• Audrey Smoak

HILTON: Redefining What Being a Rockstar Means

With everything being so digital this day and age, it's not hard to discover new music and talent. What may be hard is finding the individuals who 'have what it takes'. The infamous platform a good majority of us use, HILTON came to my attention over Tiktok. When our paths crossed, I took a deep dive on his page and was completely blown away by the raw authenticity his sound carried. Without waisting any time - I reached out to discuss HILTON's music career and the current state of his team. It was of further shock when he told me that he didn't have management, I had stumbled upon a gem. Typically in music management - from an artist standpoint - you don't want to be actively seeking a manger, they should find you. Although there's some circumstances, this is because a manager should believe In your talent from the get go and going deeper than that, a manager should believe in every detail you put forth personally and professionally. Luckily, I had the opportunity to sit down with HILTON and discuss all of this with him and came out being his manager - which I'm very grateful for.

The talent behind this artist is one more genuine than you may find scrolling through your social media or curated playlists. Artistry like this is molded over the course of a lifetime and backed by extreme passion and drive. In 2017, HILTON loaded up his 2006 4-Runner with a guitar and some clothes and backed it out of his parent's Michigan driveway in route to Los Angeles. He arrived with no place to stay and ended up seeing through an ad on Craigslist for a South Central hostel as the only lead within his price range. At the time, HILTON was the 30th person to move into the house and was able to claim the 8th and final bunk in his room. Although it wasn't much, he knew he was one step closer to his dreams.

This rundown house full of misfits ended up being the biggest blessing HILTON could have asked for. Some of his roommates did music as well and they turned the garage into a makeshift studio where they'd sit and play for hours. This is where HILTON was able to hone in on his skills as a guitarist and expand his production skills. With there being no way to escape 30 people, he spent a lot of time outside writing every second he could. Influences from his roommates played a major role in developing a sound - R&B, funk and hip hop with a personal twist of dark and pop-rock roots. The sound was very refreshing and needed a name to perfectly match it, HILTON is actually the artist's middle name and he felt like it served an instant connection to the project - something new but within him the entire time.

Read up on my exclusive interview with my latest artist, HILTON below.

State your full name, where you were born and where you currently live.

My full name is Joseph Hilton Jenneman, but I go by HILTON. I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and currently live in Los Angeles, California.

When did you first get into music and what sparked your interest to take it seriously? Is there any family history of music?

I’ve always been obsessed… Was making up melodies before I could really even speak. My grandma actually wrote down the lyrics to the first song I wrote when I was five, because I wasn’t really able to write myself yet. Music was never a choice..it’s always been everything. I will say my dad has a strong passion for music, and was the first one to put a guitar in my hands. I was 7 when he taught me my first chords and gave me a way to create actual songs with structure...definitely a big moment for me.

What do you like most about working in the music industry? What qualities do you think make a good musician?

I like the lack of rules. There’s no set guide or requirements...you just have to create your own path. I think the willingness to do that makes a good musician. Or at least a real artist.

What skills have you acquired since first working on music production? Describe your creative process when making new music.

My relationship with music production is a strange one. For a long time I was producing music, but wasn’t aware of it. I used to think to be a producer you had to be the one engineering as well. I know now that’s often not the case. I’ve recently been working on my engineering skills, and my production abilities have become something I’m very proud of. For HILTON songs I normally start with writing out the entire thing on acoustic guitar. To me, it’s gotta work with that stripped vibe before I’ll consider it for a track. I then will brainstorm parts or at least a general direction before taking it to the studio. I feel that’s important so you’re not fishing for sounds too much...gotta have a starting point. That being said, I’m totally down to vere from that starting point into unexpected territory...sometimes that’s when I’ll make my favorite stuff.

How would you describe your overall sound as a genre and who are some artists that inspire you with a similar sound?

That’s always the toughest question...I’d say Pop-Rock as a starting point, but some songs definitely go more Hiphop, some go more Pop, some even closer to Folk. Don’t like to put too many restraints on my sound. As far as new artists, I dig Dominic Fike a lot, and think we have a kind of similar sound. Some of my biggest inspirations are Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mac Miller, and Kanye West.

What instruments do you know how to play and at what age did you learn? I know you play the guitar - can you speak a little regarding your journey with that?

As I mentioned earlier, I learned to play guitar at age 7. That’s definitely my main instrument, and the way I visualize music. I also play bass, ukulele, drums, and a little mandolin. I’m not sure how old I was when I started each...were just kind of around at jam sessions, etc. growing up so I’d pick whatever up and play it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given that you’ve applied to your career?

“Throw shit at the wall and see what sticks.” - My friend Joe Ayoub told me that before I moved to LA. He’s an insanely talented musician who has played with Shakira, Michael Buble, and a bunch of others, and had been out here a while already. I think that piece of advice is great...it’s a reminder not to be too precious about things, especially creatively. It’s an invitation to try something fresh...which is so key in being a true artist.

What live shows have you played and what known artists have you worked with?

I’ve played around quite a bit...before I moved to LA I would play shows in Chicago. I’ve played at Reggie’s Rock Club, The Elbo Room, and a bunch more that I can’t think of right now haha. In LA I’ve played The Mint, The Study, State Social House, The Viper Room, Bar 20, and again definitely a few more that aren’t coming to mind. As far as known artists, the biggest name I’ve worked with is Landon Cube. I’ve played guitar on some of his songs, as well as writing/producing with him. Those sessions are super fun...I love making music “behind the scenes” like that, and hope to have more opportunities to do so.

How would you describe your work ethic?

Unmatched. I’m honestly a workaholic...it’s kind of a problem.

What sets you apart from other musicians in the industry?

