When you wait for so long for something, the moment it arrives can be an emotional and confusing time! We’re sure TRNSMT is going to be brilliant, but for fans and performers, it’s going to be a massive moment as we all move forward. It should be a great time, but don’t forget to catch your breath…and that’s as true for performers as it is for punters.
One of the most hotly anticipated sets, on a day of maximum rock n roll, comes from Declan Welsh & The Decadent West. SNACK caught up with Declan Welsh to talk patter, changing lives, and what the best song on the That’s Why I Love You Mum Volume 22 compilation album is. Also, check out the SNACK website for the extended interview.
TRNSMT is looming and you play on the Saturday. How do you feel about it?
It’s going to be a bit surreal. We toured extensively before lockdown and I did gigs on my own. I was doing three gigs a week, going on for about five years. So to go from that, to almost two years of nothing, and then into the biggest gig I’ve ever played…It’s exciting, but it’s going to be quite strange.
I wish it had come about at a time after we had toured for six months. However, there’s no better way of getting back into it than Saturday night at TRNSMT, I suppose.
My patter has gone completely, which you might see by the end of this interview! We played a gig at Glasgow Green for the Euros Fanzone, and I thought to myself: I am talking utter shite here! It’ll be fine. We’ve been rehearsing constantly for three months, so we’ll be good, it’s just getting your head around it.
Will you get a chance to see any other acts on the Saturday?
I’m gutted we are on at the same time as Primal Scream. That is a shame as I’ve seen them at Electric Fields, and I thought they were amazing. They’re a great live band, and we’ll check out Liam Gallagher.
There are loads of pals’ bands on earlier during the day as well. The good thing about TRNSMT is that everything is so close, you can take a walk between the stages, and if something sounds good, you can follow it.
Dylan (John Thomas) is on just before us and he’s great, Voodoos are on the main stage, they’re brilliant. Lucia (& The Best Boys) we’ve known for a while, Spyres are from East Kilbride; there’s a lot of really good bands to check out.
I know it’s not cool to say that you like Keane but see ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, if I can catch that, I’ll be belting that out! I know it’s ‘coffee shop music’ or That’s Why I Love You Mum Volume 22, but I do like that song. They’re not cutting edge, but that song has a great chorus.
I think that’s the good thing about modern music. In the 70s, 80s or 90s, it was embarrassing to like pop music, but nowadays, pop is as good as everything else. You can like ABBA. Imagine not being able to like ABBA? I think that was the case with bands in the late 70s.
What’s been your favourite festival memory?
Playing, we’ve had a really good experience at loads of festivals, getting free tickets and getting on it. The nicest one was playing Glastonbury, with Billy Bragg introducing us on stage and talking with us. I don’t tend to get starstruck but with Billy Bragg, I did. I’ve got his lyrics tattooed on my arm, and I was freaking out. So were my friends.
Everybody was loving it. He came over after the set and said, ‘I really enjoyed that. Your road manager said you have a lot of presence, and I was wondering where mine was?’ I didn’t get the joke! And I went, ‘what?’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it mate’, and then I got it! I was thinking, ‘not here, not to him’, but at the end of it, he gave us some victoria sponge. And his wife was lovely.
This guy who was a formative influence on me, being invited into that world and being treated as if I belonged there, it was really nice.
As for going, we all went to T in The Park the year we left school. I got to see Pulp; I don’t think I’ll see them again. I liked Pulp before, but I became obsessed with them after that. Seeing Jarvis Cocker do what he does on stage: Pulp put on a theatrical show, and make it dramatic. He acts the lyrics out, and everything he does is playing a role. That would be my favourite for attending a festival.
Your new EP is It’s Been A Year. That’s in the running for understatement of the year. How have you been in the past while?
It’s been well over a year now, hasn’t it? Due to scheduling conflicts and other delays, it has been more than a year!
Like everyone, I’ve been up and down. I’m quite lucky in that I live with my partner and we got on really well. We’ve quite enjoyed spending time together and watching TV. I’ve finished The Wire and finally watched Game of Thrones.
At the start, there was financial anxiety. I used to be extroverted and enjoy going out, but now, after all this, I’m less like that. I think that’s natural and others have felt the same social anxiety, but it’s a new thing for me.
