It’s not unusual to hear soccer (or, rather, football) helped launch a musical career; FIFA’s coveted video game soundtracks have introduced many up-and-coming artists, including introducing electronic duo Disclosure.
Declan McKenna’s story is a bit different. His hit song “Brazil” attacks the destructive effects of FIFA World Cup on the 2014 host country and its people. Rather than championing the association, the catchy hook and guitar riff rallied against its failure to address the extensive poverty affecting Brazil’s population.
McKenna will be performing for the first time in Boston this week, so we took a moment to hear more about his past and his plans. Read on to hear about the songwriting focus for his upcoming album, listen to the band’s pre-show playlist, and discover his favorite ride at the Mall of America.
KB: How was the songwriting and recording process changed now that you’ve been signed to Columbia? Is there anything you’re trying to make sure to retain from your existing process?
DM: Not much really, I’m not too precious over any kind of process, I think I’m a better songwriter than I was before I got signed, and I think I’m maybe a bit quicker at it, but that’s just because it’s been like a year and a half since then. I just go with whatever sounds good, as vague as it may be.
KB: Please describe your sound without using genre names.
DM: Lemon drizzle.
KB: I’ve read that your upcoming material will be mix of guitar and synth based tracks: half “Brazil,” half “Paracetamol.” Can you tell us more about the themes you plan on including and what our readers can expect from your new material?
DM: Something like that, I’ve found a nice middle ground with most the tracks but I’ve tried to just focus on the songwriting over instrumentation on this record, I feel like a lot of the time it can be easy to get caught up in a sound or genre, when really what matters more than consistency is just, straight up good songs. So hopefully I’ll just be able to put out a couple of those.
KB: In an interview with Loose Cardigan of Ideas you described your pre-show ritual, which includes listening to your drummer’s playlist of four funk/RnB tracks. What are those four tracks?
and (my personal favorite) “Zillionaire,” by NAO
KB: I wanted to ask about the title of “Paracetamol,” because that stands out to me as a particularly British song name. I’ve only heard people call acetaminophen “paracetamol” in England; here in the States we usually say Tylenol. Can you tell me more about how you came up with that title? The song itself tells a story that’s much more complex than a pill we use to relieve headaches.
DM: The song was primarily inspired by a story I heard about a child who’d committed suicide, after pressure from her parents to undergo transgender conversion therapy, the idea of using the lyric paracetamol was a way of comparing the belief that someone can be cured from who they are, via therapy, to an everyday painkiller. It’s as ridiculous as it is heartbreaking.
KB: While we’re on the topic of songs, I noticed all of your song titles are one word. Was this a deliberate choice?
DM: No, my next single has 6 words in the title, just the way the cookie has (as of yet) crumbled, I guess.
KB: Your songs span a couple of years of your lifetime–will the upcoming album continue to draw from past unreleased work, or are you focusing on creating completely new songs?
DM: Most of the album has come from the past year, just because I think I’m writing more songs that I like. But there are two tracks from when I was 15 and so on—it gives a broad span of my life so far, which is cool.
KB: I’m curious to hear how the “Brazil” album art came about. Can you tell me the story behind it?
DM: I just needed some cheap artwork, messed around with some colours on Pixlr, voila.
KB: Any interesting stories from your tour of the US so far? Anything that you’re looking to do while you’re here, or has the schedule been too hectic for tourism?
DM: It’s been pretty hectic so far, but I’m excited for a lot of the places we’re going, there’s a couple places I’ve never been to before so I’m up for it, we did visit the Mall of America in Minnesota about an hour after getting through the airport which was pretty fun; the SpongeBob ride is ace. That’s just about the closest to tourism we’ve got, still early days for this tour though!