We speak to Declan McKenna about their his new album What Do You Think About The Car?...
When 15-year-old Declan McKenna entered the Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition, the best he probably hoped for was to win the £5,000 prize and a slot at the festival. As it turned out, he ended up with not only that, but a management deal with music behemoths Q Prime (they of Foals, Snow Patrol, Metallica, Muse and so many more) and offers from over 40 record labels.
That meteoric rise has kept going, there have been a series of excellent singles, a trip to Brazil to make an acclaimed short film and a debut album produced by James Ford, the man who helped Arctic Monkeys make four of their five albums.
As his debut album What Do You Think About The Car? comes to shelves, we sat down with McKenna to find out all about the making the LP...
How did the experience of making an album compare to how you’d imagine it would be?
“It was very disjointed. I’d expected it to be a big block of recording, to commit to making an album, but it’s basically been on and off since I was 15, I didn’t know I was making an album at the start, it’s been a gradual build. I’d do two songs and then I’d go off on tour, then do that again. That’s made the album what it is, it’s given me time to work on the songs.”
You did the album with James Ford, not a producer many artists can call on for their debut album, how did that come about?
“I sent him a couple of demos. He’s worked with a few bands that my management look after so I came recommended, so to speak. He liked the demos and we got to work quite quickly. It was strange working with someone whose work I know so well, but I happened quickly so there wasn’t a lot of time to freak out about it.”
What’s he like to work with? He’s worked on some big, big records…
“He’s a very nice dude who's good at what he does. It’s that simple really.”
When it came to choosing the tracks for this album, were you conscious of making sure that you had tracks from right across your writing career? Or did you want to focus on the most recent tunes?
“There are only three tracks on the album that were written in the last year, all the others are older. I just want to get these songs out there so I can move on to the songs I’ve written recently, I’m ready to let go of a lot of these songs.”
Can you hear your development as a songwriter across the album?
“Definitely. As I’ve got older a lot more thought has gone into the songs. I’ve toured a lot and that’s really helped me define what I want from my songs and how I want to present myself as an artist. I’m much more conscious of what I’m doing now.”
Does the album have a lyrical theme that ties it together? Or is every song very separate?
“I think there’s a few songs that are quite close in theme, songs like ‘Make Me A Queen’ and ‘Humungous’, they’re pretty close. There’s a lot of confusion and me trying to make sense of the world. It is diverse though, I cover a lot of different things, which is good because a lot has happened to me in the time I’ve been writing over in my personal life.”
What kind of lyricist are you? Are you always writing things down? Or do you sit down once you’ve got a track ready to go?
“I’ve started trying to note things down, to be a bit more random and to try and come up with some interesting ideas for lyrics. You can get stuck into a routine of just writing to whatever melody you have and there’s no spark in that. I’m learning to pick lyrics out of conversation, to catch things for my songs.”
Who are some of your favourite lyricists?
“One of my big ones was Johnny Flynn. I saw him live when I was about 10 or 11 and he’s one of the first artists I can remember listening to and really enjoying the lyrics, getting past the music to something deeper. Then there’s David Bowie, Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley, I’d say those were the big ones.”
When did you settle on the album title?
“It’s a weird joke inside within my family, it comes from this home video, I didn’t want to overthink the album title, I know it seems quite obscure, but it was the obvious choice to me, it connects me to where I came from.”
Finally, you mention you’re writing again, are you looking to get the second album locked in as soon as you can?
“Absolutely. I don’t want to start touring without having new tunes to work on. I want to spend a long time with my new songs and come up with songs that are slightly more interesting in how they’re structured. I’ve got a few to be getting on with..."