Photo Credit: Erica Hernandez
Throwing caution to the wind, Michael Gordon better known as Mk.gee, left his East Coast home of New Jersey for the modern Land of Milk and Honey, California. Attending the USC School of Music, Mk.gee began honing his craft and allowing his new home to mold his identity as an artist. Weaving together elements of R&B, jazz, electronica, funk and pop, Mk.gee refuses to let genre stand in the way of his creative process.
Mk.gee released his first body of work, an album titled Pronounced McGee in early May of 2018. The album is as dynamic as the artist, various elements of sound combined with dense lyrics create a sonic catacomb of emotion. Needless to say, Mk.gee's album debut was a victorious showcase of his raw talent as a songwriter and musician.
Wasting no time, Mk.gee returns with his new EP, Fool, serving as a time-stamp of his growth, both as a musician and a person. We had the privilege to speak with Mk.gee about his passion for music, the construction of his sound, first tour, Frank Ocean and his plans for the future.
OTW: When did you first start making music?
Mk.gee: I started around 7, I started writing on the piano while I was taking lessons. It felt very natural to write music, and it was the only fun thing about playing the piano at the time to be honest. Having a voice early on in both writing and playing was really important for me. It allowed me to find some sort of identity. I started actually recording my own music when I was in middle school/ early high school though. I had a band most of my teen years. They were really talented guys, but it was a really unhealthy environment to be creative and to grow. They put down a lot of my writing and singing. For my 14th birthday, I asked for a Tascam porta studio, so I could just record my own songs and play all the parts. It wasn't like a "Fuck youm I'll just do everything" intention, it just happened out of absolute necessity to create without repercussions.
OTW: You're originally from New Jersey – did the move to California effect your sound in anyway?
Mk.gee: Of course, hundred percent. I didn't even really take recording my music seriously until I moved. I primarily saw myself as a guitarist when I first lived on the west coast. I've had stuff at that time of the move that I recorded/produced by myself at home in New Jersey, but I've never released any of the songs, so I didn't really have a "sound" beforehand. When I moved, I became infatuated by a lot of music and artists that I was never exposed to on the East Coast. I moved in 2015 by myself kind of abandoning all preconceptions of me and my ego/past-life/etc… with that I learned to become a sponge. Not that I let go of past tastes and identity completely, but I learned how to let everything inspire me because subconsciously I knew no one could call me out and say listening or making a certain type of music wasn't "me."
I was introduced to artist's like Blood Orange, Jai Paul, Lolawolf, New Order, just really awesome popular counter-culture stuff that I found an identity in.
Photo: Erica Hernandez
OTW: What inspired your pursuit of a music career? Did you ever think you would be getting the recognition you are?
Mk.gee: The music career thing felt like very natural just because I've been gigging and writing since I was pretty young. I was inspired by a lot people; I don't think one person inspired me, but I remember my old jazz upright bass teacher taught me really important life lessons as a musician – to preach honesty and intention. My parents are really supportive, even though they don't necessarily love my music, which is cool. I know I would be writing and recording my music, I just didn't know I would be a full out solo artist. I focused on guitar and jazz for most of my teen years and thought that I would be primarily a session/touring musician.
I'm not sure if I thought about recognition or validation a lot as I grew up, but my younger self probably would be pretty proud that I'm even doing what I'm doing in the first place.
OTW: Your lyrics feel personal, what's your songwriting process like?
Mk.gee: It used to only be rhythm based. I've always been obsessed with rhythm, not just rhythm counterpoint like in guitar/drums but in the way people pronounce things and the way rhythmic words sounded specific to how they come out of people's mouths. I slaved to this the last record, making the groove/track/beat first then finding sounds that married together really well with lyrics. For this project, I broke that a bit and found some different schools of thought for lyrics and writing. This record I wrote more with just guitar and vocals or synth and vocals just to stress the songwriting more. The process constantly changes though; I get bored easily.
But yeah, vulnerability is adjacent to connection.
OTW: Saying your music is diverse would be an understatement, what inspires your sound?
Mk.gee: A lot of stuff. I don't really believe in like guilty pleasures. I listen to what I like and what makes me feel something. Just anything that moves me. Could be from like experimental electronic/noise music to folk or pop music. I make different music because it's just a lot more fun Having an album with every song consistently like the last is boring to me. I just like to change and bounce around a lot; that's just how I like to operate. For this project I listened to a lot of artists like Grouper, Phil Elverum, and George Harrison. I try to find a lot of inspiration in colors and photographs too. It brings the music to a more physical, colorful place. A lot of the writing on the project was to Lauren Greenfield and Nan Goldin photographs/magazines.
OTW: You're undertaking all of the writing, recording and mixing duties yourself; what spurred the crusade to do it all yourself?
Mk.gee: It doesn't really come from a selfish point of view. Doing all of the parts just brings together the most organic piece of "me" that can possibly be curated. It makes me really happy and satisfied doing all of the work. I find out a lot about myself through every song and every record because of it. I don't really like to talk about me doing it all because it becomes distracting to the music.
It's not about how I did it or where I did it, it's just about the art.
OTW: You worked on your new EP between tour dates this summer; was the project inspired by your time on the road?
Mk.gee: To be honest, almost all of the songs were done before I went on the road, and some of them before I released the first double EP in May. A lot of people say I'm releasing this music too soon after the album, but I want to catch people up with who I am now as a person and what I'm gravitated towards. Pronounced McGee was done about 2 years ago, which is usually the standard album cycle, but for a 21-year-old at the time, that's 2 completely different beings, and I'm very conscious of that.
I think it's good to release spontaneously and freely; it should be an accurate reflection of the artist as they release it, not who you were a couple years ago. It should be a time stamp.
As for the tour, I didn't write on the road too much. I wrote a lot when I came back being inspired by the shows and traveling. It's too early to tell what will happen to them though.
OTW: You recently toured with Omar Apollo; what was that experience like? Are you excited to hit the road again any time soon?
Mk.gee: I really couldn't ask for a better tour partner. Omar is a homie, and the whole crew was just a great hang, really down to earth. The tour got me really excited to hit another one soon, hopefully on the East Coast because my friends and family really haven't seen me play and sing my stuff ever.
OTW: Do you plan on releasing visuals alongside the upcoming EP?
Mk.gee: Some things are in the work for post release, yeah.
OTW: How did you choose which singles to release first; what made you go with "Come On" and "New Year?"
Mk.gee: I chose "Come On" because it was the good bridge from the old stuff to the new project and the title of the EP, Fool, is taken the song. "New Year"'s color represents the album a bit more accurately.
OTW: Your song, "You," was recently featured on blonded RADIO, specifically blonded Midterms pt. I – how does it feel to know Frank Ocean is a fan of your music?
Mk.gee: It feels a bit unreal still. I screamed so much when it happened (laughs). I'm obviously a huge fan of Frank as well as the radio show. Huge shout out to Joe for throwing me on and showing me so much love. I don't strive for validation, but it feels good when it happens. I'm extremely grateful.
OTW: Who are you listening to right now? Who are your Ones to Watch?
Mk.gee: I've been listening to a lot of The Microphones, Grouper, Lucy Pearl, The Stylistics, etc… My friends are ones to watch for sure. They are making really amazing/individual art right now and they inspire me a ton; Bella Porter, Big Buddy, Orkka, and Umi to name a few.