Photo: Joseph Crackett
Best mates first, band mates second – the heart of Hockey Dad has always existed in the friendship between duo Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming, who first met in early childhood, growing up two doors apart in the unassuming, laid back coastal town of Windang, Australia. The foundations for the band began in early 2013, where an underage Fleming and Stephenson would sneak into their local live music haunt to catch their favourite bands. Eventually they were granted regular slots playing to an ever-growing crew of enthusiastic friends turned fans. In 2014 they released their Dreamin’ EP and were finalists in the prestigious triple j unearthed high competition.
Now, the duo are on the verge of releasing their highly-anticipated second album Blend Inn, the follow up to 2016’s debut Boronia. Where Boronia celebrated the long days of summers past, of mates, the ocean and the sublime naivety of youth, Blend Inn is Fleming and Stephenson coming to us with more perspective, following a year of relentless touring which took them far from the streets and waves of their hometown.
The growth that Hockey Dad have experienced over the past 18 months has been no accident. The fast-paced, punk style of Billy’s drums is executed in perfect synchronicity with Zach’s jangly guitar, anthemic choruses and ever confident vocals to give life to their unmistakable and infectious brand of surf-rock. After the release of their debut Boronia in August 2016, they travelled extensively through North America playing headline and support shows, including showcases at SXSW and a Canadian tour with Dune Rats. 2017 also took them to the UK, Europe, plus an Australian tour with icons Wavves in some of the country’s biggest venues – a world away from the 70 cap band room where Hockey Dad first cut their teeth.
Landing in Seattle, the recording of Blend Inn began with renowned audio engineer and producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Cloud Nothings) at Robert Lang Studios. The studios, supposedly haunted, echo with their iconic past – housing many of rock’s legends over its time, The Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Death Cab For Cutie, Alice In Chains, for example, but most notably Nirvana, who recorded their last single inside – the mic used by Kurt Cobain still hanging in tribute. Here, Hockey Dad found a home away from home – immortalising their time in the album artwork, which depicts the house in a film photo captured by Fleming.
Where Boronia spoke of a physical place, named for home, Blend Inn refers to somewhere more introspective; “Blend Inn is the part of your head that you want to go to when you’re overseas and wishing you were back home, it’s within” says Fleming “We’re always just trying to be comfortable and semi blending in, so it’s the name we gave to that place you zone out to”. The album is Hockey Dad’s boldest output to date, a natural progression for Fleming and Stephenson as they face the tribulations of young adulthood, a theme reflected across the record. Lead single Homely Feeling is an ode to their roots; “In a way the lyrics of this song reflect on trying to find that “Homely” feeling all the time,” explains Stephenson, “for when you’re surrounded by heaps of people and kinda freaking out..”. I Wanna Be Everybody speaks of social anxiety, Join The Club relays the struggle for self-identity in the face of societal expectation, whilst lighter moments like Sweet Release show the duo taking risks – showcasing Fleming on vocals for the first time.
Blend Inn holds onto the charm and energy of youth which won hearts originally – the playfulness, the edge, that quintessential Hockey Dad surf rock sound – but it comes to us from two people with an expanded mind-set; “We’re still kids,” reflects Fleming “But we’re just a little bit more… tinged”