About five minutes into the conversation and we’d already managed to land on the topic of emotion. Caught philosophising, actor, musician and boy band member Emery Kelly strained humans to the molecular level as these intangible emotional bodies (otherwise known as souls) inhabiting biological vessels. This is a sensitive boy in symbiosis with his inner life, emphasising introspection as an instrument for personal development. Together with photographer Shanna Fisher, Emery explores a few of the delicate shores on the vast ocean of his manifold mind.
Casually spread across a sunbed near a heated pool in an LA neighbourhood, Emery reflects on the whole falling in love thing. “Have you ever been in love?” I ask. He removes his sunglasses and replies, “yes and no.” To my obviously confused expression, he says, “it sucks when I see people break up because it forces me to question the relationship, ‘were they really in love?’”. What struck me about Emery is his ability to question the question in return. Stylist Evan Simonitsch decorates the existentialist philosopher in quirky pattern combinations - foreshadowing the boy’s unique take on the human condition.
2018 was definitely a good one for Emery. The second season of the Emmy-nominated Netflix Original sitcom ‘Alexa & Katie’, in which he plays Alexa’s heartthrob brother Lucas, premiered at the end of year, on December 26th. And it doesn’t seem like 2019 is going to be a slow one either. Next to his journey with the band Forever in Your Mind, Emery is working on solo albums. Albums. Plural.
Who is Emery?
I don’t know. Who is Emery? Let’s see - if I were to describe myself with a simple answer, I would say a kid from New York following his dreams. Honestly, ‘cause that’s all I’ve been doing for the past five years. I’m the type of person who loves positivity, not just for myself but also for every single living being in the world. I want this world to be a lot better because there are so many things going on that’s affecting people's lives that shouldn’t be happening. To me, Emery is the chess piece representing positivity on the whole chessboard of life. Every move that I make in my life, I try to do with positivity.
What makes you happy?
There are a lot of things that make me happy. But to be honest, I’m not always happy. I’m human; sometimes I’m really fucking sad. What makes me happy though are the little things. Right when I’m done making a song and I hear it all the way through with the production and vocal mixing done. When I’ve finished something relating to my craft - I feel super happy. Say I’ve booked a TV-show or I’ve made an achievement - I’m happy. However, I never let the happiness get to me too much where it might blind me. It’s not like I gloat about my happiness all the time.
But sometimes you’re just so happy that you can’t stop talking about it…
That’s right! You can’t stop talking about it, and to some people, they’re like, “We get it. You’re happier than us”.
It’s difficult to be happy… You mentioned sadness earlier; do you consider yourself an emotional person?
Hell yeah! I do consider myself an emotional person because I think you have to be an emotional person to understand who you are as a person. We are souls that reside within these physical bodies made up of carbon and other chemical compounds that are just exploding every millisecond - literally. I think being an emotional person keeps you in touch with who you are in this world. We feel everything through our bodies and the feeling ‘to feel’ is something we can’t even describe. In a simple answer, I’m very emotional but I make sure I feel every emotion so I can find that perfect balance of who I am and where I want to be. If I know how I feel in every emotion, then I know how I’m going to behave and respond.
When’s the last time you cried?
I think it was like two days ago. This was on a plane. These past few weeks have been a bit stressful with work and stuff. I don’t know why but for the past few weeks in LA I was kind of closing off my emotions because I was so focused on work. When I sat down on the plane, I just started crying my eyes out. I was like: 'what the hell is going on?'. Part of me had no idea what was going on, but the other part knew exactly what was going on and that it had to happen. What was the crazy part is that I wasn’t even thinking I was closing myself off until I started crying.
Let’s talk Alexa & Katie where you play Alexa’s brother Lucas who is a bit of a high school heartthrob in the series. Who were you in high school?
I was not the heartthrob in high school - I will tell you that haha. I had a bowl haircut for the first year of high school. Lucas - you know - he is a great character. He looks out for his sister and he’ll do anything for her whenever she needs it, but then another moment he’ll be super annoyed at her for no particular reason.
What I really enjoyed about this show is just how well you guys unpack serious topics with humour, friendship and family - how did you prepare to play Lucas?
