INTERVIEW: HIPPO CAMPUS
Most of us will unfortunately experience grief at some time in our lives. For me, it was relatively late in life when two years ago I lost someone very close to me. Before that point, I had some kind of idea of what grief might be like, formed mainly from films and books (Dumbledore’s death was a particular turning point), but nothing prepares you for the real thing. It hit me like a tidal wave; first the numbness, then the anger, the bargaining, then wave upon wave of all consuming sadness that eroded the front I put up for a long time afterwards. 24 months later, grief is more like a dripping tap, still with me every day, but overall more easy to stem the flow. Occasionally the wave rises up again – but that’s okay, that’s the nature of grief. Grief isn’t always sad. It’s laughing until you cry at a something funny you remembered or smiling at a familiar smell (mine is the smell of wooden fences when it’s hot outside). Sometimes grief is guilt, and that’s okay as well. Whilst many have tried, few musicians have been able to capture the many facets of grief without venturing into the morbid, yet one band who has done this brilliantly are Minnesota natives Hippo Campus. Their latest single ‘monsoon‘ elegantly compares grief to water, in its ability to give life and to take it away, and the many ways in manifests. I spoke to the band ahead of a huge UK and US tour early next year:
KM: Your new single ‘monsoon’ deals with the death of a family member, yet it is anything but morbid. What was the songwriting process like?
HC: Like mining. We were able to find a recently damp, low-lit space we’d never sat in before but there happened to be gold lying around. It was interesting to see, after the song was finished, all of the firsts that took place in the recording process, which was different than when the song was initially birthed. it was always supposed to have a slow pulse. With the lyrics, there may have been a faint trace of hesitancy because of the content being personal, but probably not.
KM: You’ve said in the past that this track deals with some of the unexpected reactions we have to death – particularly guilt. Did you find the writing of this track cathartic, or helpful in dealing with those feelings?
HC: Yes, it was a therapeutic experience, but not in terms of closure, or “dealing” with any specific feeling. The person is gone, but the relationship with that person still exists and needs work because of history and memory. the effect of that relationship is still implemented in one’s daily life, whether one knows it or not. A storm doesn’t happen once. it happens over and over again as we tend to the damage and the storm is remodelled as we change.
KM: Aside from the monsoon itself, there is lots of water imagery in this track. What is the significance of this in relation to the theme of death?
HC: Sometimes, when writing, it feels like another piece of the puzzle is placed on the table and the pieces end up belonging to nobody in particular. The puzzle is a machine that always needs finishing. There is no end; it just keeps changing and becoming different than what it previously was. Like water. Like grief. Water has the power to create and destroy -it gives life and takes it away.
KM: The track features heavily effected guitars with lots of reverb. Were those aspects of the production important in evoking the narrative of the song?
HC: Our relationship with reverb is sibling-like. The effect has always been there in our history as a band but nowadays we’re able to back off when we need to and give everything more sonic space instead of drenching the work in the substance of reverb. In regards to this song, we focused less on guitar lines and more on creating a texture with the instrument. There are multiple ambient guitar loops lying underneath the track that we’d consider more foundational than the top. Most, if not all, of the guitar work in the higher register was improvised and came with an attitude of, “well, sure, that works,” because the song was already there; the emotion and vibe was already there. It was nice not having to rely so much on guitars, which was another change in perspective we were able to acquire and utilize on this record.
KM: As well as the layered guitars, there are a lot of interesting textures in this song. How did you create the samples at the end of the track?
HC: It’s a sample of Jake (lead vocals/guitar) singing, “it should’ve been me,” into a splicer/sampler device called the OP-1 by Teenage Engineering. That particular section of the song inspired us early on during the recording process; hearing those words in different octaves and harmonies.
KM: The accompanying lyric video is very simple yet incredibly emotive. How did you come up with the idea of floating paper in water?
HC: Jake had the initial idea and it evolved into an ambiguous straddling between a “lyric video” and an actual “music video.” We had a friend of ours come over to shoot the video in Zach’s bathtub. simplicity is underrated.
KM: The other track on the AA-side release, ‘Boyish’ is completely different. Can you tell us what that track is about?
HC: ‘Boyish’ was a jam we had in our back pocket until July this last summer when we had some of our final recording sessions at Pachyderm studio. The lyrics are about the divorce of our parents and making your own path. Musically as well, i think we’re throwing a middle finger to past experiences and saying, “yo, i see you, i know you’re still here, but you are not going to rule me.” The song hits hard when we play it live, and we tried to capitalize on that energy in the recording.
KM: Do you think it’s important for an artist’s output to be as varied as yours?
HC: No, not necessarily. It all comes down to the “artist” and their work. There are people who pump out records like there’s no tomorrow, while simultaneously, there are those who spend years working on the same thing. These processes can change, as well – what’s important is the intention behind the work, but who are we to claim what’s important?
KM: You’re about to release your debut album ‘Landmark’. Does the album concern similar themes?
HC: A landmark gives direction. We’re still getting the lay of the land, but this album is a major component in mapping out our travels. The landmark is not one central idea, but the culmination of innumerable experiences, some more pronounced than others. When we’re out on the road playing shows every night, our ability to spot that coffee shop down the street or the glowing neon of the bar next door to the venue is key in knowing where we are and those places are vivid when we remember show experiences. There’s a song by Listener that goes, “we only have what we remember,” and that has been a pressing concern for our experiences on the road, as well as the overall pressure presented to and embraced by youth culture – make memories, create landmarks.
KM: How are you preparing for your upcoming UK/US tour?
HC: Obscene amounts of video game time, microwave-ables…mostly staying inside because of the weather over here in the north. We’ll be practicing a lot. We still have to figure out how to play these songs in a live setting and how our on-stage performance is going to be.
KM: How does playing in the UK compare to the US?
HC: Just like the US, we’ve had good and bad experiences at UK shows. Our time at Reading and Leeds was a stand out – the fans there seemed to be keen on paying money for the live show experience instead of going to a festival to watch shows through a smartphone screen. Some festivals in the US that we’ve played have been quite the opposite. Is it a sign of the times or the human condition?
KM: I would suggest it’s a mixture of both. It sounds like 2017 is going to be a big year for you. Are you excited?
HC: Excited that we have a lot of work to do. Thankful that we get to do it.
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