To say that 2015 has been a good year for the band Hippo Campus would be quite an understatement. The band is comprised of lead vocalist/guitarist Jake Luppen, guitarist Nathan Stocker, bassist Zach Sutton and drummer Whistler Allen, but are known to many as Turntan, Stitches, Espo and Beans. These young indie/pop rockers from Minnesota are musically wise beyond their years and released two EPs, Bashful Creatures and South, which were praised by critics and fans alike. They played SXSW, Lollapalooza, sold-out shows in the UK as well as world famous First Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The guys even made a national television appearance on Conan performing “Suicide Saturday,” which Entertainment Weekly just called one of the “40 Best Songs of 2015.” The guys have accomplished so much this year and have really set the bar high for 2016, but I think they like a bit of a challenge. I caught up with lead vocalist Jake Luppen as he was on his way to meet up with the band and we reflected back on 2015, what’s ahead and why their van smells like farts.
Hey, what’s going on buddy?
Jake Luppen/Hippo Campus: Not a lot, just on my way to a writing session.
Hopefully, you’re feeling creative today.
Oh yeah, we’re working on a new record, so we have to have a writing session every day.
Let’s knock this out so that I can let you get to that session. So, are you guys already working on a new album or EP?
We’re working on new music and we’re not calling it an album and we’re not calling it an EP. We’re just going to make some art and if it makes its way into an album, then awesome.
Well, hopefully we’ll be able to hear the results in the very near future. Next up is my music nerd question that I tend to ask a lot and it has to do with a band’s name and if there’s a story there.
We had been mulling around with band names when we first started and the first one was Tarzan Reject, which was in regards to our guitarist wearing a sort of leopard print shorts. An older gentleman in probably his late 50s or 60s was yelling at him from across the street calling him a Tarzan reject. Our guitar player was in psychology class and saw the word hippocampus and split it into two words to give it sort of a double entendre and it just ended up sticking.
Was everyone kind of doing their own music thing when you guys first met?
Yes, specifically Zach (Sutton) and I; we were in a band called Whistle Kid, which now we call it bad jazz rock. It really wasn’t that bad; it was more like indie rock with a progressive feel to it. Nathan (Stocker) and Whistler (Allen) were also in a band and we used to play shows together all the time. As high school came to an end, the other members of the bands went off to college. We all had similar music tastes and we kind of wanted to be a band that made people dance and have a good time. It initially started off as a joke and then it kind of stuck and it all worked out.
Yeah, you can definitely say it all worked out because the stat sheet on the band is quite impressive, especially given the short time that you’ve been together. 2015 was a pretty impressive year for you guys from playing huge shows like SXSW to Lollapalooza to some of the accolades received from Rolling Stone Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. As you reflect back on 2015, what are some of your thoughts or big moments that stand out?
We were actually talking about that the other day when we completed our last tour date of the year. I think our original moment was when we were fresh out of SXSW and we had just played on Conan, which was an amazing day. Whistler’s dad is actually old friends with Steve Vai and we were in LA and didn’t actually have a place to stay. So, his dad talked Steve into actually having us and so we ended up watching the Conan performance at Steve Vai’s house with Steve Vai. That was really one of the first moments where I thought, ‘oh man, we’re actually doing this.’ Since then, it’s been everything from playing a headlining show in London that was sold-out to playing Red Rocks and Lollapalooza. We would never, ever have expected all of this to be happening.
How crazy was it to go from watching Conan at home to actually being on the show performing?
It was absolutely nuts and we actually found out about it the day before it happened. I was in a rest-stop bathroom in Nowhere, New Mexico when my phone rang. It was manager and he asked, ‘what would you guys think about playing Conan O’Brien tomorrow?’ We told him that we’d do whatever it took to get there and we made the drive and it was well worth it.
We’ve seen some really cool acts on his show that may not be quite mainstream or have that big, established name yet, so props to him on showcasing up and rising talent.
It was also super cool that his booker was running around SXSW and looking for those kinds of acts.
I saw that you had some UK dates coming up in February, but I wasn’t aware that you’ve already been over there and played.
We played over there three times during the summer. The first time was with Walk the Moon, the second was with Modest Mouse and the third was the Reading and Leeds Festival.
You also recently played a sold-out gig at First Avenue, which is a venue with so much rich history of bands who cut their teeth there and went on to do much bigger things. That had to be a pretty incredible experience as well?
Yeah, there’s definitely some magic there at First Avenue and it’s been a dream of ours to play. We actually set that as a goal of ours when we first started the band; we wanted to sell-out First Avenue one day. Then, one day came just five years down the line for us and I still can’t believe that it happened. That was probably the best show…….ever.
I was going through your videography and you guys have some pretty colorful videos in your library of work with “Suicide Saturday” and”Violet.” I thought there was a bit of a theme there, but then you have one like “South” which visually stunning on a completely different level. How much input do you guys have one your videos?
I think if you watch all of them that you can eventually tell which ones were our ideas and which ones weren’t. We’re willing to be honest as artists and tell which ones we really like and stand behind because some were hit and miss. We’re musicians, so it’s weird for us to think in terms of that different kind of medium. The first couple of videos, “Little Grace” and “Souls”, as well as “South” were the videos that we had direct concepts for and I feel that we’re all the most confident and happy in those videos. As far as “Suicide Saturday” and “Violet,” they were more like director’s ideas; we presented them with ideas, but you know how labels and such work and those ideas get lost in the mix sometimes. The three that I mentioned are the ones that we’re most psyched about and moving ahead in the future, I think we like it when we have a pretty strong hand involved with what’s being portrayed as opposed to someone coming in and making it worse.
You guys have spent quite a bit f time on the road and have covered some major ground in the process. What’s been some of the best and worst road foods while you’ve been out on tour?
I could tell you the best and worst simultaneously; that would be Taco Bell. It tastes amazing, but it doesn’t make your body or your bowels feel too fantastic. There’s this really small place in the UK that we like to go to called Quangs that has this Vietnamese soups that’s absolutely delicious and I can’t wait to go back there.
The Taco Bell answers comes up quite a lot in conversation and one band said they almost re-named their tour the Crack The Window Tour because it was so bad.
Our van smells like straight farts most of the time; it’s pretty ridiculous. Our tour manager and sound girl Holly is in the van with us most of the time and she always complains that it smells terrible. We eat Chipotle a lot, at least three times a week.
Last question! Here’s your chance to tell on the other guys if you want to. Which band member is most likely to miss the tour bus?
Honestly, it would be me, absolutely me because I value sleep above almost everything else. It’s a very dangerous competition between music and sleep with me on a regular basis. So, I’d be most likely to miss the bus because I would be asleep.
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