Declan McKenna on Hertfordshire, masculinity and 'living the dream'

Declan McKenna: "There's a great buzz in Hertfordshire"

Declan McKenna: "There's a great buzz in Hertfordshire" - Credit: Giulia Spadafora/Chuffed Digital X Zero Twenty

Is Declan McKenna living the dream?

"I think so," the playlist-topping glam-rock singer-songwriter from Cheshunt said.

"As much as anyone is. It's tough at the moment, but at least I'm finding the space and time to create, which is what I love to do in music."

The 23-year-old has been doing the rounds on the 2022 festival circuit - at Glastonbury, Tramlines, Standon Calling - after the success of his 2020 album Zeros, which peaked at number two on the Official Albums Chart.

His first studio album, What do you think about the car? (2017), peaked at number 11 in the same chart and "Brazil", which is featured on the album, has surged in popularity since it went viral on TikTok this year.

McKenna's 2017 album takes its name from a home video from his childhood, when one of his five older siblings asked him what he thought about his family's new eight-seater car.

Declan McKenna at TRNSMT in Glasgow, 2021

Declan McKenna at TRNSMT in Glasgow, 2021 - Credit: Lesley Martin/PA

"That video and the words What do you think about the car? had been in my head for a long time," he explained.

"It shows how long I'd been thinking about producing an album."

McKenna now lives in Brighton, East Sussex, but he grew up in Hertfordshire for 20 years before making the move.

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He said: "I don't know where the music scene in Hertfordshire is going.

"I found it really hard to start my career here - it was London that did it, really.

"There were little scenes in Hertfordshire, but it lacked a certain unity.

"But we've always pulled through. Someone always creeps out of Hertfordshire somehow - Victoria Beckham, Sam Smith, George Ezra.

"There's a great buzz here."

Declan McKenna is a storyteller.

His 2015 release "Paracetamol" is written from the point of view of an "ambiguous authoritative figure talking about somebody they are oppressing, in a sort of disconnected tabloid speak", McKenna explained in a 2017 Guardian blog post.

The song is inspired by the death of trans teenager Leelah Alcorn, from Ohio in the US, in 2014. Leelah was subjected to "Christian therapies" and left a note on her Tumblr page after her suicide: "Fix society, please".

McKenna's "The Key to Life on Earth" (2020) takes aim at "happy go xenophobe locals" and "scrounging rich kids" who live on his home turf without putting in the hours at Sainsbury's or Brookfield Park (a shopping centre in Cheshunt).

Declan McKenna performs Standon Calling 2022 - one of several festivals to feature the Cheshunt singer, including Glastonbury

Declan McKenna performs Standon Calling 2022 - one of several festivals to feature the Cheshunt singer-songwriter, including Tramlines and Glastonbury - Credit: Giulia Spadafora/Chuffed Digital X Zero Twenty

Hertfordshire-themed visuals during Declan McKenna's Standon Calling 2022 set

Hertfordshire-themed visuals during Declan McKenna's Standon Calling 2022 set - Credit: Will Durrant

On "The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home" (2017), McKenna said: "We played in Paris the same night as the attacks on the Bataclan in 2015.

"That song sort-of came out of that and the frustration that - in so many different ways - violence is a big threat all over the world.

"The 2015 Bataclan attack was at a turning point in the age of the internet when people started talking about these different things.

"At the time, 'The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home' felt like a new way of talking about issues."

He said over the past seven years since the song was written, conversations on the internet and in tabloid media have become less "aimless" and more pointed.

Declan McKenna performing a Radio One set in 2017

Declan McKenna performing a Radio One set in 2017 - Credit: David Jensen/PA

McKenna added that he enjoys acting against "power dynamics which don't make sense" in his music and at his shows.

He said: "Masculinity is so loosely defined.

"I'm very comfortable presenting myself in whichever way I'm feeling.

"I want people to watch my shows and feel the same way - I love to see expression.

"Having a career in music, the loud and stylish Declan has its place, and I can be chilled outside of that.

"At gigs, people expect me in glitter and sometimes I just turn up in shorts and a t-shirt - because that's how I'm feeling.

"If I'm sad, wearing black on stage can bring that out. I can be creative in that moment and be comfortable in myself.

"Shifting and changing is a great thing."