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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Declan McKenna’s long-awaited ‘Big Return’

declan
Declan McKenna is pictured.

English singer-songwriter Declan McKenna shocked producers and listeners alike with his overnight YouTube sensation “Brazil” — a hit single released ages ago now in 2014. The self-released song gained wide recognition for its criticism of FIFA and the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil. Ever since then, it marked McKenna as a voice of his generation. 

McKenna proved his artistic prowess with his debut studio album, “What Do You Think About the Car?” (2017). Emblematic of the British protest rock tradition, he tackled societal issues like governmental greed and trans rights with a bright and youthful sound. However, as an ever-evolving artist, McKenna has taken on new and more personal feats with his second album “Zeros” (2020). In just a few weeks, he will begin his second run of the Zeros tour, aptly named The Big Return. With over 50 dates covering most of North America, McKenna is back and better than ever.

The Daily recently got the opportunity to chat with McKenna about his upcoming tour, along with other things, like his musical process and thoughts on performing live.

According to McKenna, his second album came about in an entirely different way than his first. 

“The first album, I didn’t really think about, it just kind of happened. … Whereas, when I was working on the second album, it was the first project that I could think about as a whole,” McKenna said. “It just came out of wanting to capture the energy of certain, maybe older influences of mine in a new way, and just carrying the songs through the progressions and letting them move a lot more.”

Unsurprisingly, it is the act of trying new sounds and experimenting with new techniques that makes McKenna most comfortable. 

 “Over the years, with each project, I take on different influences and try and approach music in a slightly different way and keep it fresh and just see what comes of it. An album, as a project, always just becomes itself and you’re just trying out things,” McKenna said. “It’s just all been sort of trial and error over the years and me just trying to approach music in new ways and seeing what works. For the last album, I really wanted something big and energetic and full of stories. This ’60s, ’70s psychedelic live energy was a really important aspect of it as well.”

A variety of different influences developed his work on this second album. Ranging from hip hop to classic rock, McKenna drew inspiration from artists such as Dora Jar, JPEGMAFIA, Animal Collective, The Beach Boys and The Beatles. While their sounds are present in McKenna’s music, “Zeros” still maintains an entirely unique and new energy. Over the course of 10 songs, McKenna seamlessly transitions from the electronic to the symphonic to the acoustic. Yet, he skillfully maintains a cohesive lyrical narrative.

McKenna supports these sonic deviations: “I don’t know if it matters so much these days to stick to one sound. I just want to keep moving.”

Much of McKenna’s creative freedom is rooted in his ability to produce his own music. After lockdown, this home production quality has not only satisfied McKenna’s unique musical spirit but allowed for much more individual creativity. 

“I think sometimes when you get into music, like when I’m talking to people who are just trying to break into the music industry, they don’t realize how much they’re capable of,” McKenna said. “If I really think about this, and I really use my ears and just listen to what’s going on, I know what to fix when it’s wrong, or I know what’s good. You don’t need to go down the beaten track on everything, and you can just kind of follow a path that’s more suited to you and what you do naturally and how you’re naturally creative.” 

When speaking of a party he hosted in the studio one night, he recalled inviting his friends to play various instruments. Many had no idea what they were doing, but this way, he captured the raw, organic moments that contributed to the album’s musically diverse spirit.

“It all just adds to the energy of the tracks and making them just feel good. That’s kind of been the focus for making music for me now. It’s been like, does it feel good? It’s the most important thing,” McKenna said. 

In fact, this communal experience of music is crucial to McKenna. Much of the driving factor in the second album’s production was how it would be experienced live.

 “By the time we finished that album, we were almost rehearsed already for the tour. We knew the whole album back to front, and everyone had played on it and helped me develop these songs. So, it really was about the live aspect,” McKenna said. 

Bringing that energy to the stage is certainly important to McKenna. But in the same respect, he wants to match the energy of the crowd. His favorite songs to perform include high-energy jaunts like “British Bombs,” a single he released in 2019. However, he also enjoys the stranger, less lively tunes of the album like “Eventually, Darling” and “Emily.” He incorporates varying dynamics into his set, often changing the setlist if he feels moved to. This way, he keeps that characteristic ‘fresh’ quality alive and well. 

Look out for McKenna’s Big Return at a venue near you. On May 27, he will be performing at Boston Calling Music Festival — Boston’s very own Coachella. As he prepares for his extensive and busy summer, he wants his audiences to know one thing:

“It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be the best tour that anyone’s ever seen.”