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Introverted indie rocker KennyHoopla talks cracking the US Billboard Top 20, staying grateful, and his deep-seated need to create art

You’ve heard the story many times before: musician messes around with some fresh beats, uploads a couple of songs to Soundcloud, and goes from 100 to 1 million streams virtually overnight.

Artists like Tom Misch, RUSS, Mac Demarco and our girl Billie Eilish are prime examples of the classic 21st-century narrative.

A relative newcomer to the growing bedroom-pop-goes-big list is Wisconsin-hailing artist KennyHoopla who as recently as April, after three years and only a handful of singles, cracked the US Billboard Top 20.

KennyHoopla sits pretty above artists like The 1975, FINNEAS, and The Strokes with his late 2019 release, “How Will I Rest in Peace if I’m Buried By a Highway”, the second single off his debut EP of the same title, that he dropped mid-way through May.

I’m excited for him and greet him with a congratulatory waddup that he seems to shy away from, “I’m just really trying to stay grateful, and to move forward and to not let any compliments get to my head.”

Hoopla’s polite humility doesn’t match his street skater-like appearance at all — baggy tee, nose ring, beanie, you get it — and I’m a little taken aback, but I like that he’s totally chilled.

He laughs when he tells me he’s already lost count of how many interviews he’s done on lockdown, and that the only other thing he’s been focusing on is creating, “I’m just trying to get better at my art, really. So I’m using this time to get ahead.”

You only have to spend a couple of minutes with his music to understand that there’s a lot inside him that he wants, no, needs to get out, so I’m surprised that he’s so new to the music game. He starts with a confession, “Honestly, my whole life I’ve always felt like art was calling me, but specifically like my first year out of high school, [music] was just like calling me.”

He explains his initial hesitation, “I was kinda like ignoring it a bit. A lot of people around me were making music and I felt like they were making music just to make music, which is fine, but they didn’t really have like a purpose in life and I just didn’t want to add to unnecessary noise. But it got to a point where I couldn’t hold out and ignore it any more and I just felt like I had a perspective to give and I started from there.”

Amidst all his feats, the last three years have been admittedly wild. The pressure to create felt very real, something that quarantine has allowed him a lot more time for. “It’s really like the first time that I’ve been comfortable and like really been able to relax and just focus on whatever I want to make, ‘cause I been just like running around pretty much,” he exhales.

I realise that the number of songs he has online is no real reflection of how much he was performing in the old world, so I ask about his pre-corona gig schedule. He sighs as he explains, “Ever since KennyHoopla I’ve just been going hard at performing. I feel like one of my biggest strengths is my performance and I just felt like it’s super necessary to show that, so I’ve just been like trying to work on my performance as much as I can, and like working my way onto certain shows and stuff since I started this whole thing.”

Hoopla’s on-stage persona is loud, wild, and in your face, doing backflips between song breaks and crowd-surfing his way onto the charts with his deeply honest music. I ask him why he thinks people connect so deeply with his music, and he really takes his time to think before he responds, “I think I have a lot of life in me and I think people feel, well people just keep saying that they feel how they used to feel when they were a kid or something, like nostalgic.”

His debut EP, How Will I Rest in Peace if I’m Buried By A Highway, is a 6-track exploration of his unique brand of indie rock that he calls ‘New Nostalgia’, and his main mission with it is to lay his heart and soul bare, and to let the world see who the enigmatic KennyHoopla really is through his music.

“I want [people] to just see that I’m trying and I want them to see my progression as an artist. And it sounds so corny but I want them to see that I’m trying to push things forward to be like: this is me. I’m not the person everyone thinks I am,” he confesses.

He laughs as he concludes, “I think it’s just like me putting my foot in the door and being like, ‘Yo what’s up.’”