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MKTO: Lost and Found

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley talks with us about their debut album -- and "Lost"

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Like a lot of folks, I had quite the love/hate relationship with the ABC television show "Lost." Season after season (sometimes on a per-episode basis), I'd throw my hands up, bang my head against a wall and cry out, "I am done with you!," only to return the next week. I soldiered on -- compiling a detailed, lengthy journal of questions and mysteries from the show (didn't everybody?) -- and six years after the program first aired, it promptly came to an end with a thud.

 
You can imagine my anxiety when faced with the prospect of speaking with Malcolm Kelley, one-half of the pop musical duo MKTO -- which is scheduled to headline the House of Blues on Sunday -- and the actor who played the character Walt Lloyd on "Lost."
 
Walt, as he was affectionately known, was a 10-year-old boy with magical, psychic powers who disappeared from the show after the second season, save for a couple brief cameos in later years. The reason? He grew up too fast. Basically, by the time the third season started filming, he just looked too old to play a child.
 
Luckily for Kelley, he oozes talent. After "Lost," he went on star in a vastly popular Nickelodeon show, "Gigantic," with his future bandmate, Tony Oller. The guys struck up an incredible friendship, and, after discovering their combined talents for writing and singing, the two formed MKTO. Lest you think Oller and Kelley are actors trying to play musicians, take a look at the videos for just a few of their successful pop/R&B singles, "Thank You," "Classic" and "God Only Knows."
 
The group is poised for huge things, with its self-titled debut album reaching No. 1 in Australia upon its release in January, ever-upward-spiraling YouTube video streams and a tour with Demi Lovato on the way. The two may be as photogenic as they come, but they've got the artistry, performance and singing chops to boot.
 
Kelley took a moment out from the tour to discuss how MKTO came together, who he'd love to perform with and what it was like growing up as an outcast.
 
Dustin Lothspeich: You're probably sick of hearing this at this point, but I'm a huge fan of the show "Lost" and I'm kind of starstruck, being able to talk to Walt Lloyd on the phone right now. Do you get that a lot?
Malcolm Kelley: [Laughs] Thanks man. You know, some people make the connection, some don't. It just speaks to how good the show was and how much fans connected with that character.
 
DL: Harold Perrineau [the actor who played Walt's dad on "Lost"] even appears in the video for "Thank You" -- how did that happen?
MK: Our [music video] producer, Evan, was a big fan of the show. He was like, "What if Harold was in the video!?" It was a good time. It was great to have him there and adding him in to the video was definitely a nice twist; a cool tie-in for the fans. 
 
DL: You and Tony met in 2010 while filming "Gigantic" for Nickelodeon. Your characters play best friends. Are you actually best friends in real life?
MK: Yeah! That's one of the reasons we started doing this thing. It was completely organic. The TV show didn't push this thing on us. It's not fake at all. We just clicked, and you know, he's my boy. We used to live together, we hang out -- we're working together all the time. When it started, we just wanted to make music together -- music is something that can put you in a good place or put a smile on your face.
 
MKTO (Tony Oller, left and Malcolm Kelly)DL: The name MKTO is based off your initials but it also stands for "Misfit Kids and Total Outcasts." You've said that refers to "the kids we were in high school." It's hard to imagine you guys as outcasts in high school. Was it really that bad?
MK: Well, when you're a kid, you've got a lot of people focused on what they hear or whatever they think is cool. And being young when I started acting, some people didn't know how to handle it. People can come off as really rude. You know, Tony grew up in Texas, and acting and singing and entertainment isn't really on the forefront there. It's more about sports. Acting or singing isn't as cool as playing football or basketball, and people can be rude about it. We relate to that. School prepares you for the future, and it's where you learn that "Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you." That's what we wrote "Thank You" about: We started playing guitar one day and then started adding words, and it became a song about speaking for our generation. There are a whole lot of different people in the world, and whenever someone says something rude, just try to be calm about it. Be calm and say "thank you" instead of throwing out cuss words and escalating it.
 
DL: So is acting on the back burner at the moment?
MK: It's our first album, so you definitely wanna be everywhere you can be, and do everything we can for it. But once you find that balance, you can focus on both. We look at JT [Justin Timberlake] and how he balances film and music. That's the kind of thing we're looking to do.
 
DL: You've done some big tours with Emblem3 and Demi Lovato -- just huge pop stars. What were those tours like?
MK: Tours are crazy. Emblem3 was definitely a good time -- and those were our first shows together. Now we're heading out on our first headlining tour, and it feels amazing. We've got a tour with Demi Lovato coming up, and it's really exciting. We'll be playing big arenas -- I mean, we've got a show at Staples Center, which is crazy -- bringin' it back to the hometown, you know?
 
DL: If you could perform a show with anyone, who would it be? What's your ideal lineup?
MK: That's tough. It'd have to be a two-day festival or something [laughs]. Sam Smith, Demi Lovato, Snoop Doog, Justin Timberlake, Lorde -- man, we love so many artists out right now; the list could go on and on. 
 
DL: You've got a few singles out like "Classic," "Thank You," "God Only Knows" -- what's your favorite track on the album to perform live?
MK: I love performing all the songs. If I had to choose one, I think "Classic" just has so much energy, and with it being on the radio, people are more familiar with it. Man, when the first 10 seconds start, and people start going crazy -- it's an amazing feeling.
 
DL: There are few things like the day your first album comes out: Did you have a sense of accomplishment when it dropped?
MK: Oh, yeah. It was great. We first released it in Australia -- and it was surreal. We did sold-out shows there, and it was just amazing. Then it released here in the States -- and when your friends can go into a store and pick up your album, it's amazing. When you can go out and put on a show for people that love you -- it's a great feeling. We always feel like we're kind of the underdogs, though.
 
DL: Really? Have you gotten a lot of criticism for jumping from acting to music?
MK: Well, we haven't gotten much, really. But over the years, there have been a lot of actors who've jumped into music, and, you know, it doesn't always work out for everybody. But, hey, we love to prove people wrong and we're having a great time.
 
MKTO headline the House of Blues on Sunday, with Action Item and Tiffany Houghton opening. Doors are at 6 p.m. and the show is all ages. Purchase tickets here.

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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