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Hippo Campus is band from St. Paul, Minnesota. Formed in 2013, prior to graduating from performing arts high school, the band started on a break out trajectory following a series of talked-about performances at SXSW, which was immediately followed by their network television debut on Conan. They’ve since risen to the forefront of their genre on the backs of relentless touring and the strength of their debut album 'landmark'.
In October 2017, the band released their self-produced EP ‘warm glow’ as an ode to loyalty and self-preservation. “We had tunes that didn’t fit on ‘landmark’ but took on a life of their own. The project became about the support we couldn’t find as individuals but discovered as an entity.”
The band has been working on their second full length studio album since March of 2018.
There's something strange that happens when you're in the back of a van going 70 mph down an interstate highway at least ten hours from home. The back of that van becomes a home. The rest of the world turns dim and hazy. The only concrete thing you have is a trunk converted into a makeshift bed and your three best friends occupied with headphones or a book. Even when conversation is slim, the mere presence of these people brings a peace thought to be attainable only by blood.
The warm glow EP, the latest release from Minneapolis indie pop quartet Hippo Campus, unexpectedly became an ode to that relationship. When the present becomes uncertain, we cling to what brings purpose: each other.
“This being the first record that we self produced, we aimed to capitalize on our love and respect for each other as people and musicians. We built this band as four boys in a room discovering what adulthood meant; putting our trust in each other to define what that might be,” says singer/guitarist Jake Luppen. “A project must grow and evolve, at times pulling its creators apart. It's necessary however, in an almost therapeutic way, to return to what has always been sacred.”
So it’s no surprise that the interplay between the four members of Hippo Campus has never been more rich than it is on warm glow, a three-song EP that perfectly encapsulates what makes this band so special. Pop melodies sit atop thoughtful compositions like the surprise match of verse and chorus on the effortlessly catchy “baseball.” Guitars work up a finger-tapped frenzy on “traveler” only to give way to a piano-led back half that builds to a horizon-sized climax. Meanwhile, the woozy, twilit lilt of the EP’s namesake “warm glow” is a communal, heartfelt sendoff for a release that belies its brief runtime. It’s a condensed and perfect coda to the band’s debut landmark, which came six months prior.
And with the one-two punch of landmark and warm glow, the band’s time in the back of a van, cultivating a new home is only increasing. From the mainstages of Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, to headline dates in some of the nation’s biggest rooms, Hippo Campus continues their ascent one gig, one release, and one 70mph drive at a time.
It's not uncommon for musicians to grow and evolve between releases -- but even by those standards, the Districts' Popular Manipulations is stunning. The Pennsylvania-borne band's third full-length represents an exponential leap in sound and cohesion, an impressive and impassioned burn with a wide scope that threatens to swallow everything else surrounding it. Perhaps it's a cliché to say so, but while listening, you might find yourself wondering why people don't make indie rock like this anymore.
The total electric charge of Popular Manipulations is just the latest evolution for the impressively young quartet, whose founding members -- vocalist/guitarist Rob Grote, bassist Connor Jacobus, and drummer Braden Lawrence -- have known each other since attending grade school together in the Pennsylvania town of Lititz. After deciding to form a band in high school, the Districts gigged hard in the tri-state area, releasing a slew of promising material (including the rootsy 2012 debut Telephone) before catching the eye of venerable indie Fat Possum. 2015's A Flourish and a Spoil found the band refining their embryonic sound with veteran producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Kurt Vile) -- and looking back on that release, there are glimmers of Popular Manipulations in chrysalis form to be found on it, hints of the fence-swinging anthemic sound they'd soon make wholly their own.
After touring behind A Flourish and a Spoil, Grote began "playing with different ideas" in his own songwriting by making demos at a prolific pace. "We knew that we wanted to change some things musically, so we were trying to come up with as many songs as possible to narrow the direction we wanted to take the material," he states. In total, they ended up with 50 song ideas, and so they were off to LA in May of 2016 with new guitarist Pat Cassidy in tow to log more recording time with Congleton, with four of Popular Manipulations' songs coming out of the sessions.
"We have a lot of overlapping tastes and preferences for how things are made," Grote gushes about working with the notably reliable studio wizard -- but acceding all credit to Congleton (who also handled the record's mixdown) would be shortchanging the Districts themselves, who went on to self-produce the remainder of the record in Philadelphia with engineer Keith Abrams. "Something we took from working with Congleton was ideas on arranging songs," Grote explains, and they certainly learned a lot: Popular Manipulations is a raucous and impressively thick-sounding album, overflowing with toothy melodies that pack a serious punch.
The distinctly intense sound of Popular Manipulations -- charging guitars, thunderous drumming, and Grote's searing vocals -- was brought on by a few cited influences, from shoegaze's aggressive swirl to the Velvet Underground's impeccable drone-rock sound. There's a distinctly Canadian flavor to this brand of indie rock, too; Spencer Krug's anthemic, lushly inscrutable work in Wolf Parade and his defunct Sunset Rubdown side project comes to mind, as does 2000s Toronto barnburners the Diableros' overlooked 2006 gem You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts.
But don't mistake easy comparisons for a lack of originality: on Popular Manipulations, the District are in a lane entirely their own, exploring lyrical themes of isolation and abandonment in a way that ups the music's already highly charged emotional quotient. "Capable" finds Grote turning his focus to the ruinous aftermath of divorce, and "Before I Wake" is, in his words, "About coming to terms with being isolated or alone -- even though we have a whole group of voices singing the whole time." Grote explains that even the title of the record touches on these universal concerns: "It hints at how people use each other, for good or bad, and the personal ways you manipulate yourself and other people in day-to-day interactions."
For such weighty thematic material, though, Popular Manipulations is purely life-affirming rock music, bursting with energy that cuts through the darkness of the world that surrounds us. "We're a much better distillation of who we wish to be as a band," Grote reflects on the journey that has led the Districts to this point. "We've figured out how to distill the things we've been trying to accomplish as a band, musically and lyrically. We've always viewed making music as something we're trying to do better the whole time." Mission accomplished.