Joe Tripp and his band, The Hops, have recently released their new EP titled “6 Songs”. The Hops were selected as one of Chicago’s best local bands back in 2012 by the Illinois Entertainer and have also performed on the PBS show Studio A (filmed in Carbondale, Illinois and broadcast in five states). The band’s diverse new EP is a delight for listeners: enjoy our review of the album, as well as an interview with Tripp, below.

The music quickly fades in on ‘There’s Something’ as a percussive bass line keeps time. This funky number is very poppy and danceable; the likable melody and awesome bass groove open the song intelligently supported by solid drum parts. The vocals are written and performed well, the lyrics very descriptive and convincing yet thankfully not cliche. The song is structurally sound overall as well, growing nicely as it progresses. The melody from the beginning joins the verse later, as does an awesome lead guitar part, and there are instrumental breaks in a number of areas, most notably at the end of the intro going into the first verse and going into the first chorus (outstanding idea to have the vocals hang out over that bass line from verse to chorus!). While the electric guitar’s tone is lacking and the chorus isn’t as tight instrumentally, the good groove and feel that enters during the second half of the chorus is awesome, surrounded by great guitar parts and lots of emotion in the vocals. The drums come back in awkwardly during the second verse, a maneuver that could’ve been done more fluidly (at that point they should’ve stayed out till the chorus, no?), yet the drums pick up nicely as the song closes. This is a very impressive song; it would need more backing vocals and added parts for radio, but it’s getting there. The Hops only lose their groove at two or three points throughout the song, and when the song ended, I wanted more (whether that was a longer run time, an added bridge, or just hitting repeat, I’m still not sure). ‘Signs’ opens with a good drum groove and a very unique guitar melody, a moving bass, and an organ to add depth. This organ doubles the electric guitar melody, and vocals, which are distorted and performed well, showcase lots of emotion again. ‘Signs’ has a great sound and feel, taking influence from many different styles and genres; the music feels good, and the drums are really driving the song. Instrumentally and vocally this track was one of the more impressive offerings, and the chorus is amazing, complete with great synth bass work and lots of instrumentation that creates a very large, encompassing sound. Everything fits very well in the chorus, and there is another awesome instrumental break out of the chorus (the main hook/riff) and staccato drum play in the second & third verses. This track is easy to listen to and should have no problem appealing to a wide audience. The ascending, unexpected key change after 2:02 makes things interesting, and there are solid backing vocals in this new verse, the drums really grooving by this point. The song stays in this new key for the next chorus, and while the vocals could be more full, they are still very good either way. ‘Fantasma’ showcases a totally different, unique style, beginning with an off-time intro and prominent electric guitar lead line. The verse has a rockier vibe rather than a poppier one and group vocals in the chorus that work well. The lyrical content is again fairly easy to follow along, and the lead-in to the chorus is smooth, drums and a lead guitar line working well there as well. The choruses are well-written and feel-good in nature, and the drum tone is solid. While the lead guitar work is sloppy, that’s somewhat the point; the song employs punk elements, not only in regards to the guitar, but the overall mix and the writing of the song in general. This track is more basic and less unique than the previous two songs, yet it still has intriguing parts and still is memorable.

‘Heart Cries Out’ is much softer and slower than many of the tracks we’ve heard from The Hops before. This different, more intimate groove includes piano, a moving bass, and light cymbals, the production just as magnificent as before. There are additional instrument parts that are placed well, lead guitar lines that are complimentary, and supportive, memorable backing vocals. Out of all the tracks on “6 Songs”, this would have the quickest route to finding its way into TV or film. The instrumental performances here are very good, in tone, play, and sound (the bass play especially in terms of performance). The vocals in the chorus could be better at one or two points, yet great backing vocals add support. A new section enters with a bit of dissonance, adding even more intrigue with thoughtful chord choices and awesome chord progressions before a double chorus closes the song. It would be hard to find someone who didn’t like this this power ballad. ‘Let Go’ is more reserved in volume and feel, even though the bass and drums are grooving to open, and the verse is very good, featuring skillful rhythm guitar parts and outstanding production. The supporting instrumentation is stellar, the vocals are great, and the lyrical content is easy to follow. The great chorus could have even been enhanced further with some echo on the vocals to compliment the spectacular lead guitar lines and excellent melodies. The instrument performances are extremely melodic and are staccato in the choruses, especially the rhythm guitar. The extra backing vocals, which are sometimes distorted, sit nicely in the mix, and when everything is broken down in the middle of the song, a spoken word section over top instrumentation and backing vocals enters. This song, written to heal from and get over a romantic situation, also contains a great instrumental section three quarters through with outstanding instrument performances. This new section seems optimistic and encouraging due to its feel-good nature. Truthfully, this is great music, music that is so fluid and encompassing of Tripp’s sound; again, it would be impossible not to like this. ‘Who Knows’ debuts a new, acoustic sound from the band, supported by a basic lead guitar line (with reversed delay). This much rawer performance, instrumentally and vocally, seems to be mixed differently as well. Tripp’s use of positive repetition is intelligent and has a large impact when mixed with his deep lyrical content and heartfelt story-telling ability. This emotional, stripped-down performance sans drums (largely) is another great example of Tripp’s talent. ‘Who Knows’ expresses pain and is for the most part fairly quiet mix and volume-wise, which allows the vocals to play a prominent role in this easy-going song. Tripp is a stellar writer: the writing within his songs is impressive, as are the chord and part choices instrumentally, and Tripp has a huge opportunity in regards to placement in film, TV, and radio with even better, fully fleshed-out recordings of many of these same songs. Tripp does an excellent job including additional melodies at a number of places within his songs. His vocal performances for the large part are very, very good, and the songs are easy to move to. “6 Songs” is a very solid EP from Joe Tripp and The Hops, and the future is bright for this band from Chicago.

