In the midst of a growing punk revival, many people are looking back at the past even as they try to figure out a new path forward. KennyHoopla’s SURVIVORS GUILT: THE MIXTAPE//, a collaboration with Travis Barker, is exactly that kind of attempt to find the way. Despite winning over audiences and respect, he’s not letting success go to his head. Kenny is passionate and honest about expressing his views, all while showing love for the fans and friends who supported him along the way. He’s also one of the most ambitious musicians around, refusing to accept anything from himself other than musical excellence and huge accomplishments. That ambition extends beyond personal success, and Hoopla is hoping he can be one of the voices who lead alternative rock into a new era.

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I feel like you had a really huge year. Do you feel the same way?

I feel extremely blessed. I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to, which was make one [of] the best alternative projects in recent existence and go No. 1, but I did gain some genuine fans.

So then, were you unhappy with SURVIVORS GUILT, or is it something more complex than that?

Honestly, goal No. 1, I wanted it to be impactful. What does impactful look like? I think impact looks like influence. And influence would be the soundtrack to people’s lives. I could have done better, and we didn’t have the most tracks on there. I wanted to drop one of the best projects that alternative has heard. I just wanted to do something so fucking awesome for rock music.

Did you at least feel like some moments were a standout for you? Were there any highlights in terms of how you were received?

Getting on the cover of AP magazine. My videos reaching 1 million views. Becoming somewhat seen as one of the genuine ones when it comes to rock music and who’s to take care of it and push it forward.

Obviously, the AP cover is something I’m thinking about. What did that milestone mean to you?

It means everything. My whole life, I just wanted to be included in the rock world — be a part of that guitar music, you know?

I think the other factor is that this was a tough year. What were the things that really tested you this year?

Staying true to my morals and what I stand for no matter what. Having patience.

What do you mean by that?

Just avoiding the corny shit of everything that’s going on. The negatives of people using you, or me being new to this and being in it but not getting suffocated in it. Not changing to appeal to something that could get me further and just walking in the room and being unapologetically myself and having that be enough for myself.

And letting that show through my music. I’ve put my heart out there, and I’ve gotten so close to getting No. 1. It seems like I have to just change. People will want something from me that goes against what I stand for or is something that everyone else does, and that’s not what I’m here to do. To be honest, I’m in my head all the time. That’s what can suck about doing interviews because I never know who I am sometimes looking back. I just try and take it as far as I can to where I don’t start drama or some shit.

As a journalist on the other side, I see immense pressure on artists to follow the rules, but we also feel pressure ourselves. It’s risky, whether with the music you make or the things you write.

That’s what it is. I would need to be honest, and I think maybe me being honest would start problems. I just have to stay grounded and just stay grateful, but it’s hard to balance that one.

I totally get that. But I feel like even taking it is already being really honest. It can be so hard to be real sometimes. That said, I sense the pressure you put on yourself to do something authentic. I think the flip side of what we’re saying is that there is also pressure to be a big presence and draw attention by saying this or that thing. 

That’s definitely what it is. More people are constantly telling me, “Oh, you need to be more confident or cocky.” But I have to keep so much shit inside because I’m a fucking Black artist as well.

Do you mind if I ask you about that aspect? I know that many Black artists face extra challenges on top of what’s already tough about the business, especially in the rock world.

I understand people are humans. To move the world forward, you need to be understanding and open-armed. I’m very empathetic, but it can get problematic because it ends up not being very good for me. Mainly, they’ll just compare me to a Black rock artist or something that gives them some familiarity, which I understand. That’s how people fucking identify shit. It sucks because I’ll get interviewed by someone, and they’ll immediately put it to Bloc Party or TV On The Radio when I’m trying to do my own thing.

But then I’ll shut up because I’ll be like, “Yeah, I have to earn it. I understand. Who am I to get upset about it?” It can hurt, and it can make me not really want to perform anymore, and it feels like no one really gives a fuck. It feels like sometimes I can’t really get to shit, and the only thing that will add up is, “Man, is it because I’m Black and this is not a space you want to be for someone like me?” I don’t want to say “gatekeeping” because that shit sounds so fucking crybaby-ish, and I’m not trying to be a fucking crybaby.

You can only run from your emotion and logic for so long, and it gets to the point where it’s like, “What the fuck?” Then it comes to a point where it’s like, “Who am I to speak on that in public when my thoughts aren’t fully together or when I’m just grateful to be in the position?” I think it’ll just have to come with me making more music. I just keep trying to prove [to] myself that that is wrong.

Yeah, there are so many things you have to do to successfully play the game. But then on top of that, there are those racial aspects added in. I’m sure it can feel like even if you do play by all the rules, there’s another layer that can hold some people back.

Yeah, that’s all. It’s literally just what you said. It’s that simple; doesn’t even go much deeper. This keeps adding on top. Then you have to balance that with, “It’s hard for everyone. Someone else has it worse.” But then that only just fucks with me more. It doesn’t really help knowing that it’s worse out there.

