Words: Lily Mercer
Photography: Liam MF Warwick
Mac Miller is one of the most likeable rappers on the planet. Unless you’re a rap purist, in which case you probably frown at his back catalogue of happy-go-lucky hip-hop. But Mac’s grown up. The last year has seen him move city, overcome a drug addition and indulge in an impressive production career. As Loaded Lux asks on the album, many are now wondering who the fuck is Mac Miller?
The release of his new album, ‘Watching Movies With The Sound Off’, witnesses a big change from his debut album, ‘Blue Slide Park’. In comparison, the promotion for ‘WMWTSO’ has been organic: gimmick-free and without the support of thousand-dollar ad campaigns. He explains: “The first album was designed to sell. Now, it’s like I just did it with the music. I didn’t have to do a competition or have a big single all over the place, people heard the music and word of mouth spread.”
A set of singles – ‘S.D.S.’, ‘Watching Movies’ and ‘Goosebumpz’ – was released prior to the complete project, which was accompanied by respectable press and non-invasive advertising. Production comes courtesy of elite producers including Pharrell Williams, Alchemist, Diplo and Flying Lotus. Not to mention Earl Sweatshirt under his Randomblackdude alter ego, plus Mac himself, who produced almost a third of the album.
‘Watching Movies…’ sold over 100,000 copies in its first week despite strong competition from rap superstars Kanye West and J.Cole. Rather than harm each artist’s sales, the trio’s joint release saw a show of solidarity as many fans and bloggers pushed all three projects simultaneously. Mac shares the excitement. When asked if it’s a good moment for hip-hop, he responds: “Hell yeah! It’s dope that these three pieces of music can have success as far as sales and being at the top of the Billboard charts.”
He’d already decided on June 18th before it was announced as the release date of both ‘Yeezus’ and ‘Born Sinner’. Rather than postpone the release, he stuck with it despite initial anxiety: “I wasn’t competing with those guys. It would take a lot for me to come out and sell 300,000 records.” For Mac it was more about the success of ‘WMWTSO’ in his own realm: “It wasn’t [about] how many people get the album, I was more just curious what this kind of rollout would do. Because if this is successful, this is how I wanna do everything.”
Compared to his debut album, EP and mixtapes, ‘WMWTSO’ displays a matured Mac – there’s an eerie quality, plus a reluctance to compromise. The album comes after he emerged from a hermit-like existence at home in LA. “My studio has no windows, no natural light, you’re closed off to the outside world. Throw a movie on and that becomes a window into wherever in the world you wanna go. You’re not listening to anything outside, but you can observe.”
There is an implied meaning of blocking the world out, but the album title is just as literal. “We always watch movies with the sound off in the studio, and that represents a certain state of being. It’s also the idea that you watch a movie but put it on mute and it has a completely different meaning, so it means don’t always take things as they are.” Clash mentions that it’s a great way to practice scoring a film. “Yeah, I mean that was the other thing, the idea that there’s this movie in my head that I’m scoring. It’s my soundtrack.”
But some of the younger members of his fanbase have expressed confusion towards the album title. “A lot of kids told me they were watching movies with the sound off like, ‘I don’t get this, it’s boring.’ If you put on music with the movie, it’s really crazy to see how images and sound really complement each other. You can have your favourite album, watch a movie and it can make that album seem completely different. Same thing with a movie.”
He admits to remaining quiet about the meaning of the cover, which sees Mac sat naked behind a table (a ‘Parental Advisory’ badge preserves his modesty) with a red apple by his hand. “I’ve been chilling on the real description because it’s funny that everyone tries to figure it out. There’s the idea that an apple is good for you. I went through this period in life where all I ate was apples, but there’s also some Adam and Eve shit.” The cover was a family affair as his mum took the picture and his brother did all the design work. “It’s great to do that with my family because my mom gets excited,” he says. “You know, no one takes a better picture of you than your mother.”
Mac feels a sense of pride when looking back on the growth between his debut and his new, second album. “I love that I can track how I grew as a person in two years. I felt that it was important to take time between the first album and this album to figure out what does 21-year-old me have to say? What makes 21-year-old me different from 19-year-old me?” And the difference shows, as he paints pictures tainted by real life.
Much of his fanbase has matured with him, while many of those that once disregarded Mac have been inclined to change their opinions. “When I was making this album there were a lot of people that were like, ‘Well, what do you think your fans are gonna think about this?’ There’s this whole idea that my only fans are frat boy college kids that wanna hear happy music. Of course [those] kids like my music, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a lot of kids that got older and wanna hear some interesting shit, and I bet all those kids wanna hear that shit too.” In fact, his fans really do want to hear that: “The response from my fans has been the most pleasing thing to me, because this was a way different album and it’s been the most well-received project from my fans that I ever put out.”
After the release of ‘Blue Slide Park’, things began to take their toll on the teenage rapper. “I’d been touring for so long and I’d been in the spotlight for so long that it was a lot. Whether it be positive or negative, I wasn’t really ready for all that.” The past few years have dealt Mac several wildcards as success came quicker than he could adjust. “I sort of blew up in one day. We were at home about to drop this mixtape, ‘K.I.D.S.’, and three days later I was on tour and I didn’t stop touring till after [‘Blue Slide Park’] came out. I had a three-month break from tour and then it was, ‘You have three months to make your album’. Then I went right back to [touring]. I stood up and finally was like: ‘Stop! Everybody stop. Stop booking me, stop. I don’t wanna do anything.’ I sat in this room and completely shut myself out from the actual world.”
Having overcome an addiction to codeine and promethazine syrup (AKA lean), he’s observing life with more clarity. He said in a previous interview that, during the depths of his addiction, his friends didn’t recognise him. His self-containment became a form of chrysalis as he took pleasure in his alternative world. Indulging in all-day naps and all-night studio sessions, he cocooned himself. “I created my own world, which was a place of comfort for me because, no matter what, creating is always my favourite place to be because I feel the most free, I feel the most un-judged. I feel like I’m being the most myself.”
The bubble popped one day and he finally emerged from his cave. “I never opened the door and one point I opened the door and saw that the natural light was kinda incredible. That [was] right at the end of the album; I made all the music in this place of seclusion from everything.” Reflecting on this time, he stresses the importance of mental health, before adding: “Now I know I’m more of a veteran at keeping my mental self happy, which is important. If you don’t have your mental health, your physical health will go down. Now I’m good, I feel good.”
Read the full article in Issue 87 of Clash Magazine.