Interview: The astounding early days of Declan McKenna

The astounding early days of ​Declan McKenna

A politics pundit of the future or a breakout star? Either way, this teenager’s had the year of his life.

Not many musicians find themselves on Sky News within a few months of putting out music for the first time. It’s even more unthinkable to find them fielding questions from Adam Boulton about politics and the responsibilities of football’s governing body. But that’s just a glimpse into the last few months of Declan McKenna’s life. He’s gone from an unknown to the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition winner and one of the most sought-after new acts, in the space of half a year.

December saw McKenna self-releasing ‘Brazil’ on Bandcamp, booking a gig by himself and getting a venue to hire the place out for free. The song took on FIFA and its role in bringing football’s biggest prize to a poor country, without “doing anything for the communities,” he explains.

It was intended to be a quip on corruption. It’s since taken on a new life, being attached to the downfall of grubby money-grabber Sepp Blatter. Sky News invited the teenager on air to talk big issues, like he’d been studying football’s contrasting relationship with poverty as a hobby. “It’s expanding into things further than I ever meant it to. It’s quite cool, thinking about the monster I’ve made with that song. People take a lot of different things from it,” he says, backstage at a DIY Presents gig that meets the industry hype head-on. With just a loop pedal by his side, it’s clear there’s a long way to go for this newcomer, but the wheels are already turning quickly.

With the Glastonbury weekend, he was pitted in the exact opposite of a suit-filled Sky News studio. “Last year, I was at a small local festival and I shouted ‘Hello Glastonbury!’” he remembers. “I had no clue that next year I’d actually play it. It’s crazy… I couldn’t really believe my luck.”

Despite the rush of attention, McKenna is keen to go beyond ‘Brazil’ as soon as possible. That World Cup is long gone, there’s a Euros on the way which he might want to write about. Subjects are arriving from all sides when it comes to new material, he says. “It’s politics and what I see in the news, and it’s just general things I feel strongly about, things happening in my life,” he claims. “Even with this small amount of hype, even that’s crept into what I’m writing. I’m not restricted to one thing at the minute. ‘Brazil’ was a one-off in terms of football and politics coming together.” These next twelve months are a case of making sure his breakthrough single is more of a future caption than one-season wonder.

Declan McKenna plays the DIY Oslo stage at Mirrors London, Saturday 31st October. Get tickets here.

More like this

Two Door On Tour!

Two Door On Tour!

On the campaign trail for new album ‘False Alarm’, we join the Bangor trio as they traverse the UK for a series of sweaty club show stop-offs (and an altogether larger Glastonbury crowning)…