Mac Miller: From Both Sides Of The Lense | Interview

Mac Miller SoulCulture Interview

Things have been on an upward trajectory for 21-year-old Malcolm McCormick, better known as Mac Miller over the last 2 years. Having released his debut album, Blue Slide Park, that charted at number one on the US Billboard chart – the first independent record to do so since Tha Dogg Pound back in 1995 – Miller has followed up with the psychedelic drug-fuelled Macadelic mixtape, an MTV reality show and a jazz project. Preparation for the release of his sophomore record, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, find him in London on a Friday afternoon, where SoulCulture check in with him after a photoshoot as he walks through Regent Park. “I’m currently walking in the park with an umbrella,” he informs us over the phone. “It’s raining but still nice.”

Mac Miller SoulCulture Interview

Having made the move from his hometown Pittsburgh to Los Angeles last year, he certainly isn’t used to our unpredictable British weather. After spending a week in the City of Angels to film an episode of MTV’s Punk’d,  he rented his gated hillside mansion in order to isolate himself for the recording of Macadelic. “I loved the vibe out there,” he explains, “It was my first time having my own space and I decided to move.”

However, it isn’t necessarily the women, weed and weather of L.A. that inspire many West Coast representatives, that are driving Mac forward, but the fact that moving away from his hometown, and in particular producers E. Dan and Big Jerm, has left him to fend for himself, creating a necessary evolution in his sound. “I’d spent all of my time working with two of the most talented producers in the game, so there was never any reason for me to explore doing things for myself,” he explains. “When I moved I isolated myself, so it really could have been anywhere.” Ironically the isolation has allowed him to connect with a diverse line-up of hip-hop’s finest, including SchoolBoy Q, Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler The Creator, The Internet, Flying Lotus and Pharrell Williams, all of whom appear on his new album. And like everything Mac seems to do, nothing is forced or contrived. “It’s really organic. People just started coming over, and they like the vibe at the house,” he explains. “Me being out there has allowed us to become good friends and then the music has just followed. In Pittsburgh there was nobody really around to put on the album and stuff – other than the homies – so I had to do it myself.”

Mac Miller SoulCulture Interview

With every project thus far, Mac has captured a different vibe and has immersed listeners in those worlds. Undoubtedly his most adventurous effort yet, Watching Movies With The Sound Off is, in his own words, “More cerebral and surrealist, like Salvador Dali. There are a lot of layers to it,” he goes on “But I kind of just want people to listen to the music and take from it what they will.” The escapism, as well as the title, draws from his love of films, and bringing up the subject soon reveals that he is a film-buff who gets too involved in what he watches. “It’s an opportunity to temporarily escape your world and live in another. I cry at the sad bits, smile at the cheesy parts, scream at scary movies,” he admits. “As a kid I used to spend the next few hours after the movie playing pretend and imagining what is next for the characters.” He also recently portrayed himself in the 5th instalment of the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise alongside Snoop Dogg. The second half of the title comes from the studio ritual of playing muted films and drawing from them to create soundtracks which become original compositions. And this passion for the alternate realities of cinema is echoed throughout WMWTSO, whether in Fly Lo‘s Sci-Fi production and the Super-Hero Comedy visual for lead single “S.D.S,” or the fact that Mac employs battle rapper Loaded Lux to deliver a diss rap about him, in order to leave the haters with nothing more to say – which whether intentionally or not, draws comparisons to the final scenes of Eminem‘s semi-biographical 8 Mile.

Whilst directing movies through his music, he has also spent a lot of time on the other side of the camera this year, with his MTV2 reality series Mac Miller & The Most Dope Family that originally aired in the US back in February. He describes the experience of being followed by cameras as rough, although it certainly doesn’t come across as something he has regrets about. When asked about the legitimacy of the situations documented in the show, he is happy to be transparent. “The reality of my life is that I just sit in the studio all day and make music,” the self-confessed music addict explains. “You can’t really make a show about that. So everything is real in the sense of that there is no script. But we might decide like ‘This episode we go fishing’ and then whatever happens becomes the episode.”

It’s interesting to observe that despite the fact that the last year has seen Mac acquiring an L.A. mansion, fast cars, women, famous friends and an MTV show – where most would expect his output to begin engineering itself towards chart exposure – his music seems to have gone in the complete opposite direction and, if anything, has become even more organic. He attributes this to his ability to separate the various aspects of his career, explaining that he set times to film and treats the TV show as a job, returning to his studio as soon as the cameras are off to make more music. “The cameras came at a funny time for me,” he reflects, “because my life has become a lot more private and more relaxed than ever before. Now I’m not going to clubs and events, I just want to sit around and make music. I’m realising the preciousness of my privacy.”

Another new string to Miller’s ever extending bow, is his newly surfacing production work, which seems to be growing in quantity as months pass and is present across a number of tracks on Watching Movies With The Sound Off. Working under the alias Larry Fisherman, the past few months alone have seen the likes of Ab-Soul, Sir Michael Rocks, Hodgy Beats, Boldy James and Freddie Gibbs spitting over his instrumentals, as well as an upcoming EP with underrated Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, which Mac has produced in its entirety. When asked about the seriousness of his production work he is quick to respond: “Oh I’m taking it very seriously. I’d love to have producing even pay the bills.” Nevertheless he is still building his confidence in this aspect of his career, informing us, “I’m still self conscious of being called a producer, because it’s something new, but it’s very exciting.” And while having such an arsenal of MC’s to call upon can’t harm, Mac’s time working with Pharrell Williams on their upcoming Pink Slime EP – as well as “Objects In The Mirror” on WMWTSO – hasn’t been too bad for his inspiration either. “Pharrell can do anything,” states Mac. “How he sees music. He’s a visionary, and he always pushes things to the next level. It’s great to see that openness.”

It’s this kind of openness that is increasingly present throughout Mac’s own ventures as well as his genuine music that have him moving from strength to strength. “I love it man,” he says happily and sincerely, “It’s all I do. It’s less of work and more of an addiction. Music is open, and there are no limits. You can do whatever you want to do. And it’s that mind set that me and all of us are with.”

Watching Movies With The Sound Off is available on Monday 17th June. [pre-order]

Words by: Grant Brydon
Images by: Hayley Louisa Brown