Hippo Campus, a five-piece indie rock band renowned for its laidback sound, is embracing the complicated world of young adulthood. Originally a four-piece, the band was started in 2013 by childhood friends Jake Luppen (vocals, guitar), Nathan Stocker (vocals, guitar), Whistler Allen (drums), and Zach Sutton (bass). That these four friends decided to form a band comes as no shock—they attended the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, a public high school devoted to the arts, where they all studied music. This is also where they met the band’s fifth and final member who joined the group a few years after its genesis, DeCarlo Jackson (trumpet).
Though it would be a number of years between the band’s formation and the release of their first full-length studio album, their independently-released debut EP, Bashful Creatures (2014), quickly caught the attention of the industry. They signed with Grand Jury Records and the following years saw a string of EPs and singles that created a solid buzz around the band. They made appearances at iconic festivals like Lollapolooza and SXSW, as well as on Conan. By the time the band released their debut album, Landmark, in 2017, the acclaim they’d developed helped make the record an immediate success. Its lead single, “Boyish,” earned the band a spot on NPR’s Favorite New Artists of 2017 while its second single, “Way It Goes,” was performed during their second Conan appearance. The band’s success has only continued to grow with each subsequent release, as has their confidence in their own musical identity.
When discussing their music-making process in a 2014 interview with Interview Magazine, Luppen said, “We definitely get inspiration from seeing people have a good time at our shows. The more fun it is to listen to, the more we want to write it. That’s a blueprint for our music.” While this attitude makes sense, especially for up-and-coming musicians, the years have matured the band’s outlook. Their latest album is called LP3 and while its sound certainly aligns with that of their previous records, it is also a clear evolution from their earlier work, evidenced not only by the music itself, but by the band’s new views on making music. In their most recent artist bio, they say, “What Hippo Campus wanted with LP3 was something all five of them could agree on, the way they’d made music in the early days of the band. As their profile grew, they found themselves compromising on their visions, thinking about how fans would interact with their music, and plagued by an unsustainable industry ecosystem. Now, they just wanted unity.”
LP3 delivers just that. Though it’s as youthful and easygoing as the records that preceded it, the band’s latest album is their most experimental. The production oscillates from lo-fi (opening track “2 Young 2 Die”) to polished (final track “Understand”), while the lyrics are at once simple and profound. The eclectic sonic and thematic nature of the album add to its overarching thesis, which is about young adulthood—a messy, fun, bittersweet time when one’s identity doesn’t feel ill-defined, but rather is constantly being redefined. The band calls the album “a study in the nuances of growing up — coming to terms with mortality, the confusing journey of sexuality, bottoming out, seeing decisions from the night before in the harsh morning light; finding your identity as a person and as an artist — how that can be a collision of elation and shame, painful and joyful all at once. LP3 marks a sort of ego death — and ultimately feeling okay with that.”
No longer laden with the pressure to appeal to any particular person or crowd outside themselves, the freedom and authenticity in this album are its greatest attributes. Hippo Campus tells us, “Culture isn’t shaped by the artists, musicians, labels, rather, the masses that consume them and their work. All we can hope to control are the aspects of producing the work itself. Genre is irrelevant to us.”
To get lost in the band’s fuzzy, feel-good melodies and catchy lyrics, grab a pass to Roots N Blues Festival, where they will perform on Friday, October 7th: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/.