By Alexandra Hall
There are twelve people listed in the credits of Mackeson’s latest album, Cult Classic!, a nine-track album released by SlickPony Records on July 1. Although he’s the main factor in the equation from lyricism to concept to production, an album that has been nearly a decade in the making is the product of more than just time. Whether it’s industry moguls offering fickle promises or a global pandemic bringing the world to a halt, Bradley Mackeson has seen it all.
The first few years of Mackeson’s career consisted of deals falling short, living on boats, and managing the pressures of making music in such a demanding era. He went back and forth between Portland, Nashville, and Los Angeles trying to find his niche in the industry.
He’s seen major success in muted ways. Mackeson’s 2018 track “Bye Bye Baby” was featured in an episode of The Rookie as well as Shameless. He’s had feuds from stolen Soundcloud links to mysteriously similar lyrics “written” by more renowned musicians. Having seen the worst, most exploitative behaviors of the music trade, nothing much seems to phase him.
After being released from an Atlantic Records contract, Mackeson decided to go fully DIY. He and his partner Hannah, who makes music under the name “Sister,” spent some time in Oregon. For about six months, Mackeson would work a construction job during the day and then drive to the studio where he’d mix for the rest of the evening.
With Cult Classic! finished, the two took a trip to LA with the intention of moving back full time. That was March of 2020. Mackeson had prospective label meetings lined up before the world came to a screeching halt.
“At that point I pretty much checked out of music,” Mackeson said. “I was just like… I’m done. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing this. I was worn out and jaded, but I was still sitting on that batch of songs that meant a lot to me. I had sacrificed so much in order to make that album & it bothered me that it was unreleased… So when we finally moved back to LA in 2021 I started to think about how I wanted to release them, which is when I started studying filmmaking and developed a passion for the visuals.”
Cult Classic! features eight videos alongside the album, but they’re not your typical set of music videos. Mackeson stars in each of them, shaving his face in a mirror, riding a motorcycle in a living room, or sharing a bowl of cereal with his clone. Mackeson said he looked to the 1959 Japanese film, Floating Weeds directed by Yasujirō Ozu for directorial guidance.
“I took a lot of inspiration from Floating Weeds,” Mackeson said. “And I wasn’t really making music videos per se. I thought of them more as moving album covers. I felt like that’s something that I could pull off and do without all the bells and whistles. I just wrote something and tried to capture the vibe. I just feel like my songs are very visual. When I get onto something, I can see it in my head. It’s cinematic in that way.”
The record might not be a full concept album, but it harps on major themes of living life in extremes. Two characters of Mackeson’s psyche arise in the songs: an angel and a devil-like character who torment and encourage him equally.
“I have days where I feel like I can really impact the world positively with music and art and design,” Mackeson said. “I’m not just saying that, like, I really believe it. And then I have other days where I feel like a piece of shit. I feel like complete trash. I don’t know, maybe it’s not possible for me, but how do I stay up?”
Mackeson says he wrote Cult Classic! and filmed its corresponding videos in a nonlinear way— thematically and lyrically, the songs don’t seem to be stuck in any time or place. They flow together and almost on top of each other in some moments, like individual pixels unified by the whole picture the album presents. What unites them is Mackeson’s smooth R&B style. It’s the type of album that should be consumed in one sitting.
“I just feel like my songs are very visual,” Mackeson said. “When I get onto something, I can see it in my head. It’s cinematic in that way.”
The decade-long journey that officially brought Cult Classic! into Mackeson’s discography was not only “off the beaten path,” it was in an entirely different direction. In this way, the album lives up to its name: unappreciated by mainstream culture but amassing a steady devotion from a specific audience.
“When I was first playing, the music was very different from the other stuff that they signed me for,” Mackeson explained. “They freaked out. It made them really uncomfortable. But you have to be okay with that. I think the best music takes that approach. And sometimes it makes the most money, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m just trying to contribute.”
Despite consistent let-downs by various labels and outlets, Mackeson kept with his work, which is what I find to be the most admirable part of what he creates. There came a point in his career where he could’ve either given up music entirely or put out his work on his own accord. He chose the former and thrived. Mackeson’s release of Cult Classic! questions the definition of “success” and the merit in pursuing meaningful content even when others don’t see the vision.
Until next time,
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