“We had been just touring our faces off,” says guitarist and vocalist Nathan Stocker. “Luck of the draw, we were really privileged to be planning on taking 2020 off just to focus on writing and recording a record.”
He watched as peers who were ready to tour in support of their new releases had their plans cut short by the pandemic. Happily, Hippo Campus was not in that position.
“Our plan was just to chill out, because we were burned out," recalls Stocker. "We wanted to get back to why we were touring and why we were playing shows, and reassess the kind of music we wanted to make and where we were trying to draw inspiration from.”
Fans had been pressuring the group to release new music. But rather than put something out just for the sake of doing so in this age of content overload, the bandmembers wanted to take their time and make something good. Stocker says the group's new EP, the just-released Good Dog, Bad Dream, took about a year to record.
“We’ve [also] been working on a full-length album for about a year, really diving inside and examining ourselves and our relationship to what we do,” he adds.
The band mostly worked without a producer on the EP, recording in its Minneapolis studio.
“That was refreshing as well,” Stocker notes. “Taking away the filter was refreshing for us.”
While the new EP refers back to the band’s earlier work, including 2018’s Bambi, the new tracks, which have a darker sense of humor, more fully represent Hippo Campus’s current sound. One song even name-checks Britney Spears, and ties the drama she’s had to go through to lead singer Jake Luppens’s own experiences.
Stocker likes putting out EPs because it takes some of the pressure off when creating new music. Not every release needs to make a big, overly long statement on “life and shit," he says, nor does every one need to be a full-length album, when an EP can be just as enriching to people’s lives.
Although Hippo Campus has a recognizable sound, its members have progressed sonically over their relatively short career. Stocker sees the forthcoming album, which doesn't yet have a release date, as the band's most mature work.
“We look at this EP, and kind of all our EPs, as artisanal cocktails,” he says. “They're like the charcuterie boards before the main course. I think this new album was just super realized and confident. It was honest. The sonic progression as well as the artistic and songwriting style — there’s a whole other world coming with the album that I’m excited for people to take part in.”
Hippo Campus has not played live in recent months. The band's next gig is the Water Is Life benefit, which takes place on August 18 in Duluth and will raise funds for activists opposing the Line 3 oil pipeline, which would carry crude oil and tar-sand oil from Alberta, Canada, to Wisconsin.
“It’s scary shit,” Stocker says, mentioning that Minnesota's skies, like Colorado's, are choked with smoke from climate change-fueled wildfires in California.
Stocker has yet to go to a show as a spectator this year; he generally avoids concerts. But he's nonetheless excited to return to the stage — and he's looking forward to playing again in Colorado, where the band has performed at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in recent years.
But when Hippo Campus plays, don't expect a buttoned-up concert.
“We're more of a party than a band,” Stocker says. “I encourage [people] to come with an open mind. Or not. It’s up to them.”
The Westword Music Showcase takes place September 17 and 18 in the RiNo Art District. Hippo Campus plays the main stage on Saturday, September 18, at the Mission Outdoors. For tickets, go to westwordshowcase.com. For more about the band, visit Hippo Campus online.