PHOTO CREDIT: @citizenkanewayne
The track, British Bombs, is available via:
London, U.K./Nashville U.S.A.
Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited
19th August, 2019
MAYBE this contradicts what I was saying yesterday…
but I am reviewing an artist whose latest single is quite serious. He is a great songwriter but, whilst I was writing about music being less fun these days, I am not necessarily referring to artists like Declan McKenna. One cannot deny there is a seriousness to his work that seems timely and urgent. I shall come to his latest single in a bit but, before moving on, I want to talk about artists who are mobilising and writing about subjects with gravitas; whether these more political songs resonate with politicians or the public; upcoming artists where there is a pressure to release a new album; relocating to Nashville and why there is something for everyone in that city; why artists like McKenna have a long future ahead; if artists like him will define and mould the sound of 2020 – I will see where McKenna is going and what might lie in his future. I am going to bring in a few interview snippets here and there to illustrate my points but, right now, I want to discuss this year’s music and the fact so many artists are writing about the world around them. I did just write a feature regarding the lack of fun in modern music and, whilst that is completely true, maybe artists feel like there is too much happening that needs some rather pressing attention. Consider global warming, conflict and political divisions and the fact that, really, people charged with looking after things are not doing their bit. Declan McKenna is someone who mixes a sort of curiosity, romance and enigma with something more accessible. Maybe it is down to his influences or upbringing but he manages to splice something quite nostalgic and classic with music that is very of-the-time. When speaking about his debut album in 2017 , What Do You Think About the Car?, McKenna was asked about his songwriting and the sort of themes he is tackling.
PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali
It sort of shows that, even from the start, McKenna was activated and inspired by politics – and he alludes to some of his influences:
“That actually brings me on to my next question, because I was going to ask you which artists have been most prominent for you?
Jeff Buckley is everyone’s musician, but also more importantly he’s a musician’s musician. All musicians are inspired by Jeff Buckley, and it’s the same with David Bowie who is probably one of my biggest influences in music. The Beatles too, who I love. I guess these days some more modern bands are St Vincent, TV On The Radio, Sufjan Stevens.
So, what theme - political, cultural or otherwise - would you like to take on next?
I don’t know… there’s so much going on! There’s just so much to write about that now I feel like I have the problem of choosing something. I feel like I need to write a song about George Osborne because he’s such a prick! Maybe something more English this time round, because I tend to write about events that have happened in other countries and I haven’t done anything about home politics yet. There’s obviously a lot of stuff going on at the minute with that, you know, Corbyn and Cameron giving it large”.
It is amazing to think of everything that has happened this year and how the world is changing. You know McKenna sees all of this and it makes an impression on him. I shall move on to another subject in a bit but it is pretty impressive that an artist like McKenna has this conscientiousness and wants to tackle bigger issues. So many modern artists talk about themselves or do something pretty commercial. McKenna could have written about relationships and made a very ordinary song: instead, British Bombs seems very eye-opening and it is a song that definitely has a distinct McKenna stamp on it!
I understand why artists are discussing politics and the fact there is this sense of anger and dislocation. I can only imagine how someone like Declan McKenna feels about the world he is living in. I shall set aside my truck regarding a lack of hopeful and pumping music nowadays and, as there is so much s*it hitting the fan, it is understandable a lot of this friction and concern makes its way into music. I think it can be hard to talk about politics and the realities of the world in music because, not only do you have to stray away from the commercial – which is always a risk – but you need those messages to connect with the listener. Talking about love and heartache is relatable because we have all experienced it in some form. Compare a more commercial artist like, say, Taylor Swift, and then stand her alongside Declan McKenna or someone like IDLES and The Murder Capital. These are artists who are more concerned with the wider world than they are their heart and personal life. British Bombs is an interesting song and one that steps away from Brexit and a lot of subjects artists are tackling at the moment. I shall quote from this DORK interview more later but, when discussing the inspiration behind British Bombs, McKenna had this to say:
“The song came was partially inspired by a conversation I had with my friend. A really smart, well-read guy. He was talking to me and saying, "Our country has been at war the whole time we've been alive." I was like, "Really?" He was like, "There's not been a time in our lives when England has not been at war. Modern war is different, and we're not faced with the consequences." That planted the seed, really. When you think about it, it's very much true, and it's something we're aware of in some way. It still doesn't feel real. It feels wrong.
