Machine Gun Kelly on Performing in Paris: 'It Was Our Duty'

Machine Gun Kelly
Casey McPerry

Machine Gun Kelly performs in Paris on Nov. 29, 2015.

In the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, during which 89 people were killed at music venue Le Bataclan during an Eagles of Death Metal show, artists such as U2Foo Fighters, Brantley Gilbert, Marilyn Manson and Prince all canceled or postponed performances in France and Europe. Now, the city and its live music community are slowly picking up the pieces as venues re-open and fans cautiously head back out to shows around Paris.

Sunday night (Nov. 29), Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly performed at Parisian club La Machine du Moulin Rouge, his first show in the city since the attacks two weeks ago, making him among the first American artists to perform in the aftermath. As Kelly finishes his European tour in the U.K., he speaks to Billboard about the experience of performing in Paris, the anxiety and hesitation he felt leading up to the show and why he felt it was so important that he take the stage.

Tell me about the show Sunday night.

Man, there was this moment with the crowd after I was playing my song "A Little More" and we break the song down, I'm playing the guitar on it and we kind of play it like a stripped down, acoustic version. And while that was happening, they just started singing their national anthem. Like, the whole crowd, singing the loudest I'd heard them all night. It was so appropriate with the song selection and everything that song is about, and it was like as soon as it was over they busted out into this group rendition of their national anthem. And it was one of those moments when I put my glass in the air and we had a toast and a moment of silence.

Everyone came up to us after the show and were talking about how all these other artists had canceled coming into the city, and we played essentially the same week that [the terrorist attacks] happened. Everyone was just so grateful, and then when we did that song and everyone had that moment, it seemed like the people needed that moment.

You mentioned that a lot of other artists had canceled their performances. Did that go through your head as a possibility?

Obviously, there's an initial feeling of hesitation. But as a voice of the young people who were also victims of that attack, and the victims of a lot of things going on with how society is treating our generation, I just believed it was kind of like what we made music for in the first place, which was to spark change or inspire or create an escape. So when I'm on stage and those people are in the venue for that hour and a half while we're on stage, it's like they're free of all the realities outside of those walls. So I felt like it was sort of our duty to go and give those people an escape in such a tragic time.

Were you apprehensive at all beforehand?

That didn't hit until right before I went on stage. Stagehands had walked past us and everyone was saying stuff like, "Be safe," and kind of paranoid vibes were going around the building more and more right before show time. So it kind of hit me right before I went on stage.

Did you approach the show any differently?

Yeah, we did. We took one of the songs out because it starts with gunshots; that's actually one of the biggest songs in our set because me and my drummer do a drum solo together and it's a really fun moment for the crowd. But because of the subject matter and the sounds of the song we had to take it out. And my mic stand is a bunch of skeletons leading up to a .50 caliber Desert Eagle gun that holds my microphone in the barrel, and we almost did the show without that. But we didn't want to take away from the artistic side of our show, and that mic stand is a part of who I am. So it would almost be like if I went by MGK that night instead of Machine Gun Kelly. There were a couple things that I didn't want to take away because we use those references in a much more poetic way than people take it. So I didn't want to censor ourselves too much.

How did the energy in the room compare to other times you've performed in Paris?

It was just like one of those crowds where you can't even hear yourself the whole first song. It was so loud, it was like they couldn't believe that we actually showed up.

Were there any other standout moments from that night?

God, I mean that national anthem moment -- I just can't describe how much passion they were singing it with, you know what I mean? It drowned out all of the instruments we were playing, and they did it right on time. It was like they felt the song so much, and instead of the normal reply from an audience when they love something, which is to scream and clap, it was like they were all feeling the same way in the same moment. It was this moment of unity. And it was right after we were singing about, "If this ugly world had a little more love, what could the outcome be?" And it was almost like I was looking at it.

How did you feel when you walked off stage?

I think it was one of those things where we all walked off and we were all like, "Was that moment not crazy?" and everyone was like, "Yeah." That was the moment that everyone was talking about. We had forgotten about the ominous threat of doing a big gathering of young people in the city. We weren't even thinking of any of the threats anymore, we were just like in awe of the crowd's passion for their country. It was like they were all sticking together in a time when they needed to stick together. It was crazy.

I'm just glad we went with our gut and showed up. I don't think my words would have meant as much anymore if I didn't go.