Mac Miller performs at the Big Day Out on Sunday, February 2, at Arena Joondalup. AUGUSTUS WELBY checks in with him.
2013 was a big year for Pittsburgh native, Mac Miller. In addition to turning 21, the rapper released his second album, Watching Movies With The Sound Off.
The release brought Miller a lot of new fans, notably gaining the favour of many critics who panned his 2011 debut, Blue Slide Park. What’s more, Miller switched coasts and recently bought a home in Los Angeles.
“I’m going to sign with a notary right now to own a house, so things are good,” he reveals over the phone just before Christmas.
The majority of the new album was actually recorded in Miller’s home studio setup. Having the ability to make music so freely has evidently boosted his skills as both a rapper and producer. “I’m constantly making music. It’s disturbing. It seems like all people that make music really work hard and blah blah blah, but it’s actually like a disturbing obsession,” he admits.
No matter how disturbing it may be, his obsession is generating positive results. There’s a quite obvious shift from Blue Slide Park to Watching Movies. The first record was rather frivolous and adolescent, whereas the latest record sounds paranoid, dangerous and includes substantial self-reflective lyrics.
“I think the more you work and the older you get, and the more you’re committed to what you’re doing, you just learn more about what it means to write a song,” Miller says about his artistic progression.
Watching Movies With The Sound Off also features a number of big name collaborators, including guest vocalists Earl Sweatshirt on I’m Not Real (Earl produces a couple of songs too) and Schoolboy Q on Gees. Miller handled a large proportion of production himself but understandably he made room for Flying Lotus to work on SDS, Diplo on Goosebumpz, and Pharrell leant his unmistakeable touch to Objects In The Mirror.
Despite working closely with these talented artists, Miller says he wasn’t tempted to imitate anyone. “As far as approaching a song, it’s something I kind of had to figure out all myself.”
Right now the hip hop scene is dominated by rappers of a similar age to Mac Miller. For example, the Odd Future collective, Chance The Rapper and Kendrick Lamar are all in their early-mid 20s. Hip hop has always been youth culture and this generation of MCs are adding something particularly novel to the format. “I think right now’s just a special time. This generation I think is going to do something very special,” Miller agrees.
Interestingly, rap music’s reputation for inciting testosterone-fuelled feuds has been largely avoided by the current crop of trendsetters. Indeed, Miller doesn’t perceive a negative competitive dynamic.
“It’s awesome that everyone’s doing well. It makes you want to be better, but I tend to just compete with myself,” he muses.
Something hip hop is also somewhat unfortunately renowned for is mixed success in the live arena. Miller is coming to Australia for the Big Day Out (as well as east coast sideshows supporting Snoop Dogg) and he recognises the issues rappers face in front of large audiences.
“There’s people that go out and just feel a lot of energy, which is great. If you listen to the audio back, yeah it might not be the best, listenable thing, but in the moment it’s awesome. So there’s time for that but then there’s also a place to perform and instead of people jumping around and going crazy they’re just kind of taking it all in. It’s all about the balance of both. You can’t only have people stand there and take it all in because that’s boring but you can’t only have people jump around because, what do they leave with?”
Speaking of leaving, the trip down under will force Miller to depart from the domain of his studio, which he says has been a rare occasion of late. “Currently I have a bedroom and a studio separate and I haven’t slept in my bedroom for a couple of weeks. I’ve just been sleeping in the studio.”
Given that he’s literally living in the studio, 2014 is set to be another highly productive year for Miller. However, his studio addiction doesn’t always prove healthy. “There’s times when I’m obsessing over trying to finish something but I’m obviously out of juice and everyone in the room – if there’s anyone still in there – doesn’t know what to do because it’s obvious if I’d just gotten sleep I could’ve fixed it,” he reveals.
Seemingly Miller is not exaggerating and is in fact addicted in the true sense of the word. Thankfully his unwavering persistence does eventually lead him on the right track.
“Sometimes, like last night for instance, I worked on a song for like 10 hours and then at seven in the morning I decided I’d make another one. The first one was so hard to get down but the second one came right out and it ended up being better than the first.”
Miller is only 21 and still has plenty of room to expand his artistry, so such voluminous experimentation should ultimately be to his benefit. However, he should probably gain some life experience outside of the studio, in order to inform his next release. “I think the next step for me is taking some time to step away and collect my thoughts,” he ponders, “do some living and then come back and see what I’ve got.”