Photo: Alexandre Faraci

Machine Gun Kelly on the Resurgence of Pop-Punk & Why He’ll Never Do a Virtual Concert

Plus, why he's often too hard on himself and his beliefs that music is a religion.

Colson Baker, known to most as Machine Gun Kelly or affectionately as MGK, is just rolling out of bed when he picks up our call. We exchange a few pleasantries before Baker passionately launches into anecdotes about his pop-punk idols and his latest video for his single, “Bloody Valentine”—you know the one. It featured Megan Fox and practically broke the internet. It’s this electrifying energy Baker exudes, which can be felt even through a dodgy phone connection, that has captured the attention of millions of fans worldwide. Fans that are now eagerly awaiting the release of his fifth studio album, Tickets to My Downfall, set to drop July 17. 

Baker initially teased it as a rock album via Twitter back in December, however, the record has since been deemed a pop-punk album with features from the likes of Travis Barker (a longtime collaborator), Trippie Redd, and YUNGBLUD. While chatting with Baker, we discuss his insecurities and how hard he is on himself, his recent cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in The Name,” and music being a religion. 

What’s your take on pop-punk in 2020?

There’s definitely a resurgence of pop-punk. We’ve had hints before, but right now is the most guitar-driven production I’ve heard from the young generation. They’re super emo, whiney, and poetic—all the things I love about early 2000s pop-punk.

Who are some of your pop-punk idols?

Definitely Tom DeLonge. I had Blink-182 posters on my wall back in the day, so Travis [Barker] was a big inspiration—Blink’s sound in general. Blink and Nirvana were some of the first bands that I attempted to learn songs from on guitar. For someone who didn’t grow up naturally singing, Blink [showed me what else was possible], and that was so beautiful.

I love Gerard Way [of My Chemical Romance], the way he wrote as a songwriter and as a performer. Chino from Deftones—one of the most entertaining people I’ve seen on stage. Since 2011, I’ve been touring Warped Tour, and obviously, I grew to love a lot of those guys out there. I was always down with the wild cards [laughs].

Is there a time of day that you find you are most creative?

I like to keep everything close to me so that if I want to do anything, I can just do it. There is always a studio set up around me, or I’ll use my phone. My best ideas come past four in the morning when there’s no more energy to filter anything.

And who do you involve in your creative process?

I like to involve two of the six voices in my head; the rest of the voices should just shut up and leave me alone. Outside of that, I live with my best friend, so I gather a lot of my inspiration with him.

There was a ton of chatter around your last video for “Bloody Valentine.” Did you expect that?

When I watched the final edit of the music video, I knew that something big would come from it. It [was] cool because I am so hard on myself. I come from a place of insecurity in the way that we all do—you know, you don’t love hearing yourself on the answering machine, you don’t love watching yourself in an interview—so when you can look at something [you’ve done], and you’re a fan of it, that’s a moment. That’s how I felt about that video—it was an art piece and a place in time that I’ll never forget.

In the last month, you also released a cover song of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name” featuring Travis Barker. How did that cover come to be?

We’ve been protesting every day, and I think that energy was already running through me. [I was] already so angry and wondering what I could do besides giving my physical energy, and I realized, oh, I’m an artist, I can use my art to express myself, and one of my art forms is music. Driving back from the protest one day, a Rage Against The Machine song randomly came on, and I don’t think I even let it finish playing before I called Travis and said, “Hey, I’m coming over, let’s do a cover real quick [of] ‘Killing in The Name.’” We just did it. We didn’t think much about it at all; it was more a feeling.

You’ve been quite busy with a small role in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island. For those who have yet to watch it, what can they expect?

Pete [Davidson] and I make it a thing to always be in each other’s movies. This one in particular [is] just a quick in-and-out cameo, but I mean it’s always fun to be in a movie with your best friend and mess with each other. I got to give him a little bit of shit on screen.

With the future of live music so uncertain, what are your thoughts on virtual concerts and tours?

I’m not rooting for that; I’m completely against that. If churches are open, concerts should be open, because music is one of the only religions [where] you don’t have to be told anything. [It’s] an escape that people have the right to experience. 

I encourage people to fight for music and fight for concerts. I could care less if I’m the one doing them, or I’m the one participating in them. I just know what it feels like to be watching your favourite band and hearing the music at the perfect volume. It’s so loud that it’s making your chest rumble; you’re looking at the person next to you screaming every word, and they’re having the best time of their life; you’re connecting with people. It’s a community that is there for one single band. I would never want to lose that. Music isn’t a video game; it shouldn’t be presented on a television screen.

And what about the future of your sound? Where do you see it going?

Well, the Tickets to My Downfall album is a pop-punk album from start to finish. I’m sure after that, just like with the first albums, people will try to box me in, but I’ll probably do what I normally do: piss everybody off and go in the complete opposite direction and break out of that box [laughs]. I encourage everyone to keep up.