By Jess Goulart
Photos courtesy of Hippo Campus.
The four-piece indie-rock band Hippo Campus is damn impressive.
They are a group of 18-to-20-year-olds with the compositional sophistication usually only achieved after decades of practice despite having been a band for less than two years. Additionally, in those two years, they were voted one of the best new bands by City Pages’ annual Picked to Click poll, tagged by NME as a “Buzz Band to Watch,” booked Lollapalooza, are touring with The Mowgli’s, and (oh, yeah) played Late Night with Conan O’Brien last week.
But that’s not why Hippo Campus is impressive. No, they’re impressive because Nathan Stocker, Zach Sutton, Jake Luppen, and Whistler Allen craft playful, complex layers of sound that are catchy while at once nostalgic and new. Frontman and lead singer Luppen’s vocals pop in an intricate counterpoint to lead guitarist Stocker, with a surf and summertime, let’s-dance-right-now, call to youthful arms.
With a solid fan base in their home state of Minnesota and teaser singles making waves online, their first EP Bashful Creatures was highly-hyped in the indie-scene by the time it dropped in November 2014. It did not disappoint, receiving rave reviews and gaining quick national popularity. The six-track will be re-released with Grand Jury on May 5, so mark your calendars.
BTR caught up with Hippo Campus to chat about “har-MOAN-icas” and stories from the road.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): How did you guys all meet?
Jake Luppen (JL): Oh, Zach tells this best…
Zach Sutton (ZS): So back in ’09, we were all in high school at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. I think I was a freshman, I’m a year younger than the guys, but we were all at the same conservatory. It was a Monday, just like any other Monday–I’m walkin’ into school feelin’ fresh–and I see these guys! Jake, who’s on my left now, and I start a band together called Whistle Kid. Whistler and Nathan were in a band called Northern for a while, and these were opposing bands, see. We were fighting for the love of our peers at school, right? We’d play shows and all the girls would come out and dance. This continued on until about senior year, and then we decided “Hey! like what you’re workin’ with, like your stuff, let’s put down the guns and work together.” And this is where Hippo Campus came from.
Then bing! Bang! Boom! First show in June of 2013, Bob’s your uncle, here we are. Been a quick year and half.
BTR: Great origin story! What’s the quick rise to popularity been like?
JL: Yeah it’s been pretty amazing and I think a lot of that has to do with the love we get from our hometown. We get a lot of support from our friends and family, and Minneapolis itself shows a lot of love. There’s just a group of really supportive people behind us and positive energy.
BTR: You’ve mentioned in interviews before the challenges that face young musicians who have to play 18 and up shows, can you expand on that?
JL: I think a lot music venues are set up on an 18+ or 21+ basis, which all revolves around their ability to hold a liquor license and what that entails. So, for younger bands, it’s a challenge because no matter how talented you are a lot of venues won’t book you because you can’t draw a crowd that will make them money, or simply, that the crowd wouldn’t be allowed into the bar because of the liquor license. So right off the bat as a band that’s under 18 it is very difficult to find venues that are willing to put on all-age shows. It gets a little easier once you turn 18, but we’re still experiencing difficulties. It’s hard to deal with sometimes, but we totally understand it and respect it.
BTR: Who are some major influences on you guys?
ZS: This one goes back a ways. We all have different, you know, wells of influence. We have a very diverse collection of bands and musicians that we all like to listen to. A while back Jake and I really got into the blues scene. BB King, that was our earlier days. Bob Dylan… he was pretty big…
BTR: [Laughs] Oh yeah, think we’ve heard of him, maybe…
ZS: [Laughs] Oh you have? He was from Minnesota, actually! Yeah, he played guitar and this thing called a… a… har-MOAN-ica?
BTR: [Laughs] Is that how you say it?
ZS: Yeah. Yeah, you have to moan into it! But, anyways, yeah then you also got The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Beastie Boys, a lot of UK stuff, German bands, you got some Polka, some Rodgers and Hammerstein…
BTR: So what’s your music writing process like? Is it pretty collaborative?
JL: It’s a collaborative effort–
ZS: Basically, we just get into a room with our instruments and throw up all over the place, then sort the vomit into small piles, then we turn those into songs.
JL: Yeah, it’s very organic.
BTR: That’s some impressive vomit.
JL: Thank you, yeah, it’s painstaking!
BTR: And how about the recording process for your EP Bashful Creatures?
ZS: The recording process was a swift two days at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota.
JL: Yeah we worked with really cool people. We had Alan Sparhawk produce it, from a Minnesota band called Low, Brad Bivens mixed it, he was really cool. Post-production was just working with Brad on alterations we wanted to hear and his take on it.
ZS: We tracked everything live for Bashful Creatures, meaning we just kind of stood in the room and played the songs a bunch of times together, which gave a really cool vibe to it.
BTR: Your re-release is coming up right?
JL: Yup and that’s through Grand Jury, we’re really excited.
BTR: Was there great disparity between the live versions of the songs and what ended up on the EP?
ZS: [Laughs] No, not at all!
JL: We basically wrote the songs, played them live, and recorded them all in the same way. We wanted to keep them as authentic as possible.
BTR: You guys are on tour currently, can you share a funny story from the road?
ZS: Ok, so, this is a pretty good story. When we were in Portland, it was the second show of the tour and we were staying at this house. So we get there really late at night, like 2am, and this guy wearing nothing but overalls–and, like, maybe a hat, I can’t remember. He comes out and has the thickest southern drawl, and he says “Hey I’m Dru, nice to meet you, please make yourselves at home.” We go in and there’s couches, not necessarily beds, and there’s a dog there called Basil, and the house is called the Lollygag. Then we sleep there and it turns out he’s a really nice guy and makes for really good company!
So the moral of the story is: don’t judge a book by its overalls!