Exclusive: Mack Wilds Talks Name Change, Debut Album & More With Marisa Mendez

LIT_Marisa Mendez x Mack Wilds

The world became familiar with Tristan Wilds during his stints on The Wire and the revamped 90210, but with both shows now a thing of the past, so is “Tristan.” In his place now is Mack Wilds, a talented singer hailing from New York, backed by the legendary Salaam Remi.

The pair met years back while Mack was still immersed in acting, but a quick chat during the BMI Awards forged a friendship that would prove mutually beneficial as time went on. With Mack having a deep respect for Salaam’s music, and Salaam having been a fan of Mack’s acting, they started hanging out in the studio and conversations about Mack’s future plans eventually came up.

“I would listen to what he was doing, and I’d let him hear stuff that I was working on,” Mack said of their time together early on. “He’d give me critiques, and I told him what I thought was hot and what I thought what probably should wait a little bit. It really was like every time we came together it was like a dope big brother, little brother thing and he’s been behind me the whole time.”

From big brother/little brother relationship to now a full blown artist/manager partnership, Mack Wilds and Salaam Remi are preparing their domination in music with Mack’s debut album, New York: A Love Story, dropping September 17th. I caught up with the Staten Island native recently to discuss the project, as well as who his influences are, what his sneaker game is like, what crazy demands he plans to put on his tour rider and more.

The world got familiar with you as Tristan Wilds on shows like The Wire and most recently, 90210. What made you want go with “Mack Wilds” now for your singing career? Is it going to be the Sasha Fierce to your Beyonce?
Definitely not! Mack is my real name, that’s the name that I grew up with. My friends and my family called me Mack since I was a kid. Like if you go to my neighborhood, if you go to Stapleton and you ask them if you’ve seen Mack, they’re going to be like, “He hasn’t been here in a couple of days…” but that’s my name, that’s what I grew up with. Tristan Wilds is my first name, I guess my given name, but my momma even calls me Mack! It’s more like, because my music is so personal and so catered to different personal things that I’ve been through, it’s like I’m bringing you guys into my world, so you might as well call me my name.

What made you decide to start taking music seriously right now, as opposed to any other point in your career?
I mean I’ve always been taking music seriously, it was my first love, I’ve been doing it since before the thought of acting became into fruition, so it was really more so perfect timing. Me and Salaam were just really finding our rhythm, 90210 was just ending, it was kind of a really weird divine timing.

At what point did you realize that you could sing, and if it was before acting, why did you kind of choose to pursue acting first?
It was definitely way before acting, I think it wasn’t necessarily when I knew I could sing, it was more so who can sing the best in the house type of thing.

Do you have siblings?
Absolutely, there was six of us growing up.

Oh, wow! Did you guys all have some sort of musical interests?
We were all just very creative. You know, my older brother tries to sing but he’s not a singer. [Laughs] He tries to sing. My sister Talia, she sings, so she was the singer in the house and my little sister sings too. My oldest brother, he raps and then my oldest sister was just a big music head, and my dad was a singer. He used to go around the city hitting different spots, you know, used to gig up everywhere! But, it really was just more so who could sing the best in the house and I was never the absolute best but I definitely tried the hardest, I guess. So, music was always my first love and the reason why I fell into acting first was it was kind of like a summer job. I was 14 or 15 and it really was like, “Okay, a bunch of my friends are going to auditions from school, I might as well try it too!” So I went on one audition, one commercial turned into another, another commercial turned into a little TV spot, a little TV spot turned into The Wire, and I was gone.

Did your friends get any of the parts they were going for, or did you end up being the only person?
No, they were getting other parts, like little commercials here and there but nobody really progressed.

It’s funny that it’s usually like that when it’s a group of people, and some of them are so passionate about it like, “Yeah man, I’m going to go to all of these auditions because I want to be a star!” and then one person is like, “Eh I’ll try it,” and they’re the ones that end up actually having a career out of it!
It was crazy and I tell all of my friends that all the time. It’s funny and I can say this – I wasn’t super duper in love with acting at first but it wasn’t until maybe after The Wire that I really sat back and was like, “Yo, I really love this!”

With your brothers and sisters being so into music as well, do you plan to eventually work with them on some stuff or maybe do some writing with them?
I mean they help me all the time, whether it’s just an ear to listen to some music and just figure out if the stuff is dope or not, or my little sister coming into the studio with me, and me and her playing harmonies against each other – we always constantly help out for the greater good of whatever we’re doing.

What’s it mean to you to have someone of Salaam Remi’s status cosign you? How does that feel for you?
It’s amazing. There’s a feeling of, “God damn! Like really, God? Really? I get all of this?” To know how Salaam works and to know how Salaam Remi really chooses artists that he decides to put his name beside like Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill, The Fugees, the list goes on and on Nas, etc…These iconic figures in music, it really makes you feel like, man, I guess I’m doing something right!

Do you feel any pressure for it too though? Like, “Wow, I have to live up to these same type of expectations?”
I don’t think it’s as much pressure as everybody thinks it would. I think it’s more of an honor, it’s really like man, he’s giving me the opportunity to really carve out my own lane and do what I want and he feels like I’m on the caliber of these great acts! This is amazing.

