'I've grown up with them': Declan McKenna & Columbia's Dipesh Parmar on the star's first decade

'I've grown up with them': Declan McKenna & Columbia's Dipesh Parmar on the star's first decade

Declan McKenna has released his third album, What Happened To The Beach?, amid high expectations for its chart performance. The LP is chasing a No.1 finish this week although McKenna faces competition from Noah Kahan.

It follows a close chart battle with the Rolling Stones in 2020, with Zeros ultimately finishing at No.2. (40,110 sales to date – Official Charts Company).

McKenna, who’s interviewed in the latest edition of Music Week along with his team at Columbia and Q Prime, is one of the breakout artists of the past decade, amassing 1.2 billion streams. Last year, he shifted 60,000 tickets on a US tour. 

The indie-pop star has been active since his mid-teens and first released music in 2014. He signed to Columbia the following year and released the viral hit Brazil, which has UK sales to date of 920,357.

Columbia beat over 40 others who were reportedly knocking on the door in the wake of McKenna winning Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015. 

“My relationship with the label is good, I’ve been there a long time,” Declan McKenna told Music Week. “I know how things go now and I’m always fighting for us to really believe in what we’re doing because I think sometimes the music industry now can be a bit cautious. We live in a time where things are changing very quickly and we don’t necessarily always know how to adapt. For me, just believing in the music and not pandering too much has to be at the heart of it because good tunes will outlive any fad.”

With Columbia, he tries to make sure the focus is on the big picture. 

“When everyone is going for it, it does feel like the priority is the first week of album release or a single release or something,” he said. “For me, it’s trying to make sure we know that this is about the long term, that’s what it means to me.” 

There are some people at the label who he’s worked with since he was a child.

“It’s crazy, I’ve grown up with them and I have really good relationships with them,” he said. “But then with major labels, things change round a lot and you start working with new people. There have been major changes on every album I’ve made with Columbia, so that can be a bit of a challenge. I feel like the main thing with the label now compared to when I was younger is I will say exactly what I think. That is my focus these days, making sure we are concentrating on the right things.”

Columbia is now under the jurisdiction of Dipesh Parmar, who was made label president at the end of 2022. 

“I’ve got a good relationship with Dipesh,” said McKenna. “I did a little gig at the Sony offices recently and Dipesh got up and gave me a really nice introduction. This project hasn’t exactly been what they would’ve been expecting from me. I’ve been able to have direct conversations with them about the way I want to do things and perhaps make a few calls that they might have done differently, in terms of picking or not picking certain songs for the sake of the album, as opposed to leading with the songs that maybe we think are going to be a big hit single or something.”

Dipesh Parmar said that Columbia has a long, proud history of developing “generational” artists with a lasting cultural impact and that’s exactly what he sees in McKenna. 

“In the nine years he’s been signed to Columbia, his evolution as a songwriter and artist has been incredible to witness,” said Parmar. “Musically, the new album is a departure from his previous work and is reflective of an artist unafraid to make bold creative choices. He’s getting better with every record. We all feel incredibly confident in the music and the artist that Declan is developing into.”

Parmar noted that the music has been guided by McKenna’s vision from the outset, whether that be enlisting producer Gianluca Buccellati (Lana Del Rey and Arlo Parks) or devising the concept for the album artwork and music videos. 

“Martin Dell, his A&R, has been truly supportive of realising Declan’s ideas in the studio,” added the label president.

In the nine years he’s been signed to Columbia, his evolution as a songwriter and artist has been incredible to witness

Dipesh Parmar

Parmar said that McKenna’s demos for the new record were some of the first pieces of music he and MD Amy Wheatley heard in their initial roster meeting at Columbia back in 2022. 

“It was thrilling to hear how formed his ideas were at that stage,” said Parmar. “My initial job really was to ensure Declan felt comfortable with the changes in the label and to know that I was truly there to support him at every level… And to tell him how great the music was, because it is! We had a lot of discussions about single choices, but largely we were very much aligned as to how to roll out the music.”

Parmar recalled McKenna's close-run chart battle with The Rolling Stones with Zeros.  

“That battle was so close, but we think we can go one better,” said Parmar. “The first tracks we’ve shared are already connecting him to a new audience and on TikTok alone he’s garnered a broad and fantastically engaged young following. He’s breaking new ground with traditional media too, which is also super-important to us.”

Parmar noted that McKenna had not previously enjoyed daytime playlist support at Absolute or Radio X until last year, and he’s also continued to receive support from BBC Radio 1 as well as finding fans at 6 Music. 

“The DSPs have come to the table with crucial support too, they’ve been brilliant partners over the years helping Declan reach over 1.2 billion streams to date,” he said. “Our ambition is to achieve a bigger album, both chart and sales-wise, this time round, and our commitment to Declan as an artist extends beyond that. He’s got a real relationship with his fans that have grown up with him, as well as new ones discovering him on TikTok. Collectively at Sony, we’re constantly looking at how we build off the last two albums and achieve stronger results around the world.”

The Columbia boss added that McKenna goes beyond the realm of guitar music. 

“Yes, he plays the guitar, but he’s a multi-instrumentalist whose influences range from The Beatles and David Bowie, to St Vincent and Unknown Mortal Orchestra,” said Parmar. “Fans today are connecting with artists more than they are with genres, and Declan McKenna stands for different things to different people, and I think that’s both exciting and empowering.”

Subscribers can read the full Decan McKenna feature here.


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