From the Kinks to the Jackson 5, and from the National to the Beach Boys, the history of pop music is full of brothers who put their heads together to make magic happen.
Yet Kevin and Jeff Sautrer, who together comprise the electronic and rock duo Hippie Sabotage, possess a singular cerebral fusion: in conversation, they are prone to finish each other’s conversations, and in their work, they push each other to experiment and explore. While the Brothers Saurer have spent nearly a decade bringing their EDM-infused jams to ever-growing crowds across the world, their new release Red Moon Rising marks a high water mark for both their collaborative spirit and their thrilling mishmash of musical stylings.
Hippie Sabotage have also made a point of broadcasting their love of cannabis from the get-go; Sacramento natives, Northern California cannabis culture is in their blood. This is evident not merely in their explosive anthems, but in the Devil Eyes OG, a hybrid strain named after one of their biggest hits and intended to be paired with live music…whenever that happens again.
We caught up with Kevin and Jeff in their adopted hometown of Venice Beach, California, to talk about the apocalyptic themes and surprising influence of Neil Young embedded in their new record, their early beat battle days in the Bay Area and some unexpectedly passionate opinions on Star Wars.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Where did the phrase ‘red moon rising’ come from? I’ve been on a big Creedence kick, and couldn’t get “Bad Moon Rising” out of my head!
Jeff Saurer: It was inspired by “Bad Moon Rising” and Neil Young and his album Harvest Moon. Kevin’s been on a Neil Young kick, and we got obsessed with that acoustic sound, slide guitars, chiller vocals.
Kevin Saurer: Neil Young is always talking about [his own life]. With this record in particular we wanted to make our songwriting better and better, using him as a focal point.
JS: It’s definitely inspired by overcoming adversity. With all the crazy shit that’s going on, the red moon is a symbol for the apocalypse or the end of the world. It’s our take on it, and giving people a way on how to push through that. We want to get through it, to peace.
KS: We’ll settle for relative calm.
It feels like there’s a real menace there that I hadn’t heard in any of your other music.
JS: It was the first time we were able to put a record together [like that]. Being able to tie songs together with a common narrative was new for us in our process.
KS: Especially towards the end of making the album, we’d drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, from Venice to Oxnard, and listen to the album and look at the ocean. For a lot of our early recordings, when we were living in San Diego, that was our whole process. It was cool to bring old habits back into our process.
That’s wild! I had a similar experience on the Sonoma coast; I have such vivid memories of hearing certain songs there.
KS: One whole summer, a long time ago, we had two CDs in our 4Runner: a Nirvana compilation and Mobb Deep’s Amerikaz Nightmare. We listened to them over and over.
Love it. I wanted to ask you about the guitar work on the record. Especially on tracks like “1000 Blunts” and the title track, there’s a lot of weird, syncopated funky shit going on. What was your guys’ thought process there?
JS: Kevin is my #1 fan on guitar. He’s always pushing me to change the sound slightly. I [typically] fall back to a clean reverb-y tone on a [Fender] Strat, but especially with the Neil Young shit, I wanted something more laid back, something odder.
KS: We’re kinda odd dudes.
JS: I remember mixing “1000 Blunts.” We broke a lot of rules, there’s a lot of weird EQing.
KS: Things like how loud the bass line is going to be. It was originally a Pete Rock-style beat without a bass.
JS: The guitar stuff, we make it and re-sample it and flip it and chop it and it gets to a point that it’s not a playable thing. People send videos [of themselves] trying to play it and figure it out. It’s cool! I’ll learn songs from people playing them online.
“1000 Blunts” had a guitar loop and we flipped it over a week. We wanted to get that Cypress Hill, Devin the Dude vibe – weed smoking anthems when you’re smoking a joint with all your friends. We wanted to make one of those.
With just a little Neil Young in there, too!
KS: I’m always pushing for the Neil Young.
Speaking of those early memories, what makes weed culture in Sacramento special?
KS: It’s Northern California, it’s where the Emerald Triangle is. It’s California Chronic. It’s had that cannabis culture that you now see permeating pop culture. Independent music in San Francisco and weed culture go hand in hand. People were so far ahead of the curve there compared to where they are nationally now.
Did you guys cut your teeth playing shows in San Francisco?
JS: Not our own shows but homies we were producing for.
Together: Beat battles.
JS: We did beat battles in Oakland. It was great. We loved it. We won, we lost a bunch.
Walk me through a beat battle.
KS: It’s an old school concept: two producers go on stage and have one minute to play [two competitors’] beats against each other. Whoever brought the most friends and made the most noise would win, that guy would keep winning. But if you played some fire you’d advance.
There was a place called Club 6 in San Francisco.
JS: Showing people our music started with beat battles. I skipped school; our manager knew about a beat battle at Sacramento State. I brought a beat CD, had a backpack on. I looked like I was 12.
It’s hard to not picture 8 Mile right now…
JS: (laughs) I was nervous as fuck. My name was Saurer Beats [pronounced “sour”]. I remember them reading my name, thinking who the fuck is this guy. It was like 8 Mile. There were 500 people there, and as soon as the beat dropped everyone stood up.
There’s a DJ there you give a CD to. You’d say, ‘play Track 5.’
I used that [experience] to get into San Diego’s music program. Sacramento State wrote a letter, said I’d won this huge musical competition.
Amazing. Do you guys have a favorite track on the new record?
KS: You gotta have a third act.
Do you guys have a passion that people may be surprised to learn?
KS: I’m obsessed with history.
JS: Kevin will put on [documentaries about] Irish castles, the Ottoman Empire, the War of 1812.
JS: We were also skateboarding again last year, but then I broke my foot. So right now it’s music, music, music. Kevin’s obsessed with Star Wars, too.
Hell yeah! One of my favorite parts of The Mandalorian was the music.
KS: I think John Williams was phoning it in the last three Star Wars movies. I don’t want to diss John Williams, though.
(laughs) Nice. Anything else you guys want to add before we wrap up?
KS: I’d like to say that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega did a fantastic job and got totally thrown under the bus, especially John Boyega, who got cut out of the Chinese [poster for the film]. What kind of bullshit is that?
JS: About the music, we’re psyched. It’s giving us more energy to make more. We’ve got time and while we’re not on the road, we’ll keep doing it.