Every week we ask a creative, artisan, or musician to share what music gets them going from dawn to dusk. This week, Essex-born singer-songwriter Declan J Donovan spills the tunes that get him going for the day.
Not all budding musicians get the chance to be heard by the masses. By that, we mean in millions. 21-year-old Declan J Donovan, a singer-songwriter from Harlow, had lady luck by his side and amassed about 30 million streams for his songs all without a record label, a manager, or any promotion. What's his secret? A direct approach of straight-to-the-point pop songs built out of simple ideas. His music paints time-worn experiences with broad brushstrokes, reflecting a musical vision that’s easy to relate to.
With a diverse musical upbringing, ranging from ‘00s R&B, courtesy of his sister, to the guitar bands favoured by his brother, like The Maccabees and The Kooks, Donovan has since received praise from star-studded supporters like Line of Best Fit and Rita Ora (who enthusiastically posted ‘Fallen So Young’ on her Instagram feed). The said song was written for his brother’s wedding, was performed in lieu of a best man’s speech that probed love-lorn romance, youth and identity.
Donovan proceeded to obtain numerous accolades such as being the only unsigned act playing at Radio 1’s Biggest Weekend, has made a celebrated appearance on Mahogany’s live sessions and has been included in innumerable in-house curated playlists, including on Apple Music, Deezer and BBC Radio 1.
We caught up with the burgeoning musician in hopes of discovering the reason behind his virality and heartfelt lyrics.
ESQ: Describe the sound of Declan J Donovan.
Declan J Donovan (DJD): Empathetic, Powerful, Hopeful
ESQ: How did you get started with music?
DJD: I got started when I was 15 by learning the guitar. And then started writing songs when I was 17 after listening to people like ‘City And Colour’ and ‘Bon Iver’ and totally fell in love with lyrics and melody.
ESQ: Why do you think the lyrics you penned resonate with a mass audience?
DJD: I don’t really know why my songs have been received so well, but I like to take my time to get the lyrics right before finishing a song as they’re the part of a song that has always been so important to me.
ESQ: How do you find, and capture originality compared to manufactured and heavily produced peers in the music industry?
DJD: I think my music has just formed from every song or artist I’ve ever loved and I’ve kind of made my only little sound off the back of everything that has influenced me.
ESQ: Who is your music hero and name a song that changed your life? Why did it stir you?
DJD: My musical hero is ‘Dallas Green’ of ‘City And Colour’ his music really shaped my guitar playing and taught me so much about songwriting. A song that changed my life was hearing ‘Take It Easy’ by the ‘Eagles’ for the first time! I completely fell in love with the band after hearing that song
ESQ: What made you want to share your compositions online, even though they are demos?
DJD: I think it was friends and family wanting to hear a recorded version of ‘Fallen So Young’ that made me put the song online and I never expected such a response to the song.
ESQ: What’s next for Declan J Donovan?
DJD: Lots of New music and touring! I’d love to come back to Asia! I played a show in Singapore and Hong Kong last year and it blew my mind that I was playing my own music in a place I never thought my music would take me.
1. ‘1904'—Benjamin Francis Leftwich
"In the morning I like to start my day by listening to some Benjamin Francis Leftwich, his first album ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ played a really big part in my teenage years! My favourite of his to start my day has to be ‘1904’."
2. ‘Won't Remember’—Tors
"Tors are my good friends and I’m a huge fan of their songwriting and harmonies."
3. ‘Phoebe Bridgers’—Funeral
"She is one of my favourite artists at the moment, her melodies are so sweet and her writing has a very deep lyrical meaning which you can tell is so personal to her."
"When I’m travelling around to different studio sessions or driving to play a show I love to listen to a lot of UK music to pass the time and reminisce on my early teens. Skepta – Konnichiwa is a go-to for me! A song called ‘Man’ is a favourite for me. The hard-hitting lyrics and intense melody always wake me up when I’m feeling a bit lethargic in the afternoon."
2. ‘Did You See’—J Hus
"Grime/UK rap has always been a love of mine since the age of about 11 and for it to still be evolving with artists like J Hus reinforce my love for it! "
3. 'P's and Q's'—Kano
"This was one of the first songs that started my love for grime music and it’s still a go-to in my Spotify playlist on a weekly basis."
1. ‘Colouring’—Kevin Garrett
"I like to wind down in the evening by listening to some more chilled out singer/songwriters like Kevin Garrett. A song called Colouring is one of my favourites by him. His falsetto and dark production are a perfect mix to chill out to after a long day."
2. 'This Old Dog’—Mac DeMarco
"I love the analogue minimal recording in this song is great to put on when I’m relaxing in the evening."
3. 'Miracle Love'—Matt Corby
"Matt Corby has been my biggest influence when it comes to vocals I feel his music has taught me a lot about my own voice by growing up listening to him. His new album ‘Rainbow Valley’ is a favourite for me at the moment."