On their sophomore album, Hockey Dad step away from dreamy odes to the sun and sheets and look inward to their personal struggles with life on the road.
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Four years ago, Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming were just a couple of aspiring rockers living two doors apart in the unassuming coastal town of Windang, Australia. They were just high-schoolers who had recently released their first EP titled Dreamin‘ – a garage-produced ode to the sleepy streets and waves they grew up with. The EP soon hit the national airwaves and the rest, you could say, is history. Since then, they have moved worlds away from the 70-seater where they first cut their teeth to honor some of Australia’s biggest festival stages, touring extensively through North America with American bands like The Frights, touring Canada with their brother band, Dune Rats, and gracing stages across the UK and Europe. As such, their sophomore album Blend Inn was born on the road, written on the road and recorded on the road.
While their first LP Boronia (2016) spoke of a physical place, named for home, sophomore album Blend Inn (released February 9, 2018 via Manchester indie label LAB Records/Kanine Records) refers to metaphorical place the duo has crafted to house their feelings of homesickness and nostalgia. While their past work were dreamier and ethereal ballads about women and waves, this album is their most introspective yet.
Listen: ‘Blend Inn’ – Hockey Dad
Blend Inn‘s opening track “My Stride” takes an immediate deviation from Hockey Dad’s past work by opening with a set of unadorned power chords. Stephenson begins with a somber note:
Go on, girl and say something
Say something like you would care
‘Cause I can focus on one thing
One thing is all I can bear
My life is dying
I must try and hide it
The trials and tribulations of growing up on the road prove to be a common theme throughout the album. In an interview with YEWTH, Stephenson remarks, “”It’s also an ode to living this sort of lifestyle whilst growing up and not really growing up the same way as everyone else.”
That feeling carries over the next song “Homely Feeling,” perhaps the most overt expression of their nomadic lifestyle. As the title suggests, the song speaks to the feelings of home that plagues them. It’s about how you get the feeling of home, and when you’re not actually at home you just want to be at home, and also about having sort of semi-freak outs in the street of some city. “Just like, I just gotta get home,” Stephenson told the prominent Australian radio station Triple J. With their fame moving overseas, the two have left behind the world that made them in their quest for rock stardom and their music is a reflection of such with edgier instrumentals and lyrics.
Watch: “Homely Feeling” – Hockey Dad
Their grungier style is also thanks, in part, to their time spent recording in one of the meccas of the American grunge scene: Seattle, the city that nurtured the likes of Foo Fighters and Nirvana. There, the duo paired up with renowned audio engineer and producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Cloud Nothings) at Robert Lang Studios. Apparently, the mic used by Kurt Cobain still hangs in the studio as tribute.
The instrumentals of the following songs are more akin to their past works with warmer guitars riffs and vibrant drumming; however, they too present darker lyricism. “I Wanna Be Everybody” speaks of social anxiety in the face of their rising fame; “Join the Club” speaks of their difficulty filling to shoes living up to the expectations of celebrity. Breaking up these fast paced tracks is the short two-minute “Whatever,” which is a slower track where Stephenson broods about his mental state.
Watch: “I Wanna Be Everybody” – Hockey Dad
Romantic songs have been a defining feature of Hockey Dad’s work; however, with Blend Inn, they take speak of the gloomier side of love. Their track “Danny” is not like their other sun-kissed ballads of idealistic adoration, but rather a despondent cry out for the loss of a dear lover:
Danny don’t leave me
Danny where’d you get all that money?
Can’t you be like me, spend your life at home
What am I supposed to do when you’re gone
Danny, how could you leave?
Danny, how can’t you see?
It seems like last week, you lived with me
And I can’t help myself, I just miss you dearly
Who Danny is, and the circumstances are their separation, remains a mystery, but the fact that the two take a turn to paint the dark side of romance continues to speak to their grungier style. In “Running Out,” Stephenson takes this idea even further, by speaking to how his drifting lifestyle has interfered with love-interests back home:
You only come up in my head when I’m uncomfortable
I tell myself everyday, I don’t need you at all
You seem to change my stance on breathing everyday
Life, My happiness ain’t enough for me to stay
Simple, stripped-down lyricism continues to be a hallmark of Hockey Dad’s sound, and it would be easy to draw the wrong lesson from such repetition: a marker of lapsed creativity. But this response plays into a well-worn impulse to chalk up sticking to one’s musical roots and creative stagnation as one in the same. With Hockey Dad nothing is more powerful than a fact simply stated.
There is a glimpse of the band’s more optimistic side with the tail end of the album. Most adventurously the drummer, Billy Fleming, decides to take up the mic in the track “Sweet Release,” and while he does not have the smooth vocals of Stephenson, his brash voice and his laddish vocals offer a jovial respite from the melodrama of the rest of the album. However, that lightheartedness is fleeting as the duo concludes with the track “Eggshells” that an ethereal, reverb-heavy outro that compares their life in the spotlight to the fragility of walking on eggshells.
From their beginnings on the secluded shores of the Leisure Coast, Hockey Dad dreamy tracks about sun, surf, and sex have been an undeniable part of the emergence of the Aussie surfer punk-rock genre – bringing their ethereal rocker ballads to a slew of other sounds such as the Dune Rats, Bleeding Knees Club, Skegss, and the rest of the Aussie surfer-rock ilk. But with Blend Inn, the duo has turned a new leaf. There is an adage somewhere to describe consequences to the fame they so desperately sought for, but it does not need to be said. The duo has, for now, traded their sun-kissed dreams for darker nightmares. While it is sad to see the two move away from the sunny tracks that we have grown to love, it is reassuring to see how they have not rested an on their laurels and have moved to produce a sound that is authentic to their current lives.
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📸 © Joseph Crackett