Jake Luppen talks about Lupin, Hippo Campus and the joy of producing other artists' work

Andrea Swensson interviews Jake Luppen. (MPR Video)

Perhaps best known for his work as the frontman of Hippo Campus, Jake Luppen doesn't sit still for long. He's recently launched a new project called Lupin, and he's also been busy producing music for a number of other artists, including a few labelmates from Grand Jury.

Luppen recently connected with The Local Show host Andrea Swensson to talk about all that he's been doing lately. Watch Andrea's interview with Jake Luppen above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

ANDREA SWENSSON: So it sounds like you're getting ready to release the first single pretty soon, which is exciting. But I guess maybe, to begin with, if you could just tell me a little bit about you know, how long has this project been brewing? And when did you know that you wanted to kind of venture out on your own?

JAKE LUPPEN: Yeah, this project started right after we finished the Bambi record with my band Hippo Campus. I still had a lot of material that I wanted to work on, like right after that record. And the guys kind of weren't keen on immediately hopping in and writing another Hippo Campus record. So I had all this material and all these ideas. And BJ and I had been talking about doing a solo record for a while. So we basically just made it in the gaps between those Bambi tours that were insanely long. So I started it in the winter of 2018 and then finished it in the fall of 2019.

Are you able to write when you're on tour?

A little bit, not much. We tried. The tour bus is a bit easier because we can put a little makeshift studio set up in the back. But it is pretty hard to write on tour. Mostly you're just trying to stay sane.

So then when you get home, do you kind of go into hibernation and start writing a lot?

Yeah, basically, I just have a need to work all the time, just to keep myself, again, sane. But so yeah, pretty much every gap that I had at home, I was writing music.

Wow, cool. So did you have a vision in mind? To me this sounds like a very natural progression from the last Hippo Campus record because the sound was already evolving towards this more production-heavy sound, but what was your vision as you set out to write these new songs?

BJ and I talked a lot about the idea of doing kind of '80s music but with modern technology, and kind of modern sensibility. So kind of make the records that they wanted to make in the '80s, but they didn't quite have the technology for. We referenced Tears for Fears' Songs from the Big Chair and Prince's Dirty Mind, and those were kind of the framework: doing "the '80s" but sort of in a more modern way with modern technology.

Interesting that you'd narrow in on Prince's Dirty Mind, because I kind of hear what he was doing the Camille album with the vocal manipulations and pitching his voice up in that kind of thing. I heard a little bit of that influence.

Oh, cool. So yeah, there's definitely some Prince influence on this one. For sure.

So what made you want to play around with the sound of your voice in this way?

I think I've always loved just manipulating my voice as much as possible. I wanted to differentiate it from Hippo Campus, as well. I think people have kind of heard my voice do a certain thing for a very long time. I feel like that's a facet of what I can do, but there's a lot more that I can do with it. Because of the genre of Hippo Campus, it made sense to kind of keep it more true to what it was. In this record, we just wanted to experiment with manipulating it and changing it and seeing different styles.

I don't totally know a lot about what goes into production, and I know BJ Burton is really good at creating new sounds in the studio and that you definitely have formed this relationship with him that's very experimental. Can you talk a little bit about what you are doing in the studio with him? And how are you creating these songs?

Yeah, so a lot of these ideas started off, I would start the session and write the songs and have basically a framework of the song. Kind of me and an instrument and some rough drums and a bass that I'd bring BJ and kind of give it to him to mess with. And he would take it on his own and just kind of destroy it or flip it or, you know, manipulate it a bunch. So it's basically me coming to him with these songs that are a bit more classic, and then him sort of flipping them in this crazy way. And then as the process evolved, I started giving them crazier and crazier ideas. I was able to learn and figure out production. This whole record is kind of my first go at really producing something. And I just learned as the process went on.

Yeah. And you have a few collaborators on the album as well. So I was wondering if you could talk about who those people are and what role they played in the creation?

Yeah, I'll start with JT Bates of Taylor Swift fame, now. [He] played drums on a couple tracks. He played drums on the song "Lazy," and he did some drums on "KO Kid" as well. I think that was the first session we had. Buddy Ross played on "Kayo Kid" and "Harbor," and he's played with like, Frank Ocean. And then Jim-E Stack is another producer. They're basically a lot of PJ's friends that are just hanging out at the studio. They were like, "oh, let's make something" or "hop on this track." And Jim-E has done stuff with like Caroline Polachek and a gajillion other artists. Jim-E's great.

Caroline Polachek at The Current
Caroline Polachek performing at The Current in 2019. (Mary Mathis | MPR file photo)

Well, I'm curious what it's like to plan to put out new music in a pandemic, in such an unusual time for the music industry and here in Minneapolis. It's been such a time of turmoil. I mean, how do you plan out releasing music? And what has that experience been like for you?

It feels strange. I think I've been sitting on this record for so long. So it just makes sense to me to put it out now. Honestly, it feels really weird to be releasing music right now. But I feel like at the same time people are really paying attention to albums because they have a chance to sit and listen to them at this point, which I think is good. This is such uncharted territory. I'm still figuring out exactly what it means to be an artist in all of this or what matters in all of this. I don't have many answers to that. I guess we'll see how it shakes down. I hope that people finally have time to be able to dive into something, like dive into a record and I hope it can provide people some sort of escape. Yeah, it's crazy, crazy times, right?

