Declan McKenna Interview Issue 2

“I haven’t played a game of football in months” Declan exclaims in horror as we both dodge the unbearable direct sunlight in both our rooms. “Everyone’s talking about wanting to be at gigs, there’s a severe lack of festivals and not being able to travel and being able to go to places.” With lockdown down 2.0 well under way, we both clearly have cabin fever as we recall the things we’ve missed the most since COVID-19 and how the tiredness of the situation is really kicking in.

One noticeable difference it seems, is the bizarre stability being in one place over the past months with touring on hold has brought. For Declan, the norm isn’t one of being cooped up in London with a schedule open for interpretation as he has found himself swinging from one country to the next with headline tours and festivals over the past 5 years.

“I’ve been getting used to working on the record being at home and having, you know, a sort of steady environment. I guess for myself, it’s something I haven’t been all that used to. Even when I’m at home, I’d be going away going into different places to work on things or to just go and visit friends. It’s been a year of missing out on a lot. It has felt that way. Everyone has had to miss out on things really. I’m finding especially with friends dotted all over the country at Uni it’s been quite a difficult time.”

With restrictions in place throughout summer, and no fields of mud in site, people packed away the tents and wellies for another year. The community aspect of festivals Declan tells me, is his favourite part of hitting the road over summer. “I’ve been able to connect with people all over with mutual goals, it’s one of the most valuable things I’ve taken away from it. There’s a whole load of people just like me, young and making music. You know, you only see each other maybe a couple times a year if that, but you have a very, very close bond to those who tour, that’s one of the things I’ve valued the most. I love festivals and being able to travel. I was just thinking the other day about when  walking around Shibuya at five in the morning because you can’t sleep trying to find vegetarian noodles which are actually very hard to find. Sh*t like that, I love it , it’s amazing. Just all of the random little things you do when you’re just kind of on a different completely different time. All those little moments really are amazingly special to me.”

On the subject of special momments I couldn’t help but bring up his appearance on The Late Late Show with James Cordon, which must have felt monumental. Pre-recording his performance of “Be An Astronaut” obviously wasn’t ideal but it carried just as real a punch as one of his incredible live performances .

“You know, I think doing things like this does take away a bit of what’s kind of special about doing things like that. It’s quite removed, you don’t really get the same, emotional value out of it. It can take away part of what’s kind of special about it, it doesn’t feel as real, the same as releasing an album in this time. You can see that people like it, you can see that it’s happened, but, you know, it doesn’t feel as as real when it is all kind of online or on zoom as it becomes in amongst all of the other things. But it was still amazing, you know, you have to think about it objectively and be like, I have just done James Corden is really good thing.

When you think about it, it’s obvious that the social restrictions brought on by the pandemic has had such a detrimental effect on performers. Getting that feedback, the raw reaction in the moment for people around us, is so integral to the creative process. Declan mentioned how initially the difference in experiencing that reaction solely online instead of physically at a live performance was incredibly frustrating and overwhelmingly sad. But he didn’t remain too downbeat for long as he tells us about the recording of a second album.

“It was fantastic. Really, it was so fun. I felt quite confident in the songs, and I’d spent a long time working on the writing. So I went with a fairly clear idea of what we’re going to do. There was a really good flow. Obviously, there’s a good creative spirit in Nashville, but also being around a lot of friends from touring, who live out there, alongside Jay who is really inspiring and very creative.” 

“The recording process was the complete opposite of what this year has felt like. Being present and really being in an inner space, not having many distractions and, you know, having those moments working on music and getting really into it. That’s what I am striving for most of the time. That sort of energy to be really present in.” 

It’s funny Declan mentioned this idea of presence. To me ‘Zeros’ has the presence of some of the greatest writers and performers of all time. The album brings our present together with previous eras of british Rock’n’Roll  in a renewed experience for listeners. The first time I heard one of my favourite tracks ‘Be An Astronaut’ I was catapulted to an out of body space previously inhabited by one of my all-time favourites Elton John. In four and a half short minutes it was suddenly possible to live a different time and world. 

“It came together from many parts. When I wrote it, I did imagine at least some of the elements and how the parts were going to come together. My original idea was that it was going to be more orchestral but wanted to kind of explore the studio rock before. It’s very, very much inspired by those greats like Elton John who I think is one of the greatest songwriters. Before going to Nashville I saw Rocket Man at the premiere and I loved it.