In spite of all those challenges, I feel like you have an amazing ethos. You’re immensely humble, and you try to keep the focus on the music, the fans and the performances. Also, your music feels to me like it does have a lot of clarity and direction. So, I’m curious: Even if you want to push yourself to the next level in the future, do you at least feel like you’re in a solid place with what you want to achieve musically?

It’s always been there. It’s just in my heart. It was cool [recording with] Travis because I had people there that were ready to go, and I could just make music. I made music every day for two weeks, and I was so calm. I don’t really have any money, and I’m getting better at guitar, and I’m trying to learn how to produce by myself. The sound I never worry about because it’s a language of heart. Specifically, my heart, but it’s also a certain one of rock music, which I feel like I have.

It’s like I’m not even necessarily making the music. It’s not hard for me to come to the mic. It’s just getting the foundation, so I’m never really tripping. I’m only feeling like I’m not good enough physically. Emotionally, I know that I’m so invested into it. I have this ongoing conversation with it. It’s just getting the music. Maybe it’s just complex. That’s what it is. The music is just complex, and it’s something that I don’t think is going to come easy.

That path must make things easier but also adds its own unique challenges. You can’t really churn out songs all day or walk into any studio and just press record. But the end result has the potential to be so much more powerful.

It’s a high, dude. It’s like this certain high that comes through the music. Maybe it’s from the way I grew up in my situation where it’s real with me because I’ve been through these things. 

I really felt the quote-unquote “high.” I think that a lot of people will associate that with nostalgia, but it’s more like a high on life. I have that in me all the time. It’s just so much fucking deeper, and I am trying to fucking get that through in my music, but it’s very complex. So it is fucking hard.

In that regard, I think alternative music has always had a tension between tradition and innovation. There are so many great things from the past and also models we’ve seen work for certain artists. But alternative is also a family of genres we look to for new sounds and artists who push the limits. It’s tough because it can sometimes feel like there are pitfalls everywhere. When we find those steps forward, though, they always feel so incredible. Maybe it’s a bigger problem facing all of music, but I’m obviously thinking a lot about the rock world we’re connected to every day. How do you feel about that aspect?

It’s mostly all I talk about behind closed doors. It irritates the fuck out of me. It kills my soul. It’ll make me sad to be a part of my pop culture. It’ll make me sadder. I’m like, “Damn, this is what I have to live through. I wish it could have been through some realer shit.” It got to a point where any rock music, any exposure to rock music, is a step in getting to the real shit and putting it on a bigger platform for the greater good. Someone that really has the fucking heart that comes with this shit is going to step up and is going to be able to shine more, be able to get it to the masses more because they had to go through all of this shit.

That’s where I try and sit with it. I think there’s a lot of dope shit trying to peek its way through the gates. I’ve heard some super fucking dope, authentic shit, and people don’t fuck with that because it’s unfamiliar to them or it’s too complex.

That’s the fucking issue, though. I’ve never been in this position before. My family has never been in this position before. I have a chance to fucking give my graces to the ones who came before me that sacrificed and truly humiliated themselves and were the actual weird ones and shit. I would only want to give my honor on that.

I’m so appreciative of artists who are trying to build a better music world, whether that means taking musical risks or standing up on various issues that are important to make the scene a more inclusive and more fun place to be. Then again, there’s always that tension of trying to take a stand and trying to get yourself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

It feels like the music wants me to be outspoken. I feel it in the air. That shit is what’s going to really make me be able to reach out to more people when I start talking shit like this. When you start talking shit, better or worse, it reminds me of the people that I don’t want to be like. I think that’s what it is. I’d rather be quiet and make good music and just stay out of the fucking way.

So then, how do you pursue that mission? I guess this is just a round-about way of asking you what comes next.

I want to make an iconic, good-ass indie-rock album. Something very fucking solidified. I want to install something like cement. It sounds so lighthearted, but I’m so for real. I want to make something that means something. And yeah, I do want it to be big because all that means is that it’s affecting people. I just want to make something so fucking good and fucking honest. Yes, there’s real music out there, but let’s put fucking real ass shit on the fucking pedestal. That’s all I care about.

I just want to become a more polished artist, but that only comes with me finding the right people around. I want to have super awesome merch. I want to have cool videos. I just want to do shit right. Isn’t that the dream for most people? I just want to be able to express myself and not have to stand back. I just want to show Kenny. I just want to meet myself. That’s all. Truthfully, I just want to fucking make some good shit and rock music. That’s my fucking dream. I want to install something similar and meaningful for rock music and really create a time. A lot of artists come out, and you feel it like an era. That’s what I want to do with rock music. It’s like, “Well, this shit is fucking dope and something meaningful."

This interview was originally in AltPress issue #401 (the AP yearbook) available here