I try not to look at things in a competitive light. I definitely have before, but I think it’s unhealthy and a bit limiting to the creative process. I’m me, nobody else can be me. It really is that simple.

What does your music say about you?

Everything. I only write my truth, and I only record music to finish telling that story in the truest way. There’s no agenda. There’s no filter.

What insight can you give into your upcoming music releases?

Don’t want to go into too much detail, but I will say it’s a healthy evolution from my existing releases. Will be some sides of me people haven’t heard before, and that excites me.

Where do you see yourself over the next few years and what do you hope to accomplish as artists?

I’m pretty sick of setting goals to be honest haha. I just want to make great music and have as many people listening on the other side as possible.

If you could pass on any advice to the next musical generation, what would it be?

Go beyond the artist you want to sound like. Find the artist who inspired them...that’ll give you a lot of answers.

What advice would you give yourself just starting out in production?

Keep it simple. If you don’t totally miss it when it’s gone, it shouldn’t be there. I think I over-saturated a lot of stuff early on because we added as many parts that “worked” as possible, versus only what the song “needed”...

Do you experience writer’s block or creative burnout and if you do how do you deal with it?

Honestly no...I’m always writing. There definitely comes waves where the songs are bad haha but there’s always songs. I like to think those stretches are just giving way to a fresh direction around the corner.

What is your favorite song you have out right now and what’s the story behind it?

Probably a tie between “Cartoon” and “Bones”. They both scared me in totally different ways. I was afraid “Cartoon” was too “pop” and too simple, but I think that simplicity is what makes me not really get sick of it. “Bones” on the other hand is the most “out there” song I’ve ever released. But again, that fresh vibe is exciting to me.

What do you want to be remembered for as an artist?


What message do you have for your audience?

Thanks for giving a fuck.

What is your fondest memory as a musician so far?

I’d say it’s a tie between every time I’ve ever blasted a finished mix in my car for the first time. After so many hours and tweaks made, having something you created feel just right is nothing short of magical.

How do you balance your music with the other obligations in your life?

That’s a pretty uneven scale...music takes so much of my energy. There are other things that interest me, and a bucket list I plan to accomplish, but this is definitely grind time.

What made you want to use your middle name as your artist name?

Simply put, I needed something fresh. I wasn’t making the music I’d made under Joe Jenneman anymore, thus that name felt disconnected from the new sound.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve run into as a creative in the industry?

The biggest challenge I think is being heard. Especially in a city like LA with so many trying to accomplish the same things. It can be draining...but as long as you know you have something to say, and believe in yourself, your path will reveal itself.

How do you interact with your fans and what city do you find the most love?

I love it when people message me on social media and say they love my music. That shit makes my day and I always try to respond. Right now probably LA and my hometown, Grand Rapids, show the most love. But I'm excited to tour and spread it all around.

What is your dream support slot for a concert?

Red Hot Chili Peppers

What is your ideal festival and venue to perform at?

Festival would be Hangout Fest in Alabama. It’s right on the beach on the Gulf Shore, and seems like such a cool energy. Very chill, but still a lot of high energy bands normally play. Dream venue is Van Andel Arena. That’s the arena in my hometown...I visualize myself on stage there often.

What would you do differently if you could go back to the beginning of your career?

I’m not sure...I don’t know what changes might alter important lessons I’ve learned along the way. If that makes sense? Haha

If you could change one current thing about the music industry what would it be?

As much as social media opens doors for artists, it definitely makes things weird too. I’m not saying I’d take it away necessarily, but I’m curious what it’d be like to grow up in the 70s and only see pictures of your favorite artist once a year on a Rolling Stone cover, and only know about them from what they say in interviews. It feels like the internet steals the magic within the mystery.

What are your plans for the upcoming months?

I’ve finally finished recording new music, so now I’m trying to figure out the best way to release it...hopefully soon I’ll have that set so the world can hear!

What are your interests outside of music?

I play basketball regularly. Helps me clear my head..

Give me a quote that you live by for your career and personal life.

That’s a lot of pressure haha. I have “You can have the world in the palm of your hand, but it don’t mean a thing til you change it” tattooed on me. It’s from “Under The Weather” by Mac Miller. I like having that as a reminder to keep the right motivations.

What was it like packing up your life and chasing your music career?

That journey is something I’ll never forget. Being on the road by yourself is so thrilling...

In the process of doing this - what struggles were you faced with and how did you overcome them?

I won’t lie, everything about LA is a challenge. But it’s full of opportunities and rewards, so it's totally worth it.

Speak about your time at the hostel and how that impacted your career.

So I lived at this house in South Central with 30 other people for 2 years...it was wild. I could type out one hundred pages worth of stories from that house and still have plenty left to tell. It certainly impacted my career positively though. While I may not have realized it at the time, that house made me the artist I am. From the people I met, friends I played music with, and endless inspiration for lyrical content, that environment sparked the birth of HILTON for sure.

How do you think your music has evolved since first taking an interest in this industry?

I’ve taken music seriously since I was a very small child. Over the years I’ve dabbled in everything...I’d say I’ve kind of come full circle back to my rock roots overall though. Which is pretty cool.

How do you think you've evolved since starting your career in this industry?

I’ve definitely become humbled, patient and just the right amount of numb. You can’t care too much about the little things or take things personally...breaking free from those weights takes a lot of time and practice.

What makes you selectively social?

The people you surround yourself with determines a lot. I’ve grown to learn the importance of sticking with collaborators you have a genuine connection with - and friends for that matter...they don’t come around often, so it’s important to treat those people with the same courtesy they show you. That being said, there’s a certain point where people can interfere with your morals, goals, and well being. It’s also important to realize when that point is and allow yourself to keep a healthy circle.