KennyHoopla hasn’t had a headlining tour yet. But honestly, he doesn’t really need one. Some nights he still finds himself on the road—at least when he’s asleep.
When the creative spoke with Alternative Press last week, he was staying at his friend’s place in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He spent his day recording a new track; one he heard before, but not in our world. He heard it in his dreamworld.
The night prior to the interview, Kenny (aka Kenneth La’ron) dreamt he was running in the road on a dark, foggy night as streetlights turned off one by one. The meaning of the dream wasn’t super-clear. But what was clear was his immediate connection to the imaginary song soundtracking it. Once he woke up, he dedicated his day to working on bringing what he heard—and its “trance-like” hook—to our world.
“I feel like the world in my head is parallel with the world in my dreams,” Kenny says. “I feel like they’re both half-clear. I guess eventually they just come together. And that might be where my music is coming from.”
Kenny’s music comes from a place of authenticity. He’s real with his listeners, just as he is in conversation. Even when he speaks in compelling metaphors and preaches individuality, he gets worried that he says the wrong thing. Bigger interviews are still pretty new to him, he admits. And when he sees his 14.4 million global streams on Spotify Wrapped, he still interprets his success as simply “numbers.” Once he gets that first headlining show locked in, then he can start feeling the connection to fans firsthand.
For now though, that connection is based primarily on the music. And his November collaboration with blink-182’s Travis Barker, “ESTELLA//,” is the perfect icebreaker. Released months after his how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway? // EP, the track helps Kenny’s indie–rock aura shine and pairs him with someone he looks up to. There’s a clear musical match-made-in-heaven moment with the song, and Kenny says he felt that same draw to Barker in the studio.
“It’s like this pathetic vulnerability of the heart and this truth to it,” Kenny says of his musical connection to blink-182. “A lot of people will talk about depression in their songs. And then people ask me, but I don’t feel cool about that. And it’s not even something that I want to do. It’s just what it is. It sucks. I feel crazy feeling the way I feel and [being] the person I am… I really have been [an] outcast and been in weird situations growing up. And that’s what comes out in the music, so that’s what I’m saying. It’s natural. That was what blink-182 were. They were just putting it all out there.”
Alternative Press’ recent discussion with Kenny, ranging from his quest for a platinum record to his journey of learning who he is as an artist, follows below.
It’s been a year for you, Kenny. 14.4 million Spotify streams speak for themselves. How does it feel that this year has been the biggest year for KennyHoopla?
Yeah, it’s crazy. You want to know what’s sad? I’ve just been seeing numbers all year, so I can’t even tell if that was a lot. Not even for me, but just numbers in my face constantly, just on the internet and in general. And I just didn’t feel anything. And then seeing everyone else’s, there was just like a whole bunch of numbers. I was like, “I don’t even know if mine’s a lot or not.” I literally can’t tell what that means. I know it’s the most I’ve ever had, but I just didn’t know what to make of it. I don’t know. I think I felt nothing. Quite honestly, that is my truth. I really felt nothing.
Do you think it’s something that would hit you when you have a show after this?
Yeah, I think that’s when everything will hit me, when I see myself really connecting with people. That’s all, just like the connecting. People have been just gassing it up like, “Yo, your first show is going to be crazy when you go overseas,” and stuff like that. I’ve done one big festival that was in a town in Wisconsin. I don’t think I’ve ever even headlined a show in my life.
Do you feel like you’re learning the ropes of what it is that you want to do musically?
Yeah. And I know what I want to do. But I think the reality is I haven’t found the right people. I guess it’s like patience and someone who really understands. I’m just going to talk from my heart. I think a lot of people just care about money, dude. And it’s hard because I want to work with these people, but then a lot of people didn’t give me the time of day until I did something or they see that I’m on a label, and then they’re just like, “Oh, so he has money. Somehow I can get something out of him.”
