Ian Laidlaw*

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Hockey Dad's strange and wonderful return to the live stage

It's been a long year for Windang duo Hockey Dad, who are finally able to make their desired return to the live stage.

When surf rock duo Hockey Dad headline this weekend’s Yours and Owls Festival, it’ll be their first time in front of a festival crowd since their appearance at Laneway in February last year.

“It’s been a challenging and strange year that’s for sure,” says Zach Stephenson who is feeling a touch of pre-festival jitters.

“But to be part of Australia’s first music festival is pretty exciting. We’ve been busy rehearsing and working on a 20-song set list. We can’t wait to bring it to the people again,” he says.

Zach Stephenson and childhood buddy Billy Fleming formed Hockey Dad in 2013 in their coastal town of Windang, NSW, quickly garnering a love for their 1960s surf-soaked riffs and grunge inspired anthems. Their debut album Boronia was released in 2016, a follow up Blend Inn arrived two years later and hit the No. 1 spot on the ARIA charts and Brain Candy rounds out their escapist nostalgia guitar hooks.

“It’s been a year of figuring things out as we go and understand what has been dealt to us,” says Stephenson of the pandemic’s impact on his touring schedule.

Brain Candy was released last July during lockdown and debuted at number 2 on the ARIA Charts; it’s served on a bed of nostalgia while discussing the pains of growing up. The album was written and recorded at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle; the band hooking up with producer John Goodmanson, best known for his work with Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill.

“I’ve personally spent a lot of this past year reminiscing about being in the States and driving gig to gig, just having three months solidly planned out and knowing exactly we had to do. It was how we rolled,” Stephenson says.

“To not be able to work has been stressful, it’s hard for us because we want to get out there. We have missed that interaction,” he says.

Last October they appeared at Alive at the Drive-In show playing to those listening intently from in their cars, have participated in acoustic sets for Isol-Aid [an online festival started by Emily Ulman in Melbourne] and even got savvy on the merchandise front when the pandemic hit, releasing Party Shirts and Prawn Shorts to get us in the mood from the living room.

The downtime from touring has allowed Stephenson to try and learn the pedal steel guitar and delve deeper into his curiosity about country music.

“We’ve gone deeper into our love for that kind of music and trying to write and play more country inspired songs,” Stephenson says.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and who knows, there’ll be a couple of songs that will come from that as a bit of fun.”

The lads have also set up a new rehearsal and studio space in a warehouse in Wollongong to get in the mood for music -it’s where you’ll find them when they’re not surfing together.

“I definitely miss being out there on the road and seeing all the friends we made overseas and interstate. The way through it in my mind is to realise our mates in the US are going through a tougher time than we are,” Stephenson says.

While spontaneous surf rock is what they do best, Stephenson says nothing quite gets the party started like a bit of pre-party planning.

“I’m well aware there’ll be people at Yours and Owls Festival who haven’t seen live music at all until now. We’ve been carefully planning this show, rehearsing solid and we bring in Steve our bass player for the shows which means we can play songs we haven’t been able until now,” he says.

“We’ve been digging deep into our past releases which has given us a new perspective of where we want to go in the future,” Stephenson says.

“Playing those older songs will bring back plenty of memories for the fans, but I think with the release of Brain Candy, it’s been a bit of an end to a period for us. Now we can start fresh and have found a new pathway with our music going forward.”

Whether Hockey Dad emerge with their own Ween country inspired moment in the future remains to be seen, but it sounds like the times are a changing and these lads are ready.

Last minute tickets for Yours and Owls Festival featuring Hockey Dad are available for purchase here.