Getting “Classic” with MKTO
Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Tony Oller and Malcolm D. Kelley of MKTO backstage at The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA on February 21, 2014.
Getting “Classic” with MKTO
by Sami Speiss and Ali Speiss
Doing the thing you love most together with your best friend sounds like a dream come true, right? That’s exactly how the last few years have been for BFF’s Malcolm D. Kelley and Tony Oller, the members of the sensational pop duo MKTO.
Kelley and Oller have released three singles “Thank You,” “Classic” and “God Only Knows,” since starting on this journey together in 2012. Their music offers an interesting combination of pop, rap, hip-hop and R&B. Their songs are edgy and fun and “Classic,” their biggest hit to date, continues to get airplay around the world over six months after its release.
As if they weren’t busy enough, the guys of MKTO have continued to write and record music while heading out on the road to open for fellow Columbia artists Emblem3, for two tours in a row. The travel has been great for their career, as their loyal fans can’t get enough of them on the road or through social media. Currently, fans are eagerly awaiting the release of their self-titled first album in late March.
Recently we sat down with Kelley an Oller before opened the Philly stop of the #bandlife tour with Emblem3. We loved hearing about where they came from and where they’re headed. We also shared some good laughs with two really cool guys who make up MKTO.
How did you guys meet?
Tony Oller: We met on a Teen Nick show called Gigantic. We became best friends off camera and started writing music, which was another passion of ours. It led to putting stuff up on YouTube and getting some great responses. Then it just went from there. It led us to where we are today.
How long ago was that?
Malcolm Kelley: Probably about going on two-and-a-half years now.
Tony Oller: That is since we’ve been signed. Since we’ve started…
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, we got signed to Columbia Records. We’ve been working over a year on our album. It finally went on pre-order and it’s coming out April 1st.
Tony Oller: Yeah, we’ve been doing this for about six years now.
Is that when you realized that you wanted to be doing what you’re doing now, together?
Malcolm Kelley: Since the TV show.
Tony Oller: Yeah, absolutely. I think the important thing is that we enjoyed just hanging out with each other, so to be able to travel the world and get to play at all these places, it’s a blast! We’re best friends, so yeah!
Do you have friends that come on tour with you sometimes?
Tony Oller: Our group pretty much… like our tour manager or band is, pretty much our family on the road. We all are like brothers. We all look out for each other.
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, and Emblem3 is cool.
Do you guys hang out?
Tony Oller: Yeah they’re awesome!
Malcolm Kelley: And we have Jackson [Guthrie] on this tour. It’s pretty cool. We’re friends with them too.
Do you think one day you’ll maybe want to do a song with Emblem3?
Tony Oller: Absolutely.
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, we’ve talked about it. Might be in the planning at a show or two.
Is there anybody you guys would want to collab with, other than Emblem3?
Tony Oller: I would love to collab with anybody who wants to collab with us. I would say it’s the weirdest choices that would be the coolest, you know? It’s going to be crazy out there for you to do heavy metal with jazz. I just think crazy collab’s like that. But, right now I love Lorde.
I know that MKTO stands for your names but also “Misfit Kids” and “Total Outcasts.” Is there anything you could tell us about that, and why you chose that?
Tony Oller: It’s just a way to relate to our fans on a certain level. Growing up we both had different upbringings. But in a sense, we relate to other people with the bullying and stuff. Going to high school and wanting to do acting. I was on a Disney show, but if you didn’t play sports you weren’t “the cool guy.” You got plenty of hate, plenty of people booing and whatever. Just to show them that you can get through that stuff… I know it sucks when it’s happening, but it’s just one of those things. If you really want to do something, just do it! Follow your heart!
Your song “Thank You,” does that have to do with how you guys were as teens?
Tony Oller: Yeah!
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah. It’s a nice, sarcastic way to say “Thank You.” Whoever said you couldn’t do something, it’s a nice way to say it.
Do you write your own music?
Tony Oller: We were signed as writers. The cool thing is we get to write for other people. There are a couple tracks we wrote for R5 [a family group featuring Ross Lynch of the Disney Channel hit series Austin and Ally] which was cool, and other people. That was always really important to us. We weren’t going to do stuff that didn’t include us in the process, so we just signed right through the producers. We wanted to write, so we started writing and just decided to make a project. I think they were originally trying to do some Big Time Rush thing. We were like, “Yeah, obviously that’s not really the style we’re doing. ” We came at the right time. We wanted to do a project. I was basically based off of B.o.B. and Hayley Williams, that “Airplanes” vibe. With that in mind we were just like, let’s start writing. There’s a lot of songs we wrote before we even met and stuff like that. It’s been really cool to add them to the record.
Do you play your own instruments?
Tony Oller: Yeah! Unfortunately, we’re growing right now, so now we’re happy to have a drummer and everything on the road. I really love piano, so when that gets in the budget, I’ll be on the keys. It’s just about us both turning up and having fun!
Are you working on any new music right now?
