How Hobo Johnson went from living in his car to touring the world

How Hobo Johnson went from living in his car to touring the world

Words by Scott Hudson

Frank Lopes Jr., aka Hobo Johnson, released his debut album, The Rise of Hobo Johnson in November 2017. Despite featuring tracks that have now been played in the millions, in November 2017 The Rise of Hobo Johnson flopped.

“The album came out and nothing happened. I honestly was going to leave music and take an internship at the [Sacramento] Kings,” says Lopes, “Then we dropped ‘Peach Scone’ a few months later.”

‘Peach Scone’ was an unexpected golden ticket. After submitting a live rendition to NPR’s annual Tiny Desk Contest, the video went viral. Despite losing the competition, Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers (the group of merry men who follow him across the globe) were still invited on the show. The rise of Hobo Johnson truly began and with it, came the comments and critiques.

“I think people misunderstood what I was saying, but that’s how it’s going to be; there’s a lot of negativity in the world and you just have to ignore it and keep going,” Lopes says.

“Before ‘Peach Scone’ blew up, we would only really play in Sacramento or the Bay Area, San Francisco. In Sacramento, we could play to maybe 300 people, but only 30 would show up in the Bay Area, so we only really played in Sacramento. We didn’t tour, we didn’t know how to tour.”

From living in his car at 19 whilst trying to make it as a musician to touring the world with the Lovemakers, Lopes’ life, and Hobo Johnson, have each gone through some changes in the last year.

The Lovemakers were six players strong when they performed to a packed Corner Hotel in Melbourne in January this year, after playing Falls Festival a few days prior.

“I used to play around in Sacramento, that’s where I met the band and, over time, we grew. We have seven in the band – we’ve added a trumpet – now, but I think we will continue to grow as we find new people. As long as we are still touring, and can pay for it”

This year produced the aptly named sequel to his debut project: The Fall of Hobo Johnson. The tracklist is filled with his signature charisma, but shows huge strides in production and songwriting, with singles ‘Typical Story’ presenting as a pseudo-rock-opera about the typical but melancholic stories of the average citizen and ‘Subaru Crosstrek XV’ a wholesome, albeit comedic, ode to the car of the same name – not endorsed by Subaru.

“I don’t think [the success of the last album] really effected my songwriting,” says Lopes. “The Rise was written in 2016, The Fall was mostly written in 2017. I keep my lyric-writing separate to the rest, like I’ll write a whole bunch but play around with chords and arrangements in a separate space”

The Fall of Hobo Johnson has done little to live up to the name. With Hobo Johnson now making appearances on national TV and spending most of the year touring, he has proven himself to be more than a one-hit-wonder.

“I think my favourite part [of the success] is festivals. Being backstage and having all these big names behind the scenes with you just validates the process and makes you feel like you’re part of the community.”

Hobo Johnson will be finishing his year at Beyond The Valley before delivering performances in Adelaide and Melbourne. With seven band members, including the underused Keytar – “We used it on one song last tour, but we’ve worked out how to incorporate it more into our set” – he’s set to bring his charisma and new tracks to Australia.

Catch Hobo Johnson at Beyond The Valley (sold out) from Saturday December 28 – Wednesday January 1 and at 170 Russell on Sunday January 5 (sold out).