OKEECHOBEE — For most people, Christmas dinner is a time to spend with family and eat good food. For Kendall Rucks, it presented the opportunity of a lifetime.
Her uncle had heard about the Destination Okeechobee contest put on by the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival (OMF) and thought she should make a go of it. As the grand prize winner, Kendall earned herself a spot on the Be Stage, performing on Saturday, March 7, at the festival.
Based out of Los Angeles, Kendall originally hails from Stuart, but she has an even closer connection to Okeechobee — her great-grandfather, Emmett Rucks, started the Dry Lake Dairy in 1958. Kendall sang her first national anthem at a rodeo in Okeechobee at the age of 10, and now at 20, she’s performed at OMF.
Her band members call themselves the Zodiac Mafia, partially because of Kendall’s love for astrology, and include Miles Davis on bass, Navneet Rao on drums, Marcus Lundqvist on guitar, Anthony Amorelli on keys and Jessy Stobart on backup vocals.
With the exception of Tony, they all met at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. She met Tony at the Viper Room, the landmark nightclub in Los Angeles famous for showcasing rock bands and up-and-coming acts.
Performing at the Viper Room, “It’s unreal,” said Kendall. “It’s a historic place. It has a name to it; everybody in music or (who) loves music knows about the Viper Room, so when you play there for the first time, it’s an amazing experience because of the history. You can feel it in the air.”
“Also, the musicians who come there, they’re really cool people and open to collaboration,” Navneet added.
Her inspirations for writing songs can be found in life, love, loss, being hurt. She tends to write in the shower and records loosely the voice memo into her phone. “Otherwise, I’ll forget it.”
Kendall called performing on the Be Stage in Okeechobee a surreal experience. “It’s the place where my dad grew up, it’s the place where my uncles and grandma are. It’s weird the biggest stage I’ve played is in a town I associate with my family, a small town, a horse town. It’s unreal, and it’s really great to be home.” Her usual experience with performing for a crowd is in dusty, dark bars in Los Angeles. “It’s a different vibe and it’s awesome.”
Navneet, Marcus and Tony have played festivals separately in Europe and India, but OMF is the first festival they’ve played in the United States. The band agreed that the scale of OMF and the talent on the lineup is amazing. “I can go to hang out backstage with the artists and other people sound checking and stuff. It’s incredible to watch these people get ready to perform their gigs,” said Navneet.
Her musical inspirations are Tori Amos, P!nk, Britney Spears, Lana Del Ray. “I gravitate toward ’90s grunge music,” Kendall said. “I’m kind of on a Cramps kick right now, which has influenced my writing.” The Cramps are a 1970s American punk rock band. She loves pop music as well. She’s inspired by songs on the radio. “And these guys, too,” she added, gesturing to her bandmates. “They inspire me all the time.”
She credits her bandmates with the change in her writing style. “I write differently with great musicians.” She stated that having a band as great as hers has helped her write more rhythmically.
She’d love to collaborate with Lana Del Ray and Chris Isaac. Tony suggested Tom Waits. She’d love to collaborate with ASAP Rocky because on one of her songs, “Blood Money,” she hears a rap piece.
“There are times in rehearsals where she just busts out into a rap in the middle of a song, and we’re like oh, OK, that’s interesting then. That took a turn,” laughed Navneet.
“I’d like to do Wicked Game 2.0,” said Kendall.
A recording session for the band has been trial and error. “We’re all very opinionated in our own special ways, so it can be an amazing collaboration or sometimes it can a bit of chaos in the best way,” Kendall laughed. “It’s all positive. Sometimes we listen back to a recording and we’re like ‘What the hell is that? More studio time!’” Marcus and Anthony are newer to the band, so it’s been Miles, Navneet, Kendall and Jessy recording songs for two years.
“I have so many session files on my computer,” Navneet interjected.
“It’s really fun, and once we get that sound, we’ve kinda figured out that the way we get the best sound is to record live and together,” Kendall said.
“When we didn’t do that, it was so flat,” Jessy offered.
“Yeah, we recorded each instrument individually, and the vibe wasn’t right,” Kendall agreed. “We’ve really found our sweet spot.”
Kendall’s grandmothers, Mary Alice Rucks of Okeechobee and Yutanna Lisle of Indiantown, were on hand to watch her make her festival debut.
“This was so exciting,” Mary Alice said. “This is the first time I’ve seen her perform live. I never thought I’d get to see her. It was just exciting.”
Being the grandmother of a pop star is “awesome,” said Yutanna. “Everything all came together.”
The ladies agreed that the venue was great. “And when you look at the crowd, they’d catch the music and stop what they’re doing and dance around,” said Yutanna.
“When you say 35,000 people, it seems like a lot, but it’s gigantic that you’re not bumping into people. I was surprised,” Mary Alice expressed.
“Yeah, I’ve been pleased. Today was just awesome. I’ll come again next year, but Kendall has got to be here,” Yutanna laughed. “We will follow her anywhere she goes.” Yutanna was actually wearing a T-shirt featuring Kendall.
They’ve always been supportive of her. “Didn’t really understand it at the beginning,” Yutanna admitted. “I thought, ‘Why is she doing this? She’s such a smart kid.’ But she has worked so hard.”
“She writes her own songs,” Mary Alice said proudly.
“Oh, she does everything. Like the movie screens , she did the video,” Yutanna said. “She’s just unbelievable with what she can do.”
Kendall’s music can be heard on Spotify and Apple Music. She can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/KendallRucks and on Instagram. Her next single, “Soft Love,” will be released on March 22.