Machine Gun Kelly talks exclusively to Disorder about music, the pursuit of happiness and how acting saved his life.
Machine Gun Kelly at the Disorder photo suite: 9am sharp, energetic, loquacious, bringing his A-game. Machine Gun Kelly three hours later, wailing: “I am so fucking high.”
No airs for Kells: him, a manager, an agent, a guitar, an unlit joint. Comes right in, says hello “I’m Colson”, takes his shirt off, starts talking about Oasis. What, the ‘90s Britpop northerners? Yeah. The Cleveland, Ohio hip-hop superstar has a major hard-on for Liam Gallagher. Loves him. Loves his swagger. Does impressions. The accent’s a bit shonky but he’s got the walk down sweet. “I just think Liam Gallagher’s a goddamn superstar,” he says. Machine Gun Kelly insists on listening to Oasis every time he’s in the UK. So on goes “Supersonic”. Up next “Shakermaker”. His manager from New York rolls his eyes: “I literally heard of them for the first time yesterday.”
Kells loves icons. As a kid he aped Sid Vicious, the mascot-bassist of The Sex Pistols. Perfected his slouch and sneer. Played in a punk band. Wears a fat silver chain necklace in emulation. He fell for the guys from self-harming reality TV show Jackass, created his own dumbass stunts; 2011 single “Wild Boy” name-checks professional idiot and Jackass star Steve-O. Eminem is the obvious hero. “It’s so weird how similar [Eminem’s story] is to my life, having the daughter, battling, getting jumped, growing up in those neighbourhoods where it was not normal to see a white boy rapping, wearing the exact same outfits, sweat suits and all that. It was pretty trippy man, that dude was talking for me and now I’m that same thing for those kids of this generation.”
MGK is a super-fan. Like Sid Vicious: the kid from the audience who climbed onto the stage. How he found punk and rap? “I went to Warped Tour 2002. I saw all these punkers, all these bands who looked like me and they didn’t look like they had their lives together. Oh there’s an outlet for fuck-ups like me! Then I saw DMX and Eminem. It was so punk, screaming and aggressive. They felt like I felt. They weren’t talking about things I didn’t know about. They were talking about loner feelings and dark messages. That was pretty similar to the music I was already listening to, done in this new fresh way. And it just flourished and now I’m here.”
An established star in the United States, Machine Gun Kelly’s first UK chart success came from 2016 single “Bad Things”, which paired him with Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello. Signed to Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Records, distributed by Interscope – the latter home to Lady Gaga and Eminem: two albums, 2012’s Lace Up and 2015’s General Admission, right now working on the third. Fans seek out his mixtapes and EPs.
Kells is in town for London Fashion Week Men’s, his second time at the event. And he’s hooked, giddy as a kipper about meeting Vivienne Westwood at her catwalk show. “Vivienne’s influence on the [punk] culture that I am a big part of right now is still so relevant. Some stuff it doesn’t matter how old you get, it’s just timeless.”
Machine Gun Kelly is something of an anglophile. He has a red double-decker bus tattooed on his right flank. “I got knocked down by a bus in Manchester.” Dude, they’re painted red so you can see them. “I looked the wrong way.” On his ribs next to the bus is the number 557. Is that the bus number? “No that’s a hotel room where I had a pretty wild time.” He has a scar on his chin from falling off a car in Denmark. He broke a middle finger on stage in Las Vegas, and now it’s bent out of shape, gnarly. “I came in the game, metaphorically with my dick out. Like full-on rock star mode. I can do anything and you’re gonna what? There’s nothing you could catch me doing that I would ever care that you’re judging me on.”
