Posted on March 04, 2019
We recently got to talk to one of the founding members of Hippo Campus’, guitarist Nathan. The band released their first EP “Tarzan Reject” in 2014 and since then their sound has progressed through added members, personal songwriting, addictive singles, and vibrant live shows. The band will be performing their first show in South Korea on March 24th.
Nathan: I am doing well. How are you?
Nathan: I guess we’ve described it as pop-based songwriting, but dressed in more of a progressive outfit / outlook. We write songs that make sense to us. We’re always trying to push what we hear in our heads to places that we wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable with. Off the cuff. That is what we believe is necessary for growth in the band. It’s kind of pop music, but kind of rock music too. When we’re performing on stage, we like to have a good time. We also want the music to resonate with like-minded people; accessibility is a part of pop music. Kinda pop music, kinda rock music. That is the way I would describe it.
Nathan: Yeah, I’d say so.
Nathan: I’d say the fact that we are best friends, first off, is the point to our stage performances. We are all very comfortable playing music with each other and having fun with each other on stage. I think that our effort to portray that as honestly as possible is a part of our live performances and shows. That goes a long way to making an audience feel like they are in a safe space and at a show they can enjoy watching, as well as listening to. There are some theatrical elements to our live performances, but mostly I would say honesty is the primary element in our shows.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s a good way to sum it up.
Nathan: It was in senior year for me when I was hanging out with Zach (bass) and Jake (vocals/guitar). We were at this lake and I had been toying with the idea of starting another band with those guys (who were both in other bands already). I was like, “Hey, let’s join forces and try to make something happen here.’ That was the cool part about going to that school, the connections you could make at that school were pretty abundant, our friendship group was really close knit. That was really the reason I wanted to start the band: to make our friends dance. There wasn't really anything like that at the school at the time. It was mostly bad jazz and terrible garage music. So that was the inspiration in the first place. Listening to a bunch of bands we admired at the time informed what our music ended up sounding like as well; we were just ripping off our favorite bands. That was the inspiration for starting the band in the first place.
Nathan: Bombay Bicycle Club, Little Comets and Last Dinosaurs.
Nathan: Yeah, I’d say so. Our entire friend group was hooked on them for a while. Then Last Dinosaurs came out with a record and our brains exploded. It was such a teenage angst kind of thing, but in a summery Hawaiian-tinged kind of way. I can't explain it very well.
Nathan: Yeah, some surf stuff in there for sure. Some dream pop elements … Beach House were part of it as well...
Nathan: Ummm, I guess ….. I don’t want people to hate me. I don’t know. I guess ‘Depression Cherry’. That was the one that really hit me the hardest, I’d say. ‘Bloom’ is absolutely nuts, and ‘Teen Dream’. They are one of my favorite bands
Nathan: Hey, man. We can have differing opinions. It’s all good. It’s all good!
Nathan: I remember this one time, there was a dancer from our school who ended up making it to the top ten of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. That was pretty nuts. Our friend group, a lot of people moved away after high school, but everybody is still doing the things they love to do. Our hardcore friend group stuck around and started a couple of different bands; they are still playing in the city. Bands like Purple Funk & The Happy Children. That kind of spawned...scenes keep on spawning different scenes. Kids keep going out to shows and wanting to start bands after seeing bands they like. Having played with DeCarlo in a band before and then after a couple of years, adding him as a member of Hippo Campus, just goes to show how strong the connections were at that school. It was a cool place, good times.
Nathan: It’s great, dude. We are honored. He really is one of the most talented musicians I know and it’s dope that we are friends in the first place and we get to do this as friends. Even if we were not in Hippo Campus we would be making music together. He is a great addition.
Nathan: He gives us a different perspective on song structure and the way we should approach some sections of our tunes live. He went to a music school in Winnipeg for a number of years to study jazz, so he has fresh ideas all the time that break down walls whenever we have something we can’t figure out. He actually played bass in our old band and he plays bass on a couple of songs during our shows now. That opens up a lot of opportunities to stretch our musical capabilities and to experiment with different elements on stage and off stage. That has been really fun and rewarding.
