Tackling issues such as the FIFA corruption scandal and speaking out for transgender teens through music is no small feat. Doing so all before the age of 18 is remarkable, but not impossible. Just ask Declan McKenna, the 17-year-old British singer-songwriter who has done both in addition to winning the 2015 Emerging Talent Competition at Glastonbury. B-Sides met up with Declan in between shows at SXSW to check in with him about his first trip to America and his upcoming debut album.
How are you liking Austin?
It’s great. It’s my first time in America. I was in Tampa, then I went to Atlanta, and then I came here. It’s been really different, it’s been really hot.
You’ve been traveling a lot, have you had any free time while in Austin?
I had one day off here, but I kind of slept through it.
What do you think of SXSW?
It’s awesome. It’s not like anything I’ve ever been to before. I don’t know, it’s just full of fun stuff. It’s crowded and busy, but it’s cool.
It sounds like your schedule is pretty hectic. When you do get some free time, how do you like to spend it?
When I’m home I like to spend as much time with people my own age as possible. I’m not going to school anymore and my friends going to school get to see each other everyday. I kind of lack time with people my own age, so it’s good to hang out with them and hang out with my family. I just try to enjoy myself, I think that’s the most important thing.
What is life on tour like for you?
It’s mad. It depends on what I’m doing, it’s different everyday. I never really know what I’m doing each day. It’s fun just going with the flow and enjoying it.
What have been your favorite shows to play at?
At SXSW, I played a really great show the other day at The Yard. My favorite one I ever played, I did a headline show at Camden Barfly in London. That was cool because it was my first sold out show and it was with my band. Also with Foals at the Paris Olympia that was huge, really cool as well.
If you could pick a venue or festival to play at, where would you want to do a show?
I’m excited to play in New York. I’ve never even been there before. Anywhere exotic I guess, because most of the places I play are pretty cold. It would be nice to play somewhere hot for once.
You take on a lot of big societal issues through your music. What is a current cause or issue you feel very strong about?
Well the “Paracetamol” video I just released kind of discusses the topic of transgender. That’s something that I feel like is not not talked about. It’s misrepresented I think and a lot of people don’t understand it. There’s just a lot of misconceptions. It’s quite difficult for a lot of people to understand especially if they don’t have friends who are LGBT. So I guess that’s the topic that I’ve kind of been thinking about recently.
You have so much to say, but do you ever feel like it is not taken as seriously because of your age?
I think there are big misconceptions that young people aren’t intelligent, but there are some people my age who I think are some of the wisest people I know. I feel like music or TV or films aimed at people my age are kind of dumbed down. It’s not really aimed at people my age like me and my friends who want to be represented well or want to be able to speak for ourselves rather than be spoken for. I feel like that’s important. It’s just frustrating when you’re trying to say something and it’s not really listened to.
Is there a particular sound or theme that can be expected on your upcoming debut?
It’s actually too early for me to tell because I’ve only recorded a couple of songs. I’ve been really busy so this summer I was hoping to record it. It’s going to be eclectic in its sound. I haven’t really picked a sound and I’m cool with that.
Do you get inspiration from other artists?
People are like, ‘oh are you inspired by Jake Bugg?’ And I’m like, ‘no we both like Bob Dylan (Laughs).’ It’s just one of those things. People will do it and I do it sometimes.
What would be your all-time favorite song?
There’s so many. Maybe “Impossible Soul” by Sufjan Stevens? I don’t know it’s like this 22 minute song I can listen to the whole way through. It’s just brilliant and every time you listen to it you hear new things in it because it’s so long. That album is like one of my favorites of all time. I think it’s cool because Sufjan Stevens kind of looks into every little sound and he’ll completely engineer his own thing that no one has ever done before. It’s just crazy but awesome at the same time.
Stay up to date with Declan for more news on his upcoming debut through Facebook and Twitter, and follow his journey on tour through Instagram. Check out the videos for the gripping singles “Brazil” and “Paracetamol” below!