ON MATTERS of songwriting, few can speak with as much authority as Declan Welsh. His track record speaks for itself and there is still plenty to come. And while he is already a redoubtable practitioner of the craft, he remains a student of music at heart.

Welsh is driven by his own creative impulses – a deep-rooted desire to bring his art to life, to connect with others and enact positive change in the lives of those who would listen. A poet with a guitar.

His exploits, though famed to a provincial extent, are supported as all hobbies are. Streaming and album sales bring in enough to continue making more music. If born a few decades previously, he and his bandmates would not likely be in need of other income. He is a victim of the Times, the Times, the Times, the Times

But then as Robert Graves reminds us: “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.”

Welsh is garrulous in exchanges about the art of songwriting – of any art, really. His passion is incontrovertible. There is a connection of sorts between most creative pursuits, he feels, but each medium always has its quirks.

He tells The Weekender about finding the balance between what he wants to achieve with his songwriting on personal level and the need to reach people with his music. As a band, Declan Welsh and The Decadent West already has an enviable following and they know how to reach audiences – their impressive set at TRNSMT being a prime example.

Their back catalogue contains a variety of songs with very different outlooks. Some are more gritty and socially-conscious, while others are about the everyday. For Welsh, the battle is being able to express what’s at the forefront of his mind, without alienating; to write plain and relatable hooks, without compromising on artistic vision.

He says: “No two people are exactly the same but, to an extent, we all live similar lives. So, if you write about the everyday things that happen to you then the chances are that many other people have had very similar things happen to them. The majority of people, especially in Scotland, live a version of the same experience.

“I do think artists’ work should be for themselves – taste, sound and aspects of their career. But the whole point of performing is to connect with people.

“Some will see music purely as artistic expression; others will look at it as you need to sell enough records to make a living. Whichever way, you have to get through to people. If you are just talking in your own language that no one understands then it’s not very good art.”

He continues: “Music has more in common with poetry than it does with novels. You are telling stories, but it’s only ever snap shots. A song, even a pretty long one, is not really long enough to tell the whole of anything. So, you try to provide a wee snap shot of self-contained narratives.

“The thing that I’ve looked back on think of as a bit of a lightbulb moment, in a lyrical sense, is Different Strokes – that was how to do it succinctly. That song was about me going to Palestine and I really wanted to write a song about that for a long time, but every time I did that it just felt a bit preachy and wasn’t relatable enough. But I tried not to think about the outcome – just what happened to me, what was the most relatable things?

“Some people will be able to write about incredible grand and complex ideas, but I’ve always found it more comfortable to make it more relatable. The time you actually have to get information across is so limited.

“Plus, not everyone is wanting all that from their music – some just want it to sound good. You never want to cut people off by being incredibly complicated.

“The thing I care the most about is the lyrics; I’ve always liked writers who communicate stories and messages. Being direct and simple and trying to find the most honest part of your message is where I try to go with lyrics.

“With music, I just sit at a guitar or a keyboard and just hit things until something sticks. I’ll find something nice and go from there.”


Declan Welsh & The Decadent West released their Its Been A Year EP earlier this month

Declan Welsh & The Decadent West released their It's Been A Year EP earlier this month


The proliferation of streaming has bred more single-led promo campaigns. Bands and artists are being encouraged from all sides to churn out quick and catchy tracks that follow a typical framework that can be featured on radio without the need to adjust the volume. In other words, a constant recycling of derivative copies of previously-known work that sounds familiar somehow.

In some aspects, genuine creativity and innovation is being stifled with much less wiggle room for artists to experiment and develop. Those who do so are likely to see less support from an industry focused on the marketability of music, rather than its genuine worth – if, indeed, there is a difference.

In an ideal world, the artist would be free to create unimpeded by commercial pressures. That is too ridiculous to seriously contemplate but it won’t stop the likes of Welsh from trying to build on shifting sands. It’s all down to design.

He says: “There are things that don’t make a lot of money, but still should exist. That’s important. A universal basic income always sounds good to me; I think it eliminates a lot of problems…if you had a well-intentioned government, I can’t see the downside.

“I think that’s a common opinion among artists – whether a dangerous radical like myself or sensible centrists – everyone, sort of, agrees that maybe art isn’t just about making money. Some people do weird and niche and ‘out there’ art, and I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about those who are far more important and seminal than myself, who see even less commercial success.

“How many things now are influenced by very niche acts from 20 years ago that then take on a life of their own years later because some has gone on and made a commercial version of it? I’m sure everyone acknowledges that art should be free, it should be easy to make.”

There is everlasting frustration in the industry as musicians continue fight for recognition for their craft, while selling away as little of themselves as possible. The idea is that those most willing to compromise and settle will see greater success. It may not always be the case, but evidence would suggest the claim has merit.

Applying what is essentially a business formula to music – a creative art that is supposed to challenge conceptions and break moulds – is not something that sits well with Welsh. However, he does entertain a certain interest.

“I’m always fascinated by other perspectives on music,” he continues. “I was looking at that guy Pete Waterman, the hit maker, whose only real purpose is to sell records. It’s not about trying to say anything or do anything – just sell and looking at it like it’s a machine

“One of the things that always comes up is every number one that has ever existed has the word ‘you’ in the title, in the first 10-20 seconds of the song or something. The reason that is compelling is that it’s the easiest way of letting someone relate to the song. Everyone is just searching to understand and be understood. It is insane just how many number one singles use the word ‘you’ immediately. I think that says something about what people get out of art.

“Some of the best artists are in pop. There is that, sort of, universality that artists should aim for, not at the expense of what you care about, but there are some songs that everyone just gets. The Beatles… almost everyone gets that. Some artists cross genres into pop, not because they are inauthentic or derivative, but because they are just that good that everybody gets it.

“I think that some of the techniques these people employ are interesting, even though I agree that it’s frustrating to sometimes hear songs being described in a kind of algorithmic formula, where if you X and Y then you’ll have a hit.

“I suppose it’s like stats in football. It isn’t quite the whole picture but can help you understand things from a certain perspective.”

The frontman goes on: “And streaming has meant that songs are moving towards all sounding the same and doing things anyway. That’s capitalism – you have a product and people are trying to make as safe a bet as possible while trying to make as much money as possible. If art is a product, then it’s just like everything else. For the least amount of risk, how can we make the most amount of money? And that’s by looking at trends over the years, and success, and betting on those things.

“I don’t think it’s any different to how everything else runs under capitalism. It’s a constant. The reason why music is all sounding the same is the same reason Grenfell Tower was so inadequately protected – the bottom line is profit.

“I don’t think you can judge any individuals – well, anyone making less than £10million a year, etc – for making this the way it is. And you can’t judge any artist for it. When I was younger, I bought into the whole ‘never use your tunes in your advert’ idea and all that, but then you realise that you’d HAVE to work a full-time job outside music to pay for being a musician.

“Our first album did not make a life-changing amount of money but if this was 1996 then I think we’d all be pretty comfortable. But it’s 2021 and it’s been a year and half of not playing gigs.

“People in the arts… if you need to spin a lot of plates and some of those plates are not your magnum opus and are just jobs that are using your skills, then fair enough.”


Declan Welsh & The Decadent West performing at TRNSMT. Picture by Michael Hunter

Declan Welsh & The Decadent West performing at TRNSMT. Picture by Michael Hunter


A certain distinction can be drawn between artists who lead and those who are led; artists who make trends and those who follow them. What is key is motive – who among the emerging acts in the country are operating with the sole view to gain an audience and who are operating with their integrity in mind.

Those who become songwriters in order to gain an audience are, typically, looking to take something. Those who want an audience in order to give… they are our artists.

Welsh aims to serve both his art and his audience, striving to find his authenticity and to ensure his message is not lost. He could derive a certain joy from crafting a beautiful and intricate composition that makes sense only to him, but the prospect of reaching out and connecting with someone else is more important.

He adds: “Everybody implicitly wants an audience because we’re not doing this to do it to no one – otherwise you would just make tunes for yourself and listen to them, I’m sure loads of people do that. But everybody who does this will tour and write because they want an audience. That’s fine if that’s not explicitly your aim.

“I think it’s important to shoot for something more than that: for integrity, or to be the best live band, or even because you don’t want some ridiculous hard job and you’d rather do music for a living. None of those things are my main driver. But artists should have something they are shooting for that isn’t just a relentless pursuit of an audience.

“I need to have something that isn’t that – all the artists that I admire all appear to have something else as their main driver, be it artistic integrity, social change or expression. The thing I am most obsessed with is the craft and trying to be a better songwriter and trying to understand it as much as I possibly can.