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, we were working on something before we left and have been on the road too. We brought a mobile studio with us, so we can record and get ideas down. We’ll take them back to the studio later.
What do you guys do on tour for fun?
Malcolm Kelley: It depends on the city. Like when we were in Toronto, Canada, it was cool being out there for winter. It was the first time in a long time. Emblem3 were snowboarding in places, so they’re just having fun.
Tony Oller: It's really funny, because sometimes the perception is everyone is partying. We were just napping. (laughs) It’s such a funny perception. When we’re traveling and everything is really hectic, right before stage is where you’re reawakened. Then you’re really excited that it’s going to be a fun time tonight.
Is “Classic” about anyone in particular? Do you have anyone “Classic” in your life right now?
Tony Oller: Yeah, of course! Everyone has had someone “Classic” in their life. I don’t think we wrote that song about anyone in particular, though. I think the reason we like that song a lot was because we always like the “classic” someone that you can take home to your mom, someone that is respectful and is a lady. Someone who is not really intertwined with what you have to do to your hair to be cool. Not someone who is following the trend, more of a trendsetter. I think that’s one thing we like and it’s a cool message, too, at the end of the day. As well as a fun song.
Speaking of “Classic,” there’s one a YouTube account called Superkian13. He did a music video to Classic and it got 876,000 views. Are you guys familiar with that?
Tony Oller: What!? Wait, I think we’ve seen this one. The Kian dude! Yes, I remember that! It’s the dude and he did it with his friend, too. They did the sped up version!
Yes, because if not they wouldn’t be able to upload it due to it being a copyrighted song.
Tony Oller: Oh, that’s why they do it. No, I appreciated that. I thought that was such a nice thing of him to do. Everyone in that video, I thought that was awesome.
Malcolm Kelley: Shout out!
Tony Oller: We appreciated that.
Did you let them know?
Tony Oller: Yeah, I think we tweeted from it from MKTO when it came out. His name is Kian Lawley, right? So yeah, we tweeted out when we saw it. It was awesome. If you search “MKTO Classic” it’s right up there under music videos. Thank you! Appreciate the support!
I think that might be how I found out about that song, which, by the way I love.
Tony Oller: That’s the thing with outlets like this, you have the opportunity to find something new.
I feel like some artists would be mad about that.
Tony Oller: Heck no! It’s just about getting music out there. That’s what it’s all about, you know? His outlet is editing videos. Everyone is doing what they love to do. That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
What is your inspiration behind “God Only Knows?”
Tony Oller: Oh gosh. So, it’s a weird story, okay? (laughs) I wrote that originally for another artist that we were pitching for. And uh yeah… (laughs again) we ended up listening to it once we were done, we liked it and decided to keep it. I think it was just a generalization. You have had that special one.
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, it’s a cool video too. Instead of a girl, we had the love of playing video games. When Grand Theft Auto guys are going crazy and spending hours playing.
Is there anything you learned both good and bad as child stars growing up on the TV?
Tony Oller: I could never speak for anybody but myself, but I think that it’s important to surround yourself with good people. At the end of the day, you need people who won’t look at you just as a product and think of you as a friend. You are looking out for them because you love them. You know we look out for each other everyday. It’s important.
Yeah and I really like what you guys stand for. I think that is important as artists.
Both: Thank you!
Do you see TV in your future?
Malcolm Kelley: Yes! We would both like to do as much as we can acting wise. We love acting as much as we love music. Right now, the support has been tremendous and we’re so excited. Whatever opportunity comes, we’re going to take it. It’s just about balancing it out.
Do you prefer to perform at larger or smaller venues?
Malcolm Kelley: I like the intimate settings. I like the settings where you don’t need any P.A. or any microphones. Just you. That’s because it’s raw. But I mean performing for huge arenas would be awesome too.
Did you guys do anything special for Valentines Day?
Malcolm Kelley: On the road. I could have done something.
Tony Oller: Chilling and watching movies.
Like The Notebook?
Tony Oller: No. (laughs) I do like that movie though.
What is a normal day like on tour? Do you have any routines?
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, I try and eat right.
Tony Oller: We try to hit the gym as much as possible.
Malcolm Kelley: Work out with the trainer.
Tony Oller: Yeah. Emblem3 has a trainer, sometimes we sneak in.
We have a fan question for you from Twitter. @adrianagarciaxo asks who inspired you to your careers?
Malcolm Kelley: I’m inspired by myself and my parents who’ve helped me pursue my dream. I’m inspired by the love of it.
Tony Oller: I would say Justin Timberlake and Gavin DeGraw. I listened to them a lot as I was growing up. They’re the kind of people that just enjoy making music, and not for the wrong reasons. I think people will eventually know you are in it for the wrong reasons. Just do it for the love. Anything you want to do. Like tomorrow if you decided to be painter!
Oh do you want to do that?
Tony Oller: Oh, no, no. If I became a painter, there wouldn’t be many people in line to for that.
Hey! You never know. You could be really awesome!
Tony Oller: Ehhh… Well that’s the thing! Do as many things as you can! This is w