DFW Music News

Declan McKenna Tells Us the Best and Worst Feedback on His New Album

Declan McKenna is only 19, but he's already catching up to Florence and the Machine and Ed Sheeran.
Declan McKenna is only 19, but he's already catching up to Florence and the Machine and Ed Sheeran. courtesy the artist
Declan McKenna plays Trees on Friday.
When he was just 16, Declan McKenna made a name for himself in 2015 with “Brazil,” a single he self-released on his YouTube channel. It’s a catchy tune that criticizes FIFA for hosting the World Cup in a poverty-ridden country. McKenna hopped on the festival circuit and won the Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition that year, catching the attention of major record labels. He eventually signed with Columbia.

Heady lyrics characterize the teen’s song catalogue, and over time, hits such as “Brazil," “Paracetamol,” “Isombard" and “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home” each have racked up millions of views on YouTube. 2017 was also a big year for McKenna. He released his first record, What Do You Think About The Car?, and received BBC Music’s Introducing Artist of the Year, an honor previously bestowed on Florence and the Machine and Ed Sheeran.

McKenna, now 19, recently embarked on a worldwide tour and is playing Trees on Friday, Feb. 2. We caught up with him via email while he’s traveling overseas.

Is this your first time in Dallas?
No, I came to Dallas with The Head and The Heart on tour in October 2016. It was a pretty fun show, it was around Halloween, and I dressed up as undead Declan and had some Trump toilet roll thrown at me. Definitely left a Dallas stamp in my memory.

What are you looking forward to about visiting Dallas or Texas?
I'm pretty excited for the shows, to be honest. They're gonna be our first headliners in Texas, so I think they're gonna be special. Along with that, I'm always impressed by the food in Texas, so that's something to look forward to also.

What's the reception like for your music in the U.S. versus overseas and in your native U.K.?
Good. We tend to have bigger shows back home, but the U.S. was the first country to take to my music in a big way, and we've had some of our most special shows out there. It's a big old place, and being able to tour it as much as I have so early on is a real treat.

"Someone played 'Brazil' for Liam Gallagher [of Oasis] and he said, 'Nah, not for me.' When asked if there was anything in particular he didn't like, he responded, 'None of it, all of it.'" — Declan McKenna

tweet this
What's the feedback been like on your album? Favorite and least favorite comments about it?
Mostly positive. I was actually super surprised how many great reviews it got when it first came out, even though I do try and avoid reading into reviews too much. I think my favorite and least favorite comments are pretty much the same. Someone played “Brazil” for Liam Gallagher [of Oasis], and he said, "Nah, not for me." When asked if there was anything in particular he didn't like, he responded, "None of it, all of it." Not quite an album review, but a very memorable and special moment.

You’re the youngest celebrity musician I’ve interviewed. What's it like to tour the world at such a young age?
It's pretty exciting. There's obviously a lot of pressure and responsibility that comes with it that can be fairly overwhelming, but I enjoy playing shows and traveling. It can be tough trying to be full of energy every night and being really approachable and friendly when half the time you feel pretty rough and jaded, and then there's combining that with staying composed and level-headed. There's definitely a love-hate relationship I think a lot of bands have with touring.

How has fame changed your life? How do you deal with it?
I mean, when I'm out on tour — which is a fairly big part of my life — I just try and ignore it as much as I can. It hasn't really changed my day-to-day life massively; I just try and get on with life as I would. I try and keep my private life as private as possible and post less to the internet. There can be a level of intrusiveness I'm uncomfortable with, but that's just part of being a recording artist, I guess. In Supermensch, Shep Gordon says no level of fame has ever made anyone happy, and I think that's very much in my mindset now. It's about music, not fame.

How do you manage the schedule? I noticed you're performing three nights in a row with a day off in between.
Yeah, it's fairly busy. As cliché as it is, you just have to take each day as it comes and try and enjoy yourself. There's big highs and lows with heavy touring, but I'm ultimately lucky to be able to do it. You gotta get enough rest and drink good cups of tea.

You write very heady lyrics for someone of any age, but especially for someone writing in his teen years. Where did you get your perspective?
I mean, from all over the place. My perspective is a combination of everything I've learned from my life, family, friends, the internet, I guess. I don't think my worldview differs greatly from my close peers or family, but I guess perspective covers a lot of ground, so I can't expand much further than my social circles and life experience.

Where did your talent for and love of music come from?
It started at home, I think. I come from a pretty big and musical family, and I've always had music as part of my life as long as I can remember. I don't recall a time where I didn't consider music a big part of my life.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Declan McKenna, 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, Trees, 2709 Elm St., $16, treesdallas.com

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.