    Is there more music in the pipeline, or will “My House” be a standalone single?

    I don’t know completely. I wanted to get a song out for the summer, particularly “My House,” just because it’s simple and it feels good. And it feels right to release it this summer as things sort of ease off. It feels like the right kind of energy that I’d like to be putting out into the world at this time. But I’ve got stuff that’s in the same world and I’ve got stuff that’s a bit different. I’m just writing and writing and writing. So I don’t really know how it’s all gonna come out, but I’d love to keep releasing music, because I keep making it.

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    After the UK and Europe tours, do you have any plans to play some shows in America?

    Yeah, we have plans for America next year. Probably sooner than people are expecting. So that will be revealed soon! I think it looks good, it looks hopeful. I’m buzzing because we literally haven’t played in America for four years. We played one show in Nashville when we were recording our album there. Literally not since 2018 have we toured in America! We’ve never played a headline show in LA. We’ve never played a big room in New York City. When we last toured America, we did about 50 shows and we did all the little towns. And it was great, but next time, we’ll come back and we’ll play to 2000 people in LA. I am excited to get back out!

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