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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, May 27, 2024

WEEKENDER: Declan McKenna, The Beaches, Juice talk Boston Calling and building a sound

The Daily spoke with three of the performers from Boston Calling’s 2023 festival.

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The entrance to Boston Calling music festival is pictured.

Boston Calling, one of the country’s largest metropolitan music festivals, returned for its twelfth edition from May 26-28. The festival, held only a short Red Line ride away from Tufts’ campus at the Harvard Athletic Complex, offered a jam-packed weekend for all music lovers. Headlining the festival were the Foo Fighters, the Lumineers and Paramore. Outside of headliners, a wide array of artists performed from Niall Horan to the Dropkick Murphys to the Flaming Lips to 070 Shake and more. 

While attending the festival, the Daily had the opportunity to speak with attending artists Declan McKenna, The Beaches and Juice. 

McKenna, the English singer-songwriter who blew up following his self-released debut single, “Brazil” (2015), and performed May 27 at Boston Calling, shared insights into his upcoming third album and songwriting process.

A hallmark of McKenna’s past music, especially his second album “Zeros” (2020), is continuing in the tradition of classic British protest rock.

“I think it was just before recorded music got a little more rigid in the '80s,” McKenna said of the era that offered him musical inspiration. “[Before the '80s] it was all about capturing an energy and a feeling and a vibe in a room.”

McKenna, however, never wants to be pigeonholed to one sound as a main influence.

I don’t know if my music will always kind of reflect those [earlier British rock] influences in the same way,” McKenna said. “But whatever way I’m approaching music I really want to keep that human element.”

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Courtesy Vibha Kamath

Declan McKenna is pictured during an interview with Tufts Daily arts editor Matthew Winkler.

His upcoming third album will feature a different approach to music making than “Zeros.”

When I release the next album, which is kind of almost done now, it’s not really in that style in the same way ‘Zeros’ aesthetically kind of has that vintage influence,” McKenna said. “I just like to start fresh each time, approach the album process differently. I did an album that was very much written and then recorded with a band in a studio in a couple of weeks. That’s a cool way to approach an album, but this time I’ve kind of captured like a raw energy but just in a different way, a more digital approach. Every step of the process is part of the recording. … There’s a slightly more digital sound, but I’m still kind of trying to retain that looseness to it. The influences are slightly more modern psychedelic music even than the last album.”

McKenna cited artists such as Connan Mockasin, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Dora Jar and Gorillaz as his current influences. That being said, while pushing forward with new influences, McKenna still stays true to his roots.

There’s stuff that’s more electronic that I have worked on that’s not made the album that feels like maybe a future project,” McKenna said. “But the stuff that’s on the album still wound up quite guitar-based.”

McKenna’s upcoming album is being produced by Luca Buccallati, a composer and producer who has worked with Lana Del Rey, The Marías, Arlo Parks and Biig Piig.

I really like Luca,” McKenna said. “I went out to L.A. at the start of last year with loads and loads of ideas and things floating around, but not 100% clear on how I was going to make my album. And then once we started hanging out and working together, it just kind of clicked. … It felt like the stuff that had been floating in the ether for a while was actually making a lot more sense. He just got it and was really into what I was already doing and added his own sort of flavors in a really nice, natural way.”

Performing on the opening day of the festival was the Canadian rock band The Beaches. Formed in Toronto in 2013, the Beaches is composed of Jordan Miller on lead vocals and bass, Kylie Miller on guitar, Leandra Earl on keyboard and guitar and Eliza Enman McDaniel on drums. They spoke with the Daily about their sophomore album, “Blame My Ex” (2023) which was released on Sept. 15.

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Courtesy Vibha Kamath

The Beaches are pictured during an interview with Tufts Daily arts editor Matthew Winkler.

“[The album] certainly evolved,” Jordan said. “We started writing it around COVID-time and then I went through a breakup. The album evolved obviously with the breakup songs we were writing, because they were just so powerful and earnest and soulful, and also kind of funny. It’s been fairly interesting processing how your writing has changed after a kind of a bummy period after COVID where you’re really bored and going into a period of self discovery and heartbreak.”

A peek into these breakup songs can be seen with their single, “Blame Brett,” (2023) which soon became their most streamed single on Spotify and was one of many highlights of their performance at the festival.

Performing these tracks live can often differ greatly from how they were recorded.

Specifically, as a singer, when you’re recording vocals, you really want to give the most honest sort of reflection of your voice,” Jordan said. “When you’re on stage, the song is no longer for you or about you, it’s about the audience. So you can put aside any personal qualms you might have with the lyrics, and make it a performance for the audience. But you can’t do that when you’re recording. When you’re recording, it really has to come from inside you.”

With “Blame My Ex,” The Beaches promise the sound that their fans have come to love, while also experimenting with new ideas.

The record definitely has a couple different feels to it. We’re really excited about that,” Earl said. “We were referenced a lot by like new wave and ‘80s stuff, so it’s a little bit of a departure for us. But we have been a band for a very long time so it’s really important to try and keep it interesting and shape shift for each record that you do to help keep everything fun.”

The Beaches will soon visit the Crystal Ballroom at Somerville Theatre on Oct. 18.

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Courtesy Vibha Kamath

Declan McKenna is pictured performing at Boston Calling.

For the last day of Boston Calling, the band Juice opened the festival. Consisting of Ben Stevens on lead vocals, Christian Rose on violin and vocals, Kamau Burton on acoustic guitar and vocals, Daniel Moss on guitar, Rami El-Abidin on bass and Miles Cylatt on drums, the story of Juice will sound familiar to fans of student bands at Tufts. Formed in 2013 at Boston College, Juice won Boston College’s “Battle of the Bands” and performed regularly in Boston and New York City before releasing a self-titled EP in 2016. 

The details of how the band got together bears striking similarities to the formation of Tufts band Fease.

First, we all got into BC, there was like an accepted students Facebook page and Christian posted a video of himself subtly flexing playing the violin really f—— good, so I DM’d him and I was like, ‘Yo, we should jam at school,’” Cylatt said. “The first session of Juice was just me, Dan and Christian, just jamming. But Dan was my roommate and we met Christian, and then Ben was on our floor. Kamau was in my music class, and Christians orientation group. We all just randomly knew each other around campus.”

For aspiring bands at Tufts, the members of Juice had a few words of advice.

It’s just a matter of trying things out,” Stevens said. “I think what we’ve been good about, though it’s been hard sometimes, is we allow people to express themselves. That’s sort of a core tenet of our band, is that everyone has equal representation, equal creative input.”

Do your best to be you and then, obviously, work really hard,” Rose said.

Make sure everyone in the band is having fun,” Cylatt said. “If everyone’s having fun, then you want to keep doing it. And you got to play shows off-campus. … If you can just get all your friends from college to come to a show off-campus, then booker’s will respect the fact you can sell tickets, and then it snowballs. That’s what we did.”