Coachella 2018 Performers: Why Knox Fortune Is an Artist You Don't Want to Miss

Last year was a wild ride for producer Knox Fortune. After spending the earliest parts of his career working behind-the-scenes for rappers like Vic Mensa and Joey Purp, the Chicago artist scored his first Grammy nod (and win) in February 2017 for his feature on Chance the Rapper's chart-topper "All Night"—thus catapulting Fortune to the front of mainstream music. And he didn't even have a solo project out.

Flash forward a few months later to the September release of the singer and producer's debut album, Paradise, and Fortune solidified his position as a star in the making, garnering a cultlike following of fans whose musical palates were as dense and eclectic as his own.

And come Friday, Fortune, birth name Kevin Rhomberg, will likely ascend beyond his niche following of indie-electro fans when he performs in front of a potential 125,000 people at the 2018 Coachella Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California—a fete that would likely seem nerve-racking to an up-and-comer. But for Fortune, an artist whose features have already put him in the same playground as today's industry leaders, nervousness won't diminish the thrill of performing at the biggest (and possibly most important) festival this year.

This is your first time performing at Coachella. Are you excited?

I'm absolutely thrilled. I've been to every other big festival. This is kind of the last of the festivals that I haven't been a part of, so it should be pretty crazy. I've heard good things about it. And I'm excited. I'm gonna switch up the set a little bit too, do something special for Coachella.

What are you most excited for fans to see?

I think the visual synergy of the whole band. We just had a run at South by Southwest [SXSW] that went really, really well. It was exciting to give people that weren't as familiar with me a little insight into what the Knox set looks like, because my music is fairly producer-based, or seemingly so. And we've been working pretty hard within the past couple months to translate it to a live performance, delivering something more theatric. So I'm excited to give people a little bit more of that translation, I guess, for music that is a little more producer-y.

How did you prepare for Coachella?

Just rehearsing with the band. SXSW was a really good preparation because it really put us through the ringer. We had about 10 shows in 5 or 6 days. I toured as a DJ for Joey Purp for about two years or so [before releasing Paradise], and we played huge festival crowds. DJ'ing is much different than being the front artist, but I've still been able to tiptoe into being in front of these mass amounts of people. So it's not as terrifying as it would have been, like, three years ago, because it can be really terrifying. I'm confident in how we play. I like our music, and I think the people will enjoy it too. People are there to have a good time, and I think we'll give them that.

When did you get started in the music industry?

I would say in the year 2011 or '12. I was in college for engineering, and I met Vic Mensa and Nico Segal, formerly Donnie Trumpet. I would let them hear my music and they'd be like, "Wow, this is really cool." They were people who, at the time, were doing music on a more professional level than I was. They were always on a stage. They were selling out shows. So [making music professionally] seemed very feasible after watching them do their thing successfully. It didn't seem as intimidating as it used to, or like it was impossible. So that's when I started kicking it into high gear and decided to make this a profession, not just a hobby.

Was it always the plan to create your own music as opposed to being a producer and working with other artists?

I honestly didn't have any intentions of being a producer as a younger musician. It kinda just fell into my lap as a result of me showing bigger artists and fellow musicians my work. They were all like, "Oh dude, you gotta produce for us." So I kinda just got wrapped up in producing for other artists for like two years or so. So now it's kind of cool to work for myself and do whatever I want for me.

So this moment you're having is kind of like a childhood dream come true for you?

Well, it is and it isn't. My childhood dream was to not work at a business downtown and be a suit person. That was my dream, and I wasn't sure what that meant: if I wanted to be a skateboarder, if I wanted to be an artist. I just knew I didn't want to be a businessperson. So in a sense it's absolutely my dream, but at the same time it was not really even a dream that I knew I had until I had it.

You had a busy 2017. You won your first Grammy after working with Chance the Rapper on "All Night" in 2016, and then you released your first album. How has life changed since then?

It's kind of like nothing has changed at all—I was equally busy before I did the Chance thing in Chicago. I produced Joey Purp's entire mixtape [2016's iiiDrops]. I produced for [rapper] Vic Mensa, [singer] Kami—all that prior to Chance's record coming out. Since then, demands have changed as far as who is reaching out to me, but not necessarily the amount. Also, I'm just naturally a very busy person. I try to keep myself very busy, very productive. So in that way, not very much has changed. I wake up and do the same things I did two years ago. I'll do a session for myself, do one for an artist, work on a live show. But if I had to say one thing, it would probably be that I'm working for myself a lot more now than what I used to after doing "All Night." It's become more of a solo venture as opposed to me featuring for other artists.

How would you describe your music?

It's kind of hard. I've always struggled with defining myself because I don't like to do the same thing all the time, but if I had to describe it, I guess I would say I'm an indie electronic musician with a hip-hop influence musically, not vocally. But it's hard to sum up in a three-word genre like electro-indie-hip-hop, because if you listen to the music, I don't think that's what you would take away from it.

Who are your musical influences?

I grew up listening to a lot of Beach Boys and The Beatles, but more contemporarily, Kanye [West] or the Beastie Boys. I've always had very eclectic taste in music, and sometimes when I'm listening to my music I wonder how did I get here from listening to the stuff I grew up on, which was kind of completely different. But I think I like to take little aspects of each of those artists who had a big impact on me and kind of reincorporate them in my own way. I've been listening to Kraftwerk and Michael Jackson a lot lately, but I don't think my music sounds like any Kraftwerk or Michael Jackson classics.

In what ways does your hometown inspire your music?

Chicago hugely inspires the music that I make. Not necessarily in a sound sense, but like me even being in this moment and talking to you, it's pretty much a direct result of me being from Chicago. If I hadn't met people like Vic Mensa or Nico Segal or Joey Purp, I would probably be doing something entirely different. I think in that regard it's definitely influenced my sound, and the people around me continue to push me in different directions. Chicago's in a musically creative space right now that's really drawing a lot of creative, progressive and forward-thinking [people]. So I have a lot to thank Chicago for. And like I said, it really hasn't influenced my sound in any kind of way more than it allowed me to be me. And I think that's really important to developing sound.

Why is Coachella an important venue to play in for you?

There's other festivals, but I think Coachella is like the festival—to the world. I've played different festivals that were really great in Europe or whatever, but I don't know if any of them have the same name recognition and cultural identity. If you see a music festival in a movie, it's probably Coachella. It's really like the one. And to be able to play it is really exciting—being able to be seen by that many people in the middle of the desert in beautiful California. It's 35 and raining in Chicago, so that's exciting in itself.

Aside from Coachella, what's next for you?

I'm working on a new project. I was initially hoping to have some new stuff out by Coachella, but I dropped Paradise almost exactly six months ago, so half of me didn't have any pressure to drop another thing. But I'm working on a project right now, and I don't know exactly when to expect it, but I should be dropping new music within the next two months.

Coachella 2018 Performers: Why Knox Fortune Is an Artist You Don't Want to Miss | Culture