You can learn a lot about somebody in fifteen minutes.
As I greet Machine Gun Kelly, he pulls me in for a hug whilst repeating back my name; trying it out a couple of times to make sure he’s pronouncing it correctly. He makes polite small talk that turns to him telling how he’d like to visit Liverpool to see where The Beatles came from, whilst gently moving the designer clothes that are sprawled across the black leather sofas. Clearing a space, he offers me a seat facing him and opens a bottle of Jameson’s whiskey.
Cleveland’s finest is part way through a stint of eight dates in the UK, as part of his worldwide 27 tour in celebration of his latest album, bloom, and he’s had a bit of a crazy day. “I got the fucking train.” he tells me, having had to pay a visit to London to collect a new passport, because he had lost his before the tour even started. Somehow, he still got in.
If given the opportunity, MGK, real name Richard Colson Baker, says; “I would give people the reality of what a star is and what it isn’t. You know what I mean?” steadily pouring the Jameson into a can of iced coffee. “The beautiful thing about the pre-internet era was that if you had it, you fucking had it and people knew about it and people heard about it and when you walked in a room, people felt you. Now we’re in a day and age where you can create a persona and live it out without anybody having to reach you because you can do it all through the internet. True charisma doesn’t propel careers anymore, because the internet allows people to stay in the dark and be whoever it is they are dreaming of being.”
Charisma, is something that Machine Gun Kelly has in abundance – as a moniker and as himself. Everything he does, he does it gently and with an eloquence that somehow complements his slender 6ft4 tattooed frame. As we talk, I watch him open black boxes and velvet pouches, delicately removing silver chains and rings and adorning himself, ready for the show. Believing that “slowly it will all 360 again,” it’s as though this thought gives comfort for the guy who talks lovingly about Kurt Cobain as a legend and wants to reinstate those traditional values.
bloom is a record that could go down in the history books; a coming-of-age collection that manages to make poetic joy out of ‘Wake and Bake’ and spitfire flow into tracks of the virtue of hard work and perseverance. Released at the age of 27, a song of the same name pays respect to those musicians part of the infamous 27 Club and a crooned fear that he may join his heroes before the year is out. “I think 27 for me personally was me admitting to myself that things weren’t too good to be true.” Kelly admits, telling, “I’ve been in this for eight or nine mixtapes, three studio albums, six movies, one showtime TV series and I still feel like I’ve done… nothing.” he says this poised with such honesty, looking me straight in the eyes looking more for agreement rather than my reaction of shock. “I still feel like all the things that I have are going to be taken away so just be mad at it already and don’t enjoy it, you know what I mean? I think being 27 was me being like, hey if it all goes today, it’s actually all good. You should appreciate what’s in front of you and how it’s not too good to be true.
“Maybe it’s just good? Maybe it’s just too good. Maybe that doesn’t have to have a bad ending.”
It’s this perspective, one of hope and introspect, that softens the edge of MGK’s sure-fire spits of cockiness about his rockstar lifestyle and the glorified effects of hedonism, addiction and alcoholism. “I feel really happy in the fact that I don’t give a fuck about being invited to the quote on quote cool party anymore.” he laughs, lighting up, “I don’t care. I am the party.”
Surrounded by purchases from Dover Street Market, the price tags read in three figures; he shrugs with a grin, “That’s part of the tameless price of this power right here.”
The record is in the best way, self-absorbent. The songs barely pine for others, but for respect of the self. It’s a refreshing listen from the contemporary propaganda that you must have somebody else in your life in order to be happy or fulfilled. “I don’t think people are being themselves in music nowadays anyway. They’re being the next person. They’re doing what the fad is.” in his baritone voice, the statement is said with a hint of venom, a righteousness that he is above that. “I waited to experience love myself to speak on it for the first time which was in this album. That’s why when I speak on it, it sounds genuine and it touches people. I think that people need to get back to doing whatever it is they can do.” Where MGK was “originally an outlet for all of these kids who were coming from the same place that I was and couldn’t find a voice,” it’s become a responsibility for the rapper to speak on behalf of the struggling kids and lost teens. “Then it became… I needed to have something to hold onto because I was feeling empty. Machine Gun Kelly sort of became an energy for me, which is why we hear songs like ‘27’ and shit like that.
