At first glimpse of Mikey Chapman, I immediately feel at ease. Upon introducing himself, he flashes a radiant smile that has a mysterious way of making you feel right at home. Midafternoon, and midway through his stint on the 2015 Warped Tour, there are undoubtedly much more exciting places for the Mallory Knox frontman to be than the Warped press area, granting an interview in the middle of a crowded hallway—balancing a loaded paper plate of food from catering, he admits that he “got up about 45 minutes ago”, and goes on to describe the hangover he’s currently experiencing from last night’s Warped after-party—“…but,” he insists cheerfully, “I’m happy to be here!”
Over the past few years, Mallory Knox has skyrocketed in the alt-rock universe. As the UK group won the hearts of crowds overseas on worldwide tours with established acts like Pierce the Veil and Sleeping with Sirens, they earned a Rockstar Energy endorsement and their 2014 release “Asymmetry” reached #16 on the UK alternative charts. Like many successful musicians before him, Chapman radiates passion, drive, and sincerity. He talks animatedly about his childhood obsession with music, transposing raw emotions into powerful songs, and the importance of staying true to yourself. Mallory Knox’s heartfelt and unadulterated ambition is best conveyed on “Heart & Desire”, a standout track on “Asymmetry”: “These bright lights, big dreams, they always meant the whole damn world to me,” croons Chapman, “…so give ‘em heart, give ‘em desire.”
How did Mallory Knox get started?
Mallory Knox formed in 2009. We were all in a whole load of other bands before that, since we were about 13 years old. We found that they weren’t really going in the way we wanted them to—the dynamic of the bands weren’t quite in the right place, so eventually they kind of just fizzled out. Dave [Rawling] and Joe [Savins] decided to keep playing and rehearsing and writing, just to keep themselves entertained, and eventually they invited Sam [Douglas] and I, and eventually James [Gillett], to see what they were working on. And the rest is history really; we formed, we decided that it was worth playing a few shows here and there, and it doesn’t seem like 5 years, but 5 years later, here we are!
And you started getting some bigger tours and stuff like that?
Yeah! Cambridge, where we’re from, has always been a very difficult place to break out of. It’s one of those places where it’s difficult to find your feet as a band. When Mallory Knox formed, we found that to be a lot easier, and I don’t know why—people just seemed to want to hear a lot more, and from there we had a great platform to move outwards towards London and places like that, which is where we inevitably met our manager and got to the point where we could start meeting people from the US, and overseas. It was fantastic, it was a great opportunity.
How old were you when you knew that you wanted to go into music?
About the age of 13 or 14 is when I started playing in music lessons and things like that. I mean, some of the boys have been practicing music and learning from their parents since they were like 7 or 8 years old, but for me, music really kind of kicked in when I hit the early ages of college—I don’t know what you guys call it, but around 13 years old. We were exposed to music and exposed to the arts, and it became something that took you away from the everyday, took you away from the monotony of regular lessons, and gave you an excuse to expand your horizons a little bit. I loved that about music, and I still do!
Did you ever start a band as a kid? Any garage bands or anything? (laughs)
Yes, lots of garage bands. (laughs) They took various forms. Some of them were barely bands at all, but I think that they’re all part of the learning curve, and they’re all part of a process that led us here. The lessons you learn, and the friends you make, and the things you decide that you never want to be a part of, and the things that you absolutely want to be a part of—they all come with those experiences and those small garage bands. I think Dave Grohl said it very astutely. He talks about how people should just pick up shitty old guitars from like thrift stores and jam in garage bands, and suck! And suck for years. And play to nobody, play to like your mom and dad or a few of your friends. And eventually you end up becoming a band like Nirvana! All of that self-expression, all of that teaching yourself valuable lessons, and what you want to be and what you don’t want to be, and who you want to be in the world—it’s integral to being a stand-out musician, I think. And who better to relate that to than Dave Grohl?
You’ve played a few different festivals, including Warped. How would you say the festival experience differs from that of a regular tour?
Well, I think the logistics of Warped Tour are incredible, like second-to-none, you know? I don’t know how this tour can play 50 dates and be so vast and so complicated, and yet each day they can pack it up, shut the doors, and drive on to the next place and start it all over. It’s a real testament to the organization and crew here on Warped Tour. I mean, back home in the UK we have some amazing festivals, but they’re only over 1 or 2 or 3 days, and it takes all year to organize this 3-day tour, whereas Warped Tour is for 2 months! It always impresses me, I think it’s amazing. In terms of crowd and fans, it’s very similar—the American fanbase is certainly close to the UK. Everyone is so passionate and they love the fact that they’re in amongst all this music, so it always makes for a great day.
What is your usual songwriting process, and how did it change from the “Pilot” EP to “Asymmetry”?
Well, the “Pilot” EP had very little preparation. I mean, we certainly don’t prepare a lot anyway, but it was at it’s purest form. Dave and Joe were literally sitting around in Dave’s living room, just tinkering with ideas, with no intention of them ever being anything more than just songs for themselves. I like to think we’ve brought that ethos forward through our music. We’re far too tired of trying to play music that other people enjoy; we’ve found that if we really enjoy it and get feeling from it, then other people tend to feel that. It’s really a great thing to be able to do. Sam, our bassist, is very focused when it comes to writing music. In his spare time, he’ll find time to write licks and ditties and vocal lines and things like that, which he’ll then bring to practice and flesh out as a whole. Sam writes it one way, and then once the whole team has a go of it, it becomes an entirely different beast. So it’s kind of nice to see that work.
Pilot had a very raw, more hardcore feel, whereas Signals brought a slightly more polished sound with some quieter elements, and Asymmetry feels like a more pop-punk influenced form of hardcore alt. How did your musical inspirations shift through the making of these 3 releases?
That’s interesting. I mean, I don’t think our musical preferences have shifted in a lot of ways. We’re still fans of the bands that we were fans of at the time we wrote “Pilot”. I think that we as people have sort of changed and matured slightly. I’m still listening to all of the old crap that I used to, but I think my perception of it and how I digest it as an older person has changed. To me, back in the day, heavier music or more aggressive music was all about the pace, and what that made me feel. And now I find that pace, combined with lyrics and with tone, creates something a little bit deeper than what I was seeing as a younger person. And it’s the same with the songs that we write. Initially it was probably just a basic idea of what we wanted that music to sound like, but as we’ve gotten older, we want the lyrics to time with the tone of the music, and we want the tone of the music to time with the sound of the guitars or how we particularly sing that song. Sometimes an emotive song can be very fast-paced, and full of screaming, and full of this desperation. But you can create almost the same amount of those things with a very basic song, with just one vocal line and a piano. You can almost create the same kind of atmosphere from both of those things. We’ve enjoyed trying to explore the different ways in which you can create that vibe, in different formats of music, over the last couple of albums.
It’s cool that you can experiment and find the same kind of emotions in different sounds.
Of course, absolutely! I think certain emotions are fundamental to anybody, and anybody that listens to hip hop or drum and bass or even rock music, I think we all experience highs and we all experience lows. And we consume music or art that makes us reflect on those things in different ways. It’s nice to find something that fills a universal trait throughout most music and art forms.
How/when does inspiration strike to write songs that have elements that stand apart from your typical sound? If you’re like, “I’m feeling this one emotion”, how do you decide to express it in an intense song vs. a quieter song?
That’s an interesting question! A lot of the time, it comes from external stimuli, like things that other people are going through. To just write music based on your own personal experience can be quite difficult sometimes, because you don’t want to be self-absorbed—you don’t want to make it all about yourself or all about the one thing that you’re going through, cause it could end up being a bit one-track-minded. We have a song called “Creeper”, and “Creeper” for me is all based around when I was watching the news one day. There was a news story about the UK budget and how they were going to be cutting things and moving things around and people were going to suffer because of it. And that really inspired me in that it created a feeling of anger and tension within me, and it felt necessary to portray it in some sort of musical form. You sometimes see the awful scenarios that your friends are going through with breakups or their families, and you can empathize because you care about the person so much. So you find yourself wanting to write music that can reflect that and try to somehow transpose that awful feeling into something that other people who are going through a similar thing can take solace from. So yeah, there are different sources, sometimes personal, but you try your best not to make it all about you and your experiences—being observational and seeing how other people are feeling in the world is just as important.
You guys just announced a UK tour with Set It Off, did you just become friends with them during your time on Warped, or did you know them before…?
Basically! (laughs) No, we had it all in the pipeline before we came to Warped Tour. We were really excited about them anyway—we love Set It Off, and their new album, and it just so happened that they were on Warped Tour too! So we got this fantastic opportunity to make a real bond with them before we make it to the UK, which is so nice. It means that when they fly out, we’ll be looking forward to seeing them, and we’ll be able to take them out to all the places that we like to go to in the UK. So yeah, it’s gonna be great.
Yeah, that’ll be really fun. I was going to ask, what are you planning on showing them? Cause it’s your home turf.
Well, they’ve gotta go to cheeky Nando’s, that’s very important—
Is that a chicken place?
It is a chicken place! It’s kind of like your Chipotle, but instead it’s Portuguese chicken. But yeah, Cody [Carson] has been banging on about that for a while now, so we certainly need to take them there. We’ll have to show them some of our history, if we get the opportunity. I mean, the United States is fantastic, but you don’t have castles, or thousand-year-old buildings, or anything.
Yeah, the scenery is a lot different!
It’s definitely a different vibe in that respect. I love all this stuff, I love seeing different places, and I think they’ll really appreciate it.
Is there any difference between UK and US fans?
I don’t think so, particularly. I mean there are slight differences, just cultural differences, but kids are so passionate. They absolutely adore music and they’re so ready to support bands that are fresh to the UK or bands that they may not have even heard of at the time. That’s what’s so great about support bands, both in the US and the UK, is that fans are so welcoming, you know? We did a world tour earlier this year and we really weren’t sure how it was going to go down, but fans were so welcoming and really took us on board, and it was great that we were able to be here almost because of them.
What is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Hmm, that’s a good question. I suppose, it’s so very cliché, but to “be yourself”. You’ll find in life that if you walk around trying to be someone you’re not, you don’t feel completely whole. You don’t feel completely satisfied, or where you need to be. The second you just drop that, you drop the bullshit, and you become who you should be naturally… you make some enemies, but you make far more friends, because people like genuine. People like the real deal, and people pick up on that. No matter how hard you try to pretend to be someone else, people can always sort of sense that you’re not being your true self. So “be yourself” has always been something that I try my best to hold on to.
Yeah, yeah, that’s good. And then also if you’re being yourself, you’re happier, and people can sense that too.
Of course! Absolutely. There’s nothing more depressing than being liked for something that you’re not. You’ve gone to all that effort to try and win someone over, but in a way that doesn’t represent you. It’s just very counterintuitive to me.
So on a completely different track, if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’s a tough one. I think it would be like, apples or something. Can it be a meal?
Yeah, no, definitely!
Great, okay. I’d probably say fajitas. You get a little bit of everything in there, so you have a balanced meal. Yeah, fajitas is definitely the one. I wanna say fajitas and fries, just cause I can—that way it’s a full meal. Fajitas, fries, and apple pie.
That would be really good.
I’d be a bit rounder, but… (laughs)
Have you ever seen those pictures online of famous criminals and their last meals? It’s like that!
I’m hoping that won’t happen to me anytime soon! I’ll keep that in mind for if I’m ever on death row. (laughs)
If it ever does happen, I’ll just send this over and they’ll know.
Yeah, I think apple pie would go really nicely with fajitas.
Wait, what kind of fajitas?
I don’t know! Is there different kinds of fajitas?
Yeah! Like… the meat kind.
Oh, I’d absolutely want chicken. Maybe like… if I say just fajitas, people will get confused and bring me different kinds of fajitas.
That’s true! You can trick the system.
Any final sentiments for fans?
“Asymmetry” is out in the US now, and we’re so excited to get it out to as many people as possible, so please pick it up, have a listen, and I hope you enjoy it. Thank you so much already for all the support we’ve had, it’s been phenomenal!