Photos By Bridger Scott, Creative and Fashion Direction by AllanTroy, Styled By Morgan Pinney, Grooming on MGK Christine Nelli, Female Model Xwnia Rey, Hair by Mateo Sifuentes and Makeup By Josiah Cracraft with Design Direction by Tony Todd.
Kode: So, your whole trajectory of becoming MGK. Cleveland obviously isn’t necessarily known for its musical diversity, yet your music has different influences. What inspired your musical style and aesthetic as a young artist?
MGK: I think that when you come from a town like Cleveland there’s this automatic edge and attitude that’s kind of instilled in you, ’cause…I think not just to make it out but to just even survive in this town you have to have a certain edge about you and a certain attitude to keep you alive here, I guess. So, I think I was just really gravitating toward any artist or band that had attitude and that really stood up … not just stood for something, but stood up for themselves. And I think when you get in the public eye you can easily be bullied and easily be told who you are or what you should do and who you aren’t… I was just really into the people that didn’t let anyone tell them anything.
Kode: Being in the public eye and being bullied and things like that, with rap music being predominantly a black genre, do you feel like you faced certain struggles being a white artist, and how did you overcome that?
MGK: Absolutely. And I was having to be a white rapper before there was leaders of like YouTube or viral videos, you know what I’m saying? I’ve had to really go out there and show them what I was about. Go out there and at the time, when I was first coming out… Like, I don’t know how to describe it. There wasn’t like families just embracing hip hop, you know what I mean?
Kode: Yes. It wasn’t as mainstream.
MGK: Yeah, the streets was what the breeding ground for hip hop truly was. So nowadays, yes. In the past three years we’ve seen hip hop become the most popular form of music, which then means that most households like it, love it, embrace it. When I was coming up, the streets were the only breeding ground for hip hop, so if you wanted to be in hip hop, you know where you had to go? The streets. When you’re in the streets and you look like me you’re gonna have a lot of resistance. There’s a lot of adversity to fight through, so I think that the respect that I have now is there because of that. I had to constantly add stripes to the uniform before I was respected as who I am now.
Kode: With bloom and your recent releases they all seem to have a lot of emotional connectivity to it. What do you feel like you really want people to take away from your music?
MGK: Probably the feel. You see all these people numbing themselves now, and I’ve been guilty of numbing myself too, but I think when the music started to turn towards numbing people it was just weird for me because music always made me FEEL and I think bloom came at a time where a lot of the music is not-feel music and it’s just numbing music, It’s a music that’s kind of meant to keep you spaced out and not really facing the realities of the world and wishes, pain, happiness. Those are real things that you have to deal with, and you can’t fake like you don’t have to. So, I think that when bloom came out, and you listened to it, it reminded you of those feelings and reminds you to be open to those feelings.
Kode: And I mean, obviously as a young father you are open to more emotions as I’m sure that opened up a lot of more feelings for you. What are some obstacles of being a father at such a young age while having also such a successful career?
MGK: I think because my kid’s so intelligent at her age you can’t fool her, and I think that if she feels like more effort is going into me as an artist rather than me as a father, you can see that and feel that and those are all lessons I’ve learned the hard way the past couple years and I think I’m just really proud and at a good point right now that I feel like I have a best friend in my kid, She kind of reminds me how to stay human and not numb that part out, like we were just talking about. The album did that. I feel like, for this young generation, but she did that for me.
Kode: So you’ve been obviously topping the charts for years now. What’s the ride to success really been like for you, coming from such a small town? What do you feel has kind of changed the most in your life and what have you tried to keep the most the same?
MGK: Maybe even just from a demographic standpoint, on this latest tour I went to I was just shocked at the amount of women that come to the shows just wanting to sing their hearts out. You know what I mean? Like three albums later, this many years into my career, what a beautiful thing it is to walk out on stage and just see this whole new wave of energy that’s coming from the crowd. I feel like I’ve toured the world three fucking times, and I hadn’t seen that crowd yet, and it’s my first time just seeing it. And it’s like, dude, wow. And then you play a set and then you realize … bloom was the first album I ever sang on, and then you do it live and you’re wondering, “What are they waiting for?” And then you sing, and they’re like … They just wanted to sing all fucking night, and it was like, whoa…
That was really a shock for me, ’cause I think a lot of people seem to say that they grow older. And I mean, I’m still really young because I came in the game young, so even though it seems like I’ve been around for a while I’m still young. So it’s cool that it feels like I’m getting better with time.
