A conversation with Hippo Campus


Samantha Weideman

Jake Luppen (L) and Zach Sutton (R) answer questions at Hinterland Festival. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

This year’s Hinterland Music Festival, held Aug. 2 through Aug. 4 in St. Charles, Iowa, featured nationally-recognized artists such as: Hozier, Kacey Musgraves, Maggie Rogers and Brandi Carlile. Among those in the extensive lineup was Hippo Campus, a five-member indie band based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. I asked Jake Luppen, vocalist and guitarist, and Zach Sutton, vocalist and bassist, about their recent album and tour. Read their responses below.

Answers edited for length and clarity.

SW: You guys have said in the past that Bambi is a more vulnerable album, and you just released two demo albums, which kind of showed the process of how you got to Bambi. In and of itself, that was also very vulnerable. Do you plan to make or release more albums with that level of vulnerability?

Jake Luppen: Yeah, I think with every album, we should kind of move into that space more with the songs being more personal and vulnerable.

Zach Sutton: Yeah, I mean, I think we all value, as a band, music that is honest, that isn’t compromising in emotional terms, or musical terms.

Hippo Campus frontman Jake Luppen performs. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

SW: In most of your interviews, and again just now, you’ve stressed the importance of being vulnerable. Who do you credit for instilling that value in you?

ZS: Our parents, I think. On a musical note, probably just our favorite bands speaking up. There’s this band called Little Comets out of the UK. I would call them activists, but they write a lot of music about domestic violence, about the politics in the UK and the U.S., so I look to them for a lot of that stuff.

JL: Yeah. I think our friends have been inspirational in that way, too. We went to an arts high school, so a lot of the people we around were committed to the arts and were more vulnerable than your classic high school boys that call you ‘gay’ and beat you up for sharing your emotions.

ZS: We were those- we got called that in middle school.

JL: Yeah, totally. But, yeah, it was just a really nurturing environment. So we could thank our friends.

SW: Do you credit them as your inspiration for working with nonprofits?

ZS: Yeah.

JL: I think our fans to a certain degree, too. We base a lot of who we partner with off of our fan base. And, I mean, I follow a lot of them on Twitter, and I see that they’re very passionate about these issues. Any way that we can use our platform to help them is great. It’s our responsibility, I guess.

SW: I know you have worked with Planned Parenthood, various animal shelters, the Women’s Foundation in Minnesota and Everytown for Gun Safety among other things. What nonprofits would you like to work with in the future?

ZS: That’s a good question. Didn’t we just sign up for one? It’s escaping me, I’m sorry.

JL: ACLU, right?

ZS: Yeah. Doing ACLU on the next tour, but, I mean, the organizations that we’ve partnered with are the topics that we feel are pressing. With the political situation today, especially Planned Parenthood, especially HeadCount, getting people to vote and getting people to understand—

JL: Election year is coming up. The more people we can get out to vote, the better. Yeah, Planned Parenthood is great. We’d partner with them again, for sure.

SW: Switching gears a little bit: you’ve played around with some new sounds in your most recent albums and stepped away from the sound you had in your earlier albums. What sounds would you like to explore in the future?

JL: I think we want to take another hard-left turn. We haven’t done that much writing for it, so it’s hard to know exactly what we’re going to make it. But in my mind, I want to kind of move far away from the electronic things we’ve done in the past two records. And I feel like we’ve kind of pushed that vibe as far as it could go. So, I want to go to something more live band-oriented to a certain degree. Maybe similar to our EPs, but just like, better songs.

Jake Luppen and Zach Sutton. Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

ZS: I think the biggest difference, from start to finish, is the way that we choose to write songs because at every juncture it’s been a different process. We used to write songs in a room, then we wrote songs separately, then we wrote songs on computers. Now we’re just gonna try to find a different way to write and that’ll influence the way they’ll sound obviously.

JL: I think like a more collaborative– the last record was very kind of individual. Like you said, it was very personal, you know, people are bringing individual songs. I think with this one, we want to write more collaboratively.

ZS: Well said.

JL: Thank you.

ZS: Thank you.

SW: That was actually my next question, so, thank you.

ZS: You’re welcome.

SW: You played at Red Rocks for the fourth time very recently—fourth and fifth, right?

ZS: Third and fourth.

SW: Can you describe that experience? Does it get better each time you play? Is it the same?

JL: This, I think, like the third show was the most comfortable I had ever been at Red Rocks, which was great. I felt like we finally were able to deliver a show at Red Rocks without, like, the fear. I don’t know. Sometimes with those bigger shows, you can never enjoy them as much as you want to because you’re spending most of the time trying not to be, like, afraid or trying to just kind of conquer your fear, or the pressure of the situation. This past time, I just felt very comfortable and it felt awesome, honestly.

ZS: I was lucky enough to go see a show at Red Rocks prior to touring and then eventually playing there. So I think having that precedent or having that experience of being a fan, a consumer at that venue, made it something, I don’t know, a little bit more monumental. We were talking to some other people who had never been to the venue but only played it and they were kind of dissenting of the popular opinion that is Red Rocks. So I’m happy that I got to see a show there before playing there.

