Gino McKoy

INTERVIEW | Talking Music and Hollywood Movies With Gino McKoy

Gino McKoy is a rarity, a multi-talented visionary with the innate gifts to make an impact on not only music but also on Hollywood. He’s a singer-songwriter, screenwriter, film director, and producer.

McKoy’s latest music video, “Sensy Girl,” featuring Diamond, was produced by David Kershenbaum and McKoy, and mixed by 15-time Grammy-winner Mick Guzauski. According to McKoy, the song is a “celebration of women and music everyone can listen and dance to.”

His forthcoming sci-fi horror film Lumina, distributed by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures/Freestyle Releasing, will be appearing on 2,500 theaters across North America, followed by Little Mizz Innocent, both films written, directed, and produced by McKoy.

If that’s not enough, McKoy is funneling 20% of the merchandising revenue from “Sensy Girl” into his crisis charity for women and children, Kinder Krisis, a reflection of McKoy’s motto: “God put you here, not only to help yourself but to help others.”

CelebMix sat down with Gino McKoy to find out how someone from Trinidad and Tobago forges a path to success in music and feature films.

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

Been surrounded by it for my entire life. My first musical memory was the world steel band competition aka Panorama in Trinidad and Tobago at the age of three. My father is a musician/composer and a big music and steelband enthusiast and my mom was a singer and sang in school and church, she also has a great ear for music. But back to what I was saying, we parked up at night outside of Queens Park Savannah in Port of Spain during the Trinidad and Tobago carnival season and listened to the competition. The notes echoed with that slight island breeze. One of my earliest memories of music.

Of course listening to my South American Jewish grandfather (dad’s dad) play classical or listening to Michael Jackson at the age of four, turned me onto music. Not to mention my mom was a singer and also came from a musical family, my father also had a band in Halifax, Nova Scotia when we first moved to Canada from the age of four and up. So I constantly heard music. Started mimicking opera singers around 7, while still listening to classical (favorite was Bach, on harpsichord) Michael, Madonna, GNR, U2, Rakim and local artists from the Caribbean.

But my real start came when I was in my late teens when I sang covers and hooks for local artists looking for R&B artists to sing on their hip-hop tracks or dancehall tracks. In between those years I couldn’t really find a vocal coach I liked or trusted, so it was just my raw talent tbh. Until around 12th grade I enrolled in music class at high school and the teacher said I was talented and should pursue singing professionally. After that I went on to sing at work events, weddings, talent shows at University of Toronto where I graduated from, etc. Eventually I found a vocal trainer, Marat Maxutov, a very talented Russian vocal coach out of Mississauga school of music. He trained me for the next 7-8 years and I refined my raw talent. That really prepared me for the next step into mainstream music.

When I met Nick Blagona at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga (some of the biggest artists in music history have recorded out of there), I was mastering an album with covers to present to labels. He heard my voice and said he wanted to work with me as he was also a mastering engineer out of that studio. He was excited when he heard we had original material my father had composed going back to the 80s. So the strong melodies were there in the original compositions, but it needed a Producer to arrange and really bring out the best of it. We recorded the album at Ocean Studios in Burbank but Nick fell ill shortly after. He said I needed to be in LA and once I was in LA, I knew God led me there – that was my path. David Kershenbaum eventually took over the music and re-produced it after I wasn’t satisfied with the mixes done by Grammy-award winning Mixing Engineer Dexter Simmons. I met David through his friend Rick Stone, a well-known radio promoter in LA, because his former assistant who I met crashing a red carpet event in Beverly Hills’s heard my songs and referred me to Rick. After Rick heard the songs, he put me on to David.  David eventually incorporated legendary talents like Greg Phillinganes (Michael Jackson’s former Arranger and musical director, whose mother happens to be from Tobago, surprisingly), Bernie Grundman, Mick Guzauski and Bob Clearmountain involved along the way. That took the music to the next level and set me up for this EP release. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a great attorney that also believes in my talent be there as well, in Lee Phillips, who some may know as the attorney who repped Michael Jackson, the Eagles and Irving Azoff to name a few. Lee heard my talent and saw my ideas to amalgamate film and music and chose to represent me going forward. Lee helped us secure worldwide publishing with BMG from the Global Head of BMG in Berlin. We hope to have a great partnership going forward in the future. However, there’s a story between all of this which you will see below.

What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?

