It was the dawn of summer, high school had just ended, and the next chapter in life was about to begin. In the basement of a Twin Cities suburban home, recent graduates were dancing, sweating, and removing their clothes as they celebrated their youth and the start of new beginnings. The night was emotional, though, as the end of high school meant the end of an era. Through juxtaposed feelings and the anxiety of taking on future challenges, radiated, “This is our home, this is our only way home,” through the speakers as Hippo Campus performed their song, “The Halocline” for the first time. It was a definitive moment that felt immortal, because as one thing was ending, something special was just beginning.
Hippo Campus, the four piece indie rock band consisting of Whistler Allen (drums), Jake Luppen (vocals, rhythm guitar), Zach Sutton (bass), and Nathan Stocker (lead guitar) experienced a whirlwind of a year in 2015 as they left their home in Minnesota to spend the year touring the U.S. and U.K., opening for the likes of The Mowgli’s, Walk the Moon, and Modest Mouse. The band played a number of festivals including Lollapalooza and Made in America, and even performed at legendary venues like Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater. Their music sounds like danceable youthful, buoyancy, fused with tasteful, honest cynicism – the unease of facing adulthood and the embrace of youth’s recklessness– exploring the joys and struggles of adolescence, the power of brotherhood, and what it means to find a home. The band first came to be just a few short years ago at their Twin Cities performing arts high school, which is where they found their sound, the themes for their first two EPs, and a quintessential home. “When we started writing music together, it was pretty easy to take inspiration from this place we all got together at,” said guitarist Nathan Stocker. “The school that we went to was a really cool environment. There was a lot of ambition and friendships that still last today, and that was what home was to us,” he said, “this inspiration we found in our friends and the school we were going to in the heart of Minnesota.” He said, “I felt like I owed it to this place and I think we all felt the sort of desire to commemorate our love for this place – this place that we call home.” Stocker said, “We all huddled around this fire we found between the four of us. I think we all bonded over this new thing that was born.”
The band was established at an emotional time in their lives– high school had just ended and the future seemed unclear. Something was within arms reach, but it was hard to tell exactly what that was. It was like the halocline, like the misconception of a layer of air found beneath the water; swimming to the surface to find what it is you have been searching for, to find room to breath. “Because it was at the end of high school, anything anybody talks about is what you’re going to do afterwards– the end of a thing that’s coming up and you have to plan it out, but no matter how much you plan, I don’t think it goes according to that plan,” said Stocker. “Your life sort of has a mind of its own and you don’t get to know what it is until you’re in it. The halocline was a pretty vivid metaphor for us, a pretty vivid symbol for that.” He said among the band they felt, “that feeling of, ‘Okay, I can see this thing, I’m not going to know what it is though until its here and until I’m in it” and that was what the halocline meant to them. “Nothing is ever as it seems and it was pretty easy to relate that to growing up at that time,” he said. That thing they were reaching for, the halocline, it seems as if they may have found it in terms of reaching musical success, having signed to a label, released two EPs and spent the past year playing shows beyond their home of Minnesota. Despite the struggle of being away from the place that made them and the often-disregarded pain of being on the road, Hippo Campus discovered “that there is a bit of home to be found no matter where you are.” Stocker said, “There’s a number of different towns and cities that we visited over the year where I felt similar things– this similar sort of contentment in different places, the feeling of being okay, [like] this is a different place, but I feel like I’ve been here before.”
“It’s like each of these cities sort of reach out and take a chunk our of you and then they hold onto it for as long as they want, and I think that is what home really is, me being a slave to some place,” said Stocker. “Though the concept of home is not what they are still writing about, Stocker said, it “is a big part of our identity, finding a home,” and a home they did find, in and outside the place up north where the grass is green and trees are plenty, and in a brotherhood established among one another. Based on Hippo Campus’ experience, it seems home may not just be a physical house, but rather, a number of places and feelings; whether it is that place someone grew up in, the places they find on their own, or even the relationships they establish with other human beings– home can always be found. 1550 bodies filled the venue. They sang along to every word and danced to every beat. The stage lights felt heavy, but the feeling of love felt light. Several years after Hippo Campus filled a suburban basement, they successfully sold out the legendary First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. After a year of touring across the U.S. and the U.K., they had returned to the place where they grew up, to their home. The band closed out their set with a performance of “The Halocline,” and in that moment, Stocker said it was like “the closing of a chapter… well there we go.” Now, they are ready to embark onto the next piece of their story, whatever that may be. In just a few short years time, the flame they had lit grew to a fire. With a debut album in the works, the four young Minnesotan boys of a St. Paul suburb hold the future in their hands. It is inevitable that the fire they found among one another is going to keep on burning, and if they haven’t truly reached the halocline quite yet, they certainly will.