The first ever EST Fest kicked off this weekend at Nelson Ledges and a stoned and intoxicated crowd that was surprisingly tame and well behaved showed up for the gig. However, the first year of every festival is always plagued with some problems. Bathrooms ran out of hand sanitizer and toilet paper and when Machine Gun Kelly took the stage around 9:30 p.m. last night, security was having some difficulty keeping fans back from the stage. Every festival has to learn to walk before it can run and considering those complaints are fairly minor, this festival got off to a great start. We caught up with Machine Gun Kelly before his performance and spoke to him in his trailer backstage. The rapper had just finished a meet and greet with fans who had won an online contest and in true Machine Gun Kelly fashion, he lit a joint to start the interview.
I’m an Ohio University student so I wanted to ask what happened at Halloween last year when they called the show a riot and tried to arrest you?
Oh, the shit where the police came and shit? Fuck Athens police; that shit was crazy. I mean that’s how we do it that’s how we like to go out. We got to finish the show, so I didn’t give a fuck, but if the show had been compromised that would have been a whole different story. It is a riot, that’s what it is, but that’s what’s so punk rock about it is that every show is a riot.
Have you been kicked out of a lot of other venues before?
I’ve been banned from cities.
What’s at the top of the list?
The New York one was pretty bad. They were picketing outside like "how can you ban this motherfucker" but yeah they banned me. Seattle banned me.
Black Flag is your newest album. Why release it for free?
Everyone asks that and I’m beginning to regret it [laughs]. No, I just needed to be able to speak my mind without any interference, and whenever there’s money involved the person with the bigger pocket is always going to have a say in it. Since I’m going to have to do another album with the label, [they] let me give the fans something that is pure. So it’s like, "Yo, I gave you this for free now rock with me when I have to go this way." I’m always going to do me but I’m going to have to listen this time which is fair. That’s the point, to grow you have to listen. Now, as a return favor to me, rock with me on this next one no matter what it is. If Katy Perry is on the cover, just rock with it. But you know I’m always going to do Machine Gun Kelly on everything I do.
Is Black Flag just an EP or your sophomore album?
I’d consider this my sophmore album to be honest because it damn sure sounds like it.
It feels like a complete album and not just a mixtape.
Not at all, and that’s why I refuse to call it that anymore.
How do you feel about streaming services like Spotify and Google Music? Do you think that takes something away from artists like yourself?
I think it’s cool. I think if anything takes away from artists like myself is just commercialism in general, where people are told what’s hot and what’s not. You can’t listen to Machine Gun Kelly and tell me it’s not hot. I’m not saying you have to think I’m the most magical thing in the world. But you can’t sit down with the Machine Gun Kelly project and walk away disappointed. But commercialism will tell you that Machine Gun Kelly is not the trend; it’s not the hype so what’s the point in listening to him? And that ruins music because so many artists are just looked over. I mean look at what the fuck I have to do to take things in my own hand, I have to rent out a fucking forest, because festivals won’t book me. So I have to build my own. Look at the measures I have to take to leap over those boundaries. They don’t even look at me like ‘you're not the trend.’ But motherfucker look at this [points out to the festival grounds].
Is that how EST fest was started?
Yeah, by not being able to be booked on festivals. So I said fuck you I’ll make my own. This is the first year; everything is suppose to be fucked up but it’s not.
It seems to be going well for a first year festival.
That’s because God is good and people with positive intentions like this succeed in life and I realize that after all the negative years I had.
Compared to Lace Up, Black Flag seems more lyrically centered. Did you do that consciously?
I didn’t and then everyone started telling me that, which is weird because I was always like "why doesn't anyone take me as a lyricist?" I would listen to Lace Up, and those are deep lyrics you know? And it’s so many words that how could this not be lyricism? It’s not like five words a bar I’m giving you a lot. But then it’s crazy because Black Flag came out and everyone’s like "the lyrics the lyrics," so I’m listening to y'all on that one, something must have clicked.
The song that stood out for me was “Dark Side of the Moon.” Can you take me through the process of making that song?
That was just one of those nights when you have the eariest feelings. You’re in a room by yourself everything’s dark and this instrumental just happens to be playing on repeat. So you are almost unconscious of the thing, I was just high out of my mind in dead space. All of a sudden I just started really feeling. It was weird it was like I was sent a shit ton of pain in my mind. Someone was just like "here, here is a fuck ton of pain and I want you to speak for all of this pain." And that shit came so quick, "Dark Side" was written in the course of 15 to 20 minutes, which is sweet if you listen to the content of the record. And then we took that record and it sounded nothing like the [original] beat we added all live instruments: the strings, the drums, the fucking guitar solo. It was such a cool production process after the lyrics were done.
What kind of pain did you draw from for this song?
None of it was my pain. I swear it was sent to me. It’s weird that song and “Swing Life Away” came to me in the same night. I fucking love Rise Against.
How do you balance the serious content of “Swing Life Away” and “Dark Side Of The Moon” with like “50 Interlude”...
And “All Black Tuxedos,” “Peso” and shit like that? Yeah, I mean at the end of the day I am a hip-hop artist and I have one gift that many don't as a white rapper, which I don’t consider myself a white rapper but as a rapper who happens to be white, is the fact that I can go and do these festivals also go and do warped tours. But in the evening times I’m booked in after parties at some of the hoodest spots ever and people come and rock with my shit. As beautiful as "Dark Side" is and as "Swing Life" is, that would be very one dimensional of me to stay that way. The beauty of Machine Gun Kelly is that you look at Instagram and your like "this motherducker was just on stage with a mohawk but now he’s in the fucking club with a billion champagne bottles." And it’s genuine to it’s not forced. I don’t try and balance it it just comes and at the end of the day it’s like sometimes I don’t want to hear Dark Side in the middle of the day, I’m very happy. Sometimes I like hearing about how 50 hoes are on my dick. And it’s fun.
Do you think fans connect with both styles?
You know “50 Interlude” was a song I did as a joke and I didn’t think it would be on there. Surprisingly a lot of people fuck with it. “Peso” was like, those keys hit me when I woke up one morning and I woke up and wanted to go to work right now. As repetitive and easy as “Peso” is it hits too. When you hear that ‘I be goin’ hard for that Peso’ and your in your car going to work. You’re like ‘alright, I’m going to like work today.’
What about the other acts for the festival, have you gotten a chance to see their sets?
Yeah, I specifically asked for Sky the December, which is a metal group from Cleveland because they did a cover of my song "Invincible". And I love just having music and I want people to come out and want to see everything. And this is our first year I can’t believe people came out to do this shit period. Project Pat came out, Travis Porter is coming out, I mean for a first year and no budget this seems pretty insane to me.
What happened with Summer Jam this year when it was supposed to be you with Kid Cudi and Chip?
I didn’t drop it; they did. It was the radio station. Rumors spread that we dropped it but I didn’t pull out because of Cudi and Cudi didn’t pull out because of me; it was just something with the radio station.
Do you have any plans to get back together with them and do another Cleveland rap show?
I think that would be great for the city, I’m down with whatever's good for the city.
Email us at email@example.com.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Cleveland and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Cleveland's true free press free.