It’s rare for a kid from the Midwest to conquer any particular aspect of the entertainment world, let alone multiple platforms. However, for the straight outta Cleveland sensation that is Colson Baker (AKA Machine Gun Kelly), success stories were meant to be earned, not just dreamt about. After rapping his way to musical notoriety for the past several years, MGK has been turning heads on Showtime’s ensemble hit Roadies, along with recent film releases like Viral, Nerve and Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2. Paste caught up with Baker to talk about embracing success, partying with his Roadies cast mates and being an artist.
Paste Magazine: As we’re speaking right now, you have three movies about to be released, a new single that you;re promoting, plus a new episode of Roadies premiering on Showtime every Sunday. Is this one of the high points of your career so far, emotionally?
Colson Baker: I’m pretty good at keeping myself in a real dark place at times, so I’m really trying hard to quit desiring more and just appreciating what’s already there. It seems like I’m one of those people that has the personality where if I win an award, I wake up the next day and I’m like “Oh, but I didn’t win this award though, or this didn’t happen.” After having a long talk yesterday with my team, I think today is the first day where I got to give the universe those grateful vibes because it’s put so much awesome stuff in front of my plate. I just need to eat it and enjoy it and stop wanting to order more.
I don’t want these times to pass by and then feel like I didn’t appreciate it while I was there. Yes, I’m feeling very happy today, officially.
Paste: To reach the level of success you’ve attained, you almost need to have that “never satisfied” attitude. Is that what you struggle with—the ability to turn that off long enough to appreciate what you’ve achieved?
Baker: I think that is what it is, man. I spent so many years chasing a day like this, that I’m almost in disbelief that it’s here, or don’t know how to actually handle it. There were always so many obstacles, so many let downs. It was impossible for me to appreciate what was happening, because there weren’t really too many moments to appreciate. Of course there were, in hindsight, but at the time if something good was there, it’d be one good thing and five shitty things. This is kind of the first time everything is actually working out.
Paste: Let’s go back a little bit, because a lot of people know you for one thing or another, but music was clearly your first big breakout road to success. When did the acting come into play? Was that something you always wanted to do, or did it just fall into your lap?
Baker: No, nothing ever fell into my lap. I’ve pretty much been chasing all the things that I’m accomplishing now, whether it’s music, or modeling, or fashion or movies. I think when I saw Jackass when I was in fifth and sixth grade that was when I was like, “Wow, here are some people that are young punks just like me, listen to the music I listen to, look like me, dress like me, and they’re also picking up a camera themselves and filming what they do.” It was the same stuff that I was doing, so I started picking up the camera, and started filming, and I fell in love with documenting my life and being in front of that camera and stuff like that.
Paste: Do you want to eventually be doing more behind the scenes, as far as writing, producing, directing?
Baker: Oh yes, definitely, I have a short film that I really want to bring into fruition within the year.
Paste: Right now you’re in the middle of the first season of Roadies, and it’s awesome. Even to someone who hasn’t been in the music business, it just feels like there’s an authenticity there. Everyone on the show feels like they are part of that crew, and part of that world. Do your personal experiences from the music industry help make you a good fit for the cast?
Baker: I like to consider myself one of the big pieces of glue in the cast. When we did that pilot, based off of my experiences on the road, and still to this day, these are all people that you bleed with, sweat with, cry with—it’s almost like you ride or die with these people. You go to sleep with them, you wake up with them, you work with them, you eat with them. It’s a surreal family vibe. What I had to do was create that and not let it come across like a bunch of actors trying to talk about rock and roll, because that’s just so un-rock and roll.
I read this one line in the pilot, after they had called me back when I sent my audition tape—and they actually sent me the script so I could read it—and there was this line that my twin sister says where she goes, “Jimmy Hendrix and Kurt Cobain didn’t die to become crop tops at Urban Outfitters.” That line, amongst so many other gems, I was like, “You know what, some fucking actor can’t deliver this line. This has to be delivered by someone who really feels it and loves it and lives it.” If you meet someone like Imogen [Poots], she’s not just an actor, she’s a fucking music fanatic. She can name three thousand bands that you and I have never heard of. She’s just heard a lot, the music library in her head just stretches that far.
