Posted on March 04, 2019

Interview

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, how are you?

Nathan: I am doing well. How are you?

# I’m great. It’s good to talk to you. I have lots of questions for you. First off, I already mentioned that you’re an indie band, but to be honest I hate having to try to label bands into particular genres. In your own words, what is your description of what Hippo Campus is?

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.

# Kinda pop, kinda rock and overall accessible?

Nathan: Yeah, I’d say so.

# You mentioned that you try to have a lot of fun on stage. As far as stage presence goes, what would you say are the ways that you make yourselves more accessible to the audience, especially to those who haven’t heard you before?

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.

# So it’s about being yourselves on stage, and being comfortable being yourselves around each other?

Nathan: Yeah. That’s a good way to sum it up.

# I read that the band was formed at the St. Paul Conservatory For Performing Arts in Minnesota. Obviously school plays a role in bringing people together, but for you, how did this band come together in the beginning?

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.

So what were those bands you were into?

Nathan: Bombay Bicycle Club, Little Comets and Last Dinosaurs.

# So, it all started with Bombay Bicycle Club?

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.

# A little surf rocky?

Nathan: Yeah, some surf stuff in there for sure. Some dream pop elements … Beach House were part of it as well...

# Wait, favorite Beach House album?

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

# I was going to say, the correct answer is ‘Teen Dream’. You failed this question. The interview is over now. Thanks for playing, game over.

Nathan: Hey, man. We can have differing opinions. It’s all good. It’s all good!

# Speaking of the experience of high school and making all these talented connections... Are there any other musicians or individuals in general that you remember making connections with outside of the band?

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.

# It’s funny you mentioned DeCarlo, as I wanted to ask…. How lucky do you feel to get one of the, like, 12 black people from Minnesota to join your band?

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.

# You said you played with him in a band before. Looking at what he did before he became a part of Hippo Campus and looking at what he does with the band now, what would you say is the biggest transition that came from you guys playing together over the years?

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.  

# Would you say his ability to help you push through when creating different songs is rooted in the musical talent that he has, or do you think that is more a part of the personal connection you guys have?

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.

# You dropped two EPs in 2015, then your first full-length in 2017, and things have continued to advance from there. What’s been the biggest change that’s come as the band has gained more popularity?

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.

# I want to talk about “Suicide Saturday” for a second, mostly because it’s my favorite song. It’s the first song I heard by Hippo Campus and I thought it was really dope. I feel like I am one among many people who were confused and believed the song was actually about suicide.

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.

# By social suicide I assume you mean isolation or just generally being bad with people? Was there something in particular that inspired this idea?

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.

# That explanation makes much more sense. When you listen to how catchy and how bright the song is, my initial interpretation of actual suicide doesn’t fit. But the idea of self-care and seperating yourself from the internet and from toxic people, that is definitely something that should be upbeat and catchy.

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.

# Your latest album “Bambi” features the addition of synths, and is in some ways a deviation from the original Hippo Campus ‘sound’. Was there something in particular that you were aiming for compared to what you were doing before?

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.

# I read elsewhere that “Bambi” has been described as more of a personal album. With that honesty you talk about in the songwriting, was there something in particular that made you want to go deeper into certain subjects?

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.

# There are things you talk about there, like that open emotional vulnerability (especially shared with male friends) and this way of writing songs about your relationships with people close to you. Would you say that those types of things are a big reason why women tend to love your music so much?

Nathan: I’m not sure. Our fan base is predominantly female. I’ve never really looked at it like that. That is interesting.

# Have you ever considered what types of things drive that support base? There are a lot of things, obviously. I read that you guys partnered with the Women's Foundation of Minnesota and shared proceeds of your merch sales with them. That will definitely do it …  

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.

# Awesome, I love blowing people's minds. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Speaking of shifting ideas of masculinity, being from Minnesota, you are required to put Prince above all, correct?

Nathan: I dunno. Technically I’m not from Minnesota. But yes, Prince is definitely like Jesus there.

# Do you have one of your own favorite Prince songs, Prince moments or a scene in “Purple Rain”?

Nathan: I have never even seen “Purple Rain”, dude.

# What are you doing! What do you mean?

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.

# Seeing as you guys are all friends and you have a really playful way of performing, is there one member of the band who is the biggest clown above anyone else?

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.

# Didn’t one of you guys kiss Whistler on the mouth while he was sleeping, then print the picture on a t-shirt?  

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.

# How often do you guys kiss Whistler when he is sleeping?

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.

# It’s on a t-shirt now, so it will be preserved forever.

Nathan: Yaeh. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.

# So, this month will be your first time in Korea. Is this something you have been looking forward to for a while? Do you have any expectations of Korea?

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?

# Yeah, it is pretty accurate. It’s a respect thing. You don’t have to do it with everyone, but yeah; it’s a respect thing.

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.

# Is there anything in particular that you love above all else when it comes to touring or travelling internationally?

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.

# I look at it in pretty much the same way. The interaction aspect of it, meeting people who have lived differently and finding that common ground.

Nathan: Totally. That is the point.

# Ok. I have one more question for you. What is up with this Polar Vortex?!?

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.

# Speaking of driving safe, being that you have lived in Minnesota and endured some winters there, how much do you hate it when people don’t know how to drive in the snow?

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.

# OK. That’s all the questions I have. We have more actually, but I don’t want to hold you up for too long. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

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!

https://www.highjinkx.com/shows/hippo-campus-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:

_____________________________________________________________

Interview: Anthony Baber
Edited: Rock N Rose
Korean Translation: YoonJi Lee
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For more information on Hippo Campus, check out the following links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thehalocline
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thehalocline
Instagram: http://instagram.com/thehalocline
Website: http://hippocampus.band/

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Hippo Campus

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