It's such a big thing, the distance between where we are in England to where war is happening to which we're contributing. I didn't want them to be separate things because I think in the modern world everything is connected. It's important to link things together and attach responsibility”.
I feel artists are in a tricky position at the minute. Many want to write something that is deeper and gets people thinking but I wonder whether most of us are switched on and responsive. It is always hard to tell but think about modern youth and whether they are as political and connected as generations past. I think the young are concerned about the planet but they are faced with all these technological distractions; we have fake news and celebrity culture that seems to dominate life. Politicians are never truthful and clear and, when it comes to things like warfare and needless destruction, who do we trust and listen to? The news purports the truth and facts but I think musicians can bring these themes to life in a more accessible and powerful way. Not that they are dumbing-down the harsh realities but they can translate something like British attacks on other nations into songs that stay in the head and, once you have listened, make you think about that in a wider sense; you get motivated and you actual combine that curiosity with some research and news-watching – that’s what I reckon, anyway! I see bands like IDLES and Fontaines D.C. conquering; songwriters like Anna Calvi discussing big topics and bringing passion to the plate but I wonder whether people are singing the songs because the tune has a hook or whether they relate to the words and it speaks to them. Everyone is different but I feel artists can get through and make their voices heard. As I say…that is hard when we have so much on social media and we all are looking to escapes from the brutality and darkness that seems ever-present. Rather than hide our heads away, it is crucial we know about what is happening because we all have to live with it and it is good to be educated. I think, because of artists like Declan McKenna, we are better educated and informed as music lovers than we were a few years back. I think McKenna and co. can be proud because their words are hitting the mark – so many people will take their songs to heart and be compelled to fight for change.
PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali
I have briefly mentioned McKenna’s debut album, What Do You Think About the Car?, and the fact that it was pretty popular. It is a sharp and fantastic debut and one that was very different to a lot of music out in 2017. Although it is only a couple of years since that album came out, there are people clambering for a follow-up. I have been a bit unfair when it comes to someone like McKenna. Whilst most of his peers discuss politics and protest with a world-weariness and sense of anger, McKenna can bring something more sunny and alive to the plate. You can hear elements of ABBA, David Bowie and The Beatles at his more elliptical and bright. That does not dampen and distill the potency of his messages: rather, you attach yourself to the songs more readily because there is a warmer mood but, when you listen, you are still hit by the physicality and urgency. When an artist comes along and gets tongues wagging, naturally, there is this excitement and, even before the dust has settled on one album, the media asks when new material is coming along – keen as they are to have another taste and get more of the same. Maybe this puts pressure on the shoulders and I wonder whether McKenna was being pushed to keep recording in 2017 when he would have wanted to tour and, at times, have a bit of a rest. I shall allude to this more in a bit but, returning to the DORK interview, and McKenna was asked about his time away and what we can expect from his upcoming album:
“Hey Declan! So, you've been away for ages. Tell us what you've been up to?
It hasn't felt as long as it's been. I guess it's been over two years now since the last record. It's gone really quickly, especially this last year working on the album. I don't know where time is going. It's all systems go right now, and we're looking forward to getting stuff out there with 'British Bombs'. It feels really new and like a step in the right direction.
How's the album recording going? Is there any gossip you can give us?
There's probably tons of gossip! The process has been going on for ages, but I pretty much had the album written before the start of this year. There have been one or two tunes that have come about since, but if you asked me at the start of the year if I was ready to record an album, I would've said yes. We've just been waiting for the right time to do what I want to do. I'm out in Nashville recording. It's amazing; we're having the best time. I've got the whole band here with me as well. That's the big difference from the first record that I have the full live band. It's all about energy. It's a different record, and I've definitely tried to progress. It feels like a natural progression. It's a little bit away from what I'd define as indie. It's a little bit insane”.
