A GoPride Interview

Malcolm Kelley

Platinum friendship: MKTO's Malcolm Kelley on finding success with friend Tony Oller

Thu. July 17, 2014  by Jerry Nunn

...we both started making music and found out we had the same love for music. It was awesome.
Malcolm Kelley

mkto's malcolm kelley (right) and tony oller

photo credit // columbia records
It's a bromance that spawned a hit album from the new group MKTO. The platinum-selling duo, made up of Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller, met while co-starring on the Nickelodeon series Gigantic. "We played best friends," says Kelley. "We became best friends outside the show as well." (Kelley also played Walt Lloyd on the ABC series Lost.)

After discovering their combined talents for writing and singing, the best friends formed the smash pop band MKTO, a play on their names Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller. The group was later signed to Columbia Records and released a first single "Thank You." The second single "Classic" has brought them plenty of air play, breaking into the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and exposure all over the world. Opening for popsters Emblem3 brought them even more fans and an upcoming fall tour with Demi Lovato promises to do the same.

ChicagoPride.com's Jerry Nunn talked to Malcolm Kelley, one-half of the pop musical duo, right before their self-titled debut album was released this spring.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Malcolm. Are you currently out on tour?

MK: (Malcolm Kelley) No, actually I am calling from California. It is good to be home for a couple of days and relax before we get back on tour.

JN: Are you originally from California?

MK: Yes, I am originally from Los Angeles, California and from Long Beach. Tony is from Texas. We both have an apartment here in Studio City. We are LA men!

JN: You two met on the TV show?

MK: Right, we played best friends on a show called Gigantic on Teen Nick. We became best friends outside the show as well. When the show ended we both started making music and found out we had the same love for music. It was awesome.

After a couple of years we put up some covers then Columbia Records signed us.

JN: Is it hard to shed some of the teen image that comes along with a Nickelodeon show?

MK: Sometimes you get typecast off certain things you have done but if you keep improving I think people will respect you for that. I try not to get caught up in the whole Nickelodeon aspect of things, although we are about to do a guest appearance on a Nickelodeon show coming up right now. I think that will be pretty cool.

JN: What's it called?

MK: It's called The Thundermans. We are getting ready to shoot it sometime this week.

JN: This album is so fun.

MK: Thank you, man. We are so proud of it and this is our first time on tour. It took us about a year to make this album. We put 11 songs on there, all talking about real life. Being new artists we have a great team that we work with. We got a chance to write a lot on this album. Everything is pretty much real. We talk about heartbreaks and the girl you want to get noticed by. We got to work with Ne-Yo on this album and that was amazing. Max Martin and Rami Yacoub are great producers that have made so many hits.

The producers we were assigned to were legends in themselves. It was taking in so much in such a short time but we are just so humble and can't wait to get this tour out there for you guys.

JN: Who writes the songs, you or Tony?

MK: Tony is great with piano so sometimes we produce the stuff ourselves like the song "No More Second Chances" we did when we weren't even signed yet like three years ago. It actually made it to the record because it was such a great song. They just added Jessica Ashley on it. She might come out for one of the LA shows.

The whole team puts in a lot of input and sometimes it will be three in the morning when we are messing around with the songs. It is still in my head after a couple of days then we know we got something. We will go into the studio and our producers will break it down. We all just mesh and vibe off of each other. We came up with some great songs. We weren't rushed and didn't really have a deadline to make this album. It was all organic and that is one of the great thing about this album. I think you can hear us grow as well from where we started.

As we were working together so many great things were coming out. We would make a song then the next week we thought the next one was even better. We are just so excited for this album.

JN: Who wrote the words for your hit "Classic?"

MK: That song was already written when we got to the project. We had to rewrite the rap and put some input into the song. Our producers are amazing so when you get a song like that we had to do it. I think it was played for a couple of other people. We got first dibs on that song so we worked through it. We were just happy to be a part of it.

JN: Do you feel the same as the lyrics and like all that classic music?

MK: Oh yeah! It is about the music of our parents growing up. My dad was big into Motown and walking women on the right side of the road. I carry all of those things with me today.Tony and I love the southern belles and treating a woman right. "Classic" is about that kind of girl. Especially in Hollywood you see girls come from other places and they change because of the lifestyle. When you find a girl that is comfortable with herself and doesn't need all the glamor to feel okay about herself.

That's the main thing and what we think is classic. It was important to touch on. Everyone is digging it so we appreciate that.

JN: You opened for Emblem3 recently. Those fans are loud and were screaming in my ears when I was in the photo pit at their concert.

MK: Oh, those fans get wild! Coming off of X Factor with that big platform, to see them up close and personal that is great things about the power of music these days and TV. It was so cool to be a part of the tour with those guys. That was a crazy ride!

Our styles of music kind of mesh. Our fans are some of their fans so the fact that they enjoy our music is a great thing. We will be seeing a lot of familiar faces on this tour as well.

JN: That is the same spot at the House of Blues where I saw them perform.

MK: We are doing some of the same spots. That is crazy. I think the next tour we have coming up I think Emblem worked with Demi as well. To be headlining these venues is going to be awesome.

JN: This is your moment to be in the spotlight. I saw a photo booth opportunity on Twitter with you and Tony.

MK: Yeah, we are really into social media. Look for us on Instagram, Twitter and our website www.wearemkto.com .

The photo booth is kind of cool. We did it a couple of weeks ago so I didn't know how it was going to come out. I had an idea but actually seeing it and watching the fans enjoy it was a great thing. I try to retweet everything. It is funny to see the pictures they post.

JN: Do you consider yourself a boy band or more like Macklemore?

MK: Some call us a pop duo as well so hip hop pop duo works for me. We are boy band-ish. We talk about that on the album sounding like a boy band. We have different styles. Sometimes you just get put in categories, but I am glad it is hard to put us in a category.

We are trying to figure it out and being us at the end of the day. We are making music we love.

When we started this we were inspired by B.o.B. and Hayley Williams "Airplanes." There is the great rapping, chorus, and how well they meshed together. You have all of that on one album and almost every song.

JN: Macklemore has done a lot of gay rights with their music.

MK: We also believe in love and loving whomever you want. That is important.

JN: I didn't realize you were on Lost until I was reading about you.

MK: [laughs] That happens quite a bit now. It is pretty funny when people catch on that I was on it. I grew up with it. It is really fun to watch fans that enjoyed that come to hear the music. It is humbling.

JN: You don't even have to work after making that money so you must love making music.

MK: That's the thing, I really love music. We both put a lot of stuff on hold but then we look at people like Justin Timberlake and Jared Leto and the way they balance their careers. Acting is something I love to do and will jump back into it soon. I am trying to focus on music right now.

JN: You can do it all, Malcolm. I believe in you.

MK: Thank you!

MKTO's American Dream Tour hits Chicago on August 17 at the House of Blues.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.