If I tell you, I will have to kill you, LOL. Just kidding. But let’s just say this, had I not had strong parents who were there for me and my grandmother (mom’s mom, I released my EP with the “Sensy Girl” music video on her bday, June 14th) who was like a mother to me was also there for me, I probably would not be where I am right now; thank God I am and I’m happy I chose the right path.

What are the three things you can’t live without?

God. My parents. Music and film.

What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

Tough one, “Human Nature” – Michael Jackson and “Mysterious Ways” – U2.

What musicians/vocalists influenced you the most?

Michael Jackson, I had the doll, lol. Whitney and Madonna – the songwriters, melodies everything really, just like Michael. U2- one of my first music DVDs was “Rattle and Hum.” U218 is always on repeat for me. GNR – Appetite For Destruction, Use Your Illusion, both volumes, Slash on guitar, Axl’s unique vocals. Phil Collins and Elton John – between the two of them, it’s hard not to love ballads. Rakim – changed the rap game, his style was so unique and his message. Billy Ocean – Suddenly to “Caribbean Queen.” Super Blue – Trinidadian artist (calypso and soca) the rhythm and vibe. Super Cat – dancehall. Pearl Jam – Ten and Vs. “Alive” spoke to me. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

How did you go from singer-songwriter to screenwriter/film producer?

Before we met David, we met a number of people in the music and film industry, when we moved to LA. Sadly most were not honest and didn’t appreciate my vision of doing live music. Some label executives said it was too alternative, some said you need to sing R&B or Euro-pop and go all synth music. I personally loved the old school strong melodies my father and I wrote and as Michael Jackson has said, “Melody is king …” I wasn’t going to drop our great songs. It was a real struggle after that as many tried to push me into a corner despite seeing my talent. I didn’t give up, we as a family didn’t give up. We gave up everything in Canada to move to LA to pursue my dream and our dream to do music. We put all of our money into it and lost a lot of it, at a time we hit rock bottom, with a lot of our family turning their backs saying we should leave the entertainment industry. Despite the fact we supported them unconditionally in what they pursued. Our backs were against the wall, so I came up with an idea. And we built ourselves back up in the process to get to this point.

Growing up, I always wrote poetry and short stories, despite never really loving English class. Yeah it’s quite the contradiction. But I came up with an idea: I will write my own movie and put my songs in the movie soundtrack, so I won’t have to be subjected to others trying to get me to sing something else and I’m in control of my music career and the music I choose to put out. Plus I won’t have to worry about labels not signing me because they didn’t believe in the music, despite some notable producers saying it takes time and money to release that quality of music that we made.

So I wrote, Little Mizz Innocent, based on our song by the same name that will be released at a future date.  Wrote it in 2 weeks, I never wrote a script before but I read a lot of James Cameron, Michael Mann and George Lucas’s scripts before I wrote LMI. Sadly, a lot of what I wrote was stolen and used by other films in the industry because the movie went into development hell, as they refer to it in the film industry. A few examples of that were when I was the first writer in Hollywood to write about the deep web and bit coin. That circulated throughout Hollywood for many years, so contrary to popular belief, I was the first to write about it in a feature film script, which of course I have proof of because it was registered with the Writers Guild of America. But you live and learn and get stronger and avoid trying to get blacklisted, despite the discrimination and the other fun stuff that comes with it. And once your film doesn’t release right away, ideas get taken. However, that did not stop me, delayed but not discouraged, it was a baptism of fire I had to pass through and learn about to get to this point. The sacrifices artists make to get their music heard and appreciated. It turned out that I was the only music artist to do this and play so many roles. You see artists like Donald Glover now, but I was ahead of the curve by many years, as I’ve been told. Because I created the film as a vehicle for my music and wanted that autonomy. The idea was born out of wanting the music to have a fair chance to be heard by the world.

What was the inspiration for your forthcoming Sci-fi horror movie Lumina?

I grew up a Star Wars fan, huge Stars Wars fan, still am a Star Wars fan and George Lucas fan, so much so, my grandfather (moms dad) called me The Jedi. Simply because I watched all the episodes every day since I can remember myself. I was also reading the Star Wars books at around the age of 3 and a half, my mom made sure to record me on cassette. She still has that cassette.

I wanted to experiment with alien abductions, and chase sequences.

