An Appetite for Music Making: A Conversation with Hippo Campus

Hippo Campus © Alice Baxley

Music is the only thing I’ll lay awake at night thinking about.

Hippo Campus have done a lot of growing up in the past few years. After two releasing highly successful EPs, the Minnesotan indie rockers, comprised of Jake Luppen (vocals/guitar), Whistler Allen (drums), Zach Sutton (bass) and Nathan Stocker (vocals/guitar) have molded and spliced together their debut album landmark, released 2/24 via Grand Jury.

Landmark - Hippo Campus

Landmark – Hippo Campus

At first listen, landmark is bursting with smooth bubbly songs that leave you satisfied from start to finish. There’s the perfect mix of quirky upbeat melodies to more pensive, slowed down tracks. Atwood Magazine previously described single “Way It Goes” as “embracing life as it is, and getting into trouble in the most fun ways possible.” Standouts include “Tuesday” and “Western Kids” and the sorrowful but stunning song “Monsoon.” There’s a sweetly rhythmic joyfulness that radiates throughout the album, carrying along punchy, impactful lyrics. Simply put, landmark delivers on what it sets out to do: make you think and tap your toes while you do so.

Atwood Magazine spoke with Hippo Campus frontman Jake Luppen, to find out more about the band’s new record and hopes for the future as they set off on a new North American tour.

Watch: “Way It Goes” – Hippo Campus

A CONVERSATION WITH HIPPO CAMPUS

Atwood Magazine: First I just want to say I'm a really big fan of you guys, the album is really sick, I love it.

Jake Luppen: Thank you!

So when did you guys decide it was time to sit down and do an album? How did it all come together?

Jake: Basically we’ve been wanting to do an album probably since we finished the two EPs. We just had a lot of touring to do immediately after them so the time that we wrote the album, was the time that we were able to get off. We had been begging our managers for awhile to just give us a break, essentially to write because it had been almost a year and a half since we wrote. So yeah, we had a little bit of time off and we just had to capitalize on whatever moments we weren’t playing shows.

So how long did that for you guys? Was it a few months or...

Jake: We kind of did it in chunks. So the very first kind of writing process, was we took December to January off, of last year, and so we took that period to write and then we went out, toured again, then we came back, we recorded, and then we went out and toured again (laughs) then we came back. It was just kind of that process, I think there was like three or four different chunks of writing, and three to four different chunks of recording in there, so overall, the entire process took about eight months. But yeah, we just had to work in the gaps I guess!

Yeah that's kind of crazy! So how did you guys decide on landmark to be the name of the album?

Jake: We’ve talked about a lot of names but landmark sort of had a few meanings for us. We went to high school in a building called the landmark centre, and also landmark kind of being the idea of physical markings along a journey. We took the past to have the touring, and examine the experiences that we had all been throughout and assigned physical objects to them. They’re all represented on the cover, as the thirteen objects represent the thirteen songs. So it was kind of a double entendre in the fact of landmark being the building we went to high school in and also just the experiences we’ve cultivated along the way.

What are some of the biggest themes on the record?

Jake: There’s kind of a few major themes, because initially we went into the record thinking that we wanted to critique youth culture, particularly the way that we and people our age use social media. And we went in initially with that theme and that’s kind of what we wanted for that first block of writing. Then after we were kind of able to tour and step away from writing for a little bit, we came back, we took a trip to a cabin and we kind of wrote away from everything. And it was there that we kind of realized that writing to a specific theme was limiting, and rather than kind of look outward and critique, it was time to start looking inward. So the first half of the record is, I see it as being ironic or a bit sarcastic; it’s a lot of songs from that first batch of writing where we’re more so critiquing ourselves, and then the second half of the record, to me, is more introspective. The songs feel more honest and related to direct experiences that happened; there was a lot of personal revelation. So that’s why this record feels kind of like our most honest work to date, because I’ve never really written from as personal as a place as I did I think with this record.

Do you have a favourite song that you wrote, in particular that stands out for you?

Jake: Um, I don’t know. It’s like picking a favourite child. Which child is your favourite? Um, I don’t know, I think “Vacation” is just one of my favourites, just because I can really pinpoint exactly where that comes from. I don’t even know how to describe it. The difficulties that we’ve undergone like with personal relationships in the band, so I think that was something that was very therapeutic and necessary to write about, for me personally it was a form of therapy.

How do you feel the band has grown up on landmark since releasing your EPs?