It’s hard to find someone who truly just wants to do something. And I know money runs the world, but I just want to make beautiful music. I need that connection from the other person that’s not about the money or anything. It’s really like making something out of nothing. I’m looking for specifics and someone, but I’m just looking for someone who will be vulnerable with me and patient.
The saying goes that everything is better when you do it yourself. And I’m not the best producer. In my head, I’ve made amazing, beautiful songs that went platinum many times. But I can’t put them out physically, so I’m just keeping my head down and learning how to do it myself. But time is something that is not on my side with the life that I have, and I need to make this happen now, so I end up just dropping music that’s not my full expression. I have to just give it a little piece of myself when really I want to give all of it.
I want to talk about “ESTELLA//.” It’s been a big year for you, but this track feels really special. Can you talk to me about how it came together?
I think I was manifesting working with Travis Barker. I was just thinking, “If I could get in the room with these people, I can just get the time of day from someone.” I think I went in there, and then we finally linked up. I was in Los Angeles. And then I pulled up on him, and then I had the hook that was a cappella in my head. I just recorded it with no beat first, and then I did the hook, and then I just put power chords on it. That was really how that came together. And that might have been the fastest song I’ve made so far.
Of course, I was like, “This is Travis Barker.” But, again, I can keep myself grounded because I’ve never had anything. And I think that clicks in me. It’s like this fight or flight. I walked in there, and I’m like, “OK, I’m in this position.” I’m about to go the fuck in because that’s what I’m here to do. I just went, and I blacked out, and I just kept focusing on making something good.
With this track in particular, is there any advice that Travis has given you that you hold close, even if you both still chat?
I try not to talk with him a lot because of my anxiety. That’s even with most people that I have respect for, in general. I don’t want to ruin anything. I get scared to talk too much or say the wrong thing or ruin any of my blessings.
But I realized that he was also grounded like me and that he also had a certain—and I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m just going to speak from my heart—pain that I felt in his eyes. And that was in the air. I can tell [if] someone’s a real one when I walk in the room. I can feel the energy. That’s something where I was like, “That’s why I want to be in the room with you because you’re a real one.” And of course, I want that co-sign. He literally came before me, and you’re putting it out there. And he was grounded by it. Music is life for him. It’s not this separate thing. It’s this open conversation that is just natural.
When we look at the track and the video, it’s all super-refreshing. Even talking to you now, very few musicians preach individuality or even authenticity as much as you do. What does, in a general sense, being yourself mean to you?
Being yourself comes with vulnerability. That’s the first thing I can think of. I don’t even mean this in a literal sense, but just letting yourself bleed. Letting the colors of your soul bleed out of you and whatever river, wherever those colors lead to, letting the current take it wherever it goes.
Was there ever a time where you felt like you couldn’t do that? Being younger and having those financial difficulties or not being able to play music as a kid. Do you feel like you’ve learned the power of being yourself in these recent years?
I think everyone should be themselves because that is what’s going to help the world become one—when everyone is showing their true colors. Whether you’re a good person or you’re a bad person, as long as everyone knows what’s good and where everyone stands, that’s when everything can come together, and that’s when everything can come to one.
I think being myself has got me to where I am in the bad parts of my life and the good parts. I guess the power is connecting or existing. I’ve just been trying to work out, and then half of it has just been a miracle from wherever angels are watching over me, just meeting the universe halfway.
We’re talking about where you are now and then, how you got here and this effect that you’re creating with those around you. Where do you hope this ride takes you? How far ahead do you think?
Even just living in my head today, it’s like hell, but I’m not stopping. If I die, I want to be able to make a staple because that’s what I’m here for. I’m not here to just be like, “Oh look, he’s making rock music. He’s bringing rock back, and he’s Black, and it’s so cool.” No. I just want to make meaningful music, and I want to get this stuff out of my head.
What’s your biggest goal for the next iteration of what you might put out there?
It sounds stupid, but I want to go platinum. That’s something I’ve always wanted and envied but not in a negative way, really. That’s always been something that I’ve seen. I’ve never had any trophies or awards ever. To win something would be super-cool.
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