Analogue Music | Hockey Dad

Hockey Dad

By Matt Conner

A familiar environment was needed to find foreign territory.

Brain Candy is the third full-length album from Hockey Dad, the Aussie rock duo comprised by Zach Stephenson and drummer Billy Fleming. After two proper LPs in Boronia and Blend Inn, Stephenson says they were ready to take their time and expand their sound. To do so, however, they needed a studio space within which they could feel confident enough to push themselves.

Enter producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Wolf Parade), who had worked with Hockey Dad on Blend Inn. For this album, Stephenson says they were finally able to arrive sonically on the place they'd been aiming for all along—even one longplayer ago.

We recently asked Stephenson all about being in Hockey Dad these days—about pushing back an album release due to COVID-19, pushing himself and Fleming to make new music, and what expectations feel like for the both of them.

Analogue: Releasing an album in quarantine is an odd thing, so let's start there. Feels weird to not acknowledge it. I know you just moved the release date, right?

Zach Stephenson: Yeah, we just pushed the release back about a month. It's strange because we could never expect this. It's hard to figure out what we're going to do. Everything in the world feels really uncertain, and we just got caught up in the middle of it as we're about to put a record out. We're just feeling around in the dark trying to figure out what to do now.

Analogue: Is that hard emotionally?

Zach: It's more just frustrating, but we can still put it out on the internet. At least people can still hear it if they want it.

Analogue: Yeah I wondered if that could be a good thing if people have more time to listen intently.

Zach: It could be. We'll just have to wait and see if it helps us or not.

Analogue: The new single, "Itch," is one you described as the most non-Hockey Dad song ever. Is that apt to describe the new album, too, or just that one song?

Zach: It might be a bit of a one-off, but there are a few songs on the new record that have that feel as well. They don't so much sound like "Itch," but they each take a different direction away from other Hockey Dad songs and a lot of other songs on the record. There are couple surprises on the new record, but as you can probably tell from "In This State," there's still a lot of us in the stuff on the record.

Analogue: What do you think led to that? Is it confidence or new interests or even working with John [Goodmanson, producer]?

Zach: I think it's a mix of it all. That song was written before the second record was recorded but I don't know if we had it in our minds that it would end up a Hockey Dad song. Yeah, maybe just with confidence and we were just looking for something fresh. We brought that song in and a couple others that were different. We were comfortable in the studio we were in because we'd been there before. We were comfortable working with John, so we felt we could go for it and see what happened. I guess it kind of worked out good and we were pretty happy with it.

"I think he finally found the sound that we were looking for ourselves; he found it in us."

Analogue: When you say the phrase "go for it," does that mean something different now than it would have an album or two ago?

Zach: I guess so, yeah. I don't think we would have really gone for anything like this a couple of records ago. I think it just came with time. We've done that earlier stuff and now we're a bit older and we just wanted to try some new stuff. So I think it was just confidence and knowing we'd done half-decent records before gives you the confidence to go for it a bit. It's definitely changed from when we were a lot younger.

Analogue: Specifically what are some examples?

Zach: We tried to finish songs in a little bit different way, as opposed to the last record when we'd come together with both of us straight into a room just banging out songs in a loud jam room. A lot of these songs on this record were crafted at home over a bit more time. So I think we could really lock down and focus on the songs over a longer period of time.

Analogue: Was that intentional on your end? Did you talk about that beforehand?

Zach: Yeah, I think maybe after the second record came out and we listened to it a bit, as we started to play the songs live on tour, they grew a bit more and things changed. We thought, 'We like the way those songs sound now.' On this record, we wanted to play them live for a while first and rehearse them for a month or so. We wanted to give them a new vibe live and have them sound different. So the main difference on this record is that we had that time to give them more life and make them a bit more intricate.

Analogue: What song changed the most in that process?

Zach: I'd have to look at the list. [Laughs] Songs like "Reno" just came out of nowhere. It was a weird, little acoustic kind of song and then it grew with Billy changing the drums up a bit. It got a different feel and a different groove. So I think songs like that changed the most from when we first came up with them.

'Brain Candy' cover art
'Brain Candy' cover art

Analogue: You'd worked with John before, right?

Zach: Yeah, we'd worked on our last album with him in the same studio.

Analogue: Was that pretty automatic then?

Zach: [Laughs] Yeah, I think so. I think he finally found the sound that we were looking for ourselves; he found it in us. We feel like we finally locked onto what we were trying to do with him on the last record. We were comfortable with him with these new songs and that he knew what we'd want to do with him and that he could do it. So it was a no-brainer for us.

If we'd really wanted to change our sound or our direction, we might have looked elsewhere, but we'd locked onto that sound and knew we could still push our songwriting in different ways. But we had that solid base of knowing what we sounded like and we were comfortable in that studio. It was the most comfortable place we could push forward from.

Analogue: How much are expectations of what people want from you in your head while recording Brain Candy?

Zach: It's always kind of weird, that expectation thing. Even after our first album going into the second one, it was still there. I think you just have to block it out. We like the songs. At the end of the day, we're having fun and that's kind of why we're doing it. The expectations can be terrifying at the start with "Itch" and songs that are way different, but they've been received pretty well so far. It lifts a weight off and lets us release some more stuff and get into it with a bit more confidence.

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