Artistically, I’ve written loads and taught myself how to produce. It’s funny with the EP coming out, and the EP which came out before, these are all songs that are quite old to us, and I’ve been writing different material throughout the lockdown. Some of the lyrics have been added recently, but musically a lot of the EP dates back to when we were rehearsing and touring.
It’s had a profound impact on every person on earth, so I don’t think I’m unique in that, but I’ve managed to keep working and stay healthy. That’s the two most important things that can impact on everything else. I’m fairly lucky in that regard, but we’re looking forward to playing gigs, and that’ll be a normal part of our life again.
I’m looking forward to chatting to folk, that’s probably the best part of gigs. Hearing what the songs mean to people that come to shows, that’s what it’s about.
How have you found the initial reaction to the new songs?
That’s the strange thing about it. Usually, we get an in-person real-time reaction, and you see the connection. In terms of raw numbers and streams, it’s going as well as it ever has. All the numbers are going up.
It doesn’t feel like anything when you watch numbers change on a screen. It’s all nice, but the thing you want is the feeling you get when someone has got the song, or it means something to them.
One of my favourite YouTube comments came after we released a video for ‘Another One’, and I did weeks of choreography, learning the dance with Jennifer Steele. We put a lot of work in and it turned out really well. Some guy commented; ‘You cannae dance for fuck mate, but it’s a great tune. Take care.’
You can’t be annoyed at that because he liked the song. I like stuff like that.
You’ve said it feels like a farewell to an era of the band – is this a bittersweet release?
This EP sounds a bit different, but it’s in the same ballpark. It’s still indie guitar music, maybe with more reverb and harmonies. We had all these songs that were a notable departure from previous stuff, so we took the songs we like the most that aren’t going to fit the new album, and released them on an EP.
We love these songs, and it’ll be fun to play them, but this is the end of something. As for bittersweet? Maybe if the next album is terrible, but I’m excited, if I’m being honest.
We don’t want to make the same music for too long. I get bored quite easily. We started off really punk, and then we went indie and pop. On the album, we have a few things – the last EP was poppy, and this one is janglier. It’s all shades of a similar thing.
As for the next record, there will be more of an electronic influence, more danceable, more LCD Soundsystem, that kind of world. We’re excited to release this, we like it, but it’s strange to release music during this time because you aren’t seeing anyone. TRNSMT will be the first time we properly see folk’s reactions.
My favourite thing is writing and recording. I am obsessed with writing songs, listening to as much different stuff as I can, and writing different songs. I think we’re sitting with 150 tunes written over the lockdown. We’re trying to cut that down, but this EP has some of the best songs we’ve released. I’m happy with it, and I’m happy it’s a final chapter on what we have done so far, and then we can move on.
150 songs? You know that most people just made banana bread during the lockdown?
And I got Napoli to lift the [Football Manager] Champions League. I tell you, that was more difficult than writing 150 songs. I started at Ayr United and had to get the Napoli job! I would have more to say about the ins and outs of my Napoli save than the songwriting process!
How far along are you with the second album?
It’s hard to tell because the way I write is quite varied. Sometimes I get the riff, like with ‘Absurd’, that came into my head, and I had to grab a guitar to figure it out. I think Noel Gallagher was credited as saying ‘it’s like something falling from the sky’, and it does feel like that.
Even if someone said, ‘Declan, stop, we have 150 songs, let’s go through these’, I never listen to that advice. The album is being constantly written and will be until there is an arbitrary date where we have to get the album in. Then, we’ll sit down and work out the best songs. We could release an album tomorrow, or in two weeks for mixing. If we wanted to release an album, there is more than enough there, but it’s about figuring out what we want the whole thing to sound like; is there a theme to explore?
We’ll think about it a lot before we do it, but I think it’ll be next year. It could be earlier, could be later, who knows.
If this all fades away, I’m okay with it.
There’s a never-ending supply of social topics to write about. What’s your songwriting focus these days?
In terms of the political stuff I’ve done, this EP has less. That hasn’t been a deliberate decision. The songs that we like are less that way inclined, and with an EP, it’s not as much of a mission statement as the album is. You can release an EP and it’s just a nice collection of six songs that are good.
Also, with being locked inside and not going out or interacting with people, it means that what compels you to write songs is different from what it usually is. It’s more insular, looking inwards and thinking about what is going on in your head.
