When KennyHoopla's 'how will i rest in peace if i'm buried by a highway' hit one million views on YouTube earlier this year, the industry got on its toes, wondering who is this boy coming through, out of nowhere, with 2000s indie melancholia and his heart up for grabs.
Only a few months later this 23-year-old, Wisconsin-based singer - also known as Kenneth La'ron - got an EP out and booked Europe tour with Yungblud. A whole new life has unravelled in front of him in a blink of an eye. Though, neither the sudden success nor fans crowning him a love child of Bloc Party, New Order and Tyler, The Creator has shocked Kenny. He was playing to win since day one. It just had to happen.
"I think everyone else was more surprised that it was so quick. I feel like I've been about it since I came out of the womb. I guess I'm not surprised because I'm the person who'd get it done at all cost. No matter what. No matter how long it takes. That's just one part of me, that I know for certain, more than anything, is that I can't stop until I get what I need," says Kenny, in his usual considered manner.
If you're in love with something, you want to give it your 100 per cent. Always. And if you're Kenny, one of the most ambitious young musicians around right now, you don't stop at 100; you keep on going. Though he's fully devoted to music now, it started out as one of his long-term, and years-lasting, art-oriented affairs. "I've always been involved with music, but now that's probably my main obsession. I think it just eventually found its way to the forefront. It's unignorable," he explains. It came naturally, as a part of the process, where the motivation isn't getting the product, the songs out, but need to put to use the urge to create. To not to give a damn whether he should do it or not. "It wasn't' like 'oh I wanna do music', and I was just more like me doing what I want and how I want. Whatever the consequences were. That's how I've always been," he elaborates.
In Kenny's musical microverse, there's no space for anyone else. In a good way. He's not trying to be like or sound like his peers. It's not like he wants to limit his options, but rather free himself from the pressure to imitate anything he's heard before. That's why he doesn't have a direct answer when asked about artists who have contributed to his sonic landscape. "I don't know because I feel like I'm so in love with music, and I think one of my biggest things is not being influenced exactly. A lot of artists that I do like taught me to be myself. I like Passion Pit a lot. I really like Enya; I used to love Tupac too," Kenny shares.
As he grew up in the 2000s, Kenny's music mirrors a lot of sentimentality of this period combined with the thrills of riding those emotional rollercoasters going round inside of any young adult's mind. He captured the nostalgia of past years to recover the parts that we're missing now, and gracefully locked them away in his songs, so we can feel what we once did; what he does now.
"It's like the feeling of the high or being in love. I think that's what a lot of indie rock and pop does and that's why people like it. I feel like it's something very specific and I know this feeling very well, so it's just natural. I feel like it's just like if you get it, you get it if you don't, you don't, kind of thing. There's a certain vulnerability and patheticness in indie pop/rock which is just, I don't know, putting your heart out there. That's kinda sounding crazy," Kenny opens up. If that's crazy, it means that thousands of people who'd fallen for his tender demeanour have lost their minds too.
Kenny casts the simplest and strongest spell through his songs – authenticity. "I can't not be me. I don't have any gimmicks or anything. I really don't know how not to be myself," he says. Kenny is an outlooker in the race of 'cool' who's unintentionally heading for first place, at his own pace. "Everyone has the story of their life. I guess I'm just trying to break that down, mentalise and process it. Everyone has the story, I guess. Mine is real," he points out.
Wanting to share a part of the story, he released an EP, named after his breakthrough track, 'how will i rest in peace if i'm buried by a highway', in May. Looking back, he'd rather rewrite this chapter. "It wasn't what I wanted it to be at all. I honestly wish it sounded different, and I could've presented it differently. It was rushed on, and things were all over the place. I was going all over the place, and I was scrambled in my head, which is what it sounds like. Which is the person I am, I am all over the place. Sonically and mentally," Kenny comments.
A few months passed, and he's all over the place again: working on his debut album (top secret for now so no tea spilt here) as we speak, and is fresh from recording a song with Blink-182's Travis Barker. "It's for young me and current me a fucking dream come true. It's like paying respects to the culture and putting an imprint. It's definitely more of a respect thing than anything that is like for me," he says, and reveals that there's also a music video coming. While waiting for it, have a listen of two new versions of 'lost cause', one featuring The Neighbourhood's Jesse Rutherford, the other, grandson. And then there's the tour with Yungblud, too. "You can only expect something great, or certain ungraceful chaos, to come out of that."
Despite all the recognition he's getting, Kenny stays grounded, remembering all he had to overcome to be right here, right now. "I'm always just grateful. With anything, I'm just grateful to be out of this situation that I've been in my whole life. People where I am from, and people like me don't get wild chances like this, so it's hard to be excited more than just to be grateful. I feel like the gratefulness will always overwrite anything. I'm just trying to get the job done." He's becoming a role model for underprivileged creatives. "People who came out of unfortunate circumstances, surroundings. People who see from all perspectives. And of course, people of colour," he elaborates.
KennyHoopla is a real-deal fighter; his battles are fought with words. His Insta bio 'raised by wolves' feeds of that idea. "It just stood for having to survive in my surroundings and not having the most ideal upbringing. It really just comes down to just survivalism and having to keep the ones close to you - good ones, I guess."
In an industry where everyone wants to be the next big someone, to ride along with the newest trend-wave or to be just pulled in by somebody else's star-power, KennyHoopla takes the most radical approach of them all. He wants to be himself and is damn good at it.
"Every day, I just strive to be creative; that's why I can only take one step at the time. Not succumb to other people's ideologies or their pressure on me because I've just got me where I am. I'm trying to be the strongest, the best version of myself that I can possibly be. That's all I am about: just transcending. I feel like everyone has a superhuman in them," he says. There's something special about this one.
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Upset, out now.
Featuring... The Smashing Pumpkins, Poppy, All Time Low, Creeper and more.