Rising stars Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller, aka MKTO, arrive in New Orleans Sunday on their first U.S. headline tour. The 36-date odyssey follows last month’s designation of the pop-rap duo’s song, “Classic,” as a million-seller.
“It’s probably better than getting your favorite gift on Christmas,” Oller said last week during a joint interview with Kelley. “We were jumping up like little kids in a candy store.”
“Going platinum,” Kelley added, “it’s all an artist can hope for, man, and we’re just enjoying it.”
Kelley, 22, and Oller, 21, met in 2010, when they were co-starring in the Nickelodeon comedy-drama series “Gigantic.”
“Yeah,” Kelley said, “we played best friends on the show and then we became best friends off the show.”
During the long stretches between shooting scenes for “Gigantic,” Kelley and Oller discovered that they both loved music.
“So we’d find ourselves in the trailer, listening to songs we loved,” Kelley said.
The duo’s shared inspirations include Kanye West, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Muddy Waters and Miles Davis.
“Just all over the place,” Oller said. “As an artist, you should listen to as much as you can. I don’t think you can listen to only one type of music.”
Oller and Kelley discovered a model for the music they’d later make in “Airplanes,” a song by hip-hop artist B.o.B featuring vocals by Paramore singer Hayley Williams.
“We fell in love with that,” Kelley said. “It has a cool rap in it and a sung pop chorus. After we did a cover of that song, we were just like, ‘Man, it would be cool if we were performing.’ And then we started making music together.”
Following the cancellation of “Gigantic,” Kelley and Oller stayed in touch. They also began posting their songs on YouTube.
The production team of Emanuel “Eman” Kiriakou and Evan “Kidd” Bogart noticed their work and signed them to a production deal in 2011.
A deal with the Columbia Records followed in 2012.
During the making of the duo’s self-titled album debut, Oller said, “we just wanted to make the best songs possible. At the time we were learning a lot about writing, how to structure songs and that kind of stuff. So we grew with the album.”
Future hit “Classic” was a song the duo liked from the start.
“I’ve always been a sucker for good melodies,” Oller said. “And when we put the lyrics together with everything, ‘Classic’ definitely worked. But we love every song on the record. So to see everyone loving it as much as we do, that’s just an awesome feeling itself.”
Actors turned music stars, Kelley and Oller are still passionate about acting, but that side of their show business lives must wait for now.
“We’ve both been acting since we were under the age of 10,” Kelley said. “And then the music thing came about. That’s us doing what we love to do.”
“And it’s better to have someone to share it with,” Oller added.
“We’re just happy everything is panning out the way we hoped,” he said. “We’re going to keep putting in the hours and keep working hard.
“At the end of the day, if ‘Classic’ is the best thing we ever have, at least we walked away after we gave it our all.”