“It comes across real because I had some stuff that I clearly needed to say.”
The haunting barks of ‘The Gunner’ snarls as a punching biography, whilst ‘Golden God’ adds an extra swagger to his tale, referring to himself as the “David Bowie of this generation” but semi-bitter on the wrong end of “still almost famous.” Yet softer tracks, like the lustrous pop duet with Camila Cabello, has a sultry endear, and ‘Rehab’ is a melancholic delve into the inescapable web of love and addiction. “I think that people need to get back to doing whatever it is they can do. God damn if there’s that many people doing xanax and you know, doing those other things, we wouldn’t have that many prescription drugs left in the world, it’s just not possible. You know what I mean?
“Some of these people need to talk about what they’re actually doing and what they’re actually doing. The feel has been lost in music a little bit.”
There’s a Peter Pan character to Machine Gun Kelly, he’s sort of been a lost boy, ruling the roost in his town and leading a gang of others just like him. But bloom feels like he’s grabbed hold of his shadow and sewn it to his feet. He’s walking stronger, higher, with more confidence than ever. 27 “is the newest and freshest energy that we’ve ever felt as a band and as Machine Gun Kelly period.” The process of writing, recording and performing has been a liberation, an acceptance, a deep fucking sigh of relief and a step away from self-destruct and tragedy.
Take ‘At My Best’ for example, a sobering heartfelt note to anybody struggling to find acceptance. Poignant and hopeful, “I wrote this song as a message for help/On behalf of anybody finding their-self” MGK speaks to the dreamers.
Similarly, his show is a cathartic release, flooded with laser lights, smoke and an intimacy that sparks a connection not only between artist and fan, but a collective crowd. Inspired by lost icons, their values steer the riled momentum. Paying tribute to the great Chester Bennington, MGK told the crowd; “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t a kid in a crowd watch my idol tear the stage up, so this one is for a close friend of all of us.” before stripping back the classic, ‘Numb’.
In the same vein, when asked about the child he bought up on stage earlier that week, MGK instantly looks up from tying his laces to speak with adoration, bouncing on his seat. Dylan, I learn, was ten and from Telford. He was sitting in the front row singing every word, and when on stage, had more energy than the Gunner himself. “I don’t know how I remembered that. And he looked like me.”
With a reminiscent smile, he tells me what he had said to Dylan. “I looked that person in the eye and like spoke into his soul and said ‘grow up and become great’.” It’s a beautiful sentiment to even hear about, and it’s clear that he sees a young Richard Colson Baker in Dylan, and an Eminem in his older self; using his platform to drive young people today. “I never had a father figure for real,” he confides, “All of my father figures were musicians, so I know what people can say and I know what maybe people want to hear sometimes, but what you should hear is something like that. Who knows, that kid might be going back to a broken home, and that one little phrase is what he’s holding onto every night and every morning when he wakes up as his little motivation.”
When sat with Machine Gun Kelly, he radiates something special. There’s a wonder every time he opens his mouth as to what he is going to say. Sometimes it’s calculated, thought goes into answering questions, and others it’s off the cuff. Each is a gamble but so worth the pay off, I find myself clinging to every word that he says, pouring stories of my own out with the greatest of trust. With just ten minutes until show time, the atmosphere carries an excitement. He needs this. We need this. He’s the voice of a generation. He is the greatest.
“Everyone feels it, and everyone knows that we’ve been held down too long. It’s time, the cusp is about to break.”
Photos by Rory Barnes
Words by Tanyel Gumushan