Having come to the attention of music fans around the world as well as the superstar that is Kendrick Lamar after he uploaded a cover of his track “These Walls” to SoundCloud back in 2016, Moss Kena has since continued to receive praise and support from some of the biggest names around, including Zane Lowe and Elton John. Currently on tour as support for Jess Glynne, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Moss backstage in Manchester to talk artistic inspiration, his upcoming EP and the one thing he’d most like to be remembered for.
TITL: Sum yourself up in a few words for me.
Moss Kena: Soulful, fresh and young.
TITL: With so many bands and artists around, what makes you different? If you had to sell yourself to a music fan, what would you say?
MK: I’d say that first of all, I write everything myself so it’s truthful. I make music that makes me feel good, you know?
TITL: I guess it makes a change from all the repetitive, bland pop ditties around that have no meaning or story behind them, right?
MK: It has its place but I think, if it’s gonna last a long time, then it kinda has to come from a good place, you know? Rather than just sitting in a room and making stuff up…
TITL: Music has been a part of your life since you were little as your Dad was a DJ and your mum owned a string of record shops. With that in mind, did you ever have any other career ambitions away from music?
MK: I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a singer, or at least a performer. I just had a great love of music so it was sort of just in my bones. I genuinely didn’t want to do anything else – music was always what I was going to do.
TITL: My Dad was a touring guitarist…
MK: No way!
TITL: Yeah, he played on the tour that Jerry Lee Lewis did over here, before he had to cancel it and go back to the states. He’s been in Abbey Road studios and recorded backing vocals for Shirley Bassey…
MK: That’s amazing…
TITL: Overall, which bands and artists are you most inspired or influenced by?
MK: I would say I’m mostly influenced by Amy Winehouse, but I really love people like J Cole. He’s an amazing hip-hop artist. I’m young, you know, so I like people like Travis Scott and Drake, but I think I really appreciate the lyrical aspect of people like J Cole.
TITL: Your career hit the stratosphere thanks to your incredible cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “These Walls”. What was and is it about that song that made you choose to cover it and did you ever expect the reaction it’s had?
MK: It’s one of my favourite songs from the album To Pimp A Butterfly which is…I don’t want to say it’s my favourite Kendrick Lamar album, but it’s definitely up there. I hadn’t released anything before and I didn’t want to put any original music out, so I decided that I wanted to do a cover. I decided that maybe instead of just covering a song, like a pop song or whatever, I wanted to do something different, and so I decided that we were going to make a rap song – that I would take one of my favourite rap songs and turn it into a “singing” song.
I basically started putting melody to his rap, especially the second verse, and it just turned out really well. We uploaded it to SoundCloud and then from there, it just went crazy. It went viral and led to so many great things for me. I got to meet Kendrick after that, because he heard it and he liked it, so yeah, it’s really cool.
TITL: Your new EP came out on Friday. Without giving too much away, and for those who haven’t heard it yet, myself included, what can you tell me about it?
MK: It’s actually out on the 23rd…
TITL: Evidently the press release I got sent was wrong then!
MK: You’re okay, you’ve got time! (laughs) What to expect…well first of all it’s an EP that’s based on the relationship between two people – it’s all different relationships – it doesn’t have to be a love interest – it’s just situations that have happened between me and one other person. That’s what I’m writing about. It’s just going to be a really natural progression of my sound and I hope everyone’s gonna like it.
TITL: Do you have a favourite track?
I think my favourite track is called “Back Again” just because I really like the vibe of it, and I had a lot of fun writing it.
TITL: You’re currently on tour as support for Jess Glynne. How did the invitation come about and how are you enjoying the run so far?
MK: I don’t really know how the invitation came about. I just heard that Jess liked my music and she asked if I could do it. My manager rang me and asked me: “Do you want to go on tour with Jess Glynne?” My answer was obviously yes, because she’s great. The tour so far has been amazing. We’ve only done one show, and the first show always has the little teething problems, but it was just great. I’m so enjoying myself and so happy to be here. I’m really grateful to Jess for asking me to be here.
TITL: For anyone coming to see a show on this tour, what can they expect from your set?
MK: A lot of high notes (laughs). And just energy. But also emotion…
TITL: A good combination…
TITL: You mentioned earlier that you met Kendrick Lamar after he liked your cover and you’ve been championed by and received approval from the likes of Elton John among others, but what’s the nicest/kindest thing someone has said or written about you?
