"My first concert was Backstreet Boys, the Millennium Tour. They dropped down on the hoverboards...and I don’t know why this was my reaction but I puked everywhere."

By Leah Greenblatt
September 24, 2020 at 10:30 AM EDT
Justin Campbell

Soundtrack of My Life is a recurring column where musicians recall their favorite songs, artists, and albums. 

At 30, Machine Gun Kelly seems to have found his stride as both a musician and an actor. This year has already seen the release of two well-received movies, Big Time Adolescence and Project Power, and now a new album, the pop-punk-oriented, Travis Barker collaboration Tickets to My Downfall, out this week. (And yes, you may have heard about the updates to his relationship status, too).

Recently, the Cleveland-bred multihyphenate sat down with EW to talk about the musical moments that shaped him, from the boy band that made him accidentally lose his lunch to the last song he shared with his late father.

The first album I bought with my own money

"So this one’s actually unique, because I bought my first album the same time my friend bought his first album — and this is back when headphones weren’t pods. So we broke the headphones in half so he could put one in his ear and I could put one in mine. I think we were in sixth grade. I bought Linkin Park Hybrid Theory and he bought Kanye West College Dropout, and every day on the bus we’d be like 'Okay, which one do you want to listen to?' That was the good thing about our generation is we were kind of stoked on everything. Because I remember 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album came out around the same time, and everybody on the bus knew that too."

My first musical memory

"I remember I lived with my aunt, me and my dad, we shared a bed in her basement and I would always hear her playing Shania Twain, 'Man I Feel Like a Woman.' So whenever I hear Shania Twain it always makes me think of my aunt parading around the house singing that."

The first time I performed in public

"Outside of like basic garage performances when I was in a band, my first official performance as Machine Gun Kelly was when I was 15 years old at a place — a legendary place actually — called Hi Fi that was off 117th street in Cleveland. They would host a battle night there once a week and they would always have a performance in between the battles. I ended up getting a slot to perform in between and it was my first time. I actually have a picture from that night somewhere, and I’ll never forget, the trains stop running at a certain time in Cleveland; I think it’s like 12:20 is the last train to be able to get back to my neighborhood. So I left after my performance but I missed [the train], so I had to go to the front of this mall-slash-big skyscraper in Cleveland called Tower City. I had to convince a guy who was not a taxi driver who was kind of acting like he was a taxi driver to take me home. So I got there and I realized I had no money to pay him. He dropped me off at what I said was the right house. I went in — I said — to get him the money, and then I climbed through the yard and hopped all the fences to get to my [actual] house.

My first concert

"Oh man, this is actually f---in' hilarious. I was in second grade, maybe third, and my first concert was Backstreet Boys, the Millennium Tour. They dropped down on the hoverboards, right? So all the girls were screaming so loud around me, and I don’t know why this was my reaction but I puked everywhere. And then we had to leave because I puked on the people in front of us. All I got to see was them coming down on the hoverboards and then I puked and we had to go."

The first song I ever wrote

"There was a group of us that would do kind of Jackass stunts on camera all the time, and three of us knew how to play instruments so we also made a band in between doing all this dumb s--- on camera like skating and jumping off of roofs. I think the first song that I ever wrote was about a girl named Vanessa that we all thought was pretty. So it was just a song called, like, 'Vanessa’s Hot' — just three guitar chords and then the line repeating, 'Vanessa’s hot!' We were like 11 years old, so there was definitely not any genius songwriting going on. [Laughs]"

The song or album that always makes me cry

"I remember when I used to run away from home, I slept at a train station and this one song gave me so much comfort, I definitely cried my eyes out to it. You can’t really find it on the internet now but it’s on YouTube. It was a [bonus] song off the Above the Rim soundtrack by Tupac. The song was called 'Pain.' It’s a beautiful song and the lyrics, they hit really hard.

"That and 'Old Man' by Neil Young, because that’s the last song my dad and I listened to together before he passed. I didn’t know that he even liked him, so we listened to it together and sang together and it was really cool. Me and my dad went a whole lifetime without really knowing each other so finding a middle ground in our music choice, it was really special.

"When I left the hospital, you know how your iPhone will still keep the song up? So after my pops passed I went to the car, and Neil Young was still up on my iPhone, and when I got in the car the song started playing. And when I turned it down, the radio turned back up, so I turned it down again, and it turned up two more times. And I drive a 2020 Aston Martin, so that thing was not malfunctioning, you know what I mean? It was him, and that s--t f---ed me up. Isn’t that crazy? I have a witness on that one too. My girl was with me in the car."

The song/album that always makes me happy

"I want to say Tom Petty’s 'Free Fallin,' or the Spongebob Squarepants theme song. [Laughs] 'Free Fallin,' because I fell in love, and it seemed like the world was crumbling around us, and it just seemed like some bad portal opened up in the universe. But I’ll never forget, we were in a pool, and my phone was on shuffle, and 'Free Fallin' came on, and I was holding her in this pool and we were dancing around, and we were like 'Whoa, everything feels right.' It was like the heaviness lifted."

The artist I wish I'd gotten the chance to see live

"We were doing a festival tour, and Soundgarden was playing right after us. In order to make it to the next city we had a choice to leave at 10 p.m. or risk not getting there in time to play the next day, and we were playing with them again in like three days or something so we were like, 'We’ll just catch them at the next festival.' Then Chris Cornell died the day before we were supposed to play together again. I always regretted not staying."

The first song I learned to play on guitar

The first guitar lick I learned was 'Come as You Are' by Nirvana. The first solo I learned was from that band The Darkness — remember that song “I believe in a thing called love, dah-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-dah'? And you know that part where he goes 'Gui-tar!' I spent so f---ing long learning how to play that, and I finally got it. [Laughs]"

The soundtrack I want at my funeral

"I definitely am of the notion that people better party their ass off at my funeral, but also I want them to have a moment of just crying their f---ing eyeballs out. So if I heard 'Adam’s Song' by Blink 182 I’d probably lose it. I like 'The Funeral' by Band of Horses. I like songs with guitar solos that make you cry like Metallica 'Nothing Else Matters' — that song also makes me wanna lose it. I remember when Chester [Bennington] died, all the Linkin Park songs just hit different, and they were really powerful. And I gotta have at least one rap song in there. What about 'Sky’s the Limit' by Notorious B.I.G.? It’s kind of the underdog story of a guy who rises up against people who don’t want to see him become anything, and he’s assuring them. So in my version it would be me assuring my friends and my daughter that we’re gonna be all good, and we’re gonna make it."

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