Nathan: I guess a mix of both. You could have the best idea in the world on paper, but if you don't present it in the appropriate way it’s not going to have any effect. Whenever anybody has something to say, the fact that we are friends is the baseline, the foundation on which we can make these decisions and not get our feelings hurt. Or, if we have something to work through that’s not even music-related, having that baseline is a big element in making a band work, I think. It’s a mixture of both; I mean, obviously he is very talented, but he’s also just one of our best friends and he makes us better at what we do.
Nathan: That is a good question. Dang! I don’t know. I guess having spent as much time as we have in the studio making one album or EP at a time to present to the world and then realizing that even though you have finished it, you still have to tour it. You have to continue to work on that record as the months and years go on. It’s not like you just did that, you continue to do it. Realizing that and adapting to that lifestyle is really interesting. It’s difficult at first; there is really no way to prepare for that either, other than just doing it. I guess the change comes when we look at why we are making music in the first place. It isn’t because we love touring, it’s not because we love spending 15 hours in the studio just to end up scrapping a song (that stuff happens, you know). The reason we do it is because there is just a need to do it. I think it has changed over the years; at first we wanted to make our friends dance, but we have things to say now. I guess that is what I’m trying to say. There is more of a narrative and more of a commentary within our music and what we are singing now.
Nathan: I don’t think we really thought about it that hard. We thought it was just catchy and interesting. We wanted to mess with people a little bit. It was kind of a joke song in the beginning; it was just so simple and so catchy, but it felt like it wasn’t going to go anywhere. I don’t know, the suicide is more based on social suicide, not actual suicide. But yeah, it’s kind of a perceptive message.
Nathan: When you graduate from high school you get introduced to a bunch of different party scenes and they are not necessarily the healthiest party scenes. At least, we were exposed to stuff like that. The idea of self-care, self-management and looking after one’s own health... that was the inspiration at the time. Especially after the development of the internet around that time as well, and then Twitter and how nasty people can be. It’s a really dark place at times and sometimes it is just better to reset. You don't have to be around people all the time; it’s really easy to cope with something bigger going on by just going out. That was the message behind that song.
Nathan: Yeah, I feel that. We’ve always strived to have that kind of juxtaposition of energies with our lyrical content and all of our songs being in major keys. That has always been, in our eyes, a really effective way of getting our music across to people and having the most impact.
Nathan: We spent so much time together in the past, writing songs in the same room, always starting with a guitar riff. After ‘Landmark’, it was clear that we were not going to do it like that again. It wouldn’t work because we would just get burnt out. So we decided to write on our own, and when you are writing on your own, well, some of us might start with guitars, but when you’re in Ableton or Pro Tools or something like that, the Juno 60 is an inspirational instrument in itself. It is really easy to get the ball rolling with songwriting now when we start with some sort of textural synth patch and then build everything from there. Our producer BJ Burton was a big influence in that realm too, with his knowledge of drum machines and synths, and making guitars not sound like guitars, and synths not sound like synths. Reapproaching instruments in general and the way that they work in a studio environment was the biggest push to make the album sound the way it did. But all of our songwriting sensibilities still had a strong hand in carving out things that were not necessary in the songs, or bringing back things that were. So it’s the same us, just dressed differently. We were more honest with this record than anything previous.
Nathan: Yeah, I think the record was aimed towards us as a group of friends. Having toured ‘Landmark’ for a while and having played the old songs as many times as we had, there was some discourse in the band about what we were supposed to be doing next. I think that from that discourse the songs that were written are aimed at each other somehow. That’s what the word ‘personal’ is referring to in this case; the album really is to and for us first, even though it’s out in the world now and everyone has part ownership of the songs and the record. The songs that were written were very much letters to each other, and as honest as such, in that they are saying things without any walls. Like, ‘hey, I have anxiety’ or ‘I don't know if this relationship is worth it’, or ‘I don't know what to do now’. All those feelings are laced into every song on the record at some point. That is kind of the reason we look at it as the most honest and personal thing we have ever made.
Nathan: I’m not sure. Our fan base is predominantly female. I’ve never really looked at it like that. That is interesting.
Nathan: I’ve never really had a conversation that involves somebody pointing out the fact that we’re talking about these things with each other as a band and the fact that we’re all males. I’ve never really had that conversation before; it’s interesting. We value and respect our fans above and beyond, they are the best people. In this day and age there’s a big push to solve the toxic masculinity issue; it’s redefining what it is to be a man in a number of different ways. It goes really deep obviously, and I think that with the honesty I have been talking about, this latest record is pretty much those kinds of conversations that we had been having with each other and will continue to have with each other. It’s interesting to go through that as a band, as friends and as males. Just trying to work on that together, first and foremost, and then to make music out of it is really interesting. I’ve never thought about that before! You kinda just blew my mind just then.