“It’s a much better driver for the art than any outside success – that’s something you just can’t control anyway. Anyone can believe they will be a success but there’s a huge element of luck in it. Obviously, it takes hard work, but some of the hardest working and most talented people have not gone on to success, while others who didn’t work that hard and who are not that talented have massive success. We just don’t live in a meritocracy.

“If you make success the thing you aim for then not only does that muddy, a little bit, the creative process but it sets you up for disappointment.”

He continues: “I have meant every word I have ever written, in one way or the other. It’s not that I literally believe everything I have ever said, but each lyric has come from something I meant honestly or it’s me exploring a place honestly – a way that I felt at the time. I’ve put into a bit of my heart and soul, or however you want to put it.

“So, when people connect with that… that means the world to me. It is humbling. To have something that you have created have a positive impact on someone’s life is the best part about doing this. It is a total joy.

“There are a lot of things about music that are frustrating and make you think: ‘Is this worth it?’ But the main thing that always keeps you going and makes you feel lucky to do it is when someone comes up to me and tells me they were having a tough time and one of my tunes helped me through it – that is the coolest part of all this by a mile.

“If you mean what you say, and you really care about it, then when people engage with it, it just means so much."


Declan Welsh & The Decadent West released their Its Been A Year EP earlier this month

Declan Welsh & The Decadent West released their It's Been A Year EP earlier this month


Earlier this month, Declan Welsh and The Decadent West released a six-track EP in which they demonstrate a will to open a few doors often left ajar in the music industry. They mesh a few notable influences and stay within the confines of a loosely-defined alt-pop-indie realm, with flashes of post-punk thrown in.

Welsh says: “I’m probably the closest in the band to being a fan of indie, but, honestly, I don’t listen to it as much now. I still have a special place in my heart for the Arctic Monkeys but, other than that, there are few bands we are all really into.

“We all grew up listening to indie bands and we know we are in that genre. But we try, at least, to come at it from our own perspective. With this EP, there is some variety – I don’t think the songs sound exactly the same. Other people might not that think that and that’s totally fine, but we, at least, make the attempt to have Vladimir more doo-wop and very 60s girl band, and Another One is a little Black Hole Sun with chorus riffs and goes different places. We always try to do different things when we put out a record.

“The response has been really positive – we’re not able to get out and speak to people face-to-face in the same way as we used to, but we can see the Spotify streams, how well it’s doing on the Apple Music and we’ve had a few messages to let us know how much they like certain tunes. So, by the metrics we can use it’s gone down well.

Tracks such as Vladimir, Parisian Friends and Another One are all just a little bit detached but are never too far away from each other. It is a notable strength of It’s Been A Year, and follows on from last year’s EP and album from 2019.

Welsh goes on: “I’m always writing – constantly. Some songs, like Vladimir, I can write most of it in a night and just add to it later. Chris [Marshall] is a much better producer than I am, but I have an Ableton recording and that demo isn’t a million miles away from how the song turned out.

“But other tracks kick about for a long while until we know what to do with it.

“I just want to write as much as possible. Everyone gets a spell when they are not able to write and I know that might be coming. I’m just trying to do as much as I can while that isn’t the case. So, if in years down the line I have to submit 6 tracks for an EP – well, here’s some I made earlier.

“For everything we have released, there has been a hell of a lot of songs cut out. I’ve tried to write every night from the age of 17, so I’ve built up an unusable amount of songs. And that means if there is a song that we all thought was going to sound great but doesn’t work out, then we have others we can turn to. It’s hard to judge how good something is at the point where you are creating it.

“We went through a thing with Parisian Friends where we wrote it in the studio and played it live before going anywhere near recording – we were all obsessing over because it was such an energetic song live. But by the time we went to record it, I was really… over it.

“I get why people like it, but we had had it for so long. But then we got around to doing the video for it I came back to it. It’s not a song that should be taken seriously – it’s a sardonic tune that isn’t trying to say anything particularly important about the world. It’s just about trying to enjoy a certain image of someone. It’s someone telling you a story.”

The EP shows just where Welsh is at the moment and what the band is capable of. Given their recent output and build-up of tracks at their disposal, some new material is likely on the cards again soon. Few in the industry would be able to match those levels. But then for poets, artists and, indeed, musicians – it is a condition and not a profession.