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Hippo Campus Are Waking Up Twin Cities Indie Rock

Hippo Campus | 7th St. Entry | Saturday, November 29
"What did somebody tweet at us today?" Hippo Campus singer/guitarist Jake Luppen polls his bandmates. Luppen, guitarist Nathan Stocker, bassist Zach Sutton, and drummer Whistler Allen are draped in winter garb and gathered around a table at Kopplin's in St. Paul. The collective goal at the moment is getting warmed up and caffeinated ASAP.

No one responds, so he quickly answers himself. "'Hippo Campus makes me want to do ratchet things on a rooftop.' That's the feeling I want people to feel."

The tweet in question actually reads: "your songs make me want to do hoodrat things on train tracks and on rooftops. i feel like i could take over the world." Close enough, and perhaps true enough. Within the Woodbury-based indie rock instigators' Bashful Creatures EP -- featuring The Jungle Book hooks alongside The Bad News Bears mischief in lyrical form -- lurks the unadulterated core of youth.

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Produced by Low's Alan Sparhawk at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, the EP was recorded live, with each reverb-rich positive jam played 15 to 20 times in a row. At one point, Sparhawk instructed the group to play one again, except this time like they were the coolest guys in town.

Now they're discovering what a career based upon being cool might actually look like. After a few choice opening slots for national acts and well-attended outdoor shows this past year, Hippo Campus were justly named the second-best new Minnesota music act in 2014's Picked to Click poll -- narrowly behind their St. Paul buddy Allan Kingdom.

The name Hippo Campus came from an unusual brainstorm session. Stocker, already a fan of Arizona post-rockers Lymbyc Systym, was in psychology class reading about the hippocampus -- the seahorse-shaped part of our brain's frontal lobe used for converting short-term memory to long-term, as well as for spatial navigation -- and the word's double entendre potential proved irresistible.

Formed from the pieces of two rival St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists groups, the band launched with a Grand Old Day gig in the summer of 2013 that they'd rather not remember, and further gelled in their practice space at Sutton's Woodbury home. (It's not far from the golf course where they filmed a Wes Anderson-meets-Weekend at Bernie's promo video for their EP as their alter egos Beans, Espo, Stitches, and Turntan.)

Hippo Campus - "Bashful Creatures EP" from Ethan A. Nelson on Vimeo.

"The neighbors hate us," Sutton assures. "We practice at 3 a.m."

Hippo Campus rehearse in a circle in a workout room that has been updated with red lamps to help set the mood. When not placating/antagonizing the neighbors with classic rock medleys, they hone an aesthetic based upon reverberating harmonies, cerebral chord progressions, Allen's ever-present rhythm, and, yes, being a teenager. We get older, but the emoji-fied exuberance of their single "Little Grace" stays the same age.

"Whenever I play that song, I get a large amount of nostalgia for high school," Luppen admits. The group explains that "Little Grace" -- already a favorite on 89.3 the Current -- is a loose culmination of their adventures alongside pretentious "art school girls" at SPCPA. "It's like for three minutes I can be in that mindset again."

That high school mindset is just barely in the rearview. Both of Luppen's hands are marked with a big black X from the previous night's Stars show at First Avenue, and Stocker will become the first of the group able to buy beer legally next July.

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Another EP highlight, "Souls," is comparatively mature -- like a Polaroid party pic being used as a bookmark in a hard-bound copy of Faust. Its expertly timed handclaps and call-and-response vocals figure to be extremely provocative during future live outings, based upon the maelstroms of bodies witnessed at past Hippo Campus events.

Even as larger college-aged audiences, booking agents, management, and a van to drive to South by Southwest come into focus, too many serious questions prove tiresome. As the stimulant properties of the table's beverages take effect, this interview speeds up and veers wildly off course.

Smart phones emerge, and the new order of business is a video of Luppen eating a piece of cornbread almost as big as his head. Sutton opens up a private SoundCloud account and plays a disorienting song from a secret rap side project. Stocker jots an illegible band name on a napkin and hands it over like it's a coveted industry tip. Hippo Campus are still young enough not to worry about what acting their age is supposed to mean, but already talented and wise enough to preserve those fleeting sensations as songs.

"All songwriting is based upon the past, anyhow," says Stocker. "The more potent the experiences are in the past, the easier it is to write a song. Writing about the present is boring. We haven't had time to distort it yet."

HIPPO CAMPUS play a Bashful Creatures EP release show with Allan Kingdom on Saturday, November 29, at 7th St. Entry; 612-332-1775

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