I do wonder whether we need to let young artists breathe a little and stop putting expectation on their shoulders. It has only been two years since McKenna brought an album to us and, after touring and promoting his debut, he wouldn’t have had a lot of time to think about another record and putting material together. The way one promotes an album and operates is a lot more intense than it was in the past so I wonder whether the industry takes into consideration the pressures on mental-health and whether they think of artists’ wellbeing. McKenna seems level-headed and okay but I do feel it is unfair people are sort of pressing him for another album – maybe it is natural and it is just an excitement and sense of anticipation. He is a wonderful artists and I can understand why people are eager to hear more from him. There are few artists who write protest songs; fewer who can write about them without being overly-serious and oppressive.
PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali
I would not imagine McKenna moving to Nashville. I think he is just recording there at the moment but, who knows…he might fancy the place and want to set up camp there for the foreseeable future. I can appreciate how attractive and alluring the place is. I do think people assume Nashville is all Country and there is no other music being played. On the contrary: Nashville is a bubbling and eclectic landscape that is housing artists from every corner of the musical map. I can only envisage the sort of buzz and excitement walking around the city and, especially at night, the sort of music going down. There is a big community there and it will be interesting to see whether that affects McKenna’s sound. On his debut, McKenna wrote about everything from transgender suicide (Paracetamol) to politics (Isombard) and there was this real grit mixed with something a bit more tuneful. I do not expect McKenna to go more ‘Nashville’ regarding themes but it will be interesting to see whether his surroundings influence new songs. With so much going on in the news, one can imagine he will not stray too far from politics and subjects like climate change and division in Britain. Maybe, given the fact McKenna has changed a lot as a person since his debut, he will discuss the ensuing couple of years and how that has affected him. Before I introduce a final topic, I will bring in an interview McKenna gave to DIY – they asked him how Nashville was faring and why British Bombs has a unique edge:
“Hey Declan! How’s Nashville treating you then?
It’s been really cool, I’ve really fallen in love with it. It seems like one of my favourite places in America actually. I really like it here and have been enjoying recording, it’s been relaxed but super-hot as well. I’ve got my whole band out here and we’ve been having a really great time making a record. It feels like such a tried-and-tested thing coming to Nashville and making an album. It’s funny because I’ve spent the last six months just twiddling my thumbs waiting to record this thing and figure out where I’m actually going to do it. Now I’m here it’s all systems go and we’ve made some great progress. It’s all come quite naturally.
All of the proceeds go to charity from this single, where do you see those funds going?
I want to see them help people who are impacted by what I’m talking about. I think it’s important to be as engaged as possible and if there is something there that can help people then that’s brilliant. Ultimately that’s what it’s all about and if I’m not attempting that then I don’t think I’m doing it right. It’s a simple as that really. I think war and the sales of arms around the world is such a big thing that we don’t even see the impact of. So hopefully we can help some people that have been affected by these issues”.
I think McKenna has a very golden future because he has struck a rare balance. There are some great and vital solo songwriters around right now – from Little Simz and Anna Calvi through to Sam Fender – who are boldly exposing big themes and using music as a platform to educate, illuminate and awaken. So many of these artists, understandably, bring a degree of anger and force to the mix. I can appreciate one need to do this in order to make the words resonate but I think McKenna’s more accessible vibe is effective as hell. He can still create the same sort of gravity and alarm but there is more musicality; the music goes deeper and stays with you longer. Maybe he is not creating old-school bangers and a new House classic but, in a music landscape where there is very little fun and joy, he is at least doing something few are doing: getting involved with politics and meatier subjects but able to let his musical hair down at the same time. Not only is McKenna an intelligent and impassioned artist, but he is fascinating in interviews. I would like to know more about his childhood and when music came into his life; more about his earliest memories and when he started to get involved with politics. Maybe interviews have covered that previously but I think there is a lot to learn from McKenna. He does seem like this ready-made star who has a lot more to say. Nashville seems to agree with him and it will be intriguing to see what he comes up with in terms of album-two.