I would make sure that we’d get together in my hotel room at the Sutton Place in Vancouver, and we would all—as a cast—party together, drink together, talk shit together. We just learned so much about each other in the first couple of weeks of shooting, and that’s why the family vibe just screams out of your screen.
Paste: One of the constant themes on the show is what I call a “fantastic insanity” that many of the characters share—a common compulsion to be around the band and their music. Some are crew members, others are flat-out stalkers, but they all want to be a part of this tour and this world, even if it means sacrificing other aspects of their lives. Do you feel that through Wes, who may be the most purely passionate character on the show?
Baker: I think that is so well: it’s a fantastic insanity. My view on music and the way that it’s portrayed is that it’s a religion. We see the extremists that come out of religion, whether it’s people willing to kill, and destroy a whole country over religious differences, or people willing to never have sex in order to satisfy their religious beliefs. I think people feel just as passionately and as extremely about music as they do about whatever god you’re serving or dedicating your life to. I think music to these people is their god, or is their drug. Because also the main thing on the road, on the show and in real life is no one wants to fucking go home, dude. No one ever wants to go home.
Do you know what it’s like? You’re around fans screaming for something that you’ve set up and you’ve created, and all this hustle and bustle and this fast lifestyle, and new people every day, and then it’s all over. Suddenly you just go home, you just got to sit? No one wants to do that. I think you’re right, and I think it is a drug and everyone is just searching for how to find more of it.
Paste: In the middle of all of your film and TV projects, you’ve also got two new songs you’re promoting. You’ve only got so much time in the day. Is there going to be a point where one area of your career needs to be put on the back burner?
Baker: Ironically, I think that the actual art and creation of all this stuff is not too much for me. I think the part that I can’t handle is the press, man.
Baker: No, no, that does not mean I don’t want to be talking with you right now. It means that basically the part that’s hard for me is to be this person that says everything other people want me to say. I’m from Cleveland, I don’t have any famous parents, I don’t have any media training, I don’t have a history in the industry, to where I would have any preconceived notions of how I’m supposed to be. When I came into the industry and as I continue to be in it, part of my authenticity is the fact that I speak my mind. I keep it real, and I think that for me to be asked to put a lot of my energy into keeping it authentic only to a certain point—just so that people can be satisfied with what I say or so I don’t offend somebody—becomes a full job in itself.
It sucks a little bit of the creative pleasure out of this for me, because you want to be able to say what you want. As artists you want to be able to paint what you want, record what you want, do what you want. The last thing I want to do is offend anybody or say anything that would piss somebody off.
Everything I do is with a good heart, so it defeats me a little bit when I’m told that I fucked something up or that someone’s offended by something I said. It sucks the life out of me a little bit, because those were never my intentions, my whole point in being a part of the culture is to add good things to it. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Paste: It does. Basically, beyond doing all the good things you’re doing, you’re saddled with this other job that takes your attention away from what you’re really supposed to be focusing on.
Baker: Yes, I’d rather be an artist than a celebrity. An interview like this is so awesome because you’re a true journalist who has an opinion on something that I’ve done and has actually watched it and analyzed it. Interviews like this never suck energy out of me. I wish every interview was with a journalist who had a perspective and a point of view on something. Do you know what I mean?
Paste: I do, and I appreciate that. So with everything you’ve got going on, what’s next?
Baker: I would love for people to see my live show as a piece of art. I’ve spent a lot of effort on it—like I always have a really cool microphone stand. We switched those up, we’re trying to do as much as we can, stage and production-wise with the money and budget that we have. I’m working on my short film and I would love to do a photo book. We just have so many photos that we’ve taken that come from a really unique perspective. I would love to do something outside of just the entertainment. I’m focused on really contributing as much as I can to the art culture.