What is fascinating and undoubtedly the most appealing thing about Hippo Campus, a four-piece indie band from Minnesota is that their youthful, undefined vibe doesn’t have to translate into “relatability” if you don’t want it to.
They describe experiences like divorce and the death of a family member in their songs, so identifying with these types of situations is always an option for the listener. However, it’s just as easy for listeners to lose themselves in the warm choruses and instrumentals the band creates without having to think too hard about anything else. Lyrics are strung together in bits and pieces, creating vivid images like “Wisconsin pines collaborating with the day glow vibes” before floating away into vocabulary and poetic ideas that stick out but seem to be left purposely ambiguous.
I suppose the obvious answer to defining who an artist is stems from the unique type of experience the artist creates when people listen to their music. With Hippo Campus, I think the overall “experience” of their music is more important than directing their creative process into the stuff that other acts might spend more time focusing on. The clarity of lyrics, for example.
Hippo Campus guitarist/vocalist Nathan Stocker addresses the experience of people seeing them perform live, acknowledging that “I guess we want to draw people into being present and being where we are right now. Just looking at things from the perspective that this can't be saved and that this is all going to go away once everybody leaves the building so we just savour it.
We want people to be able to enjoy themselves however they want to but from our perspective it's much more enjoyable and sort of a cohesive experience if people are engaging with their bodies instead of these things you know?”
He points at my phone.
Besides being it due time for Hippo Campus to release a longer work, their album was definitely at times a difficult process for the band. A “lot of back and forth and a lot of reworking of things” tricked the band into thinking the album was done four or five times. Relationships within the band got dicey because everyone was “so tired and exhausted on these ideas.”
One of the main problems stemmed from the fact that for Hippo Campus, moving from one idea to the next is easy and the hard part is refining ideas: “We write pretty quickly so it's kind of difficult to stick to one thing for a really long time because we were always jumping around and having different ideas and stuff like that so trying to wrap our heads around being dedicated to one space at one time is still a learning process.”
“Is there something that you want people to know that just never comes up in interviews?” I asked Nathan.
He ponders for a moment. “Usually like I want people to ask about my love life or what I have for breakfast or something. I don't know”, he muses, before going on to say: “I don't know I always feel weird about having things to say or feeling like I want to say something–I don't have the confidence to be like yeah I have stuff to say about this. I have no idea, we’re just kids, we don't really know what we're doing. Human stuff I guess?”
He eventually settles on a question: “Are you happy maybe?”
I ask him to elaborate.
“I know what enjoyment is. I know what fun is. I know that happiness is temporary so it's kind of like a weird question? It's like am I constantly happy? Well, no. It becomes like, what brings you happiness?”
It’s no mystery that Hippo Campus has enjoyed a fair amount of opportunities since they released their first singles in 2014. A simple Google search will tell you about the band’s accomplishments so I won’t list them here.
But, as Nathan mentions before we end the interview, “When people ask what’s it like to sell out this show and have the success we've had, the opportunities that we’ve had. It's like well, yeah, you could have less with these things but I’m still like anybody else. I’m thankful as hell. It’s great. I'm still figuring life out.”
Hippo Campus is currently on tour and you can check if they'll be performing in your city here.