You seem to go really really hard for New York and I know you’re from here. Do you feel like that’s something you need to do or it’s just something that you want to do?
It’s more of a want. I think it honestly borders on the line of want and need. I want to because this is my city, I grew up in this city. This is the city that raised me, birthed me, I ran these streets when I was a kid! I was out here wildin’ out before! But also I need to, I need to let people know where I’m from. I need to let people know who I am and why I am the way I am, and not only that, I feel like New York needs it!

What New York artists are you listening to?
Jay of course, Nicki is killing right now, Uncle Murda is dope!

e’s going by UM now.
UM? Got it. There’s a couple, there’s a couple. A$AP of course, A$AP is doing his numbers right now, the whole A$AP Mob and Ferg.

Ferg is killing it right now! I was listening to “Work” on the way here, going crazy in my car!
It really gets you hyped! Even Joey Bada$$ and the whole Pro Era. They’re really doing their thing. It seems like the new New York is really coming back.

What about French Montana?
Yeah absolutely, of course! You got to get hyped, and French Montana does exactly what he needs to do – he gets everybody hyped. Haaaan!

What about artist overall, in music period. Who are some of your biggest influences?
Man how long do you have? My list can go on and on, seriously! It can go from like Lauryn Hill, Jay Z, Kanye to Phil Collins, Lady Antebellum, Billy Joel, Queen. These are people that I listened to growing up and that I feel help me create, I guess a writing style and just an idea on how to approach music and a way to listen to music differently than everybody else does. I see it and feel it differently.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given period relating to the industry as a whole and being a celebrity?
Persistence. I think that’s the best advice that I’ve gotten ever. Persistence breaks resistance. If you hit enough water droplets, it can break concrete. So if you really want it, if you really love it, you got to keep striving for it and don’t stop until you get it.

Are you going to continue acting or do you just want to wear one hat for the moment and then kind of segue back into it?
Absolutely. I think with anything with me, I can’t be in two different places at once. It’s hard. At the end of the day, it’ll be like if I’m acting and doing music at the same time, the music won’t sound as good as I would want it to or the acting will be like, “Oh, he’s just doing something just to do it.” I want every time you do see me or hear me or whatever…whether it’s clothes, whether it’s a piece that I did artistic wise or if it’s music or acting…every time you see it, you know that it’s quality, you know I gave my all to it.

I caught the video for “Own It” that you put out last month, and you did a little bit of acting even in that so you kind of mixed both worlds. Do you want to do that in all of them?
I mean right now, we have. We shot about four different videos and they all link together to make one long-form idea, so yeah, you use anything that you can.

That video too was very “New York” with the graffiti and all of that.
Yeah, absolutely.

So what do you have coming up?
Well right now the album! We have more singles dropping, we have the album coming out, New York: A Love Story. You gotta keep it as New York as possible, 917! Maybe tours, etc.! Who knows? I feel like the future looks really, really bright right now and I’m ready to take everything I can get.

What are you going to put on your tour rider? If you’re like, Mariah status, what are you going to start requesting?
[Laughs] Mariah status? I don’t know! I’d have to put regular stuff of course like fruits, water, tea, but I’d have to have ONE thing that’s crazy like a whole jar of red M&M’s…just to see if they’ll do it!

They’ll do it! Especially if you’re Mariah Carey, they’re definitely giving you a jar of red M&M’s!
Ah man, that’d be funny!

I’d have a list of just random things just because. I’ll have like, little cupcakes just sitting around and things hanging from the ceiling. They’ll do anything for you. A lot of artists actually ask for socks, so word of advice when you start touring – ask for socks, because apparently they disappear when you’re on the road.
Alright! I mean, I think that’s the weirdest thing a fan could take is socks but sure, I’ll put that on there!

No, it’s not a fan taking them! You always end up losing socks when you’re moving from bus to the hotel to the venue and back! They’re the first to disappear.
h true, and I definitely need socks!

Well, are you a sneaker head?

The last thing I knew coming out was last month, the 3′s or something?
The “Fire Red” Jordan 3′s. Definitely a must have. I mean, I already have the O.G.’s. I forget what year they dropped, I think ’88?

What’s your favorite pair of kicks of all time?
My favorite pair of kicks would probably have to be the 3′s, but not the fire reds – the original colors, black and grey.

Before we wrap up, who would be your dream collab? They could be dead or alive. I want the producer, the artists on it, the writers, give me the whole lineup.
Man if I could do my dream collab, I would do something how Kanye did like “All Of The Lights.” I’d just have a bunch of people like 2pac, me, Lauryn Hill, Jay, Kanye. Ye could do the beat if he wants. Um, I don’t know! Honestly, there’s so many people I want to collab with, and mainly because I’m the kind of guy that absorbs different things like a sponge, so anything that I can learn from them in the studio, I’d love to absorb it. So, anyone who’s really down to make some dope art…because I feel like each song is a art piece…so anyone who’s really down to make some dope art, I’m down for it.

Artwork for Mack's debut album

Marisa Mendez

Marisa is a media personality, while also working on the digital side of things for some of hip-hop's biggest names. She has done work with French Montana, Swizz Beatz, Nicki Minaj, Pusha T and many more.

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