On Sept. 11, Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Social Committee will host indie rock band Hippo Campus as the headliner for fall Lawnparties. The Daily Princetonian sat down with Zach Sutton, the group’s lead bass player, to discuss the band’s history, life as a musician, and what students can expect for Sunday’s performance.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
Daily Princetonian: I wanted to start by asking how would you describe Hippo Campus’ music?
Sutton: Indie rock or something like that … I would describe it as a good time, good time party music.
DP: What kind of energy can students expect on Sunday?
Sutton: High. High energy can be expected on Sunday.
DP: Last year we had A$AP Ferg and Flo Milli — both well-known rappers — who headlined for Lawnparties. What do you think an indie rock band has to uniquely bring to the table this year?
Sutton: A change of pace for sure. [We’re] definitely not Flo Milli. But … hopefully the same good vibes. It’s a different color, different palette.
DP: And how long have you guys been playing together?
Sutton: We have been a band for approaching 10 years. We’ve been touring since 2015.
DP: So you guys started in 2013 then? Where does the name come from?
Sutton: The name comes from a part of the brain, the hippocampus. Nathan [Stocker, the band’s lead guitarist] was in psychology class playing with parts of the brain, and he said I think it’s pretty cool, what if we put a space in the middle. And that’s the story of how we stuck with our name.
DP: You mentioned high energy and a “change in palette.” What else might readers expect from one of your performances, either this weekend or in general?
Sutton: Hopefully a bit of catharsis, perhaps a distraction from the beginning of a tumultuous school year. If you’re a fan of our music, hopefully you can hear the song you want to hear, and if you’re not a fan, hopefully you learned something new.
DP: Is it the college student demographic that is the target audience? What is your dream venue? In terms of size, are you looking for something bigger or smaller, outdoors or indoors? Where would you guys love to play?
Sutton: Our dream demographic is college students, they’re the best. We got an email from Princeton inviting us to play and we were like, “Holy shit that’s so cool.” But honestly, it’s just nice to be able to perform.
DP: How do you think Princeton might compare to other places you’ve played?
Sutton: We’ve played a good handful of schools. I couldn’t really tell you exactly which ones, but I know we haven’t played many Ivy League schools. So how will you compare? Excuse the stereotype, but … [Princeton] is very intellectual. It’s a very acclaimed school for very smart people. I hope we see people sort of defy those stereotypes and have fun. Be super loud. Get crazy.
DP: Of the colleges and universities you’ve performed at, which was the most fun or the most memorable?
Sutton: I think it was on the East Coast. I think it was like an Ivy League school … It’s like Maine, or Rhode Island. Allegedly they invented beer pong. I don’t necessarily believe it, but that’s what they said.
It was pretty early on in our career. We had never really been to school, and what was fun about it was that it was an East Coast spring day. Loved the field and loved the kids. A party of people took us into a basement and taught us how to play beer pong with broken paddles. And that was quite memorable. Just for the experiences, and getting to do the college thing without actually attending college.
We also did like a thousand virtual college shows during the pandemic. A lot of these spring or fall concert events had to go virtual for schools. We did like a thousand of those and those were honestly some of the more memorable shows we did. I couldn’t tell you what schools they were, but we got pretty good at memorizing fight songs, random trivia, when the school started, the total endowment, population, these sorts of things.
DP: What kind of background are you coming from, and where do you hope to see yourself heading next?
Sutton: Well, we are from Minnesota and being able to make a living as a band was always sort of a dream, but never really the plan. So we came from a happenstance situation. We started in high school, and kept doing it. Luckily and thankfully, we kept getting shows and putting out records. Moving forward from here, we’re trying to really interrogate the music that we want to make. Try to make the best music we can and build out the ecosystem in Minnesota. [We are] trying to nurture more community, and keep up the privilege to play music for a living.
DP: What do students need to know about the songs before the performance? Any hints at the lineup things to look forward to?
Sutton: You should listen to our latest record, there might be a good handful of songs off of that one that we’ll play. Otherwise, there’s nothing you need to know. Just come on down and see if you like it. We’ll leave it up to the viewer to decide.
DP: We have quite a few students on campus who are involved in music. What kind of advice do you have for aspiring musicians or groups on campus who are just starting out?
Sutton: Consistency. That’s the only thing. Just keep doing it. If you want to be in a band, if you want to sort of anything in music, just do it. And then do it again. And then do it again. Keep doing it and surround yourself with people that feel the same way. Peers with similar aspirations, work ethics, stuff like that, you know? Try to remain positive. Consistency is key.
DP: All right. And then the last big question we have for you is what’s your favorite part of the process? As a professional musician.
Sutton: Favorite part? My favorite part is probably writing the songs [and] recording the songs … If that’s the entrée, then dessert is getting to play the songs live. Very rich experience, filling. But I think most professional satisfaction comes from being able to build something from the ground up. Seeing the fruits of that labor. Coming through songwriting and then recording and then getting to release it would be my favorite part.
Jasmyn Dobson is a staff writer who often covers SPIA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tess Weinreich is an assistant news editor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com.