By Livie Augustine
On August 12, Jake Luppen (of Minnesotan indie outfit Hippo Campus) took fans by surprise when he announced his first project as a solo artist and released the song, “May,” under his alias, Lupin. His recently released self-titled LP consists of eight tracks, each with their own unique sound and style. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Jake about what this project means to him and how he’s been holding up during lockdown.
How have you been doing during quarantine and what have you been up to besides working on the project?
I’ve been good, yeah; just writing a lot. There’s not a whole lot else to do, so I’ve just kind of been at the studio, writing and working as much as possible. I’ve [also] started producing a project for an artist–working on that stuff a fair amount. So, yeah, just trying to stay as busy as much as I can, but yeah, it’s definitely weird for sure.
So what exactly started Lupin? As you began it on tour with your band Hippo Campus, what inspired you to go solo?
I think it was a number of things. Like, first of all after we finished Bambi, it was a pretty long, grueling process so the other members of the band didn’t really want to keep writing music. They were like mad exhausted and I just wanted to keep rolling. So, I was like, “Well, leave it. I’ll just write songs for myself then.” And, then, I also went through a pretty intense breakup—it was kind of like a divorce, honestly. I just had a lot of emotional and mental stress so writing the record was kind of like therapy with that, too.
Did you always intend for this project to go public or did it start as a passion project?
I think I always intended it to go public. I don’t really like doing things if I don’t see a point to them. I don’t really do much to just like, “Oh, let’s just do this for fun.” You know, if you’re putting some work into something, you should at least show it to some people or have some sort of aspirations with it. So, there were always some aspirations to do this probably like right after Landmark. BJ and I, who produced this record and produced a couple of the Hippo Campus records- we had talked about doing a solo record for a while. We finally found time.
From the looks of your announcement posts on Twitter and Instagram, fans were crazy ecstatic about this. How did seeing their support make you feel?
It was really unexpected. I didn’t really know what people were going to think. I didn’t really have any expectations going in because I have had the record done for basically a year, so I’ve just been kind of sitting on it. I was really really stoked about it when I finished it, and there was…as all projects do, you kind of go through a phase where you’re onto some shit and then the project comes back around and you’re like, “Oh, this is going to be cool to drop.” Yeah, it was unexpected—it was cool to take people by surprise. It’s rare to kick off a project so I was definitely stoked.
If you’ve been sitting on it for a year, what made you decide to do it now?
We had always planned to get through the Bambi touring, and then it lasted so long. And then, [I was] kind of taking time to chill and I was going to put it out, like, in springtime and tour it this summer and shit. And then, COVID hit and we were like, “What do we do?” and, like, “Let’s just wait it out.” Then, I just got bored so I was like, “Nah, let’s put this shit out.” I want to play shows, but I also want to get this music out so I could keep working on new shit.
The album covers a lot of personal experiences. How does it feel to go from a generally private person to opening up about this stuff?
It’s definitely strange. I think, with Hippo Campus, there’s an element of us four being a team and talking about our music together; it’s not about one individual coming forward at any moment. So, this is all very foreign to me, to be like, “Oh, it’s just me talking about music that I made,” so [there’s] a new pressure on it where it’s like, if you don’t like this then you hate me. Yeah, it’s been interesting taking ownership, but it’s also been really therapeutic to be like, “I made this; I’m going to stand behind this.” I intentionally made the lyrics as straightforward as possible through the whole record. I think, in Hippo Campus, oftentimes, I would kind of write these personal things out in a language that was a bit intangible and it was like…I don’t know; I’m just talking in circles [laughs].
[laughs] No, it’s fine.
It’s been a really good exercise to be able to put music out there and be the one who’s standing for it.
What was it like putting it all down on paper?
Like, recording or like writing lyrics?
Writing it all, especially the harder topics like the breakup like you said, and the health scare that you’ve mentioned.
It’s all therapeutic. I mean, I’ve always been writing as a form of therapy. I don’t oftentimes sit down and ask myself how I’m feeling, you know? It’s more like, if I’m going through some shit, I’ll just pick up a guitar or a keyboard and start writing. The writing process is always very consciously based; I just start writing words. I don’t really go in like, “This song is about this.” I just start writing words — like free association kind of — and I start to gradually see a theme start to emerge. So, I’ve always used it as a method of therapy. Songwriting has always been more like a need than a want [laughs] or a desire.
What do you usually write first? Do you like writing the lyrics or the music first?
No, so, I almost always write a chord progression or some sort of guitar riff and then I’ll freestyle a melody over top of it with fake words, and then a phrase will come out of that and I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But, there were some moments on this record—this is the first time I’ve ever done this—where I just kept a Notes document in my phone of phrases I would think of throughout the day. That was a really interesting exercise in songwriting so I’m like, “Oh this phrase doesn’t fit within my melody so I have to modify this melody,” and some of them would get modified in some crazy ways. This was like a mix of both but it was still mainly melody and guitar first, and lyrics second.
Do you have the note on you? I’d love to hear a couple of the ones you had.