MGK: I don’t really know if that made sense, haha, but I think you know what I’m trying to say.
Kode: No, it makes complete sense.
MGK: I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s been really cool seeing so many diverse people at my shows and tapping into this whole new fanbase. I think sometimes you can take perceptions of who I was as a young artist, and I think maybe it wasn’t connecting with a young female demographic, and then you grow, and then you go through things, and then you fall in love for the first time, and then you start to see people in such a different light, and you write about it, and then it’s like it clicks. All of a sudden all of the women were like, “Wow, this is what I’ve wanted you to say. This is speaking to me.”
Kode: Now, you’re not only an artist but you’re also an actor. You have shows like Roadies, you had the movie Nerve and other things coming up. With all these projects, what made you start acting?
MGK: I am just in love with the idea of just being an entertainer and just being an all-around creative person… I could not tell you how much I hated the first couple of years of my career just literally being referred to as the Wild Boy. You know? Like it was just so underwhelming as a sum-up of my career at that point.
Kode: Yeah, to feel one-dimensional.
MGK: That’s it! You know what I mean? And there was so much more. Even at that time there was so much more, but I can’t blame the world for what they saw at surface value. So I was like, “Okay, we need to branch out and show the world how deep the rabbit hole goes in this person that is Machine Gun Kelly,” and I think that going on screen was one step. I think modeling and embracing fashion was another step, especially coming from someone like me who was almost like anti-fashion just a couple years ago.
And again, you just get exposed to other things and you embrace how big the spectrum goes when people start coming up to you after you have those accomplishments, and now it seems like people that come up to me are truly in shock of me as a creative rather than just as me as a guy known for his wild antics.
But now, looking back now, to come from being the Wild Boy to being this cultured young man who is responsible for certain trends and styles and genre-meshing of music and stuff, it’s like that’s the coolest come-up story ever. So now I love it, and I will embrace the Wild Boy in me forever. I just didn’t like it at the time because that was all they were attributing to me.
Kode: Speaking of your growth and you becoming more cultured of a young man and a true artist, your style has obviously increased and improved so much over the years.
MGK: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kode: What can you kind of attribute to bringing you out of your box of one fashion to the other?
MGK: Part of the death of Bowie and the death of Prince. I never saw the world stop over losing someone before … Except for Michael Jackson. I was a lot younger when Michael Jackson died, but I remember that and I remember that feeling, but it didn’t hit me that way that when Prince and Bowie died because I was actually in the industry at that time that they died. I was just a broke kid in Cleveland when Mike died, and I was like, “Whoa, no, one of the greatest musicians has passed,” but it didn’t affect me as a person. It just affected me as a fan, but when Prince and Bowie died it did hit me as a person. I felt like the world is now a little bit emptier and I think that I was looking around and I was like, “Dude, who’s gonna be here to push us, push our opinions and push the boundaries?” You know what I mean? There are many artists now that are pushing the boundaries, and I think I just want to join that club as well, and I’m trying to. I guess… I’m trying to carry on a legacy that I didn’t appreciate while it was here.
And now that it’s gone and we’ve been doing all this to revamp an image like what mine was and have it be what it is now, it’s also a really huge challenge, which turns me on because the easy shit is wack and I think the stuff that makes people feel uncomfortable is really, really cool. And when they finally get it, that’s the most satisfying feeling ever, and I think people are starting to finally get it. I don’t think a lot of people got it until Prince and Bowie died, with them, and I think that that made me realize it more as well.
Kode: I agree. I definitely think when Prince and Bowie and those major trailblazing artists and fashion and cultural influences died, there was a slight shift in the DNA of a lot of artists.
