Introspection and innovation are nothing new for Mk.Gee: the Los Angeles-based artist has cultivated a dedicated following through the release of a diverse array of singles and two groovy albums. The vast spectrum of sound and emotion put forward on Mk.Gee’s recent tape, however, shows that he is certainly not done growing. Shortly after its release, Lithium spoke with Mk.Gee about musical style, paving ways, and the deliberate paradox that is A Museum of Contradiction.
This interview has been edited for concision and readability.
Photo by Spence Siss
Lithium Magazine: How are you and what have you been up to in quarantine?
Mk.Gee: Honestly, I can’t even remember. I don’t know, just reading a lot. The past couple of weeks I’ve just been protesting, donating, and educating myself and others. But this whole quarantine feels like a seventh-inning stretch—just a weird break from everything.
Lithium: Absolutely. You seem to have been productive during it though—congratulations on your tape! Can you tell me about it?
Mk.Gee: The tape was finished around February so this wasn’t a quarantine project, per say. It was all ready to go and I was supposed to pretty much tour the tape. But shit happens. [The tape] is kind of a conglomerate of shit I’ve been working on for the past year and a half to the past two years. There’s a lot of cross-pollination with a lot of different sides of myself. I think I viewed making this as a bunch of sessions that I had with my different personalities rather than just a bunch of Mk.Gee songs, so there’s a lot of different sides of myself found in this tape and they’re collaborating with each other.
Lithium: That’s a very animated way of looking at it. What inspired the tape?
Mk.Gee: Story-wise that’s usually how I work—I have a lot of alter egos in my head and it’s fun to pick out certain egos and see: what would two-years-ago me make with the more acoustic shit I like now? What would they make if they had a session together tonight? And I guess in terms of the approach that’s what I was leaning toward. In terms of musical influences, my playlists were really confusing at the time. I was listening to The Soft Bulletin, a record by the Flaming Lips, and Tender Buttons—Broadcast had a huge influence. Both of the records really lean strongly into the paradox of what they are. That Flaming Lips album has no heavy rock guitars and all of the synth stuff and all of the keys really form a big paradox: it’s a rock record, but with none of the rock main ingredients, which I really like.
I realized this past year that my favorite artists all lean into that paradox. I don’t necessarily fit into a lane perfectly and I haven’t really found a pre-existing group to find personal meaning in. I think that a lot of my favorite artists also didn’t really find a specific lane that they fit into. I think there’s just more truth in that and that was the purpose of the tape: to accept that there’s not a specific lane for me, so I need to create my own. I was just looking for a different kind of magic in this tape and I took a lot of chances.
Lithium: I imagine it must be both exciting and isolating to feel like you don’t fit into any established category.
Mk.Gee: It’s totally isolating because you can’t just hop into a discussion that’s already happening, but it’s more liberating than anything. Music is all about taking chances for me and a lot of these chances, in the studio, started out as jokes. They started out as these “why not” instances, like “wouldn’t it be crazy if this song bursted into a giant organ ensemble as the second part of the song?” I think those jokes are usually your best ideas disguised; you’re just too scared to say them. Those ideas are usually your best.
Photo by Erica Hernandez
Lithium: Do you generally aim for any particular type of sound when making music?
Mk.Gee: Everything I make is pretty manic. In the beginning of the process I don’t sit down and decide what it’s going to sound like—I think that’s pretty stupid and it’s very limiting. You can’t really take any left or rights turns when making the music if you need to. So it’s all pretty manic and then I organize it and I draw some lines in between certain songs then start to figure out: “oh, these can make a project” or “these are congruent with each other.” I may not have someone to look up to at the moment, but the more I lean into this discomfort and isolation and the way I contradict myself in these lanes, the more someone stumbling upon my music will feel heard. Like someone said it and someone gets it. I think that’s a big reason why I lean into that—for someone to feel less lonely.
Lithium: It takes a lot of creativity to be able to pull that off. I know that beyond just making music you also have a lot of fun visuals to go along with your content. Do you ever consider breaching your artistry to other mediums?
Mk.Gee: I think about it a lot. I used to be really into printmaking and worked at a lot of photo labs. It’s super important to me because it’s not just about the music. Music isn’t two-dimensional—there’s a lot of work that goes into it, and my favorite artists are very visual with their music. I aspire to trigger similar stories and visual aspects through my music. It can’t just be cool fucking sounds and word acrobatics. It needs to be inviting someone to see something.
Lithium: Who are some artists that you look up to in that sense?
Mk.Gee: Mount Kimbie’s visual stuff with Frank Lebon is really awesome. I’m also referencing not just artists with cool visual taste, but cool visual taste that you can sense in their music. Those are people that I really look up to.
Lithium: I see. Are there any particular musical goals you’ve had on your mind?
Mk.Gee: I don’t really believe in box-checking in terms of music, that’s not why I do it. I didn’t just get into music to just make content, so it feels weird for me to have these capitalist-driven goals. I think I want to heal people and make people who may be similar to me feel heard. That’s my purpose with music. For this whole tape I was just really reaching for something way bigger than I could have imagined a few years ago.
Lithium: Do you feel like you succeeded in accomplishing what you had in mind for this tape?
Mk.Gee: I think so, yeah. I got what I was reaching for. But it also just kind of came out. The more I live with it the more I’ll understand what I can take away from it and what I can just let live in this project.
Lithium: Yeah, a growing experience. Do you have any updates regarding tour plans?
Mk.Gee: The way things look right now, who knows. I’m not really focused on that. I’m just focused on helping and healing in any way possible. If that’s not touring, that’s fine—it’s cool with me.
Lithium: Definitely. I understand that it feels kind of silly to be thinking about all of this right now.
Mk.Gee: Yeah. I’m not here to just make music—I’m looking to use music for something greater. It’s okay to take a step back and to not just create stuff for content’s sake. As long as you’re continuing to want to learn, grow, teach, and help, you don’t have to pause being a good person to make art. We can find time to do both.
By Bita Tanavoli