After he got kicked out of his parents’ house at age 19 and had to live in his 1994 Corolla, singer/rapper/poet Hobo Johnson (aka Frank Lopes) decided to do something with his life. He got his act together and self-recorded and self-released his debut album, The Rise of Hobo Johnson
, three years ago.
In the aftermath of its release, his career quickly kicked into high gear.
The half Azorean Portuguese, quarter Mexican and Native American vocalist has built his grassroots following via viral homegrown style videos that show off his sharp sense of humor.
To hear Lopes tell it, moving out of Loomis, CA, a city just north of San Jose that has, as he puts it, “no culture at all,” was a pivotal moment in his life.
“I moved to Sacramento, and at that point, I got inspired by all these different cultures,” he says. Hobo Johnson and his backing band, the Lovemakers, perform with Mom Jeans at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, at House of Blues
. “For example, I didn’t have pho until I was 19, which turned out to be my favorite food. Sacramento is great. There’s always stuff to do in Sacramento, especially if you are a musician.”
Lopes says he initially only listened to hip-hop before turning to other musical styles such as folk-punk, and he says it took “a long time” to finish The Rise of Hobo Johnson
, an album that distills his various influences.
“I think there were four months when I was consistently working on it,” he says of the album. “It was on my computer in my friend Derek [Lynch's] garage. It was fun. It was tremendously fun. I really enjoyed it, and I look back on it fondly. I’m hella proud of it.”
The band’s popularity escalated after “Peach Scone,” an entry in NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, went viral (over 26 million streams to date) despite not winning.
“I was completely shocked," says Lopes when asked about how he responded to the song's success. "I don’t think my human brain can grasp it. I can tell myself I understand what’s going on, but I don’t think I can. It’s an amazing thing to happen. I’m just so lucky. I’m one of the few lucky people that it happens to.”
Last year, Warner Bros. signed Lopes and reissued The Rise of Hobo Johnson
with only minor tweaks. For the follow-up album, The Fall of Hobo Johnson
, Lopes rented a studio but took the same DIY approach as he did for his debut.
The album veers all over the musical map. "Typical Story" features hiccuping vocals and noisy guitars as Lopes runs through a bizarre narrative and then self-deprecatingly raps, "So if you feel like I've been talking enough/Just tell me to shut up, and I will gladly shut the fuck up." "Uglykid" features wailing saxophones and softer vocals, and "You and the Cockroach" is a spoken word rant about President Trump that references his ridiculous haircut and "sausage fingers."
“[Making The Fall of Hobo Johnson
] was a little different, but I produced most of the record my own,” Lopes says. “I didn’t gel with a lot of the producers. With one producer, it took five days to gel. We spent five days making shit we didn’t like. Finally, on the fifth day, we were sitting there and made all this shit and thought it was about [over] for our working relationship. Then, he played the guitar part for [what would become the song] ‘Typical Story.’ I wrote a lot of the song's lyrics four years ago when I was working as a dishwasher. There was a demo of it that did go on one of the original versions of The Rise
, but I had to write the second verse and some more of the chorus [for version that appears on The Fall of Hobo Johnson
Given that Lopes has already chronicled his "rise" and "fall," what’s next?
“I think it’ll be The Revenge of Hobo Johnson
,” he says. “That’s my working title. I know it’s dramatic, but it’s what I would like to do. After that, I might move on with my life and work on a different type of art. It would be cool to have a saga like that, and then, it ends. I don’t know what the fuck I would do afterwards though.”
Hobo Johnson & the Lovemakers, Mom Jeans, 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15. House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $25-$40, houseofblues.com
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