Interview: The New Hippies

Although they’re affiliated with Chapman University in Orange County, you don’t need to be attached to the school to appreciate what The New Hippies have done for the local scene. Realizing that live music and house shows were dead in the water, The New Hippies have spent the past few years breathing life back into a vital part of local culture with their renowned venue parties. That’s not to mention the music they produce in their own right. A rotating collective consisting of Joe Picard, Zane Taylor, Understanding Diggs, Alex Rushka, Chris Traynor, and Sai Wagh, The New Hippies deftly blend jazz and hip hop to form a captivating and vibrant sound. Fresh off the release of their new single “Text me Back, Witch,” Ted Davis recently caught up with them as the anticipation for their debut album increases.  

The New Hippies

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TD: How much can you reveal about the details of your album release?

Zane Taylor: We went to New Jersey to record for 10 days and we tracked, like, 16 songs. It was, like, everything we had at the time.

Joe Picard: Three of (the songs) we wrote there. This was, like, nine months ago.

ZT: We were slaving away 24 hours a day for 10 days. For the moment [the new album] is called NOW WHAT* because we thought we did everything we could do, and because we put everything we had into it at the time. It’s been kind of a learning curve where you put in work and expect it to be done, but then it lingers for so long. It’s strange to have to keep returning to it because it didn’t come out in the shape you thought it would be in. We would love to make a loose narrative for it, with a visual album where none of the songs are connected to it. We would love to hold a mirror up to our world and show people what was going on at the time the album was made. Just little snippets of what was going on socially in our lives, but parallel it with the music we were making.

TD: How much of the production did you do yourselves and how much was done by producers that you guys brought in?

ZT: Everything was us except for one engineer that we brought in.

Sai Wagh: All they did was just levels and stuff—

ZT: —and we did everything else. It’s all live instruments at the moment, so it sounds unique.

Chris Traynor: It’s hard to describe because it’s not like something that’s been done before. We had to mix a bunch of styles to do our own thing.

TD: How are you involved with the Wu Tang Clan?

CT: We played with them at three different shows.

JP: We haven’t been in the studio with them, but got to make the album in their domain at [what was] essentially the 36 CHAMBERS studio. We’d walk around and they’d have boxes of floppy disks. All these different demos and shit. Decades of music. We listened through the whole album with RZA and talked to him about our goals and how to continue our growth. There’s a lot of support and connection, but we’re still very much on our own path.

TD: What’s the funniest experience you guys have had in your time as a band?

ZT: We were in the green room and Understanding was getting food. This dude introduces himself as Free, and Un turns around and it turns out it’s his cousin, and he’s just like, “Oh, Free’s here?” There’s another night Wu-Tang played and they put on “C.R.E.A.M.” The RZA’s on stage and he’s like, “This one’s for Understanding,” and Understanding’s in the back just sleeping. Knocked out. It’s not the ‘90s, so backstage at a Wu-Tang show is a very different experience. Everyone’s got a wife and kids. It’s a nice time. It’s like family.

TD: What do the Wu-Tang Clan eat?

CT: A lot of them are vegan.

JP: Pretty sure RZA and GZA are both vegan. They took a break to eat (at) a show and they had some lentil soup, some spaghetti with vegan meatballs, and they made some fried tofu later on. It was nice. It wasn’t too heavy and you feel good, but then they stay up all night. Like, Understanding sleeps a lot, but never at night. So he’s up from like two o’clock to seven or eight in the morning.

TD: As a newer student, from my perspective, Jacaranda Jams was probably the most hyped party and only prominent house show I encountered at Chapman (University in Orange, CA). Now that you’ve graduated, have you considered throwing any larger scale events of that sort?

ZT: Yeah, we want to do volume three. We made it an end-of-the-semester thing and we want to do the third one at the end of this year. We’ve been talking about moving out to a venue because we can’t do it at our apartment. The thought’s been put out there that maybe we would try and go back to the house.

JP: It’s either an ideal venue, or the original venue.

ZT: If we can get the kids who live at the house to let us throw another show there. We’re just siked that there’s so many house shows because we wanted to jumpstart a music scene.

SW: Like, you know that there’s so many creative kids there already that we should all just be sharing with each other.

TD: When was the first Jacaranda Jams and what inspired you guys to throw it? Were there other bands at Chapman when you were underclassmen doing the same thing or were you guys the first to throw a house show?

JP: To my knowledge we were the first. Frats had done actual shows with like Snoop and shit, but that’s a venue thing.

ZT: We were always the oldest and knew kids who jammed, but didn’t know anyone else who actually made it a band.

TD: What’s some music you would suggest your fans listen to?

New Hippies: NxWxrries, Smino, Lettuce, SZA, Azizi Gibson, Anomolie, Ari Lennox, Mick Jenkins, Noname, Isaiah Rashad, new Tyler, the Creator, The Killers, Maxwell, Daniel Caesar, BadBadNotGood, Snarky Puppy, and our new single.

*NOW WHAT is no longer the title of the album.

Ted Davis is a culture writer and musician. He works in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC.

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