East Kilbride artist Declan Welsh tells Student Rag what makes social media ‘negative’

Declan Welsh and the Decadent West release their debut album ‘Cheaply Bought, Expensively Sold’ in October. It comments, amongst other things, on consumer culture, the Spanish civil war and existentialism – so not your average run of the mill pop lyrics on relationships. Frontman and singer-songwriter Declan Welsh is a 26-year-old Law and Philosophy graduate who is clearly well read and versed. He talks philosophy and the ‘difficult phase’ of social media to Susie Daniels…

How would you describe your childhood in East Kilbride?
Really happy! I had a lovely childhood. Can’t claim to have a tortured artist background to help me with lyrics on sadness and depression.

You’re quite politically vocal on your Twitter feed. Did you grow up with a household surrounded by similar views? No, I wouldn’t say they were political growing up but they are maybe more now through me going on about it so much. I talk about the fact that people need a fair start. I live in East Kilbride but, in comparison my grandparents are from Royston and the Gorbals. You need to know where you come from. Politically, my family were all labour, but are now more SNP.

You were self-taught in guitar. Was your family background a musical one?
My mum’s a really good singer and there was music in my family. Mum gave me my first Cure album and my dad likes The Jam and Paul Weller. Growing up I did stay with my mum, but saw my dad all the time. I started to play guitar quite late at 14-years-old and was self-taught. I would sing about the idea of love being difficult and hard. I mean, what did I know about love at 14? I started towards the end of the first band finding my own voice, writing in my own accent as opposed to vague universal themes.

The title of your album is Cheaply Bought, Expensively Sold. Great title! Is this a comment on consumerism?
It’s a line in the song Absurd taken from the first single off the album. It’s got a few meanings. Consumerism, art in a consumer culture. Even if you’re trying to be true to yourself something will be made for nothing and bought/sold for a lot of money. Historically, you can see the input of art as more than just a product.

Lull’s a great song. It sounds like a Billy Bragg (left-wing activist & singer/songwriter) tuneful rant. Is that a fair assessment?
Yes, I wrote that about not knowing what you’re doing with yourself and not understanding the point of anything. It’s like an existential crisis. The last two verses in the song are about leaving something behind (like your music) and would that be enough? Everyone has doubt and to be completely sure of yourself is a very American thing. Most Scottish artists have imposter syndrome.

Is it important for fans to know from your band name, Declan Welsh and the Decadent West, exactly what you stand for?
It’s just that it goes. The syllables, consonants and vowels just sound right and roll off your tongue. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference.

You have strong political views and are very vocal on Twitter. Do you worry your views will alienate fans?
My views are fairly informed by compassion. I get frustrated with people. If my record label told me to stop that would be the end of our relationship but Modern Sky UK know who I was before they signed me so I don’t think that’s going to happen. Their other artists are The Blinders and they’re very vocal. If you try to pander to people then they’ll know. If you can make an argument strongly in politics then anger shouldn’t be directed at a group of people such as gays, women, minorities. If you’re not saying anything then that is a statement.

Is social media a good thing?
Sometimes it can be, such as the Arab Spring, or to promote mental health issues but social media is probably a negative thing. Twitter makes me anxious and sad. If compassion is meant to govern then Twitter is not a nice place to be. It’s going to have a serious impact on psychology but hopefully this is just the difficult phase (it’s going through).

What is ‘So It Goes’ about?
It’s about Kurt Vonnegut who wrote the novel Slaughterhouse-Five. I loved the book so I wrote about that. Some of my lyrics are about the Spanish civil war. I write about whatever I care about. I’ve also written about a friend of mine who passed away and one song I wrote about my mate who came out.

You’re Prime Minister for the day. What do you do?
I’d immediately sort out social housing, for example private landlords leaving thousands of flats sitting free. I would take that off those big companies to make it available housing for everyone. I would sort out certain rights and enforce a social and economic right to a house. I used to be on the board of the charity Children in Scotland. I would fix child poverty in the UK and make sure all schools have free meals without having to hand in a ticket and I’d offer after-school clubs with free meals so all children get a second meal of the day.

You have references to Simone de Beauvior, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Marx and Angela Davis in The Dream. At what age did you start reading their work?
I did the usual (philosophy) journey. Someone gives you Animal Farm and that makes you think of politics. At Strathclyde University I studied Law and two of my friends had leftist literature.

Why music and not further your career with your degree in Law or Philosophy (Masters at Strathclyde University)?
I left school and didn’t think I’ll do anything with music. With Law I really enjoyed the theory side of it. While studying Law I did the music thing again and thought ‘I’ll make a go of this’. I owed it to myself to give it a go. It doesn’t matter that I’m now playing music instead of pursuing Philosophy, it (philosophy) informs what you write about by just thinking about why you’re here and what makes you tick.

What’s more important, getting your message or music out there?
I’d probably be very arrogant to say the world needs my message. I think it’s more important to get music out there. As long as we (the band) are at the end of the album, I love it. You don’t need anything to change to react if you make something you love.

Tell us something good that’s happening or happened in your life recently
I’m moving in with my girlfriend and I finished my Masters in Philosophy!

Declan Welsh and the Decadent West’s debut album, Cheaply Bought, Expensively Sold is out October 19th.