Time is an illusion in the age of coronavirus. The music industry has taken a significant hit with postponed tours, pushed released dates, and the constant shifting of schedules – and Hockey Dad are no more immune to that than anyone else. The Australian garage rock duo have delayed the release date of their third full-length album, Brain Candy to July 31, along with announcing a drive-in concert to celebrate the new record on that date.
They are best mates first and bandmates second. Zach Stephenson (vocals, guitar) and Billy Fleming (drums) have an energetic ‘60s surf rock sound and over the past couple of years, these two coastal kids have been one of the great successes of independent Australian music – and they are having fun while doing it.
From grommets to garage gurus, we had a chat with the boys of Hockey Dad about growing up down the street from each other, falling off stage, and how zombies have accidentally become their shtick.
Montreal Rocks: What’s up guys! How’s it going?
Hockey Dad: Hey! Yeah, not much. Just crawling out of bed.
MR: Are you guys back home in Australia right now?
Hockey Dad: Yes. This is probably the most time we’ve ever spent at home really.
MR: How are you holding up in this weird time of isolation?
Hockey Dad: It’s been pretty good. We’ve been enjoying spending a lot of time at home.
It’s such a relaxed part of the coast. We’ve spent a lot of time at home this year, and it’s been such a breath of fresh air because we’ve been nonstop for so long. Coming home is always a treat. Even though we spend months in a van together, we can still go for a surf together. We’re still excited to hangout with each other… somehow.
MR: You’re not sick of each other yet?
Hockey Dad: Not quite.
*Phone alarm rings* Oh, guess it’s time to wake up. Sorry about that.
But yeah, it’s been a crazy few months for everyone with the lack of shows played and everything else, but it’s good to be home with family and having time to focus on this album release.
MR: And your new single, “Good Eye” is out tomorrow which is something to look forward to.
Hockey Dad: Yeah we kinda forgot we were doing it. It’s the fourth single off the new album and it came up so soon!
MR: It’s a good way to tie your fans over while we wait for the album coming next month.
Hockey Dad: We generally do a 3-4 single release before an album, but they’re usually way further apart. It only feels like yesterday we put out “In This State” – the third single. But because we did delay the album, we figured why not just get another single out there. I think the fans were hoping for another song anyway.
MR: Was COVID-19 the deciding factor that made you push the release date from May to July?
Hockey Dad: Definitely. It’s the production of records – simple as that. All the factories were shut so we couldn’t even produce the records to have for the week of release and that just felt really weird not being able to have the physical record. I think if we put the record out when it was supposed to be out, it would have got a bit lost in the situation of the world.
We were also thinking of ways – since we can’t play shows – of how to celebrate the release. We usually do in-store signings at record stores face-to-face. But we can’t do that, so what else could we do? And that was how we came out the drive-in show. Thankfully we had an extra couple months to figure that out.
MR: Which is happening on the release date – so cool.
Hockey Dad: And we’re announcing today! Oh shoot, I gotta do that – we’re doing a second show so that’s pretty cool.
MR: It’s been really neat seeing how music creatives are adapting to this situation and trying to come up with ways on still how to play music “safely.”
Hockey Dad: Yeah, it’ll be super interesting because we’ve seen a couple overseas and you can’t really tell what happened at the show. So we’re figuring out how a drive-in show actually works. There’s so many weird little things that you won’t know until it happens.
MR: That’ll be interesting. You won’t be able to see people’s faces or interact with a crowd.
Hockey Dad: Like car horns too – we’re kinda scared of that. It’ll be risky.
MR: These singles off the new album are a bit of a different sound than what we usually hear from you. What can we expect from Brain Candy?
Hockey Dad: Definitely more along the lines of that. One of the singles, “Itch” was the most out there in terms of difference in our songwriting. But there are other songs on the album that you probably won’t expect. There are a couple of weird ones, but still some classic HD songs. Like a mixed bag of lollies: some soft, some chewy.
MR: I’ve heard you say that “Itch” is the most non-Hockey Dad song. So what would you say is Hockey Dad’s sound and how does “Itch” differ from that?
Hockey Dad: “Itch” is slow. High tempo is our thing and this one is well-thought-out and dramatic. There’s a bit more depth. It demands your attention, so I guess that’s why it’s different from anything else.
MR: How do you think this new sound will be different from your previous two albums?
Hockey Dad: When we were writing the album, we had a unanimous decision that we would get more creative. We would write a song, then peel it back and think, “what else could we do?” We would try and figure out different little ways that we could spice it up and make each song very different from the next, rather than making it all blend into one.
In saying that, the album does have a general overall tone. But we tried to make the songs so different from one another, so that’s why we picked the album title, Brain Candy, because there are so many different things that attack different parts of the brain.
MR: Does this have to do with the zombie theme you’ve got going on in the “Itch” music video and now the poster design for the drive-in? How did that come about?
Hockey Dad: Yeah! Labon, our mate in L.A. directed the video. We did a video with him a few years ago, and we left this one all up to him. It was the first time we’ve ever said, “Here’s our song – just make up a video for it” and we’ll see what happens. So he was like, “Let’s go zombies.” We didn’t even come up with the idea of zombies, it just fell in our lap. We just went with it!
MR: How did it become the visual for the drive-in poster?
Hockey Dad: It has this ‘60s horror movie vibe. It’s a homage to drive-ins. It’s funny how it’s all tied in though, it wasn’t intentional. We accidentally made zombies our thing. We might be playing shows in zombie make-up one day.