Well after the delays on LMI, I was in Florida visiting my uncle who is a vet out in Bradenton, I decided to write Lumina and see if I could keep the storyline really contained, the polar opposite of LMI. I managed to do that. I’ve always had inspiration for sci-fi, it’s my niche genre which I love, I wrote a trilogy many years prior to Lumina, I hope to produce in the near future. It’s a topic that sci-fi movies haven’t  explored yet and I hope to explore it and get it on the big screen. Lumina will also be my first feature film that I will be directing, so I will be making my directorial debut. As I did on both “Sensy Girl” and “The Everything To Me” music video which will be released later this year. No to mention we have secured a wide release in North America with Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures/Freestyle. Releasing with Byron Allen’s company to 2500 plus screens to all major theaters in 2020. Something that was termed a watershed moment in their history and maybe less than 1% of producers secure this type of theatrical distribution. So our hard work and struggles did pay off after all.

Your new music video – “Sensy Girl” – is hella-cool. How did you hook up with Diamond?

Thank you, that means a lot. Diamond and I have been friends since my first year of university, we actually did another collab together which is equally as great but needs to be re-produced, it got traction in Toronto and the Caribbean but never broke through. I think we want to change that after “Sensy Girl,” God willing it blows up internationally. Diamond is originally from Tobago, so we have an understanding and have been friends for quite some time.

What’s the story behind the title, “Sensy Girl?”

Diamond and I were hanging out or as we say in Trinidad (limin) one day in Toronto and we talked about that no songs had women and ganja, Diamond said why not “Ganja Girl.” I said that’s too on the nose, not catchy enough, “Sensy Girl” sounds better and is catchier, he loved it. We wanted to highlight the ladies because too many songs were focused on men. Sensimilla as you know is the female strain of the ganja plant, but has no seeds and is the feminine strain. So it worked perfectly and Sensy is a slang word used in Trinidad and Tobago to identify marijuana.

What is your songwriting process?  Does the music come first and then the lyrics?

Depends, my dad and I like to joke that we are a Bernie Taupin and Elton John combo because Elton is one of his all-time favs. We compose together and I do a lot of the lyrics, unless dad already has lyrics, I make changes and also work with him and the producer and musicians. We don’t have a set way as such but a lot of the songs originate from the piano. “With Sensy Girl,” I was playing with guitar riffs with my uncle who’s a drummer and that gave me the melody for the hook. I produced a rough track in Toronto and then went to David Kershenbaum and we produced it together in two studios in LA. Dad also had input and worked on that track but it was mainly myself. We like experimenting in the studio and with different mixes and also prefer the minimalist approach but sometimes you need those layers for that full sound. I also never use auto-tune on my voice. We prefer going live and some mixtures or synth, but with “Sensy” it’s a different vibe.

I write poetry, so at times once I hear the harmonies and melodies words come to my mind, or vice versa. I hope to be recognized for my versatility because we write everything, as you can see the singles on the EP are three distinct genres.

You founded Kinder Krisis, a crisis charity for women and children. What is the charity’s primary objective?

Getting kids and women out of dangerous and impoverished situations. Lynda, who’s my mom and President of Goldove, volunteered a lot throughout her life, orphanages etc. I got a good example from her growing up. My motto is “God put you here, not only to help yourself but to help others.” So we started KK, and we are hoping to do an official launch with money raised by the end of this year to start helping kids, women and give back. For us it’s not about image or anything else superficial, we just want to know we can make a positive difference and we know the money is going to the people we need to help. The legendary Christopher Plummer also said he supports our charity, which was great as well.

What’s next for you? More music? Another movie?

Where do I begin. Securing radio play for “Sensy,” and “ETM” and “Runaway.” Releasing those music videos, “ETM” is shot and looks amazing as well. “Runaway” I’m still planning. Securing TV performances and also heading into shooting Lumina in Greece. Once that’s complete we will be finishing the album for release, with all music videos to follow. Tour etc., and then comes my slate of films. After Lumina is Spidersweb, a sci-fi film I wrote with Michael Sloan, who is the EP, producer and creator of Equalizer and Equalizer 2 with Denzel Washington. I will be directing his next feature and doing title tracks and the score, etc. for that. Then LMI and a number of other secret projects I can’t reveal as yet. Some will definitely catch the eye of the top media sources. All in all, I am excited to tour eventually and we have 40 more songs ready to be produced and released, plus I have a lot of writers pitching to me. So we want to unleash the music catalogue because streaming as everyone knows has changed the way music fans consume music.

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Written by Randy

Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.