I’m trying to think…the note is buried under a bazillion different notes. There’s this line in one of the last songs that’s like, “Isn’t it obvious, I’m in oblivion,” and I was trying to fit that into the melodic line that’s like [sings lyric] and I’m like, “Okay, cool.” That’s one where it’s a weirder phrase-thing.
You end the album with the dimming repetition of that. Was that always the intention or were you like, “It’s too cool for me not to.”
I don’t think it was ever. It was never straight-up the intention, but I wrote that song… it’s the most stripped back song, so I feel like it worked really well. It was the last track. It was one of the last ones I wrote for the record. The break up was very fresh. I had just been on tour in Europe and then I went to Australia and then I went to New Zealand and I was really sick. I had just seen my ex and we’d just kind of talked about not getting back together. I had all this crazy health shit and I was just in a really fragile mental state. My friends had all went skydiving that day and I was just like alone because I was too sick to go skydiving. It was a really vulnerable moment on the record.
How has BJ Burton’s hand in production influenced the sound of Lupin?
It’s influenced a lot. BJ has been a massive influence on me, personally, since we had started working together on Landmark. I had never recorded things on my own up until that record. I basically bought a computer and a microphone so I could track vocals independently so he’s kind of been my mentor as far as recording and production go. Working with him one-on-one was really great; it was a whole lot easier than working with him in a band dynamic. Making Hippo Campus records is very very fun but it’s very very dramatic which adds to the thing in a cool way. But, making the record with BJ was not dramatic at all. It was very much, like, me and BJ are on a very similar page taste-wise so it was almost effortless. He liked everything I did and I liked everything he did; we didn’t challenge each other much.
So, in songs like “Vampire” and “Murderer,” the synths are very pleasant in contrast to the hard topics. Why did you decide on such gentle music?
I think it’s just the style I’ve always been accustomed to. I could maybe count the number of songs in a minor key that I’ve written in my life- it might be three. It was probably more back when I was playing rock music in high school. I’ve always written songs in major keys, but I’ve always been depressed so…[laughs] It’s just kind of, like, always creating this weird juxtaposition, which is these really vulnerable, kind of depressing lyrics over danceable, clean songs. I don’t know, I guess I’m just crazy probably.
[laughs] Yeah, well if it turns out nice, then it’s a good thing!
I just wanted to come forth with something, like, loud and a banger. I feel like most people were expecting me to come out with a folkier, more stripped album. I feel like a lot of times, when an artist goes solo, they’re like, “Oh, I get to do my acoustic songs,” and I wanted to come forward with something that really hit because I wanted to make a pop album. I didn’t necessarily want to make something slower, because that’s where my tendencies are. I feel like my strengths as a songwriter have always been pop writing and this album I was like, “Cool, I’m going to make a true pop album.” It’s not going to be an indie-pop album; it’s going to be a straight-up pop record. And “May” kind of captured that energy the best out of all the songs, I think.
Did you have a specific process when it came to figuring out the order of the album?
We went back and forth for a while. We wanted it to be ten songs and I wrote twenty songs for it. It was just a process of narrowing it down. I kept writing and the newer songs I was writing were better every time, so they would knock out an older song. The track order was just us basically, like, cutting out of a bunch of songs until it just felt really cohesive.
Are you going to release the other ones ever, or are they just for yourself?
I don’t think the world needs to hear those; I think they’re better left in my hard drive somewhere. But, I am writing another– I have started another Lupin project, so there are new songs.
That’s good! So, what does the album specifically mean to you and what do you hope the listeners take away from it?
To me, it’s like a fractured self-portrait [which] is probably the best way to describe it. I feel like it’s very much me. And the production very much reflects the way my brain works which is like this thing that’s melting and moving. So, yeah, it’s a fractured self-portrait; it’s an album about self-discovery. I found out a lot about myself through that break-up and making that album—what I liked and who I was as a person. So, I’m hoping that people are able to gain a better understanding of who I am, individually, as an artist with this record.
What do you see your future career looking like now that Lupin is being released?
That’s a great question. I think I want to keep, like, producing shit and keep collaborating—like, Damon Albarn from Gorillaz and Blur is a really good artist/career model that I aspire to be. He collaborates with so many artists and has his hands in so many different things. Like I said, I’ve been really into production lately; I’ve been helping a lot of artists [and] doing that fulfills me in a way that I think making music on my own doesn’t. Fulfilling another artist’s vision is a really powerful thing. I think I’ll just keep producing, keep writing, and take as many projects as I can. There’s also some new Baby Boys music on the way which I’m really excited about releasing. So, yeah, I’m just going to keep writing music to stay sane basically.
And if you could tell everyone one thing before they listen to the album, what would you tell them?
Oh man, such a good question. I mean, I think just go in with an open mind. I think whatever opinions you had of me as an artist in Hippo Campus…I think this album is different. But, I think leaving those preconceived notions behind and just listening to this for the body of work that it is will yield the best results.
Lupin came out today, October 9th. Make sure to give it a listen and, in the meantime, keep up with Jake on his socials.
You can also watch the recently released videos for “K.O. Kid” below!