Sweet & Twangy, “Kick in the Teeth” Marks a New, Simpler Era of Music for Hippo Campus

Hippo Campus © Shervin Lainez
Hippo Campus © Shervin Lainez
Inspired by country music, “Kick in the Teeth” provides a taste of what to expect from Hippo Campus’ upcoming EP ‘Wasteland,’ to be released on April 14th.
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“Kick in the Teeth” – Hippo Campus

It’s always a very exciting time whenever Hippo Campus release new music; the St. Paul indie rock band never fail to impress with how far they push sonic boundaries and experiment with their sound, all while staying true to the essence that makes them unique. As evident with the ever-present experimentation, the band is known for embracing an ideology of shaking things up when it comes to making music. Their recent single “Kick in the Teeth” (February 21 via Grand Jury Music) is no exception, marking a new era for Hippo Campus – one focused on simplicity and hands-off production. In writing this new chapter, they looked to country music for tips, specifically the way in which songwriting uses straightforwardness, imagery, and dark humor to explore taboo topics such as grief and loss.

Kick In The Teeth - Hippo Campus
Kick In The Teeth – Hippo Campus
My neighbor, Tommy, bought a six pack
He’s on his porch and really throwing ’em back
Says he’ll get rich soon as his mom dies
Says falling in love ain’t really worth his time
Think I need a little more than what he’s asking for
Think I need a little more of you

The song opens with a true country music cliche: The singer (Jake Luppen in this case) acting as a narrator and telling us a tale of the woes of regular people (his neighbor Tommy in this case). The opening verse paints a picture of struggle. Tommy is wasting away, having turned to alcoholism to drown out his sorrow as he waits for his life to turn around. Luppen’s storytelling is paired with soft, simple guitar strumming to further set the pensive tone. But as the track progresses into the pre-chorus, the perspective and tone shift. The drums kick in, speeding up the slow and melancholic tone from before, and requiring Luppen to pick up his pace as well. When the point of view shifts away from Tommy and onto Luppen with the lines, “Think I need a little more than what he’s askin’ for, think I need a little more of you,” we are able to see that Tommy’s struggle is not unique. At the mention of “you,” the meaning of the song starts to take shape; it’s not really about Tommy’s drinking problem, but about the people in our lives.

The steady, incessant beat of Whistler Allen’s drums and Zach Sutton’s bass continues into the chorus, and brings with it a slight, hopeful shift in tone. While Luppen sings that he still feels lonely at times, he feels better and more alive when his partner is around, showing that life is still worth living. The line, “I’m about as lonely as a cowboy can be” is another nod to the country genre that also gives an image of how Luppen views solitary life. A short guitar solo from Nathan Stocker connects the chorus to the next verse; the little riff has a twang to it, while also staying true to the classic Hippo Campus sound.

So when you go home could you think about me?
I’m about as lonely as a cowboy can be
And a night without you’s a kick in the teeth
So when you go home could you think about me?


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Going into the second verse, Luppen continues pining for his lover, referring to himself as a “sucker” and, in yet another country nod, a “rodeo clown” for the things she does. The instrumentation further echoes this idea of lovesickness when the twangy solo from before slows down and continues throughout the verse. Now, one note is played roughly every four beats, following the vocals in a similar fashion to how Luppen describes following along to his partner’s every word. As the pre-chorus of “I wanna see you dancin’ in my sweatshirt, I wanna see you dancin’ all night” starts, the music quiets a bit. This forces us to bring our attention to Luppen and the lyrics, cutting out anything that could be a distraction. With the instrumentation cut down, a tunnel vision effect is created where we are only thinking about his singing. This once again plays into how Luppen feels for his partner. However, as the beat picks up again and the chorus starts, the tunnel vision is broken, and we are reminded that those moments cannot last forever.

God, I’m a sucker when you do that
Thing with your hair feels like a lover’s attack
At your beck and call most nights now
Forever your rodeo clown
I wanna see you dancing in my sweatshirt
I wanna see you dancing all night

After another brief and slightly twangy guitar solo from Stocker, Hippo Campus enters the bridge, where they take a moment to slow things down and reminisce on some good memories. The way each note is drawn out, both from Luppen and the instruments, creates the illusion of time slowing down, suspending everyone in this blissful reminiscence. The line “Stay in this moment for a lifetime” echoes the idea from the second verse that Luppen’s best moments are when he is with his partner and he is afraid of that feeling changing. Going so far as to say “Living doesn’t mean a thing without you, without you,” he confirms that his only focus is on his partner.

Skinny dipping in the moonlight
Drinking tequila ’til the sunrise
Stay in this moment for a lifetime
Living doesn’t mean a thing without you
Without you

But as the suspended reality of the bridge comes to an end, the drums once again build, threatening to shatter the fragile illusion of safety. Then, all of a sudden, everything stops. Now all we can hear as the outro chorus begins is Jake Luppen’s voice and some bare-bones strumming. With each line sung, the instrumentation builds, and at the climax enters DeCarlo Jackson’s trumpet, turning the desperate plea of remembrance into a celebration of what makes life worth living that carries us to the end.

Hippo Campus © Shervin Lainez
Hippo Campus © Shervin Lainez

Hippo Campus have stated before that their goal when making music has always been to simply make their friends dance.

While “Kick in the Teeth” is, sonically, a shift from their previous work, it still succeeds in making the listener want to dance… just maybe in more of a line dance kind of way this time. You can listen to “Kick in the Teeth” on Hippo Campus’s upcoming EP Wasteland, to be released on April 14th!

So when you go home could you think about me?
I’m about as lonely as a cowboy can be
And a night without you’s a kick in the teeth
So when you go home could you think about me?

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:: stream/purchase Hippo Campus here ::
“Kick in the Teeth” – Hippo Campus

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Kick In The Teeth - Hippo Campus

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