On November 11th the members of Hippo Campus scooted into a back room of the Black Cat for an interview before their show. They are a new indie-rock band out of St. Paul Minnesota, in the midst of their South EP Tour. With black X’s on their hands, the band is composed of Jake Luppen, lead vocalist and guitarist, Nathan Stocker on lead guitar, Zach Sutton on bass, and Whistler Allen on drums. The band members attended a Performing Arts High School in the twin cities, where they found their love of music and founded their up and coming band. Since then, they’ve released two EPs: The first -“Bashful Creatures”- came out in February of this year, and the second, called “South”, followed in October. After the sound check, a few brief introductions and a side conversation about scooters and glasses frames the conversation got going.
Michael: Was there a point where you guys knew that you were done with the album or was it just like “we’re going to work on this forever if we don’t put it out”?
Jake: Um… we had three days to record this last one
Whistler: (whispers) 4
Jake: Right, we had four days to do it so we didn’t really have the luxury of spending any time on it besides those four days. So really it wasn’t stressful, I mean it was stressful in those four days and then after that we didn’t fret too much about it… and we’ve had it since like March or February?
Whistler: We’ve had it since January and it was supposed to be released before South… but then it didn’t…. too bad…
Pasha: Just getting started, you guys are like our age so what did you do? What did you do differently that got you here because there are so many people who are trying to figure this out and you’re playing these sold out shows and that is something that so many people only dream of doing. We saw you open for Realestate, which is crazy for a band so new to do so, what did you do?
Jake: We uhhh.. We pray to Satan. Every evening.
Zach: We fit as many seances as we can into a day
Whistler: Some people say you can’t pray to Satan at Church, but we do.
Nathan: I couldn’t tell ya…
Zach: We went to a Performing Arts High School, so that’s probably the first thing that’s different
Jake: We’re good friends, which is a good thing as well. We just love hanging out with each other all the time and the other part of the time we’re just not hanging out with anybody.
Whistler: I think a big thing was that we didn’t plan on this being what it is, from my knowledge. We started at the ending of high school and then our first show was about a month after we gradated high school and it was just kinda like “let’s have a big hurrah before everything kinda falls apart after high school” and I think, and i’m not trying to toot our own horn, but having that kind of mentality about it allowed us to not worry and just write whatever we want to write and allowed us to not have any pressure of “we have write something good otherwise we’re not going to be a successful band, Lets just write whatever we feel is best”
Michael: So could you guys tell us a little bit about your name? Was it always the same? How did you come up with it?
Zach: Originally for about a day or two or maybe an hour. The first incarnation was “Tarzan Reject.” It was super sick. (Laughter) and then Hippo Campus. Both have very shallow backstories. There’s really no reason to them. We were walking around one day and someone called Nathan a “tarzan reject” and we said that’s a good band name. And then he was reading a psychology book.
Nathan: So I was in psychology class one day and I was reading about the brain and was like “yo, that’s a cool word” and split it up into two words and that’s a band name.
Pasha: If could play alongside any other band, who would you pick? Dead or Alive?
Jake: If the Beatles opened for us
Pasha: Opened for you!
Nathan: Rupert Holmes… ahh… we could co-headline a tour
Whistler: If we convinced Michael Bolton and Celine Dion to do shows together and then they open for us, that’d be pretty fun
Jake: Guns and Roses
Zach: Yeah, they could be first of three
Whistler: Them, Michael Bolton and Celine Dion, and then us
Jake: Bill Clinton, play some sax (makes saxophone sounds)
Sophia: So you guys have put out some really cool music videos lately. What was your inspiration for them? I know your Violet video doesn’t feature violet once, is there a backstory on that?
Whistler: Color-wise you mean?
Whistler: Oh, I don’t even think that was our choice. We just showed up and they said “these are the colors we’ve got.” For “Little Grace” and “Souls,” those, well.. “Little Grace” was like our first music video and one of Zach’s friends at his school was doing this project where he did one free music video a day throughout the entire month, and so we went and shot a music video with him. It wasn’t any real super intense thought process.
Jake: Well I mean there was some thought as to the fact that we wanted to create a series of images, I guess. And we wanted to continue to write and do all that stuff and we didn’t want to create a basic music video.
Whistler: And then we made another video for “Souls” and that was definitely more thought out a little more tied to the meaning of the song than “Little Grace” was and the other music videos we’ve made. “Suicide Saturday” was the next one we did and that was not really uh… That one was more of a creative process on the outside for us. It wasn’t as much of our creative minds on it as much as it was the director who shot it.
Zach: We actually had a full treatment that we came up with for it, and then we showed it to our people and they were like “no, let’s not do that.” And then we went to the UK and they had a guy who worked with us to figure out how we could through balloons full of paint at each other. It turned out pretty fun. A long day, and a decent video. And “Violet” was after that.
Whistler: Violet was like the same situation kind of where we didn’t really… I don’t know, we were kind of in a strange mood about doing music videos after doing “Suicide” because it was a situation where we were asked to come up with an idea and then we did and then it wasn’t allowed because “it’s going to take to long to shoot, it’s a music video.” Anyway, we did the “Violet” one and it was definitely a huge step up in terms of production and quality and everything, which was nice. That was probably the nicest thing about it. You can tell there’s a difference.
Sophia: There’s definitely a professionalism.
