Hippo Campus wasn’t supposed to be called Hippo Campus. The name was a temporary place holder, lead guitarist Nathan Stocker says in a recent phone interview.
“It came to me in a dream,” says Stocker. “I think it was from God, or maybe Satan. I’m not sure.”
The concept was introduced to Stocker in psychology class, and he held onto it because brainstorming band names was far more interesting than learning about the brain.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is associated with memory.
“If people come to our shows and don’t remember the band name, it’s like super ironic,” Stocker says with a laugh.
The Minnesota foursome all attended the same performing arts high school. They were originally in rival bands but decided to join forces. In 2017, they welcomed trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson into the fold, thus expanding their sound.
The band blends trippy, synth-heavy dream-pop with upbeat alternative rock that features lengthy keyboard runs.
Before hitting the summer festival circuit, the band will perform at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 6, at House of Blues
Stocker prefers headlining shows to festivals, but they both have their pros and cons.
“Creatively, it’s more fulfilling to have your own show,” he says. He compares festivals to buffets, “not the good kind.”
“You just feel like you’re another thing that people are dipping their greasy spoons into,” he says. “There’s only so much you can do, especially not as a headliner. If you’re just a part of the mass consumption, then it’s difficult to stand out and feel like you’re worth something. But it’s a blessing in disguise because the festival environment is just so fun. We can all unite and stick it to the man — get onstage and poke fun at the fact that we’re in this environment where people are just trying to make money.”
The pressure doesn’t stop there for Hippo Campus. During the writing process for 2018’s Bambi
, the band’s record label was pressing for a single to polish off the record.
“We were being pushed by our label, and people we were working with to give them an entry point to the record. Something that was like the single or the accessible song that makes sense and ties the whole record together,” says Stocker. “We were like, ‘Fuck you guys. We just wanna do what we wanna do. Leave us alone, mom.’”
But the push led to a breakthrough, and the title track was born. It started as a joke like most of the band’s endeavors, says Stocker, but the track ended up reflecting the toll the expectations tied to success take on them as individuals. It was the final track the band wrote for the record, and one of the few tracks they wrote together as a unit, says Stocker.
“It was just nice to have a common enemy that wasn’t ourselves,” says Stocker, “And I think that’s what the lyrics reflect as well. It’s like, ‘Damn, dude. I hope my friends don’t hate me. Cause we can get through this and become better people and better friends at the end of the day.”
The track wasn’t supposed to be the record’s namesake. Like many of the band’s career steps, it just kind of happened.
“I wanted to call the record something way different; I wanted to name all the songs something different, but we kind of just settled on the more accessible names," he says. "And I’m glad. Bambi
’s a good hook.”
is the name of front man Jake Luppen’s aunt. The band recorded their sophomore album at her cabin in Wisconsin.
“We were drinking too much one night with our producer and we were just like, ‘Let’s call the record Bambi and call it a day,” says Stocker.
The first record, 2017’s Landmark
, was written almost entirely as a collaboration built on spontaneous jam sessions, but on Bambi
, each band member took a step back and gave the others room to shine.
“[For the first record], our course was chartered. With this new record, we were in unexplored waters,” says Stocker, “We weren’t writing as Hippo Campus. We were just using Hippo Campus as a name through which the four of us can express ourselves.”
The track that Stocker, himself, contributed the most to was “Why Even Try,” a ballad fueled by frustration with the same old patterns and a defeatist mentality. The inspiration was “feeling like there was nowhere else to go with mending the relationship with an old friend.”
But Stocker finds comfort in being able to turn something upsetting into something productive.
“It was a bad place; a terrible feeling of helplessness,” says Stocker. “But walking away and knowing that you’ve done all you can do in that moment to serve the song. That’s a good feeling.”
The band has a new chapter on the horizon, but fans will have to wait to see what’s in store for the quirky indie group.
“What we do next isn’t going to be exactly what people are expecting,” says Stocker.
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