Hippo Campus, an indie rock band hailing from St. Paul, MN, recently had their tour photographer, Brittany O'Brian, document their cross-country tour of the US in promoting their newest album Bambi with our Lomo'Instant Wide. We sat down with the band in October before they played to a sold out crowd at Terminal 5 in NYC to discuss their latest release and music's relationship to art.
Hi! Can you all introduce yourselves and tell us something about the band?
Zach: Hi, I'm Zach! Our band name is Hippo Campus and we all met in high school.
Jake: I'm Jake and I'm the fun one.
Nathan: My name is Nathan and I like to party.
DeCarlo: I'm DeCarlo and I'm new here.
Whistler: I'm Whistler and I also like to party.
Nathan: There's only one of us who can party. I already party.
Your sophomore album Bambi was released at the end of last month. It seems darker than your first album Landmark. What led to this musical evolution and were you nervous about how your fans would react to your new sound?
Zach: 2018 was hard. 2017 was hard. 2016 was fun. But we spent a lot of 2017 touring, and since Landmark, we've learned a lot about our process and a lot about ourselves and each other. When it came time to writing more music, we had explored different ways of creating. We used to all be in a room with guitars and we stepped away from that and started producing the songs first, constructing them. That led to the evolution, but in more real terms, I was facing anxiety and we were going through a lot of personal changes in our relationships. Those themes made there way into the album which made it a little bit darker than Landmark.
Whistler: I would like to think to a certain extent we were kind of nervous. You're always nervous to release new stuff because you never know. You get in the mindset of "This is it! Make or break!" With it being such a different album, it was kind of a stretch for us to go the way we did. It was definitely a nerve-wracking thing. But I would like to say that we all trusted ourselves and believed that it would be received in a good way.
Technically speaking, what was it like making this record?
Jake: We started each idea with an instrument and a vocal, which we hadn't done in the past. With this record, we would write the songs and then when we'd go to record them, strip them back to the vocal and whichever instrument was the most crucial. We tried to make sure that the chords and lyrics were the most important part of the process for us, that everything else was just additions.
You recently kicked off your headlining tour earlier this month. What does a typical day on tour look like for you guys?
Whistler: Sleep until 1...
Zach: Kinda depends on who you ask. Generally, Jake and I are the late risers. Breakfast and then soundcheck not long after that. Then we usually get some food and play the show. It's pretty easy if you let it be. We usually see friends in the town that we're in. We've been trying to write a little bit on the bus because we have the room to do that and the skill set to do that better than we used to. You can let your day be really easy and just play the show, but that's what I've been doing because I like it.
Whistler: There's a lot of hours where we just don't do anything. Most hours actually. You can try to take advantage of that like Zach was saying, write some tunes and be productive.
DeCarlo: I try to bike in the mornings. But I didn't bike today. I woke up too late.
Whistler: We're usually up pretty late until around 2 or 3.
Zach: We've been watching a lot of Harry Potter.
Whistler: We've gotten through the first five. Half-Blood Prince maybe tonight?
Zach: A lot of tour is figuring out how to take care of yourself. Stay healthy. Harry Potter helps.
What's your favorite part of being on tour?
Whistler: Harry Potter.
Zach: Playing the shows.
Nathan: That's why we're out here. Without the shows, it'd just be like "Bring me home! It's been fun!" There are moments when all of us are on the same page, offstage sometimes when we're just hanging out. Those are good moments for me. I like those.
Especially on social media, you guys seem to have a good idea of your branding and aesthetic. How important is the relationship between music and visuals to you and where do you pull influences from?
Zach: Another guy that we met in high school, David Kramer, does all of our album art, cover designs, tour posters, and whatever else we need. He is pretty much the main creative vision behind all of that stuff. We have ideas sometimes, but he executes them and does everything. Music has a pretty special relationship with aesthetics. It can bring the music into this other world that it wouldn't be in without it. Alabama Shakes did a great job with that on their last record. It wasn't heavy-handed graphic design, and if it wasn't as simple as it was, it would be a different record to me.
Nathan: This Will Destroy You had a really great aesthetic with their album Another Language that we kind of pulled from.
Whistler: I think we're all visual people. I think we all have a desire to make that something that flows really well with our music.
Jake: With Bambi, I think it was the first record where we focused on what colors we wanted to bring to the table before the record was even done. We started coming up with ideas and worked with David early on on what colors we were starting to see. Then those colors reflected themselves in the music and it all came together.
Nathan: The question of "Is this a daytime record to you guys or a nighttime record to you guys?" We went back and forth on that a little bit. If the background had been a bright color, it would be a completely different sounding album.
Other than the tour, what exciting things do you guys have coming up?
Zach: Are we doing a Friendsgiving? We're just taking the holidays off as we usually do and writing a bunch. Music, music, music. That's exciting I guess.
DeCarlo: I have a residency with my jazz trio. It's at this restaurant called Hodges Bend. Pop up in there and hop on trumpet when I get back home.
Whistler: I'm going to try to figure out how to record drums in my room during winter break.
For people looking to start a band or get into music, what words of wisdom would you offer them?
Whistler: Don't do it.
Jake: Nope. Not that.
Whistler: Try to find people that you love hanging out with and can spend time with outside of playing music. I'm sure it's doable to create bands with people who aren't your best friends, but it is a key thing to be able to jam and then step out of the room and be able to hang out.
Jake: Never let anyone dull your sparkle.
Zach: For how cliché that is, it's actually so true. On our first ever outing on tour, we were at Jake's cousin apartment in Austin, TX for SXSW. Her roommate did this (no offense) terrible home decor that she painted herself. The gesture was sweet and she had one that said: "Never let anyone dull your sparkle" with glitter and everything and we stole it from her apartment. That became our mantra for a good long while. For how cheesy it was, it does have some truth to it. When we started this, we had the confidence because we were in an art school and we were friends supporting each other. We knew it's what we wanted to do and we just kept doing it. It's focusing on that thing on the horizon while having the confidence to do it, and the ignorance. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have a certain amount of confidence, but I'd feel completely different about it.
Whistler: Finishing things is really important. You can start anything and get halfway through it, but you're not really doing any good unless you finish something.
Zach: Except for practice. You can never finish practicing.
Purchase tickets to their upcoming shows here.