West Coast flavor meets Midwestern charm with indie-rock group Hippo Campus. Often compared to Phoenix or Vampire Weekend, their sound is nothing short of fun. It’s tempting to scream out every joyfully angsty lyric of their althit “Suicide Saturday,” a song that helped build the band’s exposure after they played it on Conan last March.
A foursome of teen heartthrobs hailing from the Twin Cities, the boys of Hippo Campus epitomize the “Bro, let’s make a band” stereotype. The difference? They actually had the talent and dedication to become successful. After graduating from a performing arts high school in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the group decided they were done with classes and homework.
“Being in a band is like college, but you spend all of your time in a van and sleep in hotel rooms,” frontman Jake Luppen says.
“And you make money,” bassist Zach Sutton adds, the inverse of his and Luppen’s experience during their short-lived enrollment at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
Their big break began with a national tour, where they opened for Walk the Moon in early 2015. By summer, Hippo Campus was on their own, headlining smaller clubs and playing a handful of festivals. “Rolling Stone” even named them “Best Newcomers” at Lollapalooza. After seven months on the road, the boys’ tour made it to Des Moines’ Vaudeville Mews.
The venue’s 200-plus capacity is packed near to its limit. A small but dedicated fan base tries to drown out Luppen on the mic, screaming along to nearly every lyric of their debut EP, “Bashful Creatures,” which dropped in February.
Only one-fourth of Hippo Campus is of legal drinking age, yet they have already established a persona and a dynamic—both as a group and as individuals. It shines through on stage.
Whistler Allen fills the drummer archetype— quiet as a person but indispensible on the kit. Guitarist Nathan Stocker personifies a quiet intelligence, opening his mouth only when he deems necessary. Through his hair, he focuses only on his guitar strings, his eyes rarely leaving the instrument or the mic in front of him. Sutton is the unofficial leader of the ragtag foursome off-stage, known as “the hype man.” On-stage, however, it’s Jake Luppen’s show.
“Yo, that was pretty tight, yeah?” Luppen asks the audience after the opening number.
He bounces around the stage, his mouth never more than an inch from the mic despite the fact that his feet are rarely in contact with the floor. His unkempt hair slowly deflates with sweat as the night wears on until it’s falling into his eyes— not that he cares.
The group has bigger concerns. “It’s all about creating for us,” Sutton says. “We’re coming up on a break over the winter where we’ll be able to chill and write some music, which is what we’re really itching to do.”
Despite long nights on the road, the band managed to find some time to squeeze in writing. Their second EP, “South,” was released in October.
“It’s all about balance,” Stocker says. “We can’t overwork ourselves, but at the same time, we want to go back out and do stuff.”
Whether the boys from Minnesota ever make it to sold-out headlining tours, they won’t be forgotten by the adoring fans in the front row, Snapchatting Luppen’s face just inches from their own. Those pictures may be gone in a matter of seconds, but Hippo Campus’ indie vibes resonate long after leaving Des Moines.