Also, and this might be a bit too ‘political science’ for some people who might be bored by what I’m about to say, you realise that you are a product, which I am to an extent, and then you realise everything you do and every song you write is fundamentally about you being a vehicle for someone else to make money off – including your art, your personality and what you do – it’s all part of a big branding exercise. I became a bit uncomfortable being branded as someone who is a social activist or someone who speaks truth to power.
At the end of the day, that was being used in press releases to convince people to write about me to sell records. Maybe at 21 you can go in naïve and optimistic, thinking that this is okay, but as you get older, you have to question if that’s achieving something broader or good for the causes you care about. You can’t close your eyes and pretend that branding yourself as someone who is against capitalism isn’t at least as cynical as using anger against the system to enhance yourself in the current system.
I noticed the way we were branded in the past, and I was uncomfortable with that. I’ve always had these opinions and I’ll always be involved with trying to do stuff for causes I care about, but I’m not super comfortable with that being how we are branded any more.
I look at artists I like, and a lot is expected of them, to share their life. That doesn’t interest me. I don’t have a major interest in being on Instagram or Twitter 24/7. I’m not interested in making my life my brand. I’m willing to accept the consequences of not being online or being a brand.
Doing that, it’s an easier route. The easiest way to make money is to become popular and sell other people’s stuff. If this all fades away, I’m okay with it, and I’ll make the decisions I want to make. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’ve thought many times over lockdown, that some artists feel as though they need to work constantly or will do anything to make it. If that’s what you want, that is the best way to be, but that’s not who I am.
All you can do is what you are comfortable with, and what makes you happy. Playing gigs makes me happy, writing songs makes me happy. Near enough every part of everything else, I can take or leave.
Since pubs and clubs re-opened, have you been out and about yet?
I was doing two open mic nights a week for a few years; I was out a lot in my early and mid-20s. Then you reach an age where you’re was naturally happier staying in anyway, and that was before lockdown.
I’ve been out since, my pal had a stag do, and we were out in the city centre. It was fun, it was great to see people. When you cut about the city for so long, you know loads of people who you’re not close enough to text, or phone or go out and do something with, but you say hello to in passing. It’s great to see people you have affection for, and you meet people who love the music, that’s really good.
We were in a place and it was like going back in time and Covid never existed. That was surreal, folk being close to my face on either side!
What local band, and in what venue, would you love to see before the end of the year?
I’ve seen Joesef in King Tuts, but I’d love to see them at a festival. I’m sure they’re playing TRNSMT the day after us. They’re great with respect to a local act that I really like now. I think Gallus are a really great live band. I’ve not seen Lizzie Reid since she released her EP. Those are the people I haven’t seen that recently. There’s loads of people, I’d be here for hours if I listed all the bands I like in Glasgow.
If you’re talking past or present, I’d have liked to have seen The Lapelles make it to the Hydro or the Barras, which they inevitably would have. If it’s a ‘what if’ scenario, that would be my answer, but when you’re talking about current bands, there’s too many.
Of course, you’re heading off on tour in November – what’s your main thoughts on that at the moment?
It’ll be good to have the four of us cutting about, we always have a good time. And all the other people, the sound guys, our manager. It’s good to see the band playing in different places and the biggest thing is meeting the people who have come to see us and bought tickets. I love hearing if they have a favourite song and what things mean to them.
I have a mate from Palestine who tuned into a livestream show we did. It was The New Colossus, a SXSW style event in New York, but this year was online. Best year to play it, missed the boat going over to New York this year.
My pal was listening to us, and that’s the coolest thing, connecting with people from other places that you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to. One of the cool things about the data is you can see where people listen to you. Mexico City, Thailand, Indonesia, every corner of the world, there’s people listening to our tunes. It’s not massive amounts, but in its own wee way, it’s exciting for us. Knowing what we make comforts people or makes them happy is nice.
That’s one of the ways Spotify is good for artists, isn’t it?
It’s an amazing product that just pays the wrong people. It’s a perfect product.
It’s fairly cheap, it’s great for the user, the artist gets insight; it’s just an advert of the problems of the system. Despite the fact it works brilliantly, the money still goes to the wrong people. Everyone who puts music on it, is the reason the platform works, and the people who make the money from it are the ones who had the idea to take other people’s stuff and package it.
Declan Welsh & The Decadent West play TRNSMT on Saturday 11th September and their November and December UK tour takes in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen
Main image courtsey: BBC Alba