In a pre-festival calm, we caught up with Declan McKenna, who is gearing up to grace the Heaps Good stage.
Heaps Good Festival is making waves down under, expanding its reach for the 2023/2024 New Year period. After a triumphant debut in Adelaide, the festival is set to rock Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Sandstone Point, and its hometown, Adelaide Showground.
The lineup is nothing short of epic, promising a heaps good time with headliners like Flume, The Avalanches, Holly Humbertsone, SBTRKT, Basement Jaxx (DJ set), Griff, MAY-A, Logan more.
In a pre-festival calm, we caught up with Declan McKenna, one of the stellar acts gracing the stage.
We delved into his recent singles, upcoming album, and his excitement about bringing his music to Australia for the first time.
Declan shared insights into the creative process behind “What Happened to the Beach?” and teased a high-energy, diverse set for the Aussie audience.
As Heaps Good Festival gears up to unleash a sonic spectacle, Declan McKenna’s electrifying performance promises to be a highlight, with new tracks and an abundance of energy. It’s the perfect way to kick off the new year with a musical bang.
Scroll down for the full interview with Declan McKenna as we unravel the mysteries behind “What Happened to the Beach?” and dive into the artist’s evolving sound and influences.
Happy: Heya, congrats on your recent singles, and forthcoming album.
Declan: Thanks a lot. Appreciate it!
Happy: What are you up to today?
Declan: I’ve just been doing a little bit of admin and I’ve been preparing a bit for my friend’s Christmas show.
They’re called Soft Launch, and who are yet to actually launch their music properly, but they are great.
Last year they did a Christmas show here in Brighton, so we’re doing a few Christmas songs.
Happy: Tell us a little about where you are from, what’s the scene like?
Declan: I live in Brighton and the scene is pretty good. It’s a very small and intimate place, but there are a lot of musicians, a lot of artists, a lot of young people down here, and it’s just nice.
It’s very relaxed and not too intense, but there’s still a nice music scene going on, kind of collaborative in a very natural way. It’s cool, bands like Soft Launch are just coming up now and there is a lot of other music coming out of here too.
But I’m actually from a place called Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, which doesn’t have so much of a scene, but we’re working on it year on year. It’s a bit less lively, but you know, it’s got its chance.
Happy: How does it feel to be bringing your music to Australia for the first time, especially as part of such a diverse lineup with artists like Flume, Foals, and The Avalanches?
Declan: Yeah, really exciting. I’ve just kind of wanted to get out that way for a long time, so it’s going to be really special.
It’s going to be different spending that time of year, the start of the year, New Years and everything out in New Zealand and Australia because I’ve never done anything like that really.
I’m really looking forward to the shows. I think it’s going to be a good vibe and the band’s pretty well rehearsed for it.
Happy: Are there any Australian artists or musical influences that have inspired your work, and are you looking forward to exploring the local music scene while you are in the country?
Declan: The Avalanches is the one that comes to mind because I've known their music for a long, long time, I really like their music videos as well. I’m always kind of bringing them up when I’m working on music videos, they are great.
I love, love Stella Donnelly, saw her at Green Man Festival not long ago. There are obvious ones that I’ve seen several times as well like King Gizzard saw them at Green Man at the same time, and Tame Impala.
A lot of Australian music makes its way over here, I think a lot of stuff is quite popular over here. Excited to see what the festivals are saying and the whole sort of gig culture.
I kind of get the impression that it’s going to be not a million miles away from what it’s like over here, which is good because I think the UK is one of the best for live gigs, just from the impression I have from the Australian people that I know and the sort of musicculture out there, I feel like there’s going to be a kind of similar vibe, so I’m very excited!
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Happy: With your upcoming album, ‘What Happened to the Beach?’ releasing in February, can you share some insights into the creative process and the themes that listeners can expect?
Declan: Yeah, it’s quite different really. I think it’s probably the most intimate album of mine.
The sounds are very direct and it’s been produced in a way that I think it still feels, and has a lot of digital elements, but is still quite organic and very direct.