MGK: Yeah. I don’t think we realize how much they did until they were gone and it was like, “Okay, they had the right idea.” And I feel like it made a lot of us go back and change our game plans for what we wanted to do with our careers, and it pushed us to expand and become broader than just music.
Kode: Speaking of broadening on more than just music, you recently inked campaigns with John Varvatos that launches August 6th and Reebok that launches today August 3rd. What can we expect out of those partnerships and collaborations?
MGK: Well, me and Varvatos are just two rock and roll souls that I feel like was bound to come together and we have and it’s been a really cool collaboration that I am very proud of. We recently shot a couple really cool ad campaign videos, and the billboards that’ll be going up in all the Varvatos stores and around the world by mid-September. We are putting together a lunch event in New York that is gonna be really, really, really fucking cool, and definitely a cool image for our name.
And then the Reebok thing, I think we were always looking to kind of do lifestyle stuff, because I think even with all the high fashion, I don’t wanna alienate all the people that that type of shit doesn’t turn on. You know what I mean? Like Some people don’t like high fashion and it will never be their cup of tea, and I would never ever want to push that on people because I think that is something you have to naturally want to either wear or look at or be around. That’s definitely a particular taste. But, lifestyle shit is everywhere and Reebok is such a classic brand and I think that we wanted to be a part of a revamp of something special, and Reebok was the perfect match, and that’s because one of my favorite things to do is take something that is not at that moment in the world the biggest thing and make it the biggest thing… Like Machine Gun Kelly is that…haha… Naw really, it’s going to be a cool collaboration, a total revamp of the 90’s and all about owning your style, taking risks and being unapologetic about who you are – values that are close to the roots of what Machine Gun Kelly stands for with my music and style…
You ask the cool crowd right now, “Who do you listen to?” They’re gonna give you those names that are just like, “Duh.” But if you’re fucking awesome and you want to push the boundaries and you want to start some conversation, you might fuck around and say, “Yo, Machine Gun Kelly.”
Kode: You recently had hits with Camila Cabello, Ty Dolla Sign, Quavo, Hailee Steinfeld and a few more. What’s been your experience creating with such a talented young crop of artists and really cultivating that kind of experience?
MGK: It just feels really cool to be open to collaborating with people. I know that it’s weird because if you look at my album it seems like I’ve collaborated with a lot of fucking people, but it was just different this time. This time it was really a true collaborative experience. And going traveling the world with Camila and performing at all those award shows, that was something really cool, and I always see people refer to that time as the “Bad Things” era, and it really is like an era. Yeah, I don’t know, it’s a time in my life that I’ll never forget and it almost made me feel like I was in fucking high school again or something, you know? It’s a really relieving time and something really cool for our generation of kids. Like if you’re 15, 16, and “Bad Things” was like your summer song for your crush or your girlfriend at the time, that shit is an honor, to be the voice of that moment. Because I think there was certain songs and collaborations that happened when I was growing up that I always looked at and was like, “Wow,” and I think we gave that to people. You know, just speaking on me and Camila specifically.
Kode: Yeah, definitely.
MGK: And we also were both breaking out at the same time, so that was why I just particularly love that collaboration because there wasn’t one person more established than the other. It was very, “What are these two new people gonna do?” And we took it to the top. And that was an accomplishment.
Kode: So what would you say, if you could pick one track on bloom that you feel is your favorite or the most comprehensive or the one that really speaks to you the most, what one would it be?
MGK: I think “27” is that song for me.
Kode: And why is that?
MGK: I think, one, a lot of people thought it was like a suicide note when really it was just a song that was expressing that with everything that we’ve been through for all of this to finally start happening, meaning like three albums later for things to finally start feeling like they’re happening, really going our way, it just seemed like it was too good to be true, you know? And I turned 27 this year, and there’s the obvious notion of the 27 Club, which is all these iconic and huge voices and artists died at 27, and I think that with the way that I lived my life and the fast pace and the kind of big not-giving-a-fuck attitude I have, a lot of people questioned like, “Well, if you’re going that fast, are you gonna crash eventually?” And that question just made me write that song, ’cause sometimes you’re wondering like, “Damn, is this all too good to be true?” I’ve waited for this moment forever and it’s finally happening. I never thought it would happen at this moment. I thought it was gonna happen years ago, and it’s finally happening now. Is this even supposed to happen? Like this is all too good to be true.