Jake: I think that we are braver than we were when we did the EPs. I think that at this point we’re willing to take more risks, because we recognize that the payoff to taking those risks is a lot greater. I think that we now have an ability to push ourselves way farther than we did previously. And I think that we’re hungrier than we were back then. Now I think that we have this ache to do things differently, and to continue to do things differently with each record that we make.

When you say you guys are 'hungrier' what do you mean? Like hungrier to be successful?

Jake: I think it’s hungrier to just live up to the potential that we know we have. I guess like, aw man (laughs) abstract thing to be talking about….

No it's cool, it's cool.

Jake: It’s hard to put into words, just hungrier to push, I don’t know. I know that even this record isn’t the best that we’re capable of. And the EPs for sure. I think it’s just like, hungrier to keep pushing and keep growing and keep living up to that potential.

You guys recently released the music video for 'way it goes.' How was that like to film?

Jake: It was pretty cold (laughs) outside obviously in the snow. Our first video “Little Grace” we were outside in the wintertime as well, so there was a few moments when we were outside for this past vid like “Oh I guess we didn’t learn anything from when we did it on the first video!” But it was a blast to film, and I think like going back to that theme of honesty, we went into that video just wanting to not write anything, just have it be a real organic, natural setting of just us with our friends in this cabin. So I think it’s our most honest video to date. I’m proud of it, I think it’s cool.

Read: Hippo Campus Mellow Out on “way it goes”

by Natalie Harmsen

Yeah I liked it a lot, and I thought it was really fun. And you start your North American tour really soon?

Jake: Yeah, there’s a countdown, like eight days or something.

What are you most excited for, for that?

Jake: I’m excited to play new songs and have people know them. We just got off a tour in the U.K. and it was really rad. But obviously we were still playing a certain amount of songs that people just don’t know yet, so I’m excited for people to have a better handle on the songs and be able to enjoy them in the same way that they enjoy the older ones. But I’m excited to just get up there and play a bunch of new songs (laughs) for the first time in a few years so it should be rad.

Oh for sure. And so do you have any favourite memories from when you guys were in the U.K.?

Jake: There was so many, it was a surprising tour. Like it sold way better than us, or our label or our management thought it was going to. London was crazy, it was sold out and there were these kids that were right up front, and they were shoving the barrier forward like they were going to break it down. It was terrifying, everyone was like “what is going to happen!” And there’s a cool energy there, and of course we were totally encouraging it and feeding off of it. That’s kind of my favourite memory, just seeing people so amped that they’re literally tearing things down. It was crazy.

A real rock n' roll moment.

Jake: (Laughs) Exactly, all the childhood dreams are coming true.

All the childhood dreams are coming true.

(Laughs) Speaking of, so you guys are in your 20s correct?

Jake: Yeah so I’m 21, Nathan is 22; he’s the oldest, Whistler is 21, Zach is 20 but he turns 21 soon.

You're all really young, so how did you guys know that music was what you really wanted to do?

Jake: I think I knew… I can’t really speak for anybody else, but personally I think I knew right from when I started, which was like 12 or 13 when I started performing in venues and stuff. But I didn’t actually really decide to make music a career until a year and a half into college when I realized that college wasn’t right for me in the moment. I would spend all my energy when I was home, working on music or thinking about music, and when you’re that passionate about something, you have to make a career out of it or you have to do it you know? You’re going to be successful if you’re passionate on a level to where you’re constantly thinking about something. I never had that with college, or anything else in my life. Music is the only thing I’ll lay awake at night thinking about.

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Landmark - Hippo Campus

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cover © Alice Baxley

Landmark – Hippo Campus

Landmark - Hippo Campus

Landmark – Hippo Campus

:: Hippo Campus 2017 Tour Dates ::

3/2: San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
3/3: Los Angeles, CA @ The Teragram Ballroom
3/4: Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
3/11: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
3/12: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
3/22: Nashville, TN @ The Basement East
3/23: Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
3/24: Charlotte, NC @ The Visulite Theater
3/25: Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
3/28: Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
3/29: Washington, DC @ Black Cat
31/3/31: New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
4/1: Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
4/3: Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
4/4: Ferndale, MI @ The Loving Touch,
4/6: Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
4/7: Chicago, IL @ Metro
4/8: Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre
5/26-5/28: Napa, CA @ Bottlerock Festival
6/8-6/11: Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo

tickets @ hippocampusband.com

Natalie is a journalism honours student at Carleton University. When she isn't listening to music, she can be found lip-synching and dancing to it at the loudest possible volume.