I think that’s kind of what people can expect, something that feels modern in a lot of ways, but also very raw and has a certain looseness to it. It’s very different from the other records I’ve made.
I’m really excited about it because it feels like I’ve just been learning and learning as I’ve gone through this sort of journey the last few years, and it’s been great to really express things that maybe I haven’t been able to before. So yeah, it’s different. It’s a good vibe.
The themes are not totally positive, but just generally quite groovy and vibe oriented and I feel really excited about that because I’ve kind of maybe relied more on just setting a nice tone and a nice feeling as opposed to honing in on specific lyrics and stories.
Happy: The albums title, ‘What Happened to the Beach?’ is intriguing. Could you elaborate on the meaning behind it and how it ties into the overall concept of the album?
Declan: It’s a lyric from one of the songs on the album, the first song actually. I really like the sense of mystery and the album was made in places by the Beach. I live in Brighton by the sea, but also worked in Los Angeles on it with Luca Butchellati the producer for the album. So it just kind of seemed to make sense.
I thought of so many ideas and when the album felt so sort of immediate and free flowing, I liked that it was kind of based around going with ideas in the heat of the moment and I feel like the title kind of matched that and gave it a sense of mystery.
Made a whole lot of sense really.
Happy: What can Australian audiences expect from your live performances at Heaps Good Festival, the show at Fortitude Musical Hall in Brisbane and your headlining shows in Sydney, Melbourne & Perth? Are there any surprises or special elements planned for these shows?
Declan: I have a lot of new music to play, which will be cool, but otherwise, just very high energy and I think everything’s kind of tuned into this new record.
There’s quite a new sound going on, but it’s the first time playing out there, we’re gonna try and play a really broad set list that kind of captures as much as we can of the whole thing. I’m sure these people have been waiting a long time to see us.
We’re just gonna come with a lot of energy. It’s a short tour as well, so I think we’ll kind of be able to keep that up throughout and just try and give this new energy, but also give everyone who’s been waiting what they’ve been missing while we’ve been touring Europe and America for years.
Happy: Your music often incorporates a variety of genres and influences. How have your musical tastes evolved since your debut?
Declan: I feel like I’m still into a lot of similar stuff, but I feel my perception on what my music is has changed. I’ve relaxed into my role as a musician and I am just so open to what I create, I try to have the energy of my younger self making music and try to not overthink things, because I think that sometimes makes music really special.
Happy: Every album has its challenges. Were there any specific challenges you faced during the creation of ‘What Happened to the Beach?’ and how did you overcome them?
Declan: I had too many songs and too many ideas at the start of it. Working with Luca Butchellati, who ended up producing the album really helped because he had his own sort of ideas with the album and was able to zero in on stuff that could work together.
There are still some songs that I’d like to go back to, that I think are in a really good place that we worked up to a good point. The creation of the album, actually finishing and the feeling while I was making it was really about zeroing in on what I was doing, accepting that it was gonna be kind of different.
Just being able to be comfortable leaning into what I was feeling, what I felt like I needed to make at the time. I think it’s really nice, it’s given this energy of freedom to have a release of it being something like that. Those final stages were actually about relaxing and sort of letting things be.
Happy: Do you have a personal favourite track from the new album, and if so, what makes it special to you?
Declan: Honestly, I think my favourite is the first song, Wobble. I just love the guitar, the song was one of the first ones that felt in the realms of what the album has become, it felt like something new for me but something also very familiar, very in line with my tastes.
It has a sort of bittersweetness to it, which really sums up the whole record.
Happy: Beyond the Australian tour and the album release, what are your plans for the rest of 2023? Any other exciting shows, projects or collaborations in the pipeline?
Declan:Beyond coming to Australia and New Zealand I’m going home for Christmas and then after that it’s just going to be instantly into the album release. I’ve got some record store shows and all of that coming up, it’s going to be all go around it. Maybe Australia and New Zealand will be some sort of a break, haha!