Just like Elton, Declan shows no fear in how he expresses himself. Over the past few years we’ve really watched him come out of his shell in how he expresses himself whether it be musically and through his fashion choices. Declan oozes comfortability when it comes to breaking gender norms but as he explains, it was something he always felt so clearly about.

“I think it’s something my kind of younger self sort of desired and wanted. To feel freer in the way I express myself with what I wear and the way I present myself. But I haven’t always been particularly confident in that. 

“It’s important to be expressive, when I’m performing, whether it’s wearing loads of glitter or channelling something darker like eyeliner. Having this sort of platform to do that and being able to be encouraged to do that is great. My view of gender and identity on the whole is that these things are always changing and the way we have them set out in the dictionary, per say, is not exactly how it feels or the reality of it, I suppose, it is something broader. If you’d asked me the same question a few years ago, I would have been startled and possibly a bit confused.”

“The whole movement includes a younger generation of people who are questioning and what is important, and what is real. The idea of a nation, the idea of money, the idea of gender. I think if you reject those, then there’s a much more open plane. That feels very freeing to be a part of.”

Being part of a generation, that is much more open and liberally minded than the ones before makes the chanes in societal attitudes even more apparent. Attitudes around the stigma of mental illness are changing at the fastest pace ever seen. In the past few years we have created a space that is more inclusive in our understanding and ideologies whilst providing platforms where we can educate one another and grow. Declan is no stranger to this topic having experienced his own hurdles throughout his life as well as feeling the burden that COVID has left on so many.

“My mental health is always changing and my perspective on it has been constantly reframing over the last couple of years now. There’s been really, really tough times, especially over the last year and touring the first album. It’s just hard to find, especially right now, a balance in life. You know, setting boundaries for work. When you do a job like mine people want to talk about it all the time, they don’t really necessarily respect boundaries, that can be challenging. I think a lot of friends of mine, and peers, have all sort of had a similar experience of it just being very hard to sort of find a balance with living.”

“I’ve been figuring out really over the last few years via partially therapy, partially through beginning to meditate. I’ve been learning  all the things that helped me and in turn learnt more about myself. Those first couple of years, when I was really in the music industry, I was very excited and I wasn’t necessarily thinking about a lot of things in that eventuality. It takes its toll when you don’t put your foot down on what is too much for you and what is fair on yourself. You can lose track of things that you do. That’s kind of reframed, the way I look at my own mental health. For me I just found normal life and things that I do that make me happy”

Throughout the interview with Declan I began to realise how the notion of ‘happiness’ has become redundant since the pandemic and how it is all too often a secondary notion in an increasingly busy, hustle orientated lives. Hearing Declan talk with such freedom about the times he has felt pure joy from the things he loves, many of them having to adapt of be placed on hold, I hope that post COVID we can truly find a better balance where our individual happiness can take poll position.

Words: Alice Gee

Andro Interview Issue 1

Just over three months into lockdown it still felt incredibly strange interacting and interviewing via webcam while I was waiting for Andro to join our Zoom meeting room, but we still both seemed to be very much looking forward to meeting each other even if it wasn’t in our usual style. As we began our chat it was hard not to ask how he had been keeping in Lockdown, after all “how are you coping?” has become the new “what have you been up to?” Which is when I learn, unlike myself, Andro has been staying completely on his own since March 23rd.  He is used too and quite comfortable spending time on his own he tells me, getting into his own element and writing as music as he can however like many of us when the 12 week mark was looming ever closer he staring thinking ‘how long is this going to go on for?’ 

“I’m actually feeling quite lonely because I can’t hug, touch or see my friends, also there’s that sense when you’re having that video call it kind of becomes an event and you’re spending more time on your devices but it kind of becomes even more apparent that you can’t see your friends or family in person. So even having video calls was quite draining.”

“By week 8 I started to wonder how long is this actually going to go on for. The idea of not being able to see my friends and my family had started to get to me. I think because of that everyone seems to be reflecting at the moment, but once I started to look internally I was starting to question my own skills and having a lot of self-doubt. I then realised I had a fear of failure and not because I don’t think that I’m going to achieve my dreams, but I think there was a sense of when I achieve them, will it then fail.” 

