Hot Fox: new sound, album and name

From left: Chris O'Connor (bass), Sophie Hopkins (vocals), Duncan Kissinger (guitar), Oliver Hopkins (vocals, guitar), Michael Preuschl (drums). Photo by Stephen Simonetto.

Being under 21 has its

advantages. Summer vacation, for example. It gives you a free time to pursue

those dreams that might be quashed upon joining the workforce.

After winning the Record

Store Day High School Battle of the Bands this April,

the members of Indianapolis-based indie rock band Hot Fox — mostly recent

graduates from Cathedral and Lawrence Central high schools — have the

summer to figure out their next move.

The whimsical, fun-loving

sextet — comprised of lead guitarist and vocalist Oliver Hopkins, his

sister and fellow vocalist Sophie Hopkins, guitarist Duncan Kissinger, bassist

Chris O'Connor, drummer Michael Preuschl and band manager Chris Kauffman

— is ready for a new sound, a new album and a new name. This is the

summer of Hot Fox, formerly known as Sanuk.

A Musical Handshake

Part of the spoils of the

Battle of the Bands victory — achieved on the strength of "Love Stay,"

from Sanuk's 2009 debut album Honey, I have news — is a star-studded recording session. Sanuk's

new incarnation, Hot Fox, will travel to New Jersey later this year to work

with producer Jack Ponti (Bon Jovi) and mixing engineer Kevin "The Caveman"

Shirley (Journey, Rush).

Meanwhile, the band has begun

recording a yet-to-be-named album at Queensize Twin Air studios with Tyler

Watkins of Margot & the Nuclear So and So's. Watkins offered to record and

produce the band's second album this June, as well as mentor them through the

editing process.

"Tyler has helped us write more concisely," Oliver Hopkins says, explaining

that an e-mail he sent to Watkins in 2008 helped to spark their friendship.

"Now we sometimes show up at his house at 4 a.m. and crash on his couch when we

need to. I don't think Tyler would go to the lengths he has if he didn't

believe in us."

All this ostensibly because of a simple song Oliver wrote during spring break

of his sophomore year of high school.

"'Love Stay' is about being

far away and missing someone," he says. "Since writing it, I've been catapulted

out of our first record into the new one."

"Love Stay" from Honey, I Have News:

Moving away from the lo-fi,

teen love songs of Honey, I have news,

the members Hot Fox have begun to look outside themselves for material. "Color

Blind," the last song off album one, foreshadows their new sound.

"I discuss destruction and

also speak of redemption," Oliver says.

With deeper, dynamic lyrics

and more cohesive composition, the new album will, according to Oliver,

illustrate the idea that human beings are fleeting blips in history.

"We're the dirt of the

Earth," he says, "but all together, we make the world what it is. With hardship comes clarity of mind and a sense of


It's a far cry from the heartfelt pop songs on the first album, but the band hasn't quite turned to the dark side.

An afternoon with Oliver and his bandmates still consists of carefree chatter

over lemonade and popcorn on a porch swing in the heart of Irvington.

Even the band's rehearsal

method speaks to their upbeat, welcoming nature. "We call it the musical

handshake," Oliver says, referring to the first 30 minutes of each rehearsal,

when the musicians spontaneously jam and toy with new content. They spend the

rest of their time learning their more than 20 new songs, many of which will

make up album two.

Where We Come From

Most of that jamming takes place in the Hopkins' basement, a den belonging to

Oliver and Sophie's father, Lee Hopkins. The elder Hopkins spent his career

performing as a frontman and arranger for The Entourage, a touring USO band for


"When he asks, 'Did you write

that?' and I tell him yes, he replies, 'Cool!'" And it's with that exchange,

according to Oliver, that he knows he's written a good song.

Fortunately, the songwriter's

bandmates were also born into musical families — or come from musical


"My dad plays a 1952 Martin

guitar he bought at a pawn shop," O'Connor, who is studying film scoring and

electronic production and design at Berklee, says. "And I took bass lessons in

seventh grade to learn how to play jazz."

Preuschl, the band's new drummer, was one-fourth of local pop-punk band Where's

the Cake? for several years, and Kissinger, like Oliver, took piano lessons

before turning to his instrument of choice — the guitar. He and Oliver

formed a cover band in high school, out of which was born The Oliver Hopkins

Trio, which would become Sanuk.

Kissinger continues to bend

