Chicago - Australian band Hockey Dad recently released its debut album Boronia (Kanine Records), and to celebrate, the duo, comprised of singer and guitarist Zach Stephenson and drummer William Fleming, took off on its first proper North American tour. The two best friends, who grew up in the Wollongong suburb of Windang, met at the age of five and became instant pals. The two have grown up surfing, skateboarding, and making music together. Eventually Stephenson and Fleming formed surf-rock band Hockey Dad, and in 2014, the duo released the Dreamin’ EP, to critical acclaim. The guys caught the attention of Lio Cerezo, the founder of Kanine Records (Grizzly Bear, Braids, Surfer Blood), and signed a record deal.
While stopped in the Windy City, for a show at the legendary Empty Bottle, Hockey Dad took some time out for a little Q&A with Best New Bands. We talked Boronia, Eminem, and staying the night in a haunted prison turned hotel in Iowa.
You recently released your debut LP Boronia, which you recorded long before you singed with your current label, Kanine Records. How long had you been sitting on this album and how does it feel to finally have unleashed it on the world?
William Fleming: We had this recorded about June last year. We were aiming to release it late last year, on an Australian label, but we met up with Lio [Cerezo] prior to this, at this festival in Australia. He was like you have to come to CMJ, so once that was settled, we had to push it back because obviously we wanted to release it at the same time, in both territories. Yeah, when did we release it – August 12th – so it was over a year we were hanging on to it. Which is crazy!
But completely normal in the music industry.
William Fleming: Yeah, and especially because its the first album, as well, we wanted it to be solid.
How are you feeling Zach?
Zach Stephenson: It’s nice to have it out and be able to work on something else and focus on the music.
The song “Jump The Gun” gets me feeling all sentimental about summer nights. What inspired this song from Boronia?
William Fleming: It was in my room, when we started off in the real early days on GarageBand or whatever. I had a poster of Endless Summer II, the surf movie. It was pretty much looking at that and writing lyrics. [laughs] I actually wrote the riff for that.
Zach Stephenson: Yeah, you did!
William Fleming: I was like, “Does this sound good?” And Zach was like, “Yeah, give it to me!” He made it sound alright. [laughs]
I was planning to talk about surf movies later, but I’ll do it now since you brought it up. Being avid surfers, do you have any surf movies that you love?
William Fleming: So many! Endless Summer II is a classic. That came out like…
Zach Stephenson: In the 90s.
William Fleming: Yeah, we were super young.
Zach Stephenson: I had that on video.
Are we talking VHS video?
Zach Stephenson: Yes!
William Fleming: Over the years there have been so many to come out. It’s impossible to name all of them.
Most of songs on Boronia seem to focus on relationships and your quest for love. Which is interesting to me because I would assume being young and on the road you’d be more about that single life and having fun. Do you two consider yourselves romantics?
William Fleming: Well, Zach can answer that one.
Zach Stephenson: Not really?
William Fleming: The songs written on there were from before you had the misses though.
Zach Stephenson: I have a girlfriend now, so none of those songs really make sense.
You succeeded in your quest. [laughs]
Zach Stephenson: I guess.
William Fleming: I’m still trying.
Well, good luck!
William Fleming: I guess we are pretty romantic.
Zach Stephenson: I just can’t think of anything else to write about. Like, I don’t want to write about politics or anything like that.
William Fleming: Too serious.
The album art for Boronia makes me think of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Are you guys fans of Nirvana?
Zach Stephenson: Yeah!
William Fleming: Very much so. That photo came about – I took the photo on a family holiday. That’s my niece. I wasn’t fully going “I’m going to take a photo of my niece on a beach” or whatever. That wasn’t the sole purpose of it… It was just one of those photos I took and was like, “I’m going to use that one day, for something.” I just love the photo.
Do you take photos normally? Are you into photography?
William Fleming: Yeah, film.
Sweet! What musicians would you say influenced you most growing up?
William Fleming: I guess between the both of us, we’ve listened to heaps of different stuff, as well as similar stuff. There’s a wide range of everything. When I was really young, I kind of grew up listening to my brothers’ and sisters’ punk collections. And rap, as well! My whole Eminem phase was plenty. [laughs]
And you Zach?
Zach Stephenson: 80s and 90s Australian bands.
You two are best friends and have been friends since the age of five. You even wrote the song “Two Forever” about your friendship. Do you ever find yourselves lost in your own world unique to your friendship, with girlfriends and others just out of the loop?
Zach Stephenson: No, not really. We’re not that close.
William Fleming: Yeah, we’re not secluding everyone else. I think when we’re around people we don’t know, it’s a bit that way.
How would you say the surfer lifestyle has shaped your music?
William Fleming: I feel that surfing has influenced our lifestyle. Predominantly, that’s how we live at home. In regards to music, I think maybe it’s got a bit more of that laid back feel to it, but it’s kind of hard to say surfing influences the genre we play because back home, Parkway Drive, they live in a very similar situation to us and they’re playing [metal].
Zach Stephenson: It probably influences like two percent of what we do.
William Fleming: Yeah, you can’t get genre out of it. It influences lifestyle, so the way that we write and the way that we do stuff.
You’ve been touring the U.S. and Canada in support of your debut album. What are some memorable or crazy moments you’ve experienced on tour? And being your first proper tour in the States, have you experienced any culture shock?
William Fleming: A little bit.
Zach Stephenson: Well, we had been here a couple of times.
Yeah, for SXSW and CMJ.
William Fleming: But we haven’t obviously been to all the states we’re going to, and each state is very different and that’s crazy. Because at home, each state, everyone’s Australian and not really that different. A memorable moment, last night one of our really good friends from home was in Nebraska to hear us play, which is insane! Back at home, in the shed, having beers, okay – but you would not expect us to be on the other side of the world having beers. So yeah, that was crazy!
Zach Stephenson: The Vancouver show was really fun. Same with LA… The whole Pacific Northwest was really nice. I had been to Portland, but Seattle and Vancouver were really good, too.
I saw on Facebook you guys stayed in a haunted hotel the other night.
William Fleming: There was prison right near, and on the way there, we were like maybe this is where all the families stay to visit so this might be weird. We pulled up and there were four cars in the carpark and this pretty big hotel. There were a plenty of rooms. Everyone had this gut feeling; it was a bit weird and we weren’t feeling it. We got the suitcases, walked in, and it was literally like walking into any Punked show you’ve seen. It was like, man this was a prison block! Obviously they refurbished it to look like a hotel, but it’s like, nah. When we got to the room we started researching to see if it was a prison, and our manager was like, “Fuck, it’s haunted, this place.” So we were obviously looking deeper into that. Then we just freaked ourselves out because apparently there’s a dead woman who walks around covered in blood because she killed herself or something. And the room 104, there’s no room number on the door. They’ve taken it off because it’s like hell.
That’s how it is here, in Chicago, at the Congress Hotel.
William Fleming: Apparently, it’s a full stop on some haunted website.
For people who travel the U.S. looking for haunted places?
William Fleming: Yeah!
And you guys did it. Congrats on surviving! [laughs]
Hockey Dad is currently on tour. Go see William Fleming and Zach Stephenson for a hauntingly good time! Tour dates can be found on the Hockey Dad Facebook page. Boronia is available for purchase on iTunes.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.