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Declan McKenna on keeping creative while social distancing

Declan McKenna in Paris, February 2020. (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Jill Riley has been hopping on the phone to check in with various musicians across the globe. She recently made a call to London to catch up with singer-songwriter Declan McKenna. He gave some insight into the postponement of his upcoming record, Zeros, as well as how he has been spending his time while social distancing, and how he has been expressing his creativity despite any current restrictions.

Jill Riley: Declan, how are you?

Declan McKenna: I’m very well, thank you.

So how are you coping with the shutdown of the music industry and the pandemic forcing a lot of folks to stay home?

It’s strange. It’s strange for everyone. I had a very busy year planned, but there’s such a big picture involved in it and it’s hard to even think about that. I’m just kind of staying home until I’m told not to, and that’s kind of the long and short of it. I’m okay. I’m just taking this time for what it’s worth, and trying to just get some rest out of it, take it a little easy, and try not to think to much. It’s a good time to create, if anything. Just trying to take the positives where they are and take each day as it comes.

I know that you had to postpone the release of your new album, Zeros, until August 21. That’s got to be a little bit weird for you because that record will have been waiting for about a year. How do you feel about that part?

Oh, man. I recorded it in August, and I was supposed to release it in May. I was hoping to get it out before then, while I was recording, but these things end up taking up so much more time than you expect them to, even when the record’s done. It was a little bit gutting, initially, but it just doesn’t make sense to be releasing an album, for me, anyway, as someone who wants to play live shows and be able to do all that stuff. It just made no sense to be releasing an album in this. We have no idea what things are going to look like in a month’s time.

We were just talking about how you’re taking some time to be creative. There are things we can control. There are things going on with the music industry and with the pandemic that we can’t control. What are the things that you can control, right now, creatively and as a way to connect with your fans?

So many people are looking to share art with each other, and I think the internet has become such a nice space. There’s so many performances going on from artists every single day, and conversations happening. It’s nice to be able to talk frankly and directly with fans when a lot of the time, I don’t really get to do that, or I don’t really have the headspace or time. It’s nice to be able to sit down and not have much responsibility other than playing some tunes and chatting with people. There’s an opportunity to just enjoy that, and create these little communities within very strange space and strange time. I’ve been really enjoying that, the sort of community and connection that can be found even though we’re all sort of segregated.

You certainly got creative with a video that you shared for “Beautiful Faces” that’s about five different versions of yourself. 

My housemate, Luke, is a great film guy. When I was approached by the TV show that I recorded that for, I was thinking about just doing an acoustic thing, but then I was like, “We could make something a little more interesting.” Acoustic versions are fine. I’m generally never completely satisfied with them, so I wanted to make a more full version of the track, and I was like, “Well, I can play everything on this track.” I recorded this version, and we essentially assembled these five shots of me with the camera static so it could pick us all up, and we’re all separated and we can fit all the pieces together. It turned out really, really cool and we’ve had a lot of great reactions to it. Now there’s so much time to be had to put into things that maybe wouldn’t get so much attention, normally, or that would be a little more to the book. The times when you are restricted are when you come up with these ideas to do something a little bit more creatively. That can be the same as creating music. When you have too many instruments available to you, you can overdo it. Working around the restrictions has been really interesting.

I wrote [the song] in part about social media, and in part about technology and artificial intelligence and where I think that’s going. There’s a lot of fear in that, and insecurity that comes out of that, that I see in myself and my generation.

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