There is a vibrating, intense start to British Bombs that is definitely raw and hard-hitting but there is something almost filmic about it. I guess the sound is meant to simulate bombs and planes in the sky and one is instantly gripped and fascinated. Just as you think the song is going to be an IDLES like yell-fest (which is no bad things), you get stomp, rhythm and something pretty catchy. McKenna has always put out songs that combine real and striking lyrics together with music that gets you moving and has a bit of wiggle! You need to watch the video for British Bombs because it is charming, funny and original. McKenna’s voice is firm and pressing but the lyrics are wonderfully British and archaic. McKenna talks about “great snakes” and “good gravy” – some distinctly old-fashioned exclamations that, I guess, are meant to take us back to the First and Second World War and the fact we have not evolved since then; we are living in a time where we have to experience bombing and needless destruction. McKenna’s baby brother has a gas mask on - and one definitely gets affected by the weight and importance of the song. It is a track that could have been made during the 1940s – in terms of its themes and visions – so it makes it more shocking when something like this arrives nearly seventy years down the tracks! There is chant and melody in the chorus but, as we are roused to an extent, listen to the lyrics and how we are not learning lessons. We are dropping bombs on Yemen and politicians are lying to us. It is not really clear why we are dropping bombs (maybe there is no reason) but the sheer insanity of it all is getting McKenna riled. I do love the fact there is that blend of bonhomie and energy together with some really powerful and stirring words. One cannot ignore the brilliance of the video but you will picture your own scenes and these planes flying over countries.
It seems insane we are running these campaigns of violence at a time when the world needs to come together. Maybe we have got into a headspace where we always need to attack and be vigilant. Not knowing the full truth, one can never tell whether all the attacks are justified and what the agenda is. Can we say, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this atrocity will end? I do not think there is an end in sight but, with artists like Declan McKenna raising awareness, we are all more informed and can call for an end. McKenna talks about the dead and how sorry we’ll be (even though we carry on); the fact we are creating landslides but seem content to continue; we are reading lies and propaganda in The Daily Mail and we are keen to cause as much carnage as possible. Of course, politicians tell one side of the story and that does not always relate to fact and transparency – how much of this baloney do we buy? McKenna makes reference to money and the fact that might be motivation for the bombings. Are our leaders more compelled by greed and profit than they are human lives and the innocent? That might be naïve of me but it seems like that is the reason we are occupying nations and causing such heartache. Listen too British Bombs and you cannot help but absorb what McKenna is saying and ask questions. There is almost a sense of kick and dance to the song which is a nice balance against the anger and sense of defeat in the lyrics. McKenna never hectors and sloganeers: instead, he is richer with his language and his wordplay is incredible. He manages to mix sarcasm and irony with humour and pathos to tremendous effect. I had to listen to British Bombs a few times because it kept spitting up new ideas and visions. If you have not experienced the song, then go and do so – complete with its memorable video!
PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali
I do think that McKenna will have a lot of years ahead. He has recently played in Nashville and, when another album comes out, there will be fresh demands. I asked whether McKenna might be tempted to stay in Nashville, even if for a little while after the album has been finished. I am seeing a lot of artists move over there because they feel there are more opportunities and the environment is more stimulating and interesting. I can definitely see the attraction but one feels McKenna’s heart is in the U.K. and he will want to return to London pretty soon. I think, as we look to 2020, music will continue to evolve but I feel politics will be an important part of the conversation. Things are getting no rosier and clearer so, with that in mind, artists are compelled to have their say and call for change. McKenna struck me on his debut because of the maturity and real emotion behind his songs. So many young artists go in safe with love and relationship songs and it can seem a little boring and limited! When you release an album that has some fairly hefty lyrics and songs in there, it shows more fortitude and imagination. I shall wrap things up in a second but I do think McKenna will have a storming 2020. It is a year whose name literally relates to perfect sight and clarity – I wonder whether leaders around the world will stop bring so short-sighted and make some improvements. Keep a track with McKenna – his social media links are down below – because he is shaping up to release a sophomore album. British Bombs might relate to a distinctly British problem but, really, it is about other nations forcing violence on other countries; the fact few of us have experienced peace and times when there wasn’t needless violence. That sound staggering but I wonder whether this is normal. How many of us have seen a day when there has been calm around the world? I do think our Government needs to do more and they are not doing enough. Let’s wrap things up but, with McKenna back on the scene, many are excited to follow his steps. He is an original and hugely exciting artist who, if he does release an album before the year’s end, might drop one of the biggest albums so far. Whenever that record does arrive, you know it will be…
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PHOTO CREDIT: @mrollieali
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