Hippo Campus is currently on tour supporting the Head and the Heart and will be stopping by the Santa Barbara Bowl on Friday, July 19. I caught up with Nathan Stocker (lead guitar/vocals) over the phone as he was preparing for a show at the Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina, talk about tour prep, new tech in songwriting, and what ambition means to him.
You guys are in the middle of a five-month tour. What’s your headspace like at this time? Is there anything you do to prepare yourself for touring for so long? A lot of P90X. A lot of cross fit. You got a lot of physical activity that you need to maintain the right headspace on the road. No that’s all bullshit. For the headspace, there’s nothing like waking up in a different city every day and there’s no amount of preparation that will make you feel comfortable with it entirely. I think that taking care of yourself as a human being, focusing on your mental health at home before you hit the road, surrounding yourself with the right people, not trying to overthink things, just enjoying life, being a part of the community…things like that.
I’ve heard you say that going on tour has generated some new songs for you guys in the past. Have you been struck by inspiration on this tour or do you make time to sit down and work on new stuff during down time? No, pretty much just focusing on executing these songs as best we can. The last record process took a lot out of us, so we are trying to reevaluate what the next album cycle is going to look like for us, both in terms of songwriting and the concept of an album. [We are] deciding what that looks like to us and how we want ourselves to be presented commercially, I guess.
With the latest album Bambi, you guys added more synths and programmed beats. How did that affect the composition of your guitar parts? How do you feel about the relationship between the Ableton and the neck ’n’ strings? Oh baby. Don’t talk to me about the neck ’n’ the strings my guy! Ableton is really nice for sketching. There are similarities across all instrumentation when it comes to writing a song, which is our number one goal as a band at the end of the day. We’ve never wanted to limit ourselves to one instrument at one time. I think there’s something to be said about doing one thing really well, but at a certain point you can’t get as much milk out of that utter. And that’s ok. You go on to something else; you integrate. I don’t think that in this day and age it is the worst thing to make use out of all the technological advances.
I don’t think that my affairs with guitars has been harmed in any way from that. There’s a lot of great guitarists out there utilizing digital workspaces. When it comes to production, that’s a whole other wonderful world where guitars can be experimented on in a completely different light. It’s a pretty exciting time. It’s also overwhelming.
You guys all met at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts studying music. How does this infiltrate your current sound? Are you ever tempted to bust out some technical music theory when making a record? [Laughs] I think at a certain point when we write a record you kind of just do it. You don’t want to overthink what inversion of a chord should go where, you just want to feel it out. We are much more concerned with the feeling of a song. That being said, music theory is pretty cool sometimes.
You’re only 24. You’ve accomplished a lot for being so young. Is where you are now fulfilling youthful ambitions? Have your ambitions grown? What goals remain unfulfilled? I’ve been very lucky to do what I’ve been able to do. A younger me always wanted to do this. In terms of my ambitions now I guess you keep on keeping on. You learn more and more about yourself. You learn more and more about the world. Especially as you travel and meet different people. Your perspective changes on who you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing pretty drastically and pretty quickly, at least from my vantage point. With that you can choose what you want to do.
I’m trying to figure out what ambition means to me. Not just in what I’m doing. But rather what makes me happy and what makes me want to crawl into a hole. I think figuring those things out as a human being are some of the most ambitious and, at the same time, some of the most profound things…I think if I end it there it sounds like I know what I’m talking about.
Would you talk a little bit about the bands philanthropic endeavors, specifically with the #metoo and gun control movements? Having some mild form of fame, using our platform to involve ourselves and the people who listen to our music with the matters of the world is kind of obligatory. The rest of the band and I come across a lot of hurt people on the road. Taking into consideration that our fan base is largely female I think that involves our decision making when it comes to doing any extracurricular activity. It’s really not that hard of a decision. I think the use of the internet has procured that energy all over the world from a bunch of different artists. A lot of good change has come out of that. We just want to be a part of it. We aim to create a stronger, healthier community back home in Minnesota and on the road. We’re just trying to be good humans.