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Best of 2017

Declan McKenna: "Toast has been a big thing for me this year"

2017 wouldn't have been 2017 without good old Deccers.
Published: 11:35 am, December 10, 2017
Declan McKenna: "Toast has been a big thing for me this year"
Coming to the end of a nearly non-stop series of shows since the release of his debut album, Declan McKenna can now take some time to reflect a little on all that's occurred in 2017.

Perching in a leather armchair placed in what appears to be one of KOKO Camden's finest broom-cupboards - the dressing room was occupied - Declan is contentedly bemused by his popularity-surge since the release of ‘What Do You Think About The Car?'. "Tonight's show was sold out in 12 hours. It was so strange, like I didn't realise that was going to happen when we put out the record. I didn't think anything would really change, but it definitely seemed to connect with a lot of people."

The loyalty of Declan's fans is undeniable: outside the venue, dozens of teenagers sporting dungarees (akin to those the singer dons in his music video for ‘The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home') and brightly-coloured hairstyles are already milling about on the steps, six hours before the show is due to start. "We do have a noticeably young fan-base that's very, very dedicated. A dilemma we've actually had at shows is that there's this younger, physically smaller demographic, and then there're also those who are about my age and upwards, the ‘laddish' demographic… but the mix of it all in the crowd can lead to a few people getting pulled out because of them passing out and stuff."

The focus of his live shows is to maintain the spontaneity so intrinsic to earlier, small-scale gigs, and to make that work on a larger-scale. "For this new tour, I wanted to do something a little more focused, but still not take away the kind of ‘raw' improvisations and energy. Now we've released the album the crowd knows all the songs, so we've had quite a bit more leeway with the setlist. We've had a lot of fun putting the set together and developing it over time."

Declan's played a mixture of festival sets and headline shows this year, many of which have sent him around the world and back again. "With touring you get to see loads of cool places you wouldn't get to see normally, and not necessarily places you'd go to on holiday - like Salt Lake City in Utah, or Osaka in Japan, and shit like that."

"It can take it out of you though. I'm kind of at the end of a weird virus I've had - that reminds me, I've got to take some antibiotics…"

So, it hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows. This has been particularly apparent during festival season - ironically enough. "Sometimes festivals are just the worst," he laughs. "Doing a headline tour you just fuck about all day, then it's like, ‘Ah right, we've got an hour to soundcheck'. But with festivals you've got about 20 minutes, and you're not even going on stage before the show because everyone's out there already.

"I remember one weekend we had three shows: Latitude, a festival in Norway then a festival in Spain, and there were like five different flights, with no sleep. It can be quite intense, but at the same time it can mean you have some of the best shows, just by chance."

Since his album dropped right in the middle of summer, playing festivals turned into the perfect way to gauge the overwhelmingly positive response to the record. "Playing at Latitude was really cool this year, it was the first really huge crowd we saw at a festival. I think that was the moment I first took it all in - it was like the week after we released the record - and there were just all these people there watching the show."

Declan has been inundated with praise from fans - along with other musicians, "Gary Lightbody said he liked it!" - since the ‘What Do You Think About The Car?'s release. Most of the songs on the album explore serious issues and injustices facing young people in society, some of which remain underreported by the media. As such, the album's important messages have understandably resonated with so many of his fans, "People just generally say ‘thank you' for the songs, and I'm always like, ‘Don't say thank you, just enjoy it!' You know, I'm so awkward. When I meet people, they'll open up to me, and it's actually quite difficult to take it all in because there's been so much positivity and I never really know what to say! It's just really great, and everything you can only hope for as an artist."

His first North American headline tour took place in August - a long time coming it would seem. "America was actually one of the first places to pick me up. It was the first place I got any airplay on the radio, way before the UK. ‘Brazil' got to number one on Sirius XM's Alt Nation before it got any sort of attention over here." Despite the enthusiasm coming out of the United States, logistically speaking it's been difficult to get over there and tour as often as in the UK. It does mean that the gigs that do take place across the pond are full to the brim. "We were playing to 500 people in New York, which is amazing since I rarely ever go there. To have seen that kind of response was cool."

The quintessentially British habit of ‘getting the drinks in' as a form of social lubrication - both at gigs or literally any other justifiable situation - meant that shows in the US had a slightly tamer feel to those in the UK. "The crowds are great. Obviously, it's a very different culture, especially with young people and their drinking culture - it's just so different. So it was a little bit more mellow. But yeah, the whole tour was just mindblowing."

With everything that's transpired in 2017, festivals at home and abroad, headline shows all over the UK and North America, plus the addition of a debut album release, there must have been some personal developments going on in between. "I think I understand myself a lot better, and I feel like now more than ever there's less pretending in life."

"It's not as though I was ever trying to be fake, but I was always - maybe last year and the year before - trying to be happy all the time. And you're not always happy. I think I've just learnt to be less of a Yes Man. For example, in interviews I might have just tried to agree with things - I'm talking mainly about interviews because that's how people see you, that's how you're presented, and I don't normally talk very seriously on social media. So yeah, being able to say ‘No' to things, I think that's a good development since last year."

What's been the biggest change since this time last year then? "I'm better at doing eyeliner. Slightly, ever so slightly. I wasn't very good at it, but I'm slightly better now."

The show taking place later on at KOKO marks the beginning of a ‘winding down' period; at least three months will be spent nailing down concepts and writing for the next album. "I think my next record is going to be very different; I certainly don't think it'll fall in that indie bracket anymore. From what I hear in what I've written now, it's slipping away a bit and becoming a little bit more like what I listen to, and I don't listen to much indie anymore.

"I'm definitely on a weird edge with music where I'm a lot more understanding of what I wanna do with my sound next. I've taken on lots of different influences, listening to a load of classic pop like ABBA and David Bowie, the sort of ‘Greats' - the kind of music I'd hear on the radio when I was younger and appreciated, but never properly listen to, because it's just so timeless. Classic pop, classic rock, that 70s era of music for some reason has been massively influential for me."

Thinking about the specific songs and artists that Declan believes will always remind him of 2017, he promptly supplies Superorganism's ‘Something for Your Mind'. "Actually, all the Superorganism songs - they've only put out about three songs - ‘Nobody Cares' as well is amazing. I think they're gonna be massive."

He muses again for a second, "…Oh! Mild High Club's ‘Homage', that's a really lovely song, I've been listening to that loads this year. Me and Will - the keys player - kept playing it again and again and again. It's got a Beatles-y timelessness to it. I'll definitely remember this time period when I hear that song because I've listened to it so much."

Taking a panoramic view of everything that's happened over the year, Declan offers up the three words that encompass 2017 for him. "Intense, exciting, and… toast."


"Yeah. I just fucking love toast. I've eaten so much bread this year. There's a toaster on the tour bus; we keep calling things ‘toast', me and Will have a little place called Toast that we go to. I don't know, like I'm actually being serious. Toast has been a big thing for me this year."

There it is then. When you say 2017, Declan says ‘toast'.

Taken from the December/January issue of Dork, out now.

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