Do you know MKTO? No, not the stock symbol for Marketo Inc. currently trading for about $27 a share. I’m talking the Malcolm-Kelly-Tony-Oller pop duo out of California that were cast as best friends for Teen Nick TV series, “Gigantic,” continued their bestfriendship after their departure, realized a shared passion for making music together and are now riding the launch of their careers as pop stars? Misfit Kids and Total Outcasts? That MKTO. In somewhat typical fashion of America on the global music scene, we’re late to this party.
Australia and New Zealand love these dudes!
Their first single, “Thank You,” debuted just days into 2013, as an upbeat poke in the eye of an older generation with a message of gratitude from “the ones you left behind” for the state of humanity. It struck a chord with the Aussies and New Zealanders, cresting the Top 10 in both countries, and it was justly deserved: political laments are much better served as pop party anthems than talking-head commentaries.
Their next hit single, “Classic,” sold more than one million copies, and is currently sitting at number 18 on the Billboard Top 100. They dropped their debut album, “MKTO,” in stores this spring, and their popularity is climbing; once again, Australia partied hard, raising MKTO to the top of the charts. We caught up with them for a minute as they exit their first headlining tour Down Under and get ready to hit it home on the American Dream Tour this summer.
CM: You guys have an interesting story about how you got started. Do tell.
MKTO: We met on the Teen Nick set of “Gigantic,” and did that for about a season. We became best friends from our time there, and after the show was done we were just having fun, making music, putting videos on YouTube. When you have the power of YouTube fans that watch what you do, and someone says, “you guys should put out an album,” it’s really like, “wow.” We started meeting with producers, working on songs, making tracks, now we have our first album out... this is all real, it’s crazy. Visiting new countries, traveling the world. We just got back from London, our album just came out over there. It sets the bar even higher. We’re just taking it day by day, humbled and happy, waiting for tour time.
CM: Australia was your first big-time experience as an international performing artist. What was that like for you?
MKTO: Playing over there, headlining a sold-out show was amazing - it really set the bar high for our upcoming tour, and we’re really looking forward to bringing it home to the US.
CM: Your popularity at home is just now starting to reflect your popularity overseas. How has that been for you as new artists?
MKTO: It’s kind of different, but it’s all about the music, man. We get everybody in the room wrapped up in the experience, playing the full album. We were having a good time, Australians knew the words to the songs, and that’s exciting for any artist. When we come to do something in the US, we’ll have a good lineup of how we play what we love, and we want everybody to like what they hear everywhere. It goes back to who opens for you, gets everything started. Anything we gotta do to make sure that you like the music… we come to party, and it just keeps getting better and better.
CM: Pop music today is a hard genre to gain traction in, but you’re doing it well. Who does your sound get compared to? How are you different?
MKTO: It’s hard to pinpoint what kind of sound we are. Some say we sound like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, but a good place to start is B.o.B and Haley Williams “Airplanes.” Are we a boy band, or are we hip-hop, you know? We’re a duo, and we like to do our type of music. We have an album with beat songs, pop songs, classy songs all put together. We try to be different and stand outside the box a little bit, get a little dangerous in the studio. We want to make great music, and it’s kinda crazy having help in the studio to get creative and make songs that might stand out a little bit. We’re lucky that our words mean something, so it’s like telling a good story that people can relate to. An artist might be singing it hot, but do you have a lot to say? It’s about finding that message from the right place.
CM: What else would you like to do as a band?
MKTO: We would love to collab with someone like Sam Smith, what he’s doing is amazing. But we wanna do it all - we’re writers as well, and as good as it would be to work on a song with another artist it would be cooler to write a song that another artist wanted to perform and showed it love. We want to be on that grand stage, as a duo and producers, and it’s always getting bigger and better. People ask us, “where do you see yourselves five years from now?” It’s too far. We’re regular guys at the end of the day, and we identify with that. It’s cool that we can make songs for people, create something to give back to them.
CM: Sam Smith only sits a few spots above you on the Billboard chart at number 10 - that could be a fun collaboration. What are you looking forward to about your show in Cincinnati?
MKTO: We’ve been there a couple times - it’s a great place with great people. We can’t wait to perform! It’s the second stop on our tour after Detroit, so it’s gonna be one of the best shows ever, man. We want to give fans something to remember, so we’re excited to come to Cincinnati. Will you be there??