Whistler: Yeah. The only thing about that video that kinda rubs us the wrong was is the fact that we’re playing our instruments in it, which we were for a while, at least up until that video and still adamant about, but it’s just something that we’re not comfortable with doing and it wasn’t something that we wanted to do, but again… That’s what coming to a live show is for, coming to see us play our instruments then. If you’re just going to watch a video of us playing our instruments then … I don’t know, to us it just feels very cliche and so many music videos have that and we always wanted to stray from that. So it was a weird balance of a cool production, and we aren’t doing what we’d like in the video. Then finally with “South” we were able to get it the way we liked it. Someone that we like a lot came out with a great treatment and really nailed the little idea that we had, the feeling that we had and the vibe. They made it look like a high production than it was, with a drone camera and everything. It was geared less towards the meaning of the song and more of creating a series of images that fit the vibe of the song instead of dealing with the words and the meaning.
Jake: I feel like the best music videos are art pieces within themselves that accompany the song as opposed to being directly informed by the song’s meaning. Videos are a way of collaboration, so you should let the person who you’re collaborating with have a meaning as well as the audience will have their own version of what the song means. I think it works out best when both people are really creatively doing their own thing and trying to make it look as beautiful as possible. I feel like “South” and the first two videos we accomplished best. The others I feel like we accomplished decently, there’s meaning in Violet. “Suicide” I mean sometimes you win sometimes you don’t. We’re learning. We’re a young band, we have a lot to figure out.
Sophia: Where do you see yourselves going as band? It seems like this has all happened very quickly for you, what have been some of the successes and challenge of that?
Jake: I think everything in an of itself is a challenge. I mean the fact that we’re touring and playing these sold out shows is a success, but a challenge is that it negatively impacts your health and your mental state. I mean you’re literally killing yourself some times, but you know, all for the love of what you’re doing. But that goes for just about everything. I mean it’s cool that you get to make videos, but it sucks sometimes that you don’t get to make the videos you want to make. Everything has its ups and its downs, but we’re really fortunate to be doing what we’re doing and as far as the distant future goes, we just try and take it one step at a time, day by day.
Sophia: I saw your video from KEXP with Kevin Cole. I’m an avid fan of the station as it’s from my hometown. What was your experience like with that? How do you think that influenced your audience? It reaches a lot of people, so how do you think that’s affected things?
Zach: Well, that’s a legendary radio station. We were super stoked to do it. Once you get in the room its a lot smaller than it looks.
Whitney: It’s probably the size of this little room.
Zach: A lot the bands we love have done sessions in there so it was pretty humbling to be in the same room. So it was pretty sick. It went well, I think for what we were expecting, they’re getting a new room so
Sophia: Ya! There will be a glass wall so if you guys play there again people can come and see you play. It’ll be way more open to the public.
Jake: That’s awesome.
Michael: In the same vain, we were at the pier show. How was that?
Jake: Yeah, actually pretty crazy story in terms of that. I mean the show was awesome, but this part was really incredible. Do you guys watch the YouTube channel “Good Neighbors” at all? You know Kyle? Well, we’re all monster good neighbor fans. I mean our sense of humor is almost directly informed by those kinds of videos. So hanging out backstage after the show and everything was done and we look over and see Kyle. We’re all freaking out and so Zach and I go over and talk and say like “hey man can we get a picture?” We talk to him and stuff and he was completely different than his character, which completely shocked us. We were just expecting him to flip into Kyle mode, but I guess not. That was my favorite part. The show was great and the view was beautiful, but meeting Kyle was something else.
Pasha: What’s the worst thing that has happened on tour?
Jake: Oh! One time we were in a parking garage and a disclosed person of the band, tore the side of the van off. That was pretty bad.
Whistler: It was the foot step on the side.
Jake: It was a total mistake. It could have happened to any of us.
Zach: That person has apologized and feels no regret.
Whistler: Maybe that one time we got stuck in the McDonalds’s drive through with the van. That was the worst idea.
Zach: I think we’ve had it relatively easy.
Pasha: So imagine you meet your soul mate. The person is perfect for you in every single way and there’s an issue. A person comes up to you and says either someone is going to come to them every year, totally randomly and break their collarbones with a wrench. You can stop this by taking a pill that will make any music you listen to sound like it’s being played by Alice in Chains.
Jake: Well I like that one Alice in Chains song…
Pasha: So do you like take the pill or let everything sound like Alice and Chain?
Whistler: I’d let their collarbones be broken. and I’d probably not see them.
Nathan: That’s really hard, I don’t want that to happen to the person that I love the most in this worth. THAT’S AWFUL! oh man….
Whistler: I couldn’t give up music for that.
Jake: (plays a song by Alice in Chains on his phone and sings along)
Jake: I’d do it anyways man. Alice in Chains all the way.
Nathan: That’s selfish…
Jake: Headline – ‘Hippo Campus is selfish’
Sophia: Who are you’re favorite all time artists, actors, performers?
Whistler: Brad Pitt is my favorite singer. Johnny Depp is my favorite dancer. What about you guys?
Nathan: Favorite singer? Gregory Alan Isakov. He’s just…
Jake: Alanis Morissette is my favorite singer. I like her album “Havoc and Bright Lights.” My favorite actor is Ricky Gervais… What else?
Sophia: Who are you inspired by? That’s really the root of the question.
Jake: I’m inspired by my three best friends. This guy, this guy and this special guy.
Zach: well… I was going to say that too…. Yeah, I’m inspired by the friends. Not really you guys because you’re all so disappointing
Whistler: What other friends are you taking about then?
Zach: Gabe, Rick, Taylor, Johny Depp is great. Angelina Jolie. I don’t know….
Sophia: Are you guys planning on or looking into doing any shows this summer shows or festivals?
Nathan: Hopefully. We’re hoping to. Our team of awesome people are helping us out with those things.
Be sure to check out their two new videos!
Photo Courtesy of RedEye Chicago