How are you doing? How long has it been now? I guess four and a half months since we went into quarantine--almost five months now. How's it been going for you?

It's been good. I've just been working a lot. So we were in the studio with Hippo Campus, working on a bunch of music, and we basically are finishing that up. And then I started producing a project. So yeah, I've just been busy, kind of working my way to sanity, per usual.

And living in the Twin Cities?

Yeah, I live in Northeast Minneapolis.

OK. What was the experience like for you through the unrest? And I mean, it's just been such a heavy time for so many of us and thinking about, as you mentioned, even the roles that we play in the world and what we should be doing or saying. I'm just curious if you have any thoughts about that?

I think all the unrest, as insane as it was, seeing the way that it brought the community together was really powerful, driving around and seeing people pick up trash or going to protests and screaming with a bunch of people in Minneapolis. As awful as what happened was, it really brought our community together and kind of helped us prioritize the right things.

Yeah. One thing I've been thinking about a lot is that because there aren't concerts right now, the music industry is in this kind of bizarre frozen state. It's really an opportunity to rethink things and figure out maybe what we'd like to see done differently when things do start to open up again. Have you had any time to reflect on changes you'd like to see made in the industry or changes you'd like to make with the way that you approach your work or your art? As you mentioned, leading up to this moment, you're just so busy touring non-stop and creating non-stop.

I have asked myself those questions a lot. And from a personal perspective, what I can do to help is kind of use my platform to uplift artists who are marginalized typically: queer artists, artists of color, women. Helping those artists whether posting about them or as a producer, I have the power to be able to produce artists and help those artists find their voice and get their music heard in the right way. So, I've committed to doing that in the future. As far as our industry, I mean, we have a long way to go, for sure. But I think we need to continually uplift those artists and give artists who are marginalized platforms to be able to talk. Because they should be able to lead this discussion. I said this, I think in an interview with you a while ago, but as a white male artist, I feel like it's our time to listen and figure out what we can do and uplift those who've been marginalized.

I'm excited about the idea of you producing other artists. I'm curious how that will play out. Is there anything that you can share about things that you have already worked on? Or people that you're keeping tabs on?

Me, my friend Caleb [Hinz], and Nathan [Stocker] from Hippo Campus have a band called Baby Boys. And then we also take on production projects. So we worked with this band Greeting Committee probably like a year ago and worked with them and then we produced a record for Samia, do you know that artist Samia out of New York? She's on Grand Jury as well, but we just produced a record for her and it's so gorgeous and amazing. We were working with this band from Minneapolis, Miloe. We worked on some other stuff. And then I've been working on music for this artist Raffaella recently. And then there are other scattered projects.

Samia publicity photo
New York-based singer-songwriter Samia. (courtesy Grand Jury Music)

That's great.

I've been getting really into production. It's weirdly more fulfilling than writing your own music. Seeing somebody's vision come to life, it's such a powerful thing.

Well, is there anything else that you want people to know about your new work as it's getting ready to come out? The record will be out in October, but we get a little first taste now with the song "May." Anything else you want people to know as, as we look forward to the new release?

Yeah, I mean, it's just it's a very personal record. I was going through a lot. I went through a breakup at the time, which was really intense. I had a CT scan, it revealed this crazy spot in my brain. So I thought it was dying. I was going through a lot of emotional turmoil during that time. So it's a very personal record. So I hope that people can connect with it and feel the vulnerability in it and enjoy it.

Wow. What happened with your brain? What's going on?

Basically, I was just sick a lot on the road. I was sick all the time. And so I went to the doctor and I was having all these crazy headaches. And they were like, you know, "We'll do a CT scan just to kind of check out what's going on there." "It's probably nothing." So I went and got the CT scan. I was like, "It's probably going to be fine." I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, so I get mad stressed out with health stuff. But I was at dinner with my family, and then the doctor called and he's like, "I don't want to stress you out, but we found a spot in your brain. And we want to kind of run some tests on it." And I was like, "So what, what is it?" And he's like, "I can't really tell you right now. We have to go in for more tests." I went for more tests. And basically, they confirmed that it was there and they're like, "It's either cancer, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's, or just a blood vessel." And so I had to go through a bunch more tests. This went on for months. So I was, again, writing and touring during this whole period of time, and I was just in a really crazy state of mind. And eventually, I saw a neurologist. And he's like, "You know, I'm 98% sure that it's a blood vessel and you just have to kind of keep getting it checked." But it is pretty crazy. It puts life into perspective very quickly.

Wow. A really scary thing to go through.

Yeah, yeah, it was crazy. All the while, touring and writing this record, it was really intense.

Oh, well, I'm glad that you're OK.

Yes, Yeah, me too. Yeah.

Well, that is interesting context around the songs then. I think people will probably hear a lot of that. This is just a time of uncertainty as well. So I definitely connected to it in that way even you know, knowing that everything was recorded. Before this, but thank you for sharing what you've been going through.

Yeah. Happy to share with whoever.

Well, I'm glad that you're putting up music. I'm glad that you're producing artists. I'm excited to hear what else comes down the pike from you. I hope you get some rest.

Yes, yes. Eventually, one day.

Transcribed by Caleb Brennan.

Related Stories