Catching Up With Hobo Johnson at Bonnaroo

Sunday morning at Bonnaroo, I found myself sitting across from Sacramento-born musician Frank Lopes Jr. as he smoked a cigarette and reflected on his previous couple of days at the festival. Lopes, known musically as Hobo Johnson, along with his band The Lovemakers, got back from an Australia/UK leg of their last tour a couple of months ago, and have been working on completing an album and playing more shows since.

The rock-infused hip-hop-oetry band gained traction after their 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Contest submission video went viral.

Lopes began pursuing music full-time when he was living out of his car, after which he named his debut album, Hobo Johnsons 94 Corolla. In 2016, he began a YouTube series titled “Live from Oak Park.” In 2017, he independently released his album The Rise of Hobo Johnson, and later signed to Reprise Records. Since then, The Lovemakers have been touring and gaining a fan base all over America and Europe. “Before, I didn’t care about anything, and now I care about everything,” Lopes says of his sudden success.

Even though they didn’t win the Tiny Desk Contest, NPR’s Bob Boilen contacted them soon after and said he still wanted them to perform. Lopes says Boilen “was bigger than life—I’d known for years that’s the guy I need to meet.” 

At Bonnaroo, Lopes and The Lovemakers premiered a brand new song, “Typical Story.” Lopes says many of his songs are narrative-driven and about certain topics, but for this one he tried to challenge himself and make every rhyming couplet have closure. “The first line is, ‘It’s a typical story where the bassist kills the singer/ The guitarist and the drummer find they’re in love with each other,’ and it keeps going with different surreal stuff,” says Lopes. “Typical Story” releases on Friday, June 21.

Later this year, Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers will release their newest album. Lopes says he purposefully tried to make each song stand out. “With this one, I tried as hard as I can to make every song a different vibe,” Lopes says. “One’s kind of doo-woppy, one song is rock, one song is electronic, and folk and whatever. I think anyone that listens to the album will like one song.” Lopes also hints at the possibility of a side project for his more “weird punk rock” music.

The Lovemakers’ performance at Bonnaroo was full of older songs and several new ones—some were very upbeat and jumpy, with others being more calm and intimate, but all were filled with raw, unmistakable Hobo Johnson style.

“I love the Roo, and I love the progressiveness—like, they keep telling me to recycle and not flick my cigarette butts on the ground,” Lopes says. “I’m glad they got us here.”