The sheer mainstream power of the X Factor UK saw MK1 emerge from last year’s competition with more credibility than they ever had before. Undeniably, it was their charisma that got them a shot in the finals, but it was also their intellectual way with fiery rhymes that helped them stay there and eventually steal the show. Although they didn’t win the contest, it got them what they wanted: a platform from which to launch a career far above the average artist. Their debut single, “Let Go” shows that they aren’t afraid to display their vulnerabilities, self-doubts, and even uncertainties.
The duo consisting of Sim and Charlie has that ability to get listeners to identify with their lyrics. There’s something intriguing about their performances, too. Their shows are rife with big dudes in snapbacks throwing their hands in the air and rapping along with songs about letting go off their insecurities. But that doesn’t isolate people. In fact, MK1 is doing the opposite. With long term ambitions to keep their dream alive, we caught up with the duo to talk about their new single, “Let Go,” living life with no limitations, and why they are not in it for the fame.
RESPECT.: What kind of preparation did you go through when recording? Do you have any pre-studio rituals?
Sim: No, we are not ritualistic. All we do is just get in the studio and vibe. Sometimes me or Charlie will have an idea, but if we don’t we just chill and wait for the right vibes to come along. That’s our routine.
So, you don’t sing “Eye of the Tiger”?
Sim: Those kinds of songs won’t work for us [laughs]. We’re happy doing what we do at the moment.
How did you get interested in making music? Was there a hip-hop song that you heard that made you say, “I want to start making records like this”?
Sim: For me, it was definitely growing up listening to So Solid Crew and Dizzee Rascal. I think when Dizzee dropped his album, Boy In Da Corner, that literally changed my whole outlook on music. I was like, ‘This is something I really want to explore to see if I can become a good MC.’
Charlie, this time last year, you were working as a songwriter and a studio engineer in North London. Has becoming famous been what you expected?
So far, it’s been an amazing experience. But to tell the truth, we are not really in it for the fame. If we could do music without the need to be celebrities, we would happily just focus on the music side of things. To us, it’s really not about the fame.
When you listen to music for inspiration, how do you keep that division so it doesn’t become your sound?
Sim: I take it in and appreciate it as a fan. In our writing process, we always make sure we do what sounds right for us and not try to be influenced on anything else. That is something that works for us, especially as we don’t like to be influenced too much even though we listen to a wide range of music. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, we know we’ve got our own sound that our fans know and respect.
Just out of curiosity, are you named after the famous 1974 Volkswagen Golf MK1?
Sim: [Laughs] No. Unfortunately, it’s actually the name of one of Charlie’s pianos—a Yamaha MK1. A lot of people tend to think we are from Milton Keynes or it’s referring to the Mark 1 car, but it’s really not.
You both have huge stage presence. Can you control it? Do you have the ability to turn it on and off?
Charlie: We both go through our own individual phases. When we’re backstage and we hear the words ‘Here is MK1,’ that straightaway triggers momentum and excitement in us. But obviously, everyone needs their downtime so when we’re not performing, we like to turn it down a notch and chill out.
What were each of your preconceptions of the other before coming together as a duo?
Sim: We were really lucky because we met through a mutual friend. I remember looking for a female singer, and at that time, Charlie was working with [former MK1 member] Will , who was also looking for a rapper to join their movement. The very same day we got together we agreed to go into the studio the following day, and as you can imagine, that day was just magical. We knew that was it and whatever we were going to do afterwards would work. It all came together nicely.
When you started, did you feel that it was just a sideline hobby? Or did you have long term, “We’re going to make it big,” goals in mind?
Sim: We definitely had long term goals in mind. When we came together we had the same drive to make sure it was long term. Obviously, we went through those moments thinking, ‘Is this going to end up becoming a hobby?’ But when you do massive shows and see the responses from fans, you realize how much you have to do to make it long term.
There’s so much going on in your sound, how would you describe the relationship between your music, your voice, your personalities and lyrics?
