Nights sleeping in a 1994 Toyota Corolla, 15-mile bike rides just to record in a frigid studio, raucous backyard shows, and other assorted moments of manic madness and feverish emotion seep into the stream-of-conscious punked-up, folked-out hip-hop-oetry of Hobo Johnson.
With his wild hair, pin-thin mustache, and penchant for offbeat janky production, the Sacramento musical outlier born Frank Lopes shares tales of suburban mythos and malaise Harmony Korine and Wes Anderson would be jealous off. These tales unfold across his full-length debut, The Rise of Hobo Johnson—officially released by Reprise Records in 2018.
“It’s usually me spazzing out,” he explains. “There’s no overall theme or defined vision. The album is a collection of songs that reflect what’s going on in my life at the moment through these elements of hip-hop, folk, and punk. For me, music is a way to get out all of my crazy feelings and thoughts.”
He’s got a crazy story too…
Born and raised in Northern California, he became an avowed Lupe Fiasco and D12 fan at a young age. During high school, he spent one year eating lunch alone, and a thought dawned on him. Bored of video games and wondering, “What’s the point to everything?”, he started cooking up beats on his computer, playing a Midi keyboard, and eventually adding melodies.
At 19, dad kicked him out due to a now ex-wife “who was fucking insane.” With nowhere to go, he wrote and produced the 2015 debut project Hobo Johnsons 1994 Corolla, while living in the titular car, working at a pizza parlor, staying in Costco parking lots, producing out of the library and laundromat, and showering at 24 Hour Fitness.
Simultaneously, he enrolled at community college for music composition in Sacramento where he unfortunately hit a low point.
“I was in my singing class, and I started crying out of nowhere,” he admits. “I didn’t really know why. It just came on. I decided I fucking hated my life, so I quit school and working and dove into music full-time.”
He went from performing on the street to entrenching himself in the Sacramento music scene by grinding at countless open mics as Soundcloud streams crept into the hundreds of thousands. Accompanied by his band The Lovemakers, he launched the fan favorite Live From Oak Park video series (live gigs shot in guitarist Derek Lynch’s ramshackle backyard). That also served as the site for the video that put him on the map. He and the boys recorded a live rendition of “Peach Scone” for a 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Contest in the same yard. It quickly caught fire with the song cumulatively generating 50 million streams. Acclaim followed from Noisey, DJ Booth, Sacramento Bee, The Needle Drop, and more as he inked a deal with Reprise Records.
In many ways, “Peach Scone” offers the perfect introduction to his infectious and idiosyncratic style. Slow burning instrumentation bristles against his emphatic delivery as he cobbles together scattershot bars such as “brush me off like the dirt on JAY-Z’s shoulders” or “pumpkin, even, which is basically a fucking squash.” In the middle, he practically screams the hook, “Man I love the thought of being with you, or maybe it’s the thought of not being so alone, I don’t know. The second one’s way sadder than the first one.”
“I wrote it at five in the morning in thirty minutes after sleeping on the floor of the studio,” he explains. “It shows off my personality.”
Elsewhere on The Rise of Hobo Johnson, the somber “Romeo & Juliet” confronts his “parents getting divorced and trying not to let it impact me as an adult.” Meanwhile, the sardonic and sharply funny “Sex In The City” takes dead aim “at beautiful people who have certain chances of being treated nicer just based on looks alone.”
In the end, the myth of Hobo Johnson will only grow.
“When you listen to this, maybe you can take away some positivity and the assurance you’re not alone in how you feel,” he leaves off. “You’ll know at least one person gets what you’re going through.”
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