Twin Cities Heroes Hippo Campus Learn to Zen Out

Indie-rockers bounce back from burnout and return to the road
Hippo Campus
(Credit: Tonje Thilesen)

In the months leading up to the pandemic, the typically carefree dudes in Twin Cities-based indie-rock outfit Hippo Campus hit their breaking point. They’d been touring for more than six years straight, with no more than two-month breaks between shows at any given time. “We were straight-up burnt out,” guitarist Nathan Stocker admits, noting how in addition to the stress of the road, the band was also undergoing managerial changes and “navigating individual and personal relationships issues just trying to maintain just our health and get back to the essence of the band.”

As it turned out, “someone was clearly watching out for us,” lead singer Jake Luppen says, and while the pandemic was hardly anyone’s idea of an ideal situation, both Luppen and Stocker believe it was something of a blessing in disguise for Hippo Campus. Taking time away from the road for nearly all of 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic gave the band — which includes bassist Zach Sutton, drummer Whistler Allen and trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson — a fresh perspective on their craft. Now, “we’re doing three-week-long stints at most just to maintain that healthy brain,” Stocker notes of the band’s more relaxed upcoming tour schedule behind their wild new album, the aptly titled LP3.

Hitting refresh on their craft goes a long way in explaining why these days there’s an almost Zen-like attitude among the members of Hippo Campus. Yes, the five-piece band who meld sprightly synths with jangly guitar and Luppen’s falsetto, might make exuberant, funky rock music, and are unabashedly raucous in the live setting. But to hear Luppen tell it, having been a group for the better part of a decade, they’ve settled into, well, some semblance of adulthood.

“We’re holding on the loosest that we ever have,” he says calling in via Zoom from his Minneapolis home studio, laid back and mellow but always forthright throughout the conversation. “It seems like the less we care the better things turn out.”

They’re only in their early-20s, but Stocker notes how all five band members are “getting to an age where a couple of us have bought houses and we’re in serious relationships. Our priority now is to keep doing Hippo Campus as long as it’s fun and when it’s not fun we can take breaks and walk away.”

Walk away? Don’t tell that to their hordes of fans, particularly those in the Twin Cities, many of whom hold Hippo Campus up as something resembling hometown heroes thanks to the band’s relentless gigging and notoriously energetic live shows.

Hippo Campus
(Credit: Tonje Thilesen)

Because sure, Hippo Campus (who kick off a nearly sold-out North American tour today) may have released a trio of official studio albums to date, but listening to their whimsical aesthetic, it feels like the group is just now hitting its musical stride.

According to Stocker, with them learning to let go — putting less pressure on themselves to deliver the goods and care less about outsider perception — they’ve never been more creatively fulfilled as a band.

“We know ourselves more now than ever,” the shaggy-haired Stocker says via Zoom while sitting in his own Minneapolis home studio, backed by an arsenal of guitars draped on the wall behind him. “We’re no longer hitting refresh on the numbers page [for our music] or checking the comments. Because we’re not as obsessive about a public response as we used to be. That is just reflective of the amount of growth we’ve gone through and the work we’ve put in.”

The band started off as a quintet of St. Paul high schoolers back in 2013 and have since built a rabid grassroots fanbase leading to multiple world tours. But they view themselves as of a decidedly older generation – at least in terms of their music career.

Hippo Campus
(Credit: Tonje Thilesen)

“We came up at a very particular time,” Luppen explains. One that, he believes, no longer exists.

“We didn’t have to make TikToks or do all of the things my friends who are just starting their careers have to do now,” the singer recalls of the band’s salad days. “Our managers were telling us to tour our faces off. And I’m thankful we went about it that way because we built a live touring business which is rare. “

Looking to the future, Hippo Campus have never felt more at ease with where things stand. LP3, the two band members note, was the first time where they felt like the songwriting and recording process “was something we controlled ourselves and we weren’t behind hounded by the machine or the industry in any weird way,” says Stocker. “It was kind of like “Let’s just have fun and see what happens.”

Not a bad recipe for another decade in the game.

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