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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Rising artist Declan McKenna discusses upcoming tour and advice for students pursuing music careers

Declan McKenna sat down with The Hustler and revealed Nashville’s influence on his recent album, “The Big Return Tour” and what fans can expect next.
Portrait of Declan McKenna on a city street. (Photo courtesy of QPrime)

Alternative indie-pop singer Declan McKenna has recently been rising in the music industry, and his top songs receive millions of streams. If you ever see me walking around campus wearing headphones, I am probably listening to his songs “Brazil” or “The Key to Life on Earth.” Several fans discovered McKenna after “Brazil” went viral on TikTok, and many have continued to support his second album, “Zeros.”

The British singer will be coming back to North America on his “The Big Return Tour.” With over 50 dates, McKenna will perform in major cities across the U.S., including Nashville on July 30 at the Brooklyn Bowl. McKenna reflected on how he wants to direct this tour compared to “The Zeros Tour,” which was held last year. 

“[I want to] have more of a sense of freedom and take it back to more of a gig than a show,” McKenna said. “The idea for me is just to maybe let it kind of grow as it goes on and let it be almost more organic as a show than what we’ve been doing for a while and just get up there and vibe it out.”

This summer won’t be McKenna’s first time in Nashville. In fact, the “Zeros” album was made in Music City in late 2019. 

“I’m really excited to come back; we love it there,” McKenna said. 

“Zeros” was inspired by the energy of Cage the Elephant’s “Melophobia” album, which matched McKenna’s interest in producing an album that combined an old-school and lively vibe. To achieve this goal, McKenna reached out to Jay Joyce, an American producer who worked on “Melophobia,” and set out to Joyce’s studio in Nashville to develop the album.

Declan McKenna’s “Zeros” album artwork. (Photo courtesy of QPrime)
Declan McKenna’s “Zeros” album artwork. (Photo courtesy of QPrime) (QPrime)

McKenna described his creative process for his upcoming album as very different from what he did for “Zeros” and hinted it will have influence from bedroom music.

“I just really like to make the album in a new environment or in a new way every time,” McKenna said. “Each time, I want to approach the process differently and learn new things. I found [that], working on my own project under my own name, the best thing to do is keep it fresh and keep moving.” 

McKenna explained how he is constantly inspired by the guitar heroes of the modern era. He also spoke of St. Vincent, who he saw live at Green Man Festival in Wales when he was 16.  

“I’m a huge St. Vincent fan, so I’d love to work with her one day,” McKenna said. “Seeing guitar in [a] modern context being front and center in a show like that is just really cool.” 

Speaking of collaboration hopes, on his tour, McKenna will be performing with other accomplished artists, like the Oracle Sisters and Allie Buckley; Eli Smart will join him in Nashville. Buckley and McKenna have both contributed to each others’ upcoming music. 

“I’m so delighted about the artists I’m bringing on the American Tour because [they’re] some of my favorites really,” McKenna said. “I always get to bring my friends on tour these days, and that’s just a really nice thing like when you love the music of the people involved.”

Portrait of Declan McKenna with plants. (Photo courtesy of Riley Donahue)
Portrait of Declan McKenna with plants. (Photo courtesy of Riley Donahue) (Riley Donahue)

Although the “Zeros” album was abstract and carried a lighter vibe, McKenna also sometimes produces songs that carry political messages. He reflected on using music as an outlet when writing pieces that are more direct, such as his first album and the single “British Bombs.” 

“All of the moments where I came up with those ideas [were] really where I couldn’t think about anything else and I turned to music,” McKenna said. “There’s a power of harvesting your emotions.” 

Music has always been an outlet for thoughts and emotions for McKenna. “British Bombs” was developed at a moment of frustration, and it ended up being one of his top hits.

“Lean into your emotions and harvest them when the time comes,” McKenna advised budding artists.

Finally, McKenna gave tips for college students interested in pursuing music careers; ironically, one of which was to not pay attention to most advice.

“Believe in yourself and double down on your own process of what’s unique to you,” McKenna said. “I think one of the most important things is to not take too much advice…You often find your own way of doing things that is a lot more interesting than doing things ‘the right way.’”

Speaking to aspiring artists, McKenna emphasized the importance of recognizing and building on one’s natural talents. Although the singer has worked in studios, he finds that immersing himself in a comfortable environment helps him produce his best work. 

“A lot of the time that’s going back to the roots, just jamming on a guitar or sitting in the bedroom playing on a keyboard. That’s really where the magic happens,” McKenna said.

Along with more shows, fans can expect more music very soon from McKenna. 

“I feel like I’m just planning to go [forward] once I get to America. It’s gonna be music and everything,” McKenna said. “Hopefully [I’ll be] able to say more about that soon.”

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About the Contributor
Nikita Rohila, Deputy Social Media Director
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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