The style incursion, wearing Giorgio Armani suits, Christian Louboutin shoes, informs a campaign to give the world a more rounded Machine Gun Kelly. Kells is pursuing a career as an actor, is already known to TV audiences as upbeat roadie Wesley in Showtime series Roadies. “Acting is my new form to release all the inner demons. My team was trying to get me to see a psychiatrist. I didn’t want to; I didn’t feel comfortable letting these skeletons out of my closet. But I was in this really dark place and couldn’t figure out how to snap out of it. And I ended up getting that role on Roadies. My character is this over-zealous, really happy former addict who’s now just naturally really high on life. And I would have to go to work every day and be that guy. So you naturally become really happy and super ecstatic all the time. And that was one of the happiest points in my life, man.”
As an actor Kells is credited as Colson Baker, (“I’m Colson”), his actual name pretty much. Tall: 6’3” he says but more like 6’4”. Size 12 feet (proper UK 12s) in blue denim Louboutins with black rubber studded toes. Skinny. Tattoos from the neck down. “Do I enjoy pain? It’s a pretty decent feeling.” His nickname borrowed from a 1920s American gangster notorious for his Thompson submachine gun. At 15 Colson was tagged Machine Gun Kelly to mark his super-fast delivery of lyrics. “We call it chopping. I guess cos you chop your words up like de-de-de-de-de-de-de. It was an art that you learn in the Midwest. In the same sense that on the West Coast you would always make beats that had that signature high Dr. Dre horn.”
The MGK of 2017 is in transition. The punk prankster is alive and well, but there’s some maturity and consideration, even wisdom. “It’s ok to not know your purpose as long as you know you’re not worthless. I didn’t look in the mirror once and like what I saw until I was 25 years old, which was last year. But I wasn’t ever walking with my head down; I was always looking for it. I would encourage everyone to know you have a purpose, but it’s not going to come easy.”
He doesn’t say so, but it’s as if the discipline of acting, the techniques for harnessing reality and being in-the-moment, have infused his outlook, his process. “Everything at this point has become a creative process. Even listening to music I’ll have to go buy a vinyl player to go get a vinyl and put it on. I want to work to attain what I desire. Even shaving. I got rid of all the shavers they sell. Fucking Gillettes with the fucking, rubbery blue, easy eight-blade shave it real quick. I went and got an old school razor, which is just a single blade. And I shave myself like that now. Everything is a craft. I don’t want to learn how to do anything other than create and give creative vibes to the world, whether they’re making the best espresso you’ve ever fucking had or playing the guitar, putting on clothes, smoking weed, rolling the perfect joint, writing the perfect song, leaving a hotel room a certain way so that when the person goes in to clean it up they’re like, who the fuck was staying here?
“I think that’s why in the past year I’ve seen more success than I ever have because I took what the formula was, and when I took on the fashion and picked up the guitar, I went a step forward and started showing kids what they can strive for. Because Em was great about being the voice of the runaways, but where do I run to? They never told us that part. Eminem just continued to fuck up. But Jay-Z does that for a Project kid: you come from the Projects and boss up, put the Tom Ford suit on, get the beautiful wife da-da-da. He shows you that lifestyle. There wasn’t that voice for people like us, bunch of white boys. So I’m about showing people what to aim for.”
A future beckons. He wants a romantic relationship with his whole heart. “My friends are growing up now too, so I can’t have their company the whole time. But I hate my own thoughts; I can’t do it. Even when I’m on tour I don’t stay in the hotel room, I stay on the bus cause I don’t ever want to be away from people. Fun fact.”
So he’s living the nomad life. Cleveland, Ohio where daughter Casie lives is home-home, but otherwise he is a gypsy. What does he miss about the States? “I was gonna say the weed, but the weed y’all got over here is fire. I got a really good weed guy.”
In the Disorder photo-suite, we prep the final set-up, a shot involving a smoke ring. And of course Kells is smoking pure skunk. He is toking and blowing a smoke-ring or three. Then he’s ducking down and snorting the smoke-ring smoke up his nose. Again and again. An entire joint to himself in a few minutes. To get the shot. His third joint of the morning. “I am so fucking high.”
Photography: Darren Black
Fashion: Rebekah Roy
Grooming: Samantha Coles using MAC and Kevin Murphy