“I love all genres, but specifically, when it comes to indie rock, there is very much a simplicity to it. It’s very close to home, the culture of it,” KennyHoopla replies in response to a quote he’d shared on the aura of indie rock music. “A lot of people in the culture dress simple or very much themselves, not trying to overextend their personality. Even though that might not make sense or it might sound stupid, but I think that reflects in the music, and I feel like you probably know what I’m talking about.”
KennyHoopla talks about his style the way he makes his music — pointedly, thoughtfully, with a bias towards simplicity and (in the case of his favorite pair of Vans) literal Authentics.
When I share my plan to steal the phrase “overextending your personality” for future use, he ties it back to style, adding, “Once again as dumb as it sounds, it comes back to even just Vans, simple growing up in the neighborhood shoe. A neighborhood staple.”
Back when the Midwest born and bred indie artist was still answering to Kenneth La’ron and long before collaborating with artists like Travis Barker and sold-out shows was the norm, he was just a kid in the neighborhood. He cut his teeth on a wide range of music and fits, and, much like his sound, recalls his style coming together organically.
“It’s kind of what I had grown accustomed to. Growing up in a Black family around Black culture, and then my best friend at the time was this super emo Asian kid who wore headbands and multi-color socks and skinny jeans. Just all of my influences coming into one,” he reflects. “I feel like I’m multiple people, but I think that’s me. A lot of people seem like they’re just one thing, but I’m literally all over the place. Some days I’ll wear more of a baggy fit, but then some days I’ll just go put on some of my Hot Topic skinny jeans, some Authentics, and then the next day, some nice dress pants if I want to come off presentable, and some nice dress shoes but that’ll have a studded belt on it.”
He shares that embracing the limits of his humble upbringing with gratitude and creativity manifested into his unique aesthetic.
“Growing up I had clothes that didn’t fit me,” Kenny explains. “My mom picking my clothes out for me in the morning and me styling them and just having my take on them and just dealing with hand-me-downs. You have no choice but to adjust because you’ll have a sweater that isn’t big enough but then like pants that fit just slightly right and colors that are all over the place. All this stuff is just kind of thrown at you.”
Earlier this year, he released his critically acclaimed How Will I Rest In Peace If I’m Buried By A Highway?// EP, the success of which has pushed him to the top of multiple alternative radio lists and Billboard charts, thrusting him into a spotlight he seems cautious but grateful to step into.
“I think I’ve gained a lot of humility and gratefulness to my life, so that is something that I like to come across when I’m dressing. Very rarely do you ever see me flexing or wearing anything expensive,” he laughs. “I still can’t even afford anything crazy expensive.”
That desire to just be himself is not only innate, but grounded in his intention to be the kind of example he wishes existed when he was growing up.
“Everyone wants to be this figure, but all I’ve ever wanted to be was myself and the greatest, biggest, strongest version of myself,” he says. “So, it’s very important for me to be wearing Vans and dressing almost, you can call it normal, but myself, and expressing that. I know that a kid that felt just like me is going to be watching that and they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to have on leather pants and all this crazy sh*t.’ I know how that felt. Being like, ‘Fuck, I can’t afford that, but that is me, but I don’t look the part, or it’s not believable.’ But we’re changing that now.”
That aforementioned EP, led by an eponymous track that goes off audibly the way oscillating momentum laced with nostalgia would sound pressed through a speaker, has pundits scrambling to define his early-aughts post-punk slant as genre-bending. However, there’s nothing overly derivative about his sonics. What we seem to be hearing is just Kenny showing up as himself because, as he acknowledges, “When you’re being yourself, whether that’s positive or negative or whether you’re a faulty person or a very good person, you will be offering something new to the world.”
He takes a similar approach to his style, taking pieces that could be defined as rock staples and making them his own.
“Even something as little as bar lacing my Vans,” he notes. “I used to be super excited about them because I couldn’t afford them. And then I got a pair probably my junior, sophomore year of high school, and I have always been obsessed with bar lacing them or writing on them, or sometimes I’ll just put different shoelaces in them. A lot of times I put a yellow shoelace in one and a black one, but I’ve always looked at all the pairs of my Authentics as stories.”
