Billy Fleming, drummer and one half of Australian surf-rock duo Hockey Dad, answers the phone. He and his bandmate, guitarist Zach Stephenson, have just landed in San Diego and are peeling out of the airport in the van that will take them across the continent for their very first North American tour.
It’s an exciting moment, to be sure, but it’s been an exhilarating couple of years for the two lifelong friends from Windang. After forming Hockey Dad in 2013, the band quickly gained a loyal following with their sun-and-sea-inspired sound of their 2014 EP, Dreamin’. A year later, they landed a prestigious Main Stage slot at Falls Festival Byron Bay and caught the attention of Brooklyn label Kanine Records, who signed them after their infectious vibe caught their attention at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon.
Now, Hockey Dad have released Boronia, their debut full-length album — an impressive offering of 11 sand-scrubbed garage nuggets that evoke good times and endless summers.
“We’re heaps stoked that it’s actually finally happening,” Fleming says of the album’s release.“It’s been a while that we’ve just been holding onto it and it’s sweet that it’s finally getting out there.”
The crackle of wind blowing through an open window makes the phone line fuzz as Fleming joyfully expresses his enthusiasm for what the road promises over the next few months — zig-zagging across the continent and visiting cities they’ve never been to before. His sincerity is a characteristic indicative of the band’s philosophy, if they have one — something that’s incredibly genuine, rooted in being true to themselves and being, quite simply, happy with life. It comes across through the laid back feel of their music, in hazy, melodic arrangements and subject matter that at once celebrates who they are, where they come from, and the way they grew up.
First confirmation of this arrives from the band name, Hockey Dad — a sly reference to The Simpsons (the name of a video game Bart and Milhouse play in one episode), a show both Fleming and Stephenson have always been big fans of, though Fleming says that it’s the guitarist whose the biggest junkie. Their music videos, “Jump The Gun” in particular, shows shots of them catching waves in between walking about their hometown, doing things that they would on any other day, like going to the corner store for pops and cruising the neighbourhood in their car. And then, there’s Boronia — named for the street Fleming and Stephenson were raised on.
“On one end of it, there’s a footy field,” Fleming describes. “And then in the middle of it, there’s a pub and then on the other end is the beach. And then the street all up is about 200 metres long — which is, I don’t know how many yards that is — and then we’re right down by the beach end. Right in between the beach, so that’s a pretty good spot, if you ask me.”
The two first met on that street by the beach when they were in kindergarten. Fleming was playing footy with his dad in the front yard of their home and Stephenson, who lived a couple of doors away, wandered over and asked if he could join. From then on, they never stopped hanging out, and started to play music together out of boredom at 13, banging away on some old equipment that belonged to Stephenson’s father.
“It’s just your typical small Australian town. Like, blink of an eye and you’ll miss it kind of thing. I don’t know, it’s real nice there,” says Fleming of growing up in Wingdang, a suburb of scenic Wollongong. “Pretty much, it’s got the surfing culture, a little bit of skating culture amongst a few of the kids, but mainly surfing just because of the area that we’re in.”
Boronia, he says, is an ode to Windang. Lighthearted and bright, the music captures the fun-loving spirit of Fleming and Stephenson’s day-to-day lives. Sonically, they source from their childhoods — pummelling percussion and distorted guitar a nod to Fleming’s ‘90s punk upbringing; honeyed hooks and soulful vocals a testament to Stephenson’s musical diet of what Fleming calls the “Australian Goldies.”
Photo Credit: Chris Frape
The boys penned most of Boronia in Windang, save for a few songs that were done in Grange, a coastal suburb of Adelaide, where they recorded demos. The songs were written to provide sweet glimpses into their blissed-out realm, though Fleming admits that in their early days, when they were playing in their high school band, there was no real method to their songwriting — they would improvise off each other in the backyard shed, trying a drumbeat here and a riff there. It’s become more structured as they’ve grown older, he says, with both Fleming and Stephenson sometimes writing on their own and coming back together with different ideas. But, all in all, it’s a very natural process; however it sounds is how it sounds.
“I guess if you took bits and pieces from the lyrics and kind of knew who we are as people, you would get to know a little bit deeper about what we do and how we spend most of our days and stuff,” Fleming explains. There are plenty of references to the sky and sea, like on “Dylan’s Place,” where Stephenson croons about the water gliding beneath his surfboard. On “Jump The Gun,” he sings “I don’t wanna go home / I’m having too much fun,” his voice echoing over driving glittery guitar and the dynamic wallop of Fleming’s skins, drumming up visions of a beachy rager at nightfall. It’s moments like this that mark Boronia’s triumph — its knack for expressing an energy that can transport a listener to a special place; in this case, the warms shores of the South Pacific. The song that arguably does this best is perhaps the last track on the record, “Grange” — an ebullient instrumental jam that hits just past the five-minute point.
“Yeah, that song is probably one of our favourites,” Fleming says, adding that it was written in Grange and stands as their homage to the place. “Hopefully you picture exactly what Grange is. That’s such a lovely spot.”
It’s not all just sand and surf, though — there are a few weightier cuts on Boronia as well.
“So Tired,” for example, is about feeling utterly exhausted of being lonely. And then, there’s “Two Forever” — Stephenson’s love letter to Fleming. Hockey Dad were in Grange when Stephenson first pulled out the lyrics. After they recorded, Flemming asked his bandmate who the song was about. “And he’s like “oh, I was waiting for you to ask me that,’” Fleming laughs. “And then I’m like, ‘wait, who’s it about?’ and he’s like “it’s about you, dickhead!’ I’m like, “Oh! Okay!’ It was just the funniest thing, because I was expecting it to be about some girl that I didn’t know about, then he drops that bromance on me.”
That there is the core of Hockey Dad — a deep bond that arises from the rather exceptional relationship that exists between two best friends.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Fleming says. “You kind of feel that in most of the album, as well. When I listen to the album anyway, that’s what I feel. I’m always thinking about how long we’ve been mates together and stuff, so. Yeah, it’s good.”
It’s a connection that runs directly through their sun-bleached compositions and right into the heart of the listener. With Boronia, we too feel like we’re riding the wave in a warm world of beach, babes, and friendship. It’s an idyll that, like the band themselves, is delightfully carefree and completely without pretence.
Right now, though, the scene is this: two mates driving in a van towards the California sun, getting ready for their next adventure.
Hockey Dad perform in Vancouver on August 16 and in Toronto on August 26.