MK: Let me think…that’s a hard one. For me I think it was Kendrick. He just said, you know, you’re so unique and that’s kinda what works for you. He was very adamant that I should just keep doing what I’m doing because it clearly works for me … I thought that was such a nice thing to say – and also that he appreciated the fact that I sound different. It was just a nice little reminder that sounding different is the best thing that can possibly happen for you in a career, to make it work, because you don’t want to sound like anyone else.
TITL: Very much a play on that old saying “You were born an original, don’t die a copy…”
MK: Exactly, exactly…
TITL: How have you found social media to be a help or hindrance to your career so far? Would you agree it’s a vital tool for bands and artists these days or do you think there’s too much of a reliance on it?
MK: I think there’s definitely an argument for both sides of that. I genuinely really like social media. It’s just so fundamental in terms of PR and you know, in terms of profile raising – it’s just such a big deal. If you want to be a massive artist, you’ve GOT to be across social media and you’ve got to work really hard at it. I think there’s a big illusion that people just get big on social media by accident, or it just happens, and I think that’s a complete lie. They work really hard at building their following and connecting with people. But that’s what I really enjoy about it – I get to talk to everyone.
After the show the other night I got so many new followers and I got to speak to all of them. Lots of people sent me really nice messages and I was able to thank them and reply to everyone. It’s a really nice feeling when people want to connect with you on that level.
TITL: It closes that gap between fan and artist…
MK: Yeah, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to be a little bit mysterious and have a bit of distance, but I think if people are going to be paying to come and see you, then you should be able to give back like that.
TITL: This year is quickly coming to an end, so have you started planning for 2019 yet?
MK: I have. I should be releasing another EP after this one drops on the 23rd, so there will definitely be lots of new music…lots of new performances and yeah, I’m kind of ready to keep building on what we’re doing.
TITL: Is there any one venue you’d particularly like to play? Is there any venue you maybe looked at or went to when you were younger and thought “One day, I’d love to play here”?
MK: You know what’s really funny? Doing this tour, I’ve been able to play venues I’ve only ever been able to dream of playing. I’m just grateful to be able to play arenas, and to audiences, this big. In a couple of days, we’re performing in London, where I’m from, at the 02, so that’s going to be a big deal – to play in such an iconic venue in my hometown. If I could tell myself last year where I’d be right now, I don’t think I would’ve believed it – it’s pretty great.
TITL: Aside from all the praise you’ve received for your music, what’s been the highlight of your year?
MK: The highlight has got to be aside from this tour, which is clearly going to be the highlight of my entire life right now, would be that I’ve been able to make music that I genuinely enjoy and love making. I’ve felt very free this year, to write, and I’ve had a lot of experiences that have enabled me to write more good music. I’m very humbled by that.
TITL: As someone who has been championed by many other artists, who are you championing right now and for the coming year?
MK: There’s a really great singer called Kara Marni, who is a friend of mine, and I think she’s really cool. She’s young and has got really great songs. I would say her.
TITL: Looking further ahead, what’s your ultimate ambition as an artist? Where do you want to be five, ten years from now and is there any particular artists’ career you’d like to emulate?
MK: I think in the next five to ten years, I’d have liked to have done a tour like this myself and I’d hope to have been able to hand the baton of support to another young artist like myself – that’d be a good feeling when I can get someone to support me doing an arena tour the way I’ve been able to do this. I’m one of those people who has a very insatiable appetite for being bigger, better, more. I just want to grow this to be as big as it possibly can be. I think there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of ambition, you know?
TITL: Looking many years into the future, when all is said and done, what would you most like to be remembered for in terms of your music and career?
MK: That’s a great question. I think I’d like to be remembered for…that’s a really good question. Let me think about that because I want to give you a good answer. I think I’d just like to be remembered for honesty and being able to relay my personal experiences to other people and to let them know that it’s okay to feel certain emotions. I think mostly for young men – I think for men especially…I can only talk about what I know and what I experience and so if I’m able to help other young men through my music and by writing and singing about everything I’ve ever been through, that’d be nice just to know I’ve touched someone like that.
Check out the video for Moss Kena’s latest track “Silhouette” below. His EP One + One is out on Friday and to keep up to date with him, give him a follow on Twitter and Instagram or like his page on Facebook.