American pop culture has long been a topic of fascination for the duo behind Australian band Hockey Dad. So much so that they gleamed the band’s name from an episode of the long-running television series The Simpsons. Guitarist/singer Zach Stephenson and drummer Billy Fleming were watching an episode of the series where Bart and Millhouse were playing a video game named Hockey Dad (where two hockey dads fought) and thought it sounded like a good band name.
“I was watching that episode of The Simpsons and, I don’t know, it just stuck,” Stephenson says. “It was a funny part of the show. Once that name came along we couldn’t think of anything else. We just thought it was a good name and stuck with it.”
It’s not lost on Stephenson that the series has poked fun of his country, but he takes it all in stride. He says he thought it was humorous how it took liberties showing what life is like there. “It got spun off into other things that are way off, and it’s pretty funny how they did that,” he says. “It’s always good to laugh and make fun of it.”
Last year, the band made its debut in the US. Now, the duo is getting the chance to fully immerse themselves in American culture as they’re in the midst of their first US tour in support of their recently released debut Boronia.
“It’s exciting to be driving the whole way across the country and get the chance to check everything out and play the shows and keep on doing it,” Stephenson says. “It’s exciting to drive around in the car and make a big road trip. We’ll hopefully be over here a lot more.”
The tour follows the pair’s debut in America last year at CMJ and various other shows around the country. Stephenson is 21, while Fleming is 20, so getting in some venues hasn’t always been easy but they’ve enjoyed their audience.
“The crowds have been good so far,” Stephenson says. “It’s always harder because we’re younger, and Billy’s not 21 yet. So sometimes it’s hard to get into venues. But once you’re there the crowds are good and pretty supportive.”
The pair’s youthful swagger is one of the reasons they’ve won over many new fans in the states and outside of their homeland. Their vibrant mix of pop punk and surf rock was born from numerous days surfing and skating in Australia. The duo, who have been friends since age four, lived two doors down from each other on Boronia Street in the small Australian coastal town of Windang and were a short walk from the beach and skate park.
“We lived right on the beach, so there’s a great surfing culture there especially,” Stephenson says. “We’ve probably been surfing probably about 10 years now. We’ve surfed and skated longer than we’ve played music. So I think it’s always going to be part of us, and we’ll always do that whenever we can. I think it sometimes reflects on our music and lyrics we write and songs we play. I think it’s focused on surfing and skating, because we’ve been doing it so long.”
Stephenson says he can see many similarities between the Australian and American surfing culture but there are distinct differences.
“Australia has a lot more localized [surfing]. It’s got a more aggressive vibe in the water when you’re out there. A lot of people take pride in their local waves and enforce the fact that they’re their waves,” he says. “It’s harder to paddle out to somewhere you’ve never been before.”
Boronia features many adventures and misadventures that come with youth and growing up during hot summer months, including songs about late night partying, loves found and lost and the unbreakable strength of a good friendship.
When they were teenagers, they discovered Stephenson’s dad’s old gear in his garage and started jamming together. A couple years later they started sneaking into a local music venue and playing other bands’ instruments while they were not around. By 18, they were touring their country as Hockey Dad.
“We both loved surfing and skating, and when we started playing we both loved the same stuff,” says Stephenson. “We never disagree on too many things, so it makes it pretty easy.”
As similar minded as they are, Stephenson and Fleming each bring their own unique influences to the band. Fleming listened to much of his brother’s collection of ‘90s punk music, while Stephenson spent much of his time listening to his dad’s ‘80s Australian rock and punk collection.
“Billy’s got the gritty punk rock sort of vibe going, and he likes to keep it nice and quick and fun and gritty,” Stephenson says. “And I go for the more melodic area, and I guess it fits together really well. It’s sort of fast upbeat stuff in the core of it, and I try to make it a little prettier I suppose.”
Together, their styles have have merged into a messy but fun sound full of youthful swagger. The album is full of catchy songs that latch onto dwindling summer days. Boronia features some of the surf rock sound of their EP Dreamin’ but Stephenson says “it’s a little more grown up or sophisticated.”
“I don’t know what exact genre it fits more into, but it definitely has a cleaner vibe and trickier vibe,” he says. “The songs are a little more complex, but they still have that easy-going surf rock feel that the EP had. So it hasn’t been too much of a departure. So it’s surf rock with a little bit of punk and a little bit of everything mashed up into it.”
Stephenson says that their houses on Boronia Street were located in a prime location as “basically one end of it goes down to the beach and one end goes to the [skate] park.”
“So it’s pretty much the perfect place to live,” he says. “Me and Billy lived two doors down from each other so it’s how spent most of our time, just surfing and hanging out and practicing and jamming at my house and pretty much living it up growing up. It was a really nice spot on that street.”
They picked Boronia as the title since the album’s songs are so personal. They wrote the album while they were hanging out at home while enjoying some time off from touring. Hence, the very personal tone of the album.
“I think a lot of the album lyrically is based around being at home and what it was like living there,” Stephenson says. “The album has a lot more homey vibe. So I guess it just stuck with us. It gives people a reference point of where we’re coming from and what built up to the release of the record. Where we came from and where we’re headed.”
Where they’re headed is presumably more American and international tour stops. As they’ve won over new fans, their longtime friends have witnessed their once simple passion become something substantial.
“People came out to our shows knowing our songs and knowing who we were,” says Stephenson. “That was the point where people cared over here, so we got excited and realized we wanted to come over here a lot more and work on it over here.”