And you know, I put those words down on paper and I recorded the song, and I had this suite in Las Vegas that I blasted that song while I was standing on the balcony looking at the whole city of Vegas while the sun was coming up. And you would associate that with being a sad song or a sad moment, but that moment when I was looking out on that city and that song was playing, at 27 with all this success, looking around this beautiful Vegas suite that you could’ve never imagined me being in a couple years ago, that was the best feeling in the world. It was one of the most happiest I’ve ever been. So I think the complexity of that song, because surface value it would seem so sad, but it being such a happy song, is what makes that so beautiful.
Side Bar: This interview was taken two days before the death of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington… we will relay the interview and answers, but will also add MGK’s moving tribute to him, written on his Instagram page, the day he heard of his passing…
Kode: So you were about to embark on a tour with Linkin Park. Now, I don’t know about you, but we all definitely grew up listening to Linkin Park’s music.
MGK: Oh absolutely.
Kode: So that had to have been quite surreal for you. Did you have any specific plans for the show?
MGK: Well, I mean, I wanted to step out there and do my best every night. Those are my boys. They have a torch I’m trying to carry. They’ve had it lit for so many years, and I’m ready to honor them and carry on that torch.
Not long ago we were talking about, when we were overseas this summer touring Europe, all the festival headliners were artists that have been headlining those festivals for like 10 years, and we were like, “Well where are the new kids, who’s gonna be the next generation of artists to headline these events? Who could really put on a show that is of this caliber and that’s gonna entertain this many people?” ‘Cause hype is not gonna entertain that many people. And someone who’s just hot on the hype train and doesn’t really know anything other than getting their ass kissed, we always see them fizzle out and fade out. That’s why those real artists are still headlining the festival, because all the hype people come in and go away, and come … The new ones come in and then they go away. I’m trying to be the next go-to band to control the crowd, and who better to learn from every night than Linkin? And who better to pass the torch from an artist that meshes genres like Linkin Park than Machine Gun Kelly? And you know what? It’s funny. I was into them at that point when Hybrid Theory, that first Linkin Park album, came out and I’ll never forget, me and my friend would switch the CD player between each other. He had College Dropout and I had Hybrid Theory and they both came out around the same time and so he would have Kanye and I would have Linkin Park, and halfway through the bus ride to school, we’d switch and I’d listen to Kanye and he’d listen to Linkin Park and it was really cool to see that black, white, Asian, and Latinos were vibing… It was just people were just digging the music and that was fucking cool. They are legends for that right there. It is crazy. You can go to the hood and just pop in and ask what people think of Linkin Park and they are like “Oh, yeah, dude. I fuck with that.”
MGK: That’s really cool, and I wanted to be the same and it is the same with us, actually…
Kode: MGK’s Tribute from his Instagram page
MGK: My heart hurts in ways I never thought it could. I heard the news when I was driving in the car with my daughter and I couldn’t even finish the drive. I pulled over and lost my shit. I remember watching [him] perform “Crawling” stripped down with just Mike Shinoda playing the keys in Poland when we did that show together the other week, [Chester’s] voice spoke to my soul. I’m re-living that moment now because that’s how [Chester] deserves to be remembered: a voice for those who wanted to scream out, who had pain and no way of expressing it. [Chester was] that for me since 11 years old and I had the honor to become friends with [him] and share the stage with [him], but I never got to say thank you. [Linkin Park] invited me on tour this summer and it was the happiest I’ve felt in my career, I’m sad to not be able to see it happen, but mostly just sad for music, the Linkin Park family, and the fans – [Chester was] one of the greatest frontmen of a band to ever live and I just want [him], wherever [he is], to feel loved and to be happy. thanks for everything Chester.