The boy from ‘Brazil’ is coming good as Declan McKenna takes charge

Declan McKenna
Declan McKenna
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It’s been a busy couple of years for singer-songwriter Declan McKenna.

Since winning Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent competition in April 2015, he’s signed to Columbia Records, been picked up by one of the world’s biggest music management companies, Q Prime, toured relentlessly and released a run of critically-acclaimed singles.

His songs touch on weighty themes from high level football corruption (Brazil), to transgender teenagers (Paracetamol) and right-wing media and police brutality (Isombard), but their content is offset by the fact that they’re all wrapped in catchy tunes that have seen him gain legions of fans across the globe.

And yet Declan only turned 18 on Christmas Eve last year.

Given his age, and his obvious intelligence, does he ever feel he’s being patronised?

‘All the time, he laughs.

‘I don’t think you can get away from it. There are all sorts of subtle, patronising things, whether it’s in interviews, or comments on videos, or whatever.’

The Guide is suitably chastened.

‘I can never get my head around some of the points made about age. It happens though, I’ve always been subjected to it.’

Since turning 18 though, he can at least enjoy touring a bit more.

I get some odd comparisons, I very rarely agree with them: “Next Ed Sheeran”, “Next Jake Bugg”, just any English boy with a guitar, really

Declan McKenna

‘I can actually go out after the gigs now, which is nice. Before I had no option but to go back to the hotel. Now I can experience a bit more of the city where I’m playing.

‘A lot of the time you get into cities during the day before a gig and time is spent finding food and soundchecking, so you’ve only really got the night to do that, but before a certain age the nightlife is a little... dull.’

With five singles and two EPs under his belt in the past two years, interest in his debut album has been growing. And it sounds as if the wait may nearly be over.

‘We’ve got a release date,’ he says before a yawning chasm of a pause, ‘but I’m not allowed to tell anyone yet. We’ll be announcing it soon.

‘It is finished. It’s pretty cool, I kind of didn’t notice it happen, it was like: “Oh, I’ve made a full album now”,’ he giggles.

‘It’s such a strange process, it almost didn’t feel like I was making an album. It’s really exciting to have an album rather than just a couple of songs – especially in terms of the live set, so there aren’t a couple of awkward minutes where we play a song that nobody knows!’

He says 10 of the 11 songs on the album were ‘written 100 per cent by me’ with only one a co-write.

And what can we expect in terms of the songs’ subject matter?

‘There’s all sorts on there. I think most of the songs touch on some kind of political theme, but I think each song is a certain point in my life over the past two years.

‘There’s a lot of combined themes in the songs - some of them touch on my personal life and that stuff that’s around me all the time.’

Given he’s a young man with a guitar, the inevitable comparisons have also been made.

‘I get some odd comparisons, I very rarely agree with them: “Next Ed Sheeran”, “Next Jake Bugg”, just any English boy with a guitar, really. I struggle trying to read that - where does that come from? But it’s fine.’

And how has he found it in among the major labels and some seriously heavy-duty management?

‘To be managed by the same people as Foals, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and all that, it’s cool.

‘I feel like I’m in good hands. It’s not the kind of scary music business-type management that you might expect a young person to get – which is another patronising thing I get: “Oh, the label have taken control of him, he’s too naive to understand the music industry”. But I haven’t had that, I have a very good, supportive team,

‘It’s a good collaborative effort to allow me to do as well as I can do. I like taking creative decisions, but there are things I couldn’t have done without them.’

The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

Wednesday, March 22