A Q&A with Nathan Stocker of Hippo Campus
by Shannon Pires (Music Industry), published September 14th 2016
Hippo Campus, hailing from St. Paul, Minnesota, has taken the indie world by storm. Consisting of lead vocalist and guitarist Jake Luppen, lead guitarist and vocalist Nathan Stocker, bassist Zack Sutton and drummer and vocalist Whistler Allen, this indie band met at a performing arts high school and since then haven’t looked back. From SXSW to Lollapalooza, Red Rocks, Leeds and Conan, these four guys have traveled the world sharing their colorful riffs and catchy melodies. While stopped in Boston on their June tour, Tastemakers had the opportunity to sit down with Nathan Stocker of the band to discuss nicknames, life on the road and what’s next for Hippo Campus.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): So the first question I have to ask you is about your nicknames, where did those come from?
Nathan Stocker (NS): Our nicknames. Well, there is an initiation process that we have to go through in the gang we belong to back home and it involves murder. The nicknames come from our first victims. So it’s mostly descriptions of how they died. Beans, he was drowned via beans. I think the man that Zack killed was from Finland. I gave my guy a good set of stitches. He needed them.
TMM: Sounds pretty intense.
NS: Yeah, it’s just a little fun we like to have with how we do things and they’re always changing. We’re always adding [more] based on our victims. So that’s the gist of it.
TMM: So tell me about your start musically.
NS: Yeah, I grew up with music in my household, and my grandfather was a big forerunner in that. I think I didn’t really begin studying music until high school until we moved back to Minnesota. I was enrolled at the performing arts high school, so from there it just kind of felt like something I needed to do, you know? Obviously, I liked it, and I wanted babes, so I started playing guitar, but there was a sort of inside calling I guess to pursue that and so I did, and I met the other guys there. Bing, bang, boom.
TMM: So you mentioned you just wanted to start the band for fun, when was the point where you were like yes, we got this, let’s just keep running with it?
NS: I think there is always that hidden motive when starting any sort of project. It’s the desire to have it be something bigger than you can dream of, I guess. It was never really a conscious decision to pursue it full on. We were always doing that, but I think there were moments where we had to let go of other things that we had in our lives, because of the music that we were making; which is really interesting to go through, but that sort of just keeps happening you know. There’s not one singular moment where it’s like, “a-ha this is crazy.” it’s just a collection of those.
TMM: I would say you guys have a pretty distinct sound, tell me a little about your songwriting process.
NS: It’s all of us working together. The ideas initially start from one person, but we get in a group and sort of freeform it out and just jam on some ideas. So somebody brings something to the table, and we all work on it together.
TMM: Have you guys collaborated with anyone outside of the band?
NS: Not yet, not in terms of writing in Zack’s basement you know, but in the studio, it’s a really different experience. It’s kind of like writing, but it’s way more zoomed in, you know, everything is under the magnifying glass. So we have a producer that is working with us and at that point, it’s like having a fifth member of the band. We are all working on things together and even if the song is already written, or we thought it was written, but it needs to be changed. As far as the initial process of writing music, we haven’t really seriously collaborated with anybody. We have some friends from back home that we jam with every once in a while, but maybe something will happen, some rappers or something. That would be fun.
TMM: What are your favorite parts about life on the road?
NS: Usually just the unexpected things, the things I wasn’t looking for, ya know? Whenever I think of tour, besides shows because those are the best [so] that doesn’t count. I think being in the back of the van, reading a book, or not reading a book and just looking outside or something like that. I think there is really something sacred about the back of the van for me, and I’ve been looking to write about that a lot. I really like just the amount of work that has to be done on the road.
TMM: What do you think the highlights as a band have been so far?
NS: Shows wise, everything is so different. There could be a show where you expect it to be really crazy, a sold out crowd or something like that, and something just doesn’t click and you know it’s an off day or not everybody is on the same page. Then there is a show that ten people are at, and everything feels right, like everybody is into it, everybody is listening. So it’s kind of up and down, but live television was a pretty crazy thing. Being on Conan was a really amazing experience, Lollapalooza was dope, but there is also the heat of the moment of a house party. One of the first shows we played back home in Minnesota was a birthday party for our friend DeCarlo, and it was the third or fourth time we’ve played in front of people, and it was just amazing. Other than shows it’s just getting to know each other better, and I love the fact that I get to hang out with my three best friends. It’s really cool.
TMM: So you guys have released two EP’s so far, both really great, can we expect a full-length album?
NS: Yes, you can. It’s in the works. No dates right now, we don’t know [yet], but it’s probably going to be a full-length album. I can’t say too much about it, because it’s not quite a thing yet, but yeah we hope to get that out as soon as possible.
TMM: For those who don’t know you, how would you describe Hippo Campus?
NS: How would I describe Hippo Campus? I think Hippo Campus is something to be defined by words and listening to what we are making, but I think that for the sake of definition, Hippo Campus is just four dudes figuring everything out. We’re just trying to make sense of all of it, and it’s just an expression of four young innocent lads.