Charlie: All of our motions come out through our lyrics. For instance, I always aim to write the kind of hooks that I know people will straightaway latch onto. Sim will come in afterwards hyping up the song with some clever lyrics, but in terms of the music and both of our vocals, it works really well. Even though they could be three completely separate things, they all gel together really nicely.
So let’s talk about the new single, “Let Go,” which sounds like a big statement. Are you singing from experience?
Sim: When we left the X Factor in October last year, we were performing everyday right up until New Year’s Eve. In January, we had a month off to focus on studio work and “Let Go” was the first song we wrote, [it was] with a producer called Skripture. It literally felt so right for us to talk about letting go of all the insecurities, the negativity and staying positive. Going through a process like the X Factor is kind of like a gift and a curse. You’re put out there and given your moment to shine, but afterwards, you’ve got to get back to work [much] harder. For us this is a track that represents what we are about.
What things in particular influenced how you went about writing this record?
Sim: It was literally everything we experienced coming off the X Factor. Furthermore, performing and meeting so many different people from across the country dramatically changed our lives. That’s why we wanted to incorporate that into “Let Go,” and I think that is something we’ve done quite nicely.
I think the video may be able to back this up, because I feel as though “Let Go” is very evocative. Listening to it, I get the urge to start banging my head on street signs like Kanye. What feelings do you envision when performing the song?
Sim: [Laughs] A few of the fans are convinced that we are talking about something away from letting go off insecurities but Charlie and I literally thought nothing else apart from having fun and living life to the fullest. The video is the way it is because that’s how we get down–always having a laugh and chilling with friends.
Why do you think it’s so difficult for female rappers to have a consistent presence in hip hop?
Charlie: I’m a fairly good rapper. My rap lyrics are always really good but as much as I like rapping, I think it’s a male-dominated genre. It started with guys and the way how I see it, I think it will end with guys. A lot of female MCs believe because it’s a male thing, they have to come really hard, and I think that’s something that alienates a lot of guys. I think it really depends how you come across with your lyrics, because if it’s all about you stating ‘I am this, or I am that,’ then you will push away a lot of people. It can be difficult finding that balance but that’s why I took the decision to only rap on a few of the tracks on our album.
What’s your least favourite thing about rap right now?
Charlie: The things that get on my nerves are lyrics that are not even here or there, some rappers will say anything because something rhymes. I love Nicki Minaj, and when she first came out spitting on Kanye West’s “Monster,” she was unbelievable. Also, when she did Bedrock, she was amazing. But when she started doing a lot of rapping over dance beats, I thought she started slacking a little bit.
There’s the famous cliché about feeling pressure to remain relevant after the X Factor. How does the pressure to do well now compare to the weight to being on the show?
Charlie: It is kind of like the same pressure all over again. The main pressure whilst on the show was conforming and wanting to come across well. Now, it’s that pressure to be even more true to whom we are. It was difficult trying hard to keep it real on the show. Now with everyone being really busy, it might seem as there is animosity, but that’s not the case. Everyone is just doing their own thing.
Sim, you’re known for your impressive array of sunglasses. Do you have one for every occasion?
I think I have only got around two pairs of sunglasses, but I have got a lot of specs. What I do is I buy a lot of them and then go to Vision Express and get them to replace the lenses with prescription ones. It’s mad [laughs]. I can’t stop myself.
I think Colonel Gaddafi had some of the best shades that money could buy.
I haven’t seen the ones he was rocking. I must go and check them out [laughs].
You guys seem to enjoy spending a lot of time dining at T.G.I. Friday’s. If you could have your own fast-food chain, what would you sell?
Sim: I am a big fan of Caribbean food, especially oxtail. For all the fans, who are crazy about rice and peas and oxtail; that would be all we would sell.
So, what would MK1—flavoured oxtail taste like?
Sim: It would taste sweet but at the same time with some nice kick of spices. You will be begging for more.
Last question: In the spirit of your band name MK1, what would each acronym stand for?
Sim: M would stand for Major—whatever we do we just make major moves. K would represent killer—anything we touch we destroy. And the 1 will be the chart position that we’ll always be aiming for.
MK1’s new single, “Let Go” is out on August 4. Click here to pre-order.
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