Don't get it twisted. KennyHoopla is not 'genre-blending'. He just grew up in the late 2000s. My dear friends, never underestimate the impact of the arrival of YouTube on the masses. We might go so far as to say it is the single greatest influence on this generation's music culture. Thanks for trying, Limewire.
"I feel like it's just YouTube," Kenny laughs. "[At age fourteen or fifteen] was when computers started to be accessible to everybody my age. That was when I could go down the rabbit hole of stuff. I feel like, sonically, I always knew what I liked but [my influence] just so happens to be the 2000s because that was the timeframe."
His earliest playlist is still on his YouTube account, he says, taking in indie, electronic, and house remixes. There are threads of all that through his debut EP 'how will i rest in peace if i'm buried by a highway?//', but that doesn't mean he's paying tribute.
"I'm not trying to purposely go to that, but it's just that sound," he says.
There's a feeling that KennyHoopla is trying to get at with his songs, which he still finds in music from that era. It's not nostalgia, exactly, but there are commonalities.
"I feel like people were also way more authentic then. Not that people aren't now, but I definitely feel like there's less heart in music these days. But at the same time, it's complicated, because [I was] conflicted even before I made music," he says. "With art in general, it's just like, what else can you do when everything has been made? It's something I conflict with, and it seems unavoidable sometimes. Cracking that is just really being yourself."
Kenny knows a fair bit about putting stock in exactly who you are. In some ways, he considers it a blessing that he hasn't necessarily had the professional training or experience some other might have. It makes it easier for him to only pursue his most authentic expressions.
"Thank god I don't really know what I'm doing," he says. "It's kind of easier for me not to think about it too much because I'm just like, throwing myself at it."
"I'm not trying to mix genres. It's just a sonic exploration," he adds.
His musical scavenger hunt approach is working out. The songs on 'how will i rest in peace if i'm buried by a highway?//' are by no means rudimentary. Kenny's writing is poetic and sometimes sad, without resorting to wallowing or extreme earnestness. Despite lyrics about karma, oppression, and hitting rock bottom, the EP feels more life-affirming than bleak.
In both his music and his interviews, KennyHoopla is careful about what he says. His speech is forthcoming, not hesitant, but there is the impression that he wants to make sure he is getting exactly to the heart of what he's trying to communicate. It's one of the reasons why - despite the fact that he says he's "been making music in my head my whole life" - he's only recently begun to actually record his songs.
It was partly a question of poetry and visual art being easier for a younger Kenny to access, but the overarching concern was that he wanted to make sure he had something to say. Something that was true, in one form or another.
"I was just, I could never afford an instrument. I grew up in poverty, I guess," says Kenny. "And I spent most of my time trying to get out of that. And then it just got to a place where I was wanting to make music but a lot of people around me at the time... everyone was making music. I feel like a lot of people are making music just to make it - and that's fine too, but I didn't want to add to more noise that was unnecessary. But I felt like I had something to say."
At some point, the KennyHoopla project couldn't wait any longer.
"It got to a point where I was like, 'it's time for me to make music'. Like the universe was telling me 'now is the time'. And then my friend recorded me," he says.
There was a part of him that was still anxious, still wanted to take more time to prepare, but he knew it was time to overrule it.
"Thinking in hindsight, it's something that you just have to jump into. Any step into something unknown, you're not gonna be comfortable at any point, so you've just gotta jump into it."
There were a few hurdles, though. While Kenny had an armful of songs ready to record, he was fully aware that there were still some things he had to learn as he went along.
"It was just a matter of me trying to get in with the producers that I wanted to. It was kinda hard though, because I haven't been doing this my whole life. I wasn't born getting taught piano or music theory or anything, so it's kind of hard in that aspect, trying to learn and do something at the same time," he says. "That's probably my biggest challenge when it comes to me making music."
Some songs on 'how will i rest in peace if i'm buried by a highway?//' presented fewer difficulties in the studio than others. As one of two tracks that Kenny had already prepared acapella, the crystalline 'Sore loser//' was, he says, 'easy', as was the EP's opener 'thinking out loud//'. The title-track, a standout with similar aesthetics to things like Joy Division, house and 2000s dance-punk, wasn't so straightforward.
"That was like the first time that I had played guitar," Kenny says casually.
You'd never guess. Far from being amateur, 'how will i rest in peace if i'm buried by a highway?//' is layered and accomplished, somehow managing to feel both fresh and comfortingly familiar at the same time.
"It was hard, but it was definitely fulfilling," he says. "I feel like that's the hardest I've ever worked on music myself."
There were other pressures on the recording of the EP too, with the shortfall between the time available and Kenny's drive to get things absolutely right coming into conflict.
"It was, like, rushed," Kenny says.
He's sanguine about that, though. Part of it is just the times we're living in, after all.
"I feel like that really speaks to what I was trying to get across also, that there isn't really enough time for anything. Especially in this generation, in this time in life. That's just how it is, and stuff gets digested more quickly, and things get less conscious."
It doesn't seem like there's any risk of things becoming less conscious with KennyHoopla. He knows perfectly well what he's doing and what it means, even if it seems like this year has conspired against us all.
"The world is weird as fuck. I have a lot to balance in my life, but my priority is making music. But just the way I am and the things I've gone through which I'm trying to get out in my music, that's not necessarily easy, or easy to process," he says. "I feel kind of grey a lot of the times, and I guess I use music to make colour. But it's hard to do that when you feel grey. So I'm just trying to take it a day at a time and make stuff when I can."
That drive to make something true is one of the things that's going to set KennyHoopla apart. It's the kind of thing that gives a person staying power. Resilience.
"I'm not the kind of person that… I can make songs, but [I have to] put things that are meaningful, and things that'll last and are true to me, most importantly," he says. "That's just been a process."
Good thing he's just getting started.
Taken from the August issue of Dork, out now.
Featuring Declan McKenna, Fontaines DC, Another Sky, KennyHoopla and more.