We were in zombie make-up for the video from 6:00am to 3:00pm. That was hectic! It was so hot in the middle of the summer in L.A. We were skating that ditch where all the zombie shots were, so it was pure concrete radiating heat. We were sweating profusely.
*Phone alarm rings* Oh, no I think I just hit snooze the last time.
MR: Hockey Dad has the best backstory of how you came to be. I love that you grew up down the street from each other and really spent your whole childhood together. That’s a connection that not a lot of bandmates have. What’s the first memory you have making music together?
Hockey Dad: [Zach]: It really all started at my house. My dad had a drum kit in our garage. We both were playing guitar at the same time around year 6 or 7 (11 / 12 years old). I think we were bored one day and we learnt some drumming from high-school music class that taught us how to keep a beat. So we would try getting a song going and we had so much fun messing around down there, and then never stopped.
[Billy]: My first memory was the 3 of us, with our other mate Kurt, in a early high-school cover band. I remember Zach and Kurt both played guitar as well, so we were 3 guitar players. Then Zach goes, “Shotty guitar” and Kurt goes, “Shotty bass” so I was stuck on drums. I ended up loving it, and kept playing it. It turned out okay! I wasn’t planning on being a drummer. Funny how it fell into place.
MR: So you kicked Kurt out of the band?
Hockey Dad: (laughs) Nah, he left on his own devices. We had a few friends come and go, but we were the only two that stuck. That’s how Hockey Dad eventuated.
That band finished up, and we had nothing else to do. We were both still in school, and all the other guys from the band were older and were working jobs. We had all this free time, so we kept going on our own.
MR: As you both are fairly young, did you ever have a moment that made you realize you could make a living out of this?
Hockey Dad [Zach]: Yeah, I’ve probably had a thousand of those epiphany moments. It happens to me all the time. Like, “Ah shit, we’re actually doing this.” It’s still quite strange.
[Billy]: We’re 24 and 26 now and we’ve been doing this HD thing since we were around 17 so it’s still trippy. We didn’t think we’d still be doing it.
I think it’s the touring. I was still in school when we did the first proper tours. I didn’t do too well in school. Then Zach had to drop out of university. At that point, we just had to go full-on and give this thing a crack.
MR: Did you study music in university?
Hockey Dad: [Zach]: Nah, nah. I was going to be a teacher (laughs). That would have been hilarious. All my friends from uni have graduated, and are actual teachers now. I catch up with them once in a while and it’s so weird to think what if I had stuck with that instead of music.
MR: Crazy. With that, it’s super evident in your music-making and the way you carry yourselves that you’re just having a good time. In a somewhat competitive and conforming industry, how do you manage to stay true to who you are?
Hockey Dad: It’s a very weird thing. It’s never felt competitive for us. We’ve always just been us. Everywhere we go, we’ll make friends with everyone with the bands we’re playing with. Instead of wanting to be better than a band, we’d much rather have a beer with them.
It’s more about setting priorities and what you want to get out of it. We’ve always been in this to have a good time, and we’ve had a good time. We’re so lucky, so we try to make the most of that. We’ve never had that competitive drive or nature to climb a ladder to be better than anyone else.
MR: It’s nice to see that you’re both just two chill dudes doing your thing.
Hockey Dad: Yeah, everyone in the bands we meet are just cruisy. We’ve yet to meet a band that’s really mean. No one’s shrugged us off. There may be some out there – probably the really successful bands that we’ll never meet (laughs).
MR: What’s your craziest on-stage moment that’s happened?
Hockey Dad: [Billy]: I thought about one the other day! I fell off the stage backwards over my drum kit.
[Zach]: I cut my finger once on a monitor. It was the last chord of the set and I jumped off the drum kit and cut my hand open and I got off stage and went straight over to the first aid tent. That was pretty funny. Thank God that was the end of the set. It was the last song and I fell over so maybe it looked like I did it on purpose.
[Billy]: Mine looked like a did a magic trick and disappeared. It was the end of a set of another show, and it was the last hit. I was standing up for some reason and because I leant forward so much, I tripped over the seat and fell back in between the stage and a tent. I got stuck and it was funny. Other than that, we’re pretty safe on stage.
There’s a lot of things you try to push out and forget as well.
MR: Like when you screw up a show and suppress it from your memory?
Hockey Dad: Yeah, like that never happened to me (laughs).
MR: What’s the first thing you’ll do when life go back to “normal?”
Hockey Dad: Play a gig if we can. Just tour. We’d love to go back to a pub and play a gig.
It’s still all up in the air. The drive-in show is exciting because we can actually play a show. That’s pretty much all we can do. It’s looking like this year is just shot. We’re staying put and staying safe.
MR: How does it feel releasing an album then, and not having a plan to tour it?
Hockey Dad: We’re already writing songs for another album. So I guess we’ll have to put another one out! Touring will probably the last thing to come back after this pandemic.
MR: It’s a strange time, but I’m sure you are still pumped about having new music out there regardless.
Hockey Dad: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s a good thing to look forward to and having it out there for people to enjoy… hopefully.
MR: What’s your favourite track on the new album?
[Zach]: My favourite is probably “Good Eye” or “Dole Brother.”
[Billy]: Yeah, he’s got a good solo in that one. I like “Milk In The Sun.” It’s a whacky one for drums and the lyrics are hilarious.
We’re excited for it to be out. It’s a nice feeling putting out an album. It’s strange and exciting.
MR: I can’t wait to hear it.
Hockey Dad: Cheers!
Brain Candy is out everywhere on July 31, 2020 via BMG.
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