JL: I still think it’s, like, the best venue in the U.S.

ZS: Yeah. Hands down. Omaha has a long way to go.

SW: On this tour, you went overseas. What time is this for touring overseas?

ZS: We’ve been to the UK about 10 times. And this was our second or third European thing. And then we went to Australia and Korea and Thailand for the first time.

SW: You mentioned that nervousness. Did that kind of resurface when you play Leeds?

JL: No.

ZS: No. The UK is a real tricky nut. The first couple times we were there, it was like, “Oh, what is this?” and then we quickly understood.

JL: The most recent time we played Reading and Leeds was actually pretty great. It was around this time last year. Yeah, it was sick. I don’t– it’s not the same as Red Rocks.

ZS: It’s a great festival. It’s just very British, you know? Take that however you want to take that.

SW: You have a couple of months off before you go back on the road. What’s in the plans? What’re you planning on doing?

ZS: A little bit of, you know, R&R. Doing some vacationing, seeing friends around the country, around the world.

JL: Yeah, let’s go to some therapy in there, you know, gonna physically get the body in better shape, you know, after beating it to death for a year. Body and mind. Travel a little bit.

ZS: Maybe write. Hopefully write some songs.

JL: Write some songs. Maybe see a movie. Hang with my family who I haven’t seen. Hang out with my rabbit who I haven’t seen.

SW: What movies are you excited to see?

ZS: Oh, A24 just released the trailer for the Lighthouse, or whatever it’s called, with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. That looks sick.

JL: Oh, wait, Dora the Explorer.

ZS: Lost City of Gold.

JL: Should be pretty good. Live-action. I’m pretty sure there’s got to be another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie coming out eventually.

ZS: We’re all on the edge of our seats. This is just a rumor, but there’s talks of a live-action Bee Movie coming to—

JL: Isn’t there another Avatar movie coming out here pretty soon?

ZS: Allegedly.

JL: There’s like four of them. Yeah, there’s, like, four more Avatar movies.

ZS: All the Avenger movies, or sorry, Marvel movies. So stupid.


ZS: Yeah, RIP.

SW: What are you listening to now?

JL: Just bumping that new Clairo album on the way down here really put me in a mood. It’s very good, but it’s just sad.

ZS: I just got put on to this country playlist. It’s kind of, like, old– I don’t know what you call it. It’s like pop country. It’s like old pop country. Like John Anderson. Exile. Some old Dolly Parton. Who else? There’s Willie Nelson. All this, like, old classic country and I’m like, feeling the yee haw this summer.

SW: Was that before or after you picked up the cowboy hat?

ZS: After. So yeah, it’s manifested itself.


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you bet your damn right i am. @britobrien

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JL: Dress for the job you want—

ZS: Exactly. Not the job you have.

SW: What was the last song that made you cry?

JL: I saw Tame Impala other day and they played “Eventually” and I did cry just a little.

ZS: Really?

JL: Yeah. A couple tears.

ZS: I wasn’t listening to music the last time I cried.

JL: Oh that? More recently.

ZS: This morning, just when I woke up.

JL: Right before this interview.

ZS: Okay, the last live performance that I cried at was– don’t hate me– It was Atmosphere. It was “Sunshine.” The song is very important to me and I didn’t expect to cry, I just– they started playing it and then the tears, they came, and I said, “Ah, I didn’t expect this.”

JL: “Sunshine, sunshine.”

ZS: “Feel it on my skin. Warming up my mine.” Sometimes you just gotta let it out.

SW: I asked my friends what they wanted to know, so here’s a fun one: What’s your favorite yogurt flavor?

ZS: We love fun ones.

JL: I’m allergic to dairy.

ZS: That’s not true. You ate cheese—

JL: Alright, okay. I did eat cheese today. Non-dairy, like the non-dairy coconut dream yogurt thing.

ZS: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

JL: So Delicious is the name of it. Check it out.

ZS: Definitely, like, a peach man myself. Chobani.

SW: Jake, since you’re not really a dairy consumer, what’s your dairy alternative of choice?

JL: You know, I like me some oat milk, if I gotta go with the milk vibes. I also like a good Daiya cheese. Like, put some hot sauce on it, it tastes relatively similar to cheese at the end of the day. Sue me. But milk: oat milk or coconut milk.

SW: What was your favorite food that you had outside of the U.S.?

ZS: Korean BBQ. Unanimous across the board. We feel bad for eating animals. But hey, so good.

SW: If you were a dog, what breed would you be?

ZS: People call me a basset- one person called me a basset hound once and I didn’t identify with that, so I want to switch to a Beagle or, I don’t know, that’s just an honest answer. I’d rather be a German Shepherd.

JL: I don’t know. A Husky maybe? I don’t know.

ZS: Uh, more of an English bulldog.

JL: Maybe we should do it to each other.

ZS: Yeah, you’re an English Bulldog.

JL: I’m an English Bulldog? I’m a Bulldog?

ZS: You know, the small boys?

JL: They are kinda cute. I guess you’d have to be a pug because you have a pug.

ZS: I don’t have a pug.

JL: Sorry?

ZS: I have a puggle. He’s just, I don’t know. We love pugs.