Throughout our conversation, his Vans Authentics find themselves at the center. He talks about them with near-religious devotion, making it clear we’re discussing more than just shoes.
“I’ve just always been connected to the shoe. I think that’s how I make it, living in them, like truly experiencing in them.” When he stops at this point, lamenting that he “might sound stupid,” I interject that he doesn’t, but he may be psychic because my next question was whether or not he had a piece of clothing that makes him sentimental for a certain place or time.
“Yeah. It’s definitely the Vans Authentics,” he reiterates confidently. “They’re just classics, they’re a staple in my life. It’s one of my favorite silhouettes of a shoe ever. A lot of shoes or just tennis shoes are so extra or not enough at the same time, but I feel like the Authentics are very to the point and the shoe stays flat and it morphs to however you are. The more you wear them, the prettier and I don’t know, spiritual they get. I think it also speaks to not being impressed, not impressing. Just them being dirty and living through them. You walk into a room and it’s kind of like, I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m not trying to be clean. That’s always been how I present myself, I don’t have on this extremely clean outfit. And, if I do, the shirt is probably wrinkled. I feel like the Authentics are a very good shoe to do that with they’re very to the point.”
Kenny also reveals that his style gives him the opportunity to communicate when he can’t find the words.
“I think even having,” he pauses before continuing, “Okay, mental illness or whatever, that I’ve always looked at clothes as a second way to speak when you don’t want to use your voice. It’s just a second presentation, which is super fire. I look at it the same way as music. It’s art. You literally get to put yourself together and be whoever you want and express yourself however you want.”
Like many artists, Kenny was set to go on tour when lockdown canceled those plans in early March. Luckily, he’s set to make up for time lost with an international jaunt in 2021, and his packing list for tour doubles as both on-stage and everyday outfits.
“Definitely some Ksubi skinny jeans and a white tee, a nice boxy white tee,” he says. “I need some cargo pants. A nice hoodie, I just need that essential hoodie. Probably a more skinny black pair of pants. I have a problem with trying to get one of everything. I’m actually trying to work on making my own clothes right now. I’m on this mission to find what fits me perfectly.”
Despite his dalliance with slim-fit denim and straightforward shoe wear, Kenny’s propensity towards simplicity is also inherent in his beliefs about his music. Beyond the videos, merchandise, marketing, and even style, he recognizes his sound as the only true cornerstone.
“A lot of industry people, they’re like you have to drop a video with your song and everything has to have all of this stuff that comes around it, which I mean, I understand,” he says. “But, at the core, I’m someone that believes the music can live [on its own]. No matter how the cover art looks or however the rollout is, the music is what’s going to be there 50 years from now. No one’s going to be thinking about how it was rolled out, it’s just going to be the sound.”
“I see it as fun. I wish I could think of a more elaborate word, but I see all of this [as fun] because music and art is fun. I just see that as a chance to keep building on to the world,” he stops, before continuing, “But, you asked me how important it was, correct?”
Throughout our conversation, I notice breaks like this, to either request that I clarify my question or to give him space to clarify his point. However, as he explains the root of his preference of communicating through style and music over spoken words, that urge for transparency and authenticity makes perfect sense.
“To be honest, not that I was lying before,” he laughs, “I think that’s just what I have had to do. Everything feels so natural for everyone. I get envious of it and that’s why [what] I want to get out of my music is a community of people. I see all of these artists, I’m just talking from my heart, it seems like everything came together naturally for them. They met everyone around them naturally. For me, I feel like I’ve had to fight for everything and fight for people to just stay around me. I guess I’ve always been alone or in my own world. So, I kind of had no choice. I still don’t have amazing music videos, I’m not in love with any of my merch or anything. So, I guess it’s a blessing and a curse at the same time that I’ve just made sure that the music is as honest as it can be.”