It’s been a while since I played Lucas. It’s been almost six months since I went back into Mendoza’s shoes. Whenever I do go into my boy Lucas’ house, it kind of is me when I was younger but me when I was like 16-17 and that was me just living in LA, making new friends. I was living a good part of my life, so whenever I dip back into that age range, it’s all just fun. Then the facts of Lucas’ character - his obsession with his hair and some other dumb tendencies but that are cute and funny. It’s really fun to play with those because when you’re young, you know, as in the Khalid song: “You’re dumb, young and broke". Anybody can play that when you feel that young kid feeling. It’s super fun that I get to play a role like that. The people like it, so we keep doing it.
Season two premiered 26 December, what can we expect to see from Lucas this season?
Lucas has a lot coming up in season two. There is going to be some jealousy. There is going to be some sadness. There is going to be some happiness. There is going to be some loudness too. Lucas has a whole spectrum of emotions haha.
Like yourself haha?
Yes, basically. But not to like the full extent of Emery Kelly - you don’t see Lucas crying his eyes out. He’s too much of man for that.
On the topic of manliness, what do you think it means to be masculine?
It’s the same thing as femininity. We’re all the same. That’s my answer. We’re all the same.
Do you think society’s perception of masculinity is changing?
Hundred per cent. I think I was lucky growing up in a classroom where we didn’t care about race, colour, religion, femininity, boy or girl. We did not care. The one thing I loved about our classroom is that we all understood that we’re all just people and we’re all living in the same place. Even if we have different things on the outside, we’re all the same on the inside. The fact that we compare things on the outside doesn’t even make sense to me. If you want to judge someone, start from their inside and then judge them from the outside. When you’re judging them that way, it feels like you’re judging the completely same person as yourself step-by-step.
I learnt you're a born and bred New Yorker, how do you rate east coast vs. west coast?
It’s always sunny in LA. You rarely get the four seasons. The only real season you don’t get in LA is winter. It’s all just summer with bits of spring and autumn. Life in LA is very fun. What I mean by fun is that I get to do what I love; I get to do my passion. I don’t consider my work, work - I consider it my passion. I get to pursue my passion and work on my craft, and I also get to hang out with my friends. LA is where my home is right now. I’ve lived in New York for most of my life. For me, travelling and living in other places is important to understand cultures and traditions all around the world. When I’m older, I want to travel the entire planet and learn about everything. LA right now is a good place for me because it is where the work is and where all my friends are. I just love it.
I loved that scene with Lucas’ grandfather where he helps Lucas hit on the barista, and she types in her number but then it says "try again in three years” and Lucas goes, “yay, she likes me.” Hilarious.
That scene was really funny. I actually remember asking for that girl’s number as a friend and she pulled the same joke on me. I wasn’t actually trying to hit on her, but I think she thought I meant it in that way, so then she said the same thing: “Try again in three years”. But I was like, 'I’m 19. I’m already above age'. And then she went, 'I’m just kidding,' and gave me her number. We’re friends; she’s a dope actress too.
What was your favourite scene to film in season one?
I loved filming every single scene. The fact that I got to be on a hit TV-show nominated for an Emmy, and then I got to film a season two, was just so unfathomable. I think it’s in episode eleven where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do in college and then Lucas tells his dad he wants to be a doctor so he can help people like Alexa. That’s a really good and endearing moment for Lucas.
That’s really sweet, and then his dad goes; “If you can get your grades up…”.
And he was like, “Oh shit…”.
Music is a big part of your life. Last week on Instagram you posted: “Solo music? Thoughts?”- do you have something in the works?
It is a very big part of my life; it started my career. Yes, I do. I’m still in Forever in Your Mind, just so you know. I’ve decided to do both because, why not? I want people to know who I am as well, besides being someone in a boy band. I do have a project coming out but I don’t know exactly when. Yesterday, I posted a bit of the intro to the album on my Insta story. I’ve finished one of the songs already, so I’m pretty excited now that I’m in the process of finishing my album.
That’s really exciting. Is your music similar to Forever in Your Mind or?
It’s completely different. It’s what’s in my mind. I write in so many styles. My music is going to consist of R&B, Hip Hop, Soul and Rap. Also, some Pop inflictions. That is sort of where I’m going with. I’m pretty excited about what’s to come.
So 2019 is the year?
Oh definitely. Probably in the first quarter. I’m trying to have it out by March. I’m dropping albums in 2019. Albums. Plural. I think what I’ll do is that the first one will be a solo album, and then there will be a second album where every song is a collaboration.
A lot of things are happening in 2019.