This feeling of pending failure is something I’m sure we can all relate to at the moment. The pandemic has put a lot of pressure on a lot of peoples career plans, it’s created a need for balance and stability in time where it has never been less avaliable. Trying to set and keep our own pace while the virus seems to be outrunning us can make it incredibly difficult to stay on top of our mental health. 

“I’ve been writing and recording when I can,  but the creative motivation has been stifled because of what we were talking about before. I guess I’ve also been trying to go on as many bike rides possible around the city which has been really beautiful because the city , which has gotten much busier now, but when it was very quiet, all the roads were empty and you saw a different part of London.” 

“I know there’s been this notion that whilst we are in the middle of a pandemic that especially us as creatives we shouldn’t need to write that next new amazing novel or write that new album and I totally understand that and it’s important not to put too much pressure on ourselves. But for me I was like this is the perfect time to get in the zone and write and produce.” 

Andro isn’t new to the music industry and the pressure creatives find to constantly create,  he started producing his own music from a young age living in Liverpool before moving to London to study and eventually joining Jungle as a vocalist and ever since bursting onto the scene in 2013 he has been part of their growing success. 

“I was training as an actor in London, once I graduated I joined Jungle. Right in the very early stages they’d only released about two songs. My friend asked me as I knew one of the other members who played the bass. They asked if I wanted to do backing vocals for this band and sent me the songs. I really liked them. Once we started, the dynamic was never really a few singers on a podium at the back dressed in black, like you can’t see us, it was never like that, we were very much at the forefront of Jungle’s brand from the get go”. 

Both Andro’s own solo music projects and Jungle have traces of the same influences ranging from soul to disco and put a-lot of emphasis in the overall aesthetic of their output which just as much focus being placed on the identity of artwork and video’s which allows him to mix his love of Music, Art and Fashion. 

“I’m going to start with what the problem is. I always think in terms of having a 10k budget (which never happens for me at the moment) that I always have these huge ideas but executing them isn’t always as easy, financially, as I would like. But a lot of the imagery you see in the video were just natural. It all just came naturally. Aesthetics are really important for me because fashion is an art form. I love it. Dance is also really important to me and just having an emotion, a mood and sometimes a narrative gives the visual and the building blocks to portray a message”. It’s this awareness and passion that gives the building blocks to ‘Lost Cause’. 

Being immersed in such creative industries from a young age,  he is more than aware of the struggles and stresses these worlds have on individuals mental health and all the other side effects that accompanies the low moments. He is a firm believer in supporting those who are suffering completely whilst also being very aware of how he uses the term “mental illness” and the damage being so flippant with that term and self diagnosis can be.  These are real illnesses not trends. 

“You have to be 100% committed to being there for that person because they need that. There are times where you have to put down whatever you’re doing and go and be there for that person. It’s absolutely imperative. So that’s one thing I’ve always held onto and tried to instil in other people. On the other hand in terms of the term mental health I started not saying and relating myself to it. If I was having an issue, I was not using the word mental health and using mental clarity instead. I felt people started to use it to flippantly when feeling perhaps not the full gravitas of those who have full mental health issues, so I think that’s another thing that could be addressed. I think people need to definitely be mindful of their mental health but not to always label it because some people use it in the wrong way as a joke for example.”

In our interview it was clearly important to Andro that management should be the focus of healing, finding habits and skills that help us manage those low moments are to him, the key to living. Having been alone in a corner for all of lockdown he highlighted the importance of pushing through the monotony that can come with the relying heavily on a structured routine.

“I realised that I’m not meditating which I always do and that really helps me. But I think it was the monotony of doing that every single day, the same movements and the same routine and I’ve always been like that, once I’m in routine I start to, I guess, get that sense of how routine stability starts to make me feel unstable.” 

“I feel like people roll their eyes whenever I say this but I really do think meditation is really important. That doesn’t mean sitting there with your hands like this *mimics a hand gesture* and chanting. There are so many ways of meditating and it’s just about connecting your mind to your body. I think another tip may be and I need to be careful when I say this, but don’t be afraid to indulge. There are some things that people just really love doing or eating and I think that’s important. Finally, I find sometimes it’s really hard to filter out thoughts but I think spoken word is really important, so saying kind things to yourself, being aware when you’re about to or have said bad things about yourself and what you say to others.” 

