In August of 2016, Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller, better known as pop duo MKTO, announced they were taking what they called a “much needed hiatus.” Fans didn’t have to wait long — the pair made their return in September with the thumping breakup tale “How Can I Forget.” — but for the Kelley and Oller, their break felt much longer than two years.
After achieving international success with their 2013 breakout hit “Classic,” Oller struggled with addiction — a major reason behind the hiatus. The bond they’d created as a duo persevered, however, and with Kelley’s help, Oller is now sober — and more eager than ever to make music.
Billboard caught up with Oller and Kelley to talk about what they’ve been through over the last couple of years, the inspiration for their comeback single and what the future holds for MKTO.
On their hiatus:
Oller: It was really cool how “Classic” took us from one side of the world to another, but I think we never really had too much down time to really enjoy it.
Kelley: We really were going [for] like four years, just really ripping and running on the road without any down time, so it was nice to go home and be with the family a bit — taking the time to reflect on everything we’ve gone through and everything we’ve learned since the rollercoaster success of “Classic.”
On Oller’s addiction:
Oller: Me personally, I’ve had some stuff I had to figure out. I got sober, which was definitely something I was battling for quite a while. I just wasn’t acting right, and I wasn’t being a very good friend, first and foremost. I think I took for granted everything we had to work to get to. Malcolm was always like, “I want you to be happy,” and that meant the fucking world to me. I don’t think I realized it until everything was gone.
Kelley: He’s one of my good friends, so it was easy to have that conversation. Being happy and being in the right head space is so important, especially being in this business.
Oller: I learned to embrace being vulnerable, dealing with my emotions very differently. As the writing process continues with this, it definitely comes into play when figuring out things you can discuss and write about.
On the inspiration behind “How Can I Forget”:
Kelley: I jumped in and out of a relationship when we started “How Can I Forget.” As life goes on, we definitely are willing to put a lot into the music, letting that be the basis of everything we’re going through.
Oller: Whenever we see someone supporting us or someone who doesn’t speak English singing the lyrics or someone [sharing with us] something personal they’re going through…. Somebody asked what’s the pinnacle with a career like this, and I feel like those moments are the ones you’ll never forget. And how could you?
On the band’s future:
Kelley: We definitely have some records to touch up and make sure they’re ready. We’re always writing just to try to beat what we have and push ourselves. We’re really taking it day by day. We were going to make music [together again] regardless, but now we’re living in the moment. Who knows what’s gonna happen in 10 years, but it’s good to be back.