Nathan: I dunno. Technically I’m not from Minnesota. But yes, Prince is definitely like Jesus there.
Nathan: I have never even seen “Purple Rain”, dude.
Nathan: I don’t know, man. I never got the hype. I never got on that train. I listened to country music growing up, and church music. I wasn’t allowed to listen to Prince. But, having dug a little bit, he is dope, obviously. He is great. I respect it. He’s cool. That song ‘I Would Die For You’, that is a banger. I like that. I’m sorry. I am an amateur with Prince.
Nathan: We are all clowns in our own way. But when it comes to …. I don’t wanna say me … but I kinda wanna say me. That’s tough. I don’t know. Let me ask Whistler…. Hey Whistler, who’s the biggest clown?
Whistler: What kind of clown? I dunno.
Nathan: Oh, we did something like that. Yeah. Maybe Zach? Yeah, Zach, probably. We didn’t put it on a t-shirt actually, a fan put it on the t-shirt. But yeah, that was hilarious.
Nathan: Not often. I don’t think he was kissing him. I only kiss my friends when they are awake and when they want it. That's hilarious though. That was such a weird thing.
Nathan: Yaeh. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.
Nathan: We never dreamed that this would be what would happen. We are so stoked. We don’t know what to expect, we’re just stoked to go over there. It will be incredible. Somebody gave us a cheat sheet on Seoul two days ago. I haven’t dug into that yet, but it seems like it has some good stuff on it. I hear using two hands to accept things is a big thing; I don’t know if that’s accurate?
Nathan: I know what ‘hello’ sounds like, but I can’t actually say it yet. I am so bad at it, I would butcher it. That’s about it though. I’m not well versed in Korean culture yet. But I am excited to be there and experience it for myself and to hopefully see some people who like our music. To be on that side of the world is a dream come true, pretty much.
Nathan: Yeah, the freedom of it. That is when you really get to know yourself, when everything you have experienced kind of goes out of the window. Whether it be culturally or spiritually, I think there is so much value in being in a place where you are the stranger. There is so much revealed and that is a part of the human experience. A big part of it is meeting people from a different place, learning from those people and sharing the human experience with them. That is probably the best part. I know that’s broad, but that’s the way I look at it, I guess.
Nathan: Totally. That is the point.
Nathan: Oh my God, dude! I used to work at the Minneapolis airport as a ramp agent for Delta Airlines years ago. It was -60 windchill and I was out there thinking, ‘what am I doing with my left’. That was just before we started touring. I am so happy that I got out of it; two weeks after that I quit working there and I was like, ‘I’m just gonna really hit this music thing as hard as I can, let’s get out there and tour. Why would I be doing anything but working on music?’ And now, here I am.
I was in just in Seattle and California and everything was actual hell. Negative temperatures ...they say hell is fire-based, but I don’t think so. I am so glad I am not there right now, but to everyone that is, stay safe. Do what you gotta do, drive safe.
Nathan: It is frustrating. I won’t lie. I yell! I do it because I just feel it in my bones and I just have to yell sometimes. But I am conscious and aware that it could be that the person in front of me (who has just seemingly stopped in the middle of the road for no reason), could actually be a guardian angel. Maybe it was supposed to happen. I have to look at it like that, otherwise I would get out of the car and do something terrible. I would yell so loud at this person in front of me who doesn't understand that you do not have to stop in the middle of the road when it’s snowing. It is so frustrating. Oh, dude. I am so glad I am not there right now.
Nathan: Hey, dude. It’s mutual. I appreciate the thought-provoking questions, I hope you have a good rest of your day, week, month and year. See you in Seoul!
Date: 2019. 03. 24. Sun 18:00
Venue: Rolling Hall (Hongdae)
Adv: 55,000won / Door: 66,000won
Tickets: Melon Ticket - https://goo.gl/ujQ9ys
Listen to an audio version of the interview, by The22nd Hour here:
For more information on Hippo Campus, check out the following links: