Playing to thousands of adoring fans across Australia and around globe, the immeasurable popularity of Windang’s own Hockey Dad is a surefire sign of a band that’s only heading on an upwards trajectory. Ahead of their latest album Brain Candy arriving this week, we caught up with singer, guitarist, and all round great guy Zach Stephenson to chat all things songwriting, studios and tour plans.
Zach and his rhythmic counterpart Billy Fleming’s first official incarnation of Hockey Dad was minted back in 2013, but the duo starting jamming together well and truly before that. Their unique blend of classic rock with modern garage rock has made them a force to be reckoned with, and with booming arena hits like ‘I Wanna Be Everybody’ and ‘Join The Club’, it’s clear the boys have the gift of knowing how to write a great rock song.
It’s clear that the duo didn’t waiver from this process on their latest effort, Brain Candy, with recently released tracks ‘Good Eye’ and ‘Itch’ offering a much more sophisticated and deep sound from the pair, who are now well and truly seasoned musicians.
But, as Zach tells us, getting more experienced still doesn’t make things easier for the duo. “I think as we get more experienced, maybe playing becomes a little easier, but writing, I don’t think that becomes easier. Writing’s always a bit of a challenge.”
Zach usually starts the writing process; “I’ll have like a general idea, maybe like half a song or three quarters of a song, and then I’ll send it to Billy and we talk about it, he’ll put his input in, once we get together to practice it, then it’ll make its final form.
“I think most of it (Brain Candy) was written in segments. We’d be back home from tours, and I’d work a lot at home, just trying to pump stuff out.” Billy prefers to write from home rather than when he’s on the move. “I especially find it pretty hard to write on the road, I think usually I’m too tired and hungover to write,” he laughs.
Billy and Zach say that they found inspiration for Brain Candy in a myriad of different sources, with one notable example being one of the record’s most unique sounding tracks, ‘Keg’ - a song about a humble country pub that Zach clearly holds close to his heart.
“‘Keg’ was one of the songs we kind of wrote on the fly within two weeks in this house we had,” hey says. “It was out the back of Bathurst in this little mining town. We went to the local pub there, and it was this classic old pub, and we had so much fun there that we kinda just wanted to write a little song that just snapshotted that pub, and get that vibe going.
“We went to the pub, had a couple of beers, went back and wrote that song within like an hour straight after going there. Then it made it on the record, cause we fell in love with it!”
One could even be mistaken for thinking Zach and Billy have the ability to see into the future when listening to ‘Germophobe’ - a track that certainly takes on a new meaning now as we live through the coronavirus pandemic. Although he’d like to think it was, Zach confirms that the song was in fact not inspired by COVID. “We got really lucky with that prediction, but that was written a long time ago, we must of called it!” he laughs.
The recording process for Brain Candy marked Hockey Dad’s return to the same studio where they tracked their previous album Blend Inn at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, Washington, where they linked up with producer John Goodmanson, best known for working with acts such as Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill. Despite being familiar with much of the gear and processes used last time, the pair note that they still found some exciting differences here and there.
“I think we had a lot more fun this time, just because we more comfortable in the studio. We had more time there as well, a lot more time to take it easy,” says Zach.
The liberty of time and finding comfort in the studio led Billy and Zach to venture off from the ordinary and have a bit of fun with the recording of Brain Candy, with the duo trying out a few different instruments and pieces of gear to make the whole process a bit more fun.
“We messed around with a few guitars and a few different cool effects. We tried to get some slide and some organ on there, just trying to spread our wings and keep ourselves entertained over the recording process”
For Hockey Dad, the MO has always focused around Zach on the guitar and Billy on the drums. However, Zach mentions that for Brain Candy, the bass took more of a front seat – and their touring bass player and frequent recording collaborator Steve Bourke was more involved in the songwriting and recording process
“Bass took a bit more of a bigger role on this record - bass lines and the bass sound, everything bass related kind of took a bigger role because songs were written as a three piece, with all of us together,” he says. “Steve was with us writing, that was where more of a three piece mentality came in to play.”
While getting Brain Candy together, the band spent a few weeks in the bush in this house on a songwriting mission, where Zach says they would listen to variety of different records to get into the mindset they needed to get the most out of their time in the studio.
“We would be hanging out in the house after recording, and just putting tracks on YouTube and finding random gems,” he says. “Then after listening to that, we’d just get psyched on it and then we’d go into the studio the next day and play around on ideas based from that.”
Given the reputation of their rowdy live shows, it comes no surprise that Zach and Billy are bummed out about the lack of touring prospects looming over the horizon. Their plans to debut Brain Candy at a run of drive-in shows in Wollongong have just been postponed due to bad weather, and the band were forced to cancel a huge run of tour dates when the pandemic hit earlier in the year.
However, there is one show looming over the horizon that’s certainly worth the wait, with Hockey Dad locked in to perform a massive hometown set for Yours & Owls Festival in January next year. Until then, Zach says, everything is up in the air - which might even mean the duo could hit the studio once again during the meantime.
“We were about to head out on a tour about a month after everything locked down. All of our tours got cancelled,” he says. “If we can’t tour for a long time, I say we’ll get back in the studio and keep ourselves busy, trying to write stuff and mucking around.”