Just one in an assortment of albums released over the past year with Hippo Campus members' names attached, the new LP by Baby Boys might best summarize what the fellas in one of the Twin Cities' best-known rock bands have been up to while on hiatus from touring.
"Getting back to the basic idea of 'Let's go make music together just for the fun of it,' " said Nathan Stocker, guitarist in Hippo Campus and one of three co-founders of Baby Boys.
He teamed with Hippo Campus singer/guitarist Jake Luppen and their longtime friend and St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts classmate Caleb Hinz to form Baby Boys in 2019. "Threesome," their album that arrived Friday via New York indie label Grand Jury Music, is an oddball collection of loopy synth-pop grooves and off-the-cuff lyrics as weirdly charming and chill as the story behind the trio's formation.
Here's how Luppen described the origins of Baby Boys in a foursome conference call last week: "Nathan and I would just be hanging out at a bar or doing whatever and we'd hit up Caleb at like midnight and say, 'Hey, let's go make music.' And we'd just kind of roll with it until like 6:30 in the morning."
That initial spark became a steady, slow-burning flame when the friends took over BJ Burton's northeast Minneapolis recording studio in the summer of 2019.
Burton, who produced Hippo Campus' last album as well as recordings by Bon Iver and Low, had gone to work in Los Angeles and rented out his place to his cohorts.
While they worked there on a flurry of other recording projects — including new EPs by younger upstarts Miloe and Samia as well as solo recordings and Hippo Campus tunes — they made a point of blocking out time to turn Baby Boys into a more serious project. Or semi-serious, anyway.
Just like how they first started out, "Threesome" was mostly recorded in the wee hours.
"We spent all night at BJ's studio for nine days straight, just seeing what we could come up with," Stocker recalled. "We wound up with a record at the end that sort of demonstrates why it was just one of the most joyous times of my life."
"Threesome" indeed boasts a happy and at times downright giddy vibe. From the lightly blipping opening song "Common Place" to the slow-building finale "Shorty," the songs evoke classic video game music, Mac DeMarco-style lo-fi guitar strumming, '80s reggae/dub and a wee bit of weedy, Ween-like oddity.
All three of the Baby Boys — all in their mid-20s — traded off on singing and writing duties. A prime example: The album's most straight-ahead pop song, "Gone," features both Hinz and Luppen on vocals and alternating melodies.
" 'Gone' started with this [tape] loop I had from years ago," Luppen remembered. "Then Caleb sped it up, added the melody on top and it turned into a mad pop jam."
That's indicative of the overall process behind the album, he added.
"Typically, we'd start with a drum track, and go off and try to find a melody. Then we'd all be sitting in a circle just trying to crack each other up with lyrics; which is a lot more fun than how we've written lyrics in the past."
ALL IN GOOD FUN
That fun spirit carried over to the music videos Baby Boys have released, adding to a viral buzz for the record alongside showings on some prominent Spotify playlists.
In the clip for the woozy ditty "Cannonball," the guys filmed oft-sighted Minneapolis character Erik Riese, aka Santa Erik, rolling through the streets on in-line skates waving a flag to the music. The video for the more exuberant track "Duke and the Cash" features TikTok-style dancer Buff Correll from Arizona grooving and singing along to the song.
And maybe the most guffaw-inducing bit of Baby Boys artwork: The cover photo for "Threesome" is a close-up shot of the three members all touching their mouths to a single microphone. It could be held up as Exhibit A of what's keeping musicians from performing together in the era of COVID-19.
"It was a very planned photo; we were all tested beforehand and sticking to our bubble," Hinz clarified. "But we're OK with it warranting a strong reaction."
All of this goofy merrymaking does have deeper meaning, the Baby Boys members believe.
For starters, Hinz said, "This is a good record to release now with the pandemic hopefully coming to an end."
"I look it as sort of a bookend thing: It started out as a very optimistic and fun project, and it can be that again now. I hope it does spark some bright relief and optimism for people like it did for us."
It also lit a creative spark for their better-known band. Hippo Campus commenced recording during the lockdown and is "about 90% done" with its next album, Stocker and Luppen reported.
"We'd done so much touring, we were all kind of fried in Hippo Campus," Stocker said. "We needed a reset."
Each of the three Baby Boys put out solo albums last year. Stocker issued his as Brotherkenzie, and Luppen with the moniker Lupin. Hinz records under his own name and with the Happy Children, plus he has been involved in Hippo Campus' new recordings.
Looking ahead, Luppen said, "I'm sure all of [these projects] are going to come back and broaden the scope of what Hippo Campus is.
"Hippo Campus for us has always been a broader project than just a four-man band. It's more of a community. We all write music individually. We all have production projects. That's been especially true during the pandemic, and maybe one good thing to come of the past year."
New album: "Threesome" now available in stores and online.
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