Moment of Clarity: A Conversation With Mac Miller

Going major.

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Meeting Mac Miller that afternoon at Brooklyn’s Brewery Studios, I felt a good vibe after speaking with him. The 23-year-old was in a better place, personally and musically. It’s been a period of personal exploration for him these past two years, his last studio album the experimental Watching Movies with the Sound Off in 2013. In May of last year he dropped Faces, a 24-track mixtape that reflected his desire to redefine himself as an artist. Then came the news that he had joined major label, Warner Bros., and was now managed by Christian Clancy, the same man that takes care of Tyler, the Creator and his crew. Any skepticism about the independent artist losing himself to the majors is quickly gone as he tells me about his recently released, GO:OD AM album. He says that Lil B has a spoken word feature on the album, and that Little Dragon closes it out in the same sentence. Rest assured, Miller is still calling the shots — and he couldn’t be happier all while doing it.

How’s the press run been going?

This is the first press run I’ve done in so long. We didn’t do anything for Faces so we haven’t done anything since 2013.

So this is obviously your first project being signed to a major. How’s transition been like? Sometimes with a major you don’t have full creative control –

No we set everything up so I’d have complete creative control. There’s nothing different in the way that things are done. There’s no A&R, no executive producer. It’s just me doing the same shit I’ve always done and that was really important to me. To come out and do the first major and have all of these really big players a part of it — maybe at some point, like maybe at some point I’ll sit and work with Timbo and shit — but it’s not time for that yet.

You were having a good run, what made you want to go major?

I don’t know, man. Me and Rostrum [Records] had just ran our course of what we were doing together. So it became the option of either just doing everything out of my pocket or signing to a major, and I wanted to see what it was like and how I could elevate it. It made sense to take that step.

What have been some of the pros and cons for you doing things indie vs major?

The pros of being independent was just safety. I’ve known it forever, it was the same thing I was doing and there was no fear element of it. With going major it was something different, like the “big bad major.” But it’s a risk, I don’t believe in staying anywhere that you’re comfortable for too long. I think that fucks up your evolution as a human being. So it felt right at the time to take a leap of faith, if you will.

Did you bump heads with any label folks yet?

No, everyone’s been cool because they know how I run things. They didn’t even want to hear any music until I was ready to play it, or they weren’t like “Where’s the single” or “What’s the single?” There’s no crossover pop records on the album — it’s just some regular shit.

Saving the crossover pop is for the next, next album then? (laughs)

Next album I’m going all pop. Me, Jessie J — get the Beyonce hook and have Jason Derulo on every song. (laughs)

Jason Derulo is actually low-key doing numbers right now.

Killing it, hell yeah. I’m shouting out my labelmate, he’s on Warner.

A lot of great acts are on Warner.

Mac Miller: OVO’s on Warner now. They’re building their own hip hop shit right now, because I think before Atlantic did all of the hip hop shit, but now Warner’s building their own shit. And it’s dope, they’re bringing a lot of people from the label side that I’ve met. That was one of the things I liked about it because they were like, “We’re trying to build this and we want you to be a part of it.” I’m a franchise player.

Them not telling you what to do and you telling them what to do, that says a lot because sometimes it’s the other way around.

Exactly, and I wouldn’t have done it if it was that. And there were definitely labels I felt it would be like that through the meetings.

I was watching a recent interview you had and you mentioned it was first performance in over two years in Los Angeles –

When I did the carnival?

Yes, and you mentioned you were terrified because you haven’t performed in over two years. That’s a long time these days in music. Where you been?

I think there was a lot of getting my own life together that I had to do. A lot of people listened to Faces that know me and hit me up like “Yo, you alright bro?” So it was a lot of personal growth and being ready to get back into it. And I needed to be pushed — because like I said I don’t like to be comfortable for too long, and I started being comfortable just chilling and making music, and forgetting that no one has heard anything. Then it was like “Yo, start doing shows again,” and I was like “Oh shit, I forgot that people want to see me onstage or want new music.” So I’ve got to put an album out there.

What sparked you to do music again during those two years?

It’s been in the process of being created for a long time, and I wanted my next statement to come from a place of confidence. I had to get myself in a state of mind that was comfortable with myself and what my life is. So I wanted this album to be more upbeat and fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun. A lot of people are like “Having fun is corny.” Nah dude, having fun is tight and it’s way better than being depressed.

Yeah, I’ve noticed that too.

Yeah, and I think my fans would like some of that. And me personally — whatever album I’m pushing or project that’s out, that’s the state of mind I’m in. So if I put out a project that’s depressed then everything I’m doing around that, I’m going to stay there. I’m going to be performing those songs and pushing that. And so I was like “I’d rather feel better,” so I’m going to put out some music, have some fun and go out onstage and f*ck some sh*t up.

Music that allows you to go on stage to f*ck some sh*t up is always good (laughs)

It definitely has its moments of different emotions. It’s not just carefree or like “I’m the shit, I’m the shit.” The intro is supposed to be like a dream, and the second track “Brand Name” is the wake up from that dream. And it’s supposed to be like the path of the last two years for me — just trying to get to that spot of feeling super ill again. And then there’s moments where you dip down and you have your bad days, but for the most part it’s a turn up.

So tell us about the people you worked with on this album.

As far as production ID Labs did six of them. I went back home and worked with the home team. I didn’t do any of the beats on this one. Sha Money XL did a joint; Sounwave did a couple; Frank Dukes did a bunch of shit on it because he’s fucking crazy with it. The only feature that was made together was with Ab-Soul. He was at the studio when I was making something and I was like “Yo, let’s make this song.” But everyone else that’s featured on it was after the fact, like after I made the record I was like “I want this person to do this.” Juicy J does some ad libs and has a line; Schoolboy Q has a skit and sings background vocals; Little Dragon sends the album out — Yukimi sings and the rest of the band plays on this one record; and Lil B does some spoken word poetry shit on it. At this point I knew what I wanted to do with this album, and I have relationships with people where I can be like “Yo, can you do this on this” and not “Hey man, can I get a 16?” So it’s more like that.

The game needs more Little Dragon.

I think so too. Yukimi is an incredible human being. We had a lot of phone conversations and she was telling me that they really don’t do a bunch of shit. And then when I sent them the record they were like, “We really like what you were saying.” So I told her “I don’t just want it to be you singing on it, I want you to take the record and run with it.” So they added production and everything, and that was really dope. That’s the last track on the album.

You know doors tend to open up more once you go major, are you eyeing anyone right now in terms of collabs?

I would love to be able to work with Timbo and Missy Elliott. I’ve been back and forth with NO ID — he actually helped me name the album but we haven’t gotten in the studio and worked yet.

How did the album title come about?

GO:OD AM. Because it was called Good Morning and I came to NO ID and I was playing him records, and I was like “I can’t call it Good Morning because that’s too simple,” and he was like “You should call that shit GO:OD AM.” So he low key named the album.

What’s the meaning behind the title?

It’s split like a clock — like how 12:30 is four digits. So G, O, colon, O, D and then AM. It’s more like clarity — if you were on a weeklong acid trip and you sleep for two days, and you walk outside and you’re like, “Oh shit, reality.” That’s what the album is — back to reality.

I’ll be good in the AM.

Yeah, that’s exactly the point.

Word, well welcome to New York man, I hope you’re ready for the Winters.

It’s tight, man. I’m deep. I missed having seasons — that was my main thing. Living in LA I missed winter and fall. I love snow, I fuck with snow heavy.

GO:OD AM is available now on iTunes.

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Thuan Tran

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