Hockey Dad are changing, there’s no doubt about it. From their 2014 debut ’til now, Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming have been smashing out irresistible tunes laden with the agonies of our everyday. 2016’s Boronia and 2018’s Blend Inn soundtracked the intricacies of Australian adolescence like no other, winning them an entire nation of fans.
Scorching riffs, deafeningly honest lyrics, and solos that pack a punch; the music of Hockey Dad will set you free, no matter how trapped you feel. Now, Zach and Billy are tracing a new journey for the band, one that diverts from everything we thought we knew about their music. Welcome to Brain Candy, the group’s sonic escape.
A sound perfectly fit for a coastal garage has now been tailored to fill our biggest stages, their surf-rock roots now charter genres we never expected from the duo. You could say that Brain Candy is the product of growth, but I believe it’s a horizon; the group reaching into the distance of the music world after firmly asserting their place in it, unleashing the sonic potential they had all along. On the fateful afternoon that Hockey Dad finally stepped into the Happy Mag office, they were rugged up in the most toxic-looking hazmat suits you’ve ever seen. Following a hectic day of merch runs, Zach and Billy had set out to deliver a number of unidentified cereal boxes to the homes of their adoring fans.
“It was real fun, hey!” Billy explains. “We basically chose a bunch of people that had pre-ordered the album, packed that and some other goodies into a bunch of cereal boxes. So we’re driving around delivering these pre-ordered albums. Some of the people weren’t even home though, that was quite funny…”
“It was even funnier when they weren’t home,” Zach adds. “We’d just take a photo of ourselves standing at their front door and email it to them.”
“So many times we were greeted by a family member who had no idea who we were,” Billy laughs.
“[Laughs] Someone’s dad would answer the door and be like ‘who are you fellas?’ Thinking we were actual delivery drivers,” Zach remembers. “But I guess it was a cool way for us to connect with fans because we couldn’t do record store shows, or signings, or anything like that. It was a fun way to keep people interested in what we’re up to. Yeah, and it’s been fun for us.”
After chewing the fat over their expedition and the potential of some renos to the delivery van, it was time for us to dive into the hard-hitting questions:
“In the same way that Silverchair were called ‘The Chair’, would you ever consider being called ‘The Dad’?”
“Bring in ‘The Dad’! I have to say, it’s got a nice ring to it. I could 100% get behind that,” Zach agrees.
“The united ‘Dad’,” Billy adds, pretty much setting the decision in stone. While most reviewers are claiming that Brain Candy stands as the Windang duo’s graduation, saying so assumes that their quintessential raw, earthy sound was the product of inexperience. Hockey Dad had this potential all along, they simply produced themselves a defining sound, allowed it to simmer in the Australian market, and then used that platform to stretch surf-rock as far as it could possibly go.
They are shaping the Hockey Dad sound into a deep, rich spectrum of tone and texture. Their new album documents just that. We begin with the traditional fuzzed-out guitar, chord-heavy melodies, and infectious drums that we know from the band. In This State and I Missed Out serve as the perfect openers for any Hockey Dad aficionado; universal narratives, a sun-soaked aesthetic, and carefree charisma.
It’s the group flexing what they have mastered. They enter, smash out larger-than-life choruses, throwing away the melodies as they play them. We know that every song is intricately crafted and the product of a lot of thought and care, but onstage, Hockey Dad don’t take themselves too seriously. That’s what’s so compelling about them.
However, as the record’s halfway mark rolls around, Itch, the duo shift the pace. Mosh-made energy is quickly traded for angst, anxiety brimming under an unrelenting momentum. The track holds a repressed dread that could very well be written for Radiohead’s The Bends.
From there, we experience a Hockey Dad like we’ve never seen before. From the grunge-filled acidity of Heavy Assault to the Americana, RnB stylings of Keg, Zach and Billy cast the band into a realm that speaks to even more than themselves. As any Australian will know, surf-rock is easily one of the most compelling genres. There’s just something so undeniable about a music traced in summertime nostalgia. Where Hockey Dad had previously melted surf, indie, and garage into energy, Brain Candy casts this sound into the past, making sure to not compromise on any style in the process.
What audiences are left with is a body of work layered with sonic textures, that utilises its ambition to explore deep, yet universal, emotions.
“Well, the concept of Brain Candy is for it to be like a little bag of mixed lollies,” Zach explains to us. “Every song on the record triggers a little bit of a different emotion or just a little taste in your mouth. I think we wanted people to not take anything too seriously, just have fun. It’s a lolly, it can be sweet or it can be sour, but ultimately it’s just there for a treat. That’s it. It’s nothing to look too deeply into.”
Closing with the self-referential Looking Forward to The Change, Zach sings of an addiction to the darkness, while the duo paint a very visual soundscape. We can see them moving forward towards a horizon, the weight of their introspective lyrics keeping them grounded.The final, 90-second thrash of overdriven guitar and psychedelic drone drives the band further towards their new dawn, but also serves as the perfect joiner to the album’s beginning. Brain Candy is a cyclic sojourn that delivers momentum and navigates our world in a time when we need it most.
“It’s that thing where you get excited to put out a record and you really just want to be able to play it,” Billy explains about releasing the album during COVID-19. “In fact, that’s how people get to know the album. I feel like that’s been hindered a little because we can’t play shows. It’s a bizarre feeling, putting on an album and it’s almost just into the wind, you know?”
“It’s hard when you can’t just ram it into peoples skulls, I guess. I feel like the live aspect is just such an important part of a record release!” Zach adds.
“Yeah, I think that’s why, before we released this record, we thought a lot about different ways to engage with the fans. We want people to be stoked to listen to it. But yeah, we are definitely missing the shows,” Billy sighs.
Unfortunately for the band, their line-up of drive-in gigs had to be delayed until October 9th and 10th due to a classic stitch-up: the Bulli Showground got bogged. In spite of all of this, the thousands of fans still lining up to attend just speaks to the sheer force that is Hockey Dad. Stadium-sized tracks, relatable messages, and a new album that places them into the league of music’s greats: Zach and Billy are killing it.
“I’m glad we can still make it happen, maybe build up a little more tension, get everyone a little bit more excited,” Zach exclaims. “Now that they can hear all the songs off the new record and they can expect to see them in a live setting, it’ll be fun!”
“It’s this crazy new experience for us to even be at a drive-in, let alone playing rock gig at a drive-in,” Billy adds. “I kind of want to be on the other side of it. I want to be the one in the car.”
Zach adamantly agrees.
Brain Candy is available now. Grab it here.
Words by Emily Elvish
Illustration by Samuel McEwen
Interview and photos by Nic Mckenzie