Words: Alice Gee

Photography: Betty Martin (Shot socially distanced)

Stylist: Sophie Bassett

Campaign: Alice Gee 

Ulysses Wells Interview Issue 2

Emerging artist Ulysses Wells deliciously combines element of blues, psychedilia, electronica and classic rock in his new EP “Can’t Take Much Longer”. We had the pleasure to interview Wells, where we discussed lockdown, sobriety, anxiety, his music and plans for the future. 

The most common question to ask in this current climate is “how is lockdown going”, as it has taken up such a huge chunk of everyone’s year. “Yeah the ‘coronacoaster’ is very much up and down. I have been really lucky I guess with the music thing. I have got my home studio, and it was tough. I think it’s not been easy for anyone all the way through.” But he was able to find a sembelence of balance during this mad time “I found it productive for me to sort of completely focus, the world sort of stopped. Things like having to get a bar job, or going in and teaching in schools just wasn’t there anymore. Which meant that for the first time in a long time I could completely focus on creating and writing which in a way was lovely.”

 Being inside all day for months on end can be tedious. And that loss of regular human interaction was the thing he found most difficult. “When you are cocooned in a tiny little room in London, you’re stuck in your own thoughts. Humans need humans and that’s very apparent to me. It didn’t come without its struggles, that’s for sure.”

British drinking culture took a nock when pubs and bars were forced to shut their doors. It provided a time for some to reflect on their relationship with alcohol and an opportunity to detox. Wells has overcome his own demons over the last few years, something we spoke about in depth. “I actually was sober not just because I had to, because I got ill as well. I think I just got sober and got into a rhythm of it, and quite enjoyed the sobriety. Now I drink responsibly, well sort of responsibly, responsibly as I can. It’s not an issue to me at the moment and I have my rules. I did have a few drinks over corona, but not an everyday drinker.”

“I think for the first few years I completely shut myself off, and my anxiety was completely out of control and I had to go to therapy. Nowadays there are some fantastic charities. My bass player in the band works for Tonic. They bring people with depression, or any kind of mental health problems, and bring them into a room together and they sing. It’s all  free and it is a fantastic charity, if people want to look into that he is based down in Portsmouth and does some fantastic work.”

We were keen to find out what got Wells into playing music. “Music was always my first love, since I was a kid. Music and dance are the only two things that you become completely present. When you are learning an instrument or throwing yourself around a dancefloor, they are brilliant for that. I think that was another thing I read when I was sober, about going to parties, everyone is dancing like idiots. That was the thing, to lose yourself and shake off your fears, and go for it for just a minute and see how you feel. Once you have crossed that barrier you can explore not being self-conscious.”

In early 2019 after the release of his first single ”Back with the people” Wells was called up to support Bastille on their UK tour. Going from a debute to playing Brixton Academy in the space of a week must have been pretty daunting. “I was sober throughout that whole tour, my anxiety was on a high but it was amazing, it was absolutely incredible. They’re nice guys that wanna help out, the industry needs that. There are a lot of sort of questionable people that wanna help, to put it politely. But yeah, It was a wicked experience.”

Wells’ new music dives into themes of mania, which were drawn from his own experiences. “I think I try to write as much as I can from my own experiences. People just listen to music whether it be in shops, cars, all the rest of it, so even if they don’t have to think about it, they usually do. I think I have definitely experienced the sort of maniacal love, or what you deem to be love. Then you get the blinkers on in certain situations, and I can just sort of go over and over the situation. And I think mindfulness and meditation has been fantastic for that, as it takes you out of your brain. When I’m in those states of madness I guess, or have spent too much time on my own and not had enough perspective, then I can put it into a song and probably what you are hearing.”

So, what are his plans for the next year? “Survive. I guess I am happy to write as much as I can and to try and take these three EP’s over the line and do the best that I can. Once all of this quietens down, the corona thing, I can make it live and enjoy getting back on stage again, and play some festivals. I can’t wait to get back out again and back out with the band. That’s my next thing, and focus on the important stuff.”

Words: Eloise Adger

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