Could you give us some insight into the band’s formation and history? Has the band’s lineup remained consistent, or has it changed over the years?

“The lineup has (changed a lot). TJ has been the most consistent member besides myself. We started with just some friends and family that were more hobbyists than dedicated musicians, but we’ve morphed into a pretty well-oiled machine. At the beginning, I was on guitar, my buddy Donovan was on lead guitar and backing vocals, a friend of my brother’s, Pete Stoll was on bass, and Matt Dzik, who I had met through my artist neighbor (she also happened to be the first female DJ in Chicago, but that’s another story), was on drums. We had a revolving door at bass for a while after Pete left, so I decided to move to bass so we wouldn’t have to keep replacing that spot. Matt decided to join the real world after our first recording; I knew TJ from another band I had played in and asked if he wouldn’t mind helping with The Hops and he stuck. Dono quit right before we made “Won’t It Be Fun” and moved downstate to go to school. Then we found Cullin, who was probably the best guitarist we had had to that date, but he wasn’t real keen on touring so he left. We’re going (forward) with drums and bass and backing tracks for our live shows (I’ve seen Lorde do it, so I figured why can’t we?), and it seems to be working.”

How do your first two albums (“Joe Tripp and the Hops” & “Won’t It Be Fun”) compare (both musically and lyrically) to your latest release (“6 Songs”)? What was it like working with Doug McBride on “Won’t It Be Fun”? 

“Well, “6 Songs” is easily the best work we’ve done to date in my opinion. The vocals, musicianship, and production are all improved. I think there are a lot of reasons for that. We’ve all matured as a band and we understand what it takes to make a great recording. TJ is a session player, so recording is just another day at the office for him. From my standpoint, I’ve matured a lot in my songwriting and in my attention to detail with the vocals. I have to credit Ian Spudes (who was tutored under Doug McBride) with that rather than Doug, because he really let me have it about my vocal performances and I realized I was going to have to step it up and practice to make sure they were the best performances they could be. A lot of what Doug did was during the mixing and I have to admit that seems like sorcery to me. So, I don’t know how he did it but I dig the way it turned out and I felt comfortable knowing we were in the hands of a master.”

What life experiences or events inspired the writing and recording of “6 Songs”? Who are your biggest musical influences in general?

“Four of the songs on this release are about a girl that I dated and really thought I was going to marry, but it didn’t work out and I’ve kind of been floundering ever since. One is about the night I went to see Grupo Fantasma in Austin (‘Fantasma’), and another is a ghost story (‘There’s Something’). ‘There’s Something’ was not written about the Twilight series, although a lot of people have made the vampire connection. As far as these recordings go my biggest influences are Third Eye Blind, Weezer, the Old 97’s, Juanes, The Smashing Pumpkins, and here’s one you won’t believe…Shakira (but more from her early Spanish language days).”

What can you tell us about the music scene of Chicago, Illinois?

“Chicago is a tough scene. The great thing about it is there are so many amazing musicians here. I have the pleasure of knowing many of them. There is an incredible jazz scene here that I’ve only recently discovered. There were a lot of really good musicians in Austin, too, but I honestly think the quality here is slightly better. One thing that Austin does better than Chicago is it’s density of musicians and clubs. In Chicago it seems like things are close, but (in reality they’re) still far away. That has a lot to do with having to take public transit and the lack of good parking. As far as a “scene”, as in connecting with other bands, we’ve mainly stuck with a couple of friends bands in Chicago, The Broken Belts (that’s Belts not Bells), and The Monkeyfist. I frequent some cover bands around here but I’m not really into playing in that kind of a thing. I go because friends like it. Cover bands are much more popular around here than in Austin (although I’ve heard from friends that that kind of thing is gaining traction in Austin as well).” 

What was it like having your 2011 live performance for PBS recorded and broadcast in five different states? Do you have plans for any similar endeavors in the future?

“It was a great experience to be on TV. If we were to do it (again) today, I know the performance would be a hell of a lot better, because we were nervous with it being our first time. We do have some possible on-air performances coming up soon, so stay tuned on that.”


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