Oh, girl. You don’t even know what’s going down for 2020.
In October, Forever in Your Mind dropped the single Let Go - do you guys have anything else in the works?
Yes, definitely. We’re always working in the studio and we’re always writing. Right now, we’re all just with our family for the holidays. We’ll probably all get together around mid-January and then see how we go from there. I talked to them about the solo music, and they thought it was a good idea. I think they’re going to do that too, but just in the future sometime. They’ll definitely be coming out with music too. It’s going to be a good year for all of us, I think.
What’s it like to be in a boy band?
It’s not bad. It’s fun, honestly. I have fun when I’m performing. I get to do it with my best friend and my cousin, who is also one of my best friends. The fact that I get to work with such amazing people every day is just a blessing. There are people out there who work amazing jobs, but their team is shit. I am just so happy I have a good team around me. I wouldn’t be happy in a good band if I was surrounded by bad people.
Then it would feel like work.
Exactly, instead of my passion.
Who do you look up to?
I have several influences. With life, I would say it’s my parents because they taught me how to make the right decisions and how to live a good, healthy life. I praise them for that. For music, I’m very inspired by all these new artists like Bazzi, Khalid, Lo Nightly, Jake Austin Walker. I love music as it is. It is a universal language. It speaks through language barriers. If we didn’t know how to talk to each other and if we were dancing to a song, we would still know how we’re feeling. That’s the beautiful thing about music.
What would a world without music look like for you?
A world without colour. A world without sounds. I think music is a sixth sense.
Have you ever been in love?
Yes and no. I can’t say that because I’m not in love. I’ve been in love, but what really is being in love if you’re not staying with that person? Really think about it. If we take away all the sad things and you get to the point of it. If you’re in love with someone you devote yourself to them and give yourself unconditionally - and I would think forever. It sucks when I see people break up because I'm forced to question the relationship: were they actually in love?
This is an interesting reflection.
It’s a sad reflection, but to me, it is the most real reflection there is. People don’t really ask themselves that question. There are two sides to everything. On the one side, there is the 'I can’t believe they were in love and now they’re ending it'. On the other side, well, if they didn’t feel it, was it a waste of time? I don't mean it quite in the negative sense though. One thing I know is that you can’t force yourself to be in love. It just has to happen. I just think it’s crazy when people break up when they say they’re in love. It makes me think they were never really in love. I wouldn’t break up with the person that I’m in love with. Would you?
No, I wouldn't. I get where you’re coming from.
I think I know what the feeling of being in love is, but I haven’t been able to attain it for someone. Of course, I’m in love with my mother, I’m in love with my family, I’m in love with my friends. But if we think love 'love', like you want to have a child with that person love - that I’ve only felt once or twice in my life. I’ve looked at that person and felt it, but then I’ve questioned myself: 'is this really it? Is this that feeling?'. Then it goes away and I’m like, 'yeah, no, it’s not'.
Also, you’re young. You’re turning 21. There are so many people to meet.
I have so much life ahead of me.
For a creative exercise, how would you visualise falling in love?
It would be a drawing of a mother reaching for her first-born child. Do you know Michelangelo’s painting with God reaching out to touch man’s finger? Kind of like that. That moment right before.
Wow. That’s strong imagery. But I think it is the strongest emotion you can experience so it makes sense.
I could go like really deep with it: the first plant that sprouts after a nuclear explosion.
That’s a good one.
Death and complete annihilation, and then there is this little bit of beauty.
That reminds me of WALL-E.
Yeah. Duh. That’s what I was talking about.
It’s such a cute film!
[Imitating EVE] WALL-E.
I watched it for the first time like a few weeks ago, and honestly, I’m wondering what I’ve been doing all this time.
I don’t understand why they haven’t made a second one. I’m so upset.
What are your thoughts with 2018 coming to a close?
I’m just getting myself prepared for 2019 with the music that is coming out and then I’m thanking 2018 at the same time. I got to live through this amazing year. I got to film the second season of Alexa & Katie. I got to go to the Emmys. I got to go on tour. It was such an awesome year. 2019 is going to be a whole different vibe.
Do you have any New Year resolutions?
Yeah, just to be better than I was last year. Make better choices. Work harder. All that. To become my passion.
Any wisdom for the world?
Be yourself. Stay true to you. The people you surround yourself with are a reflection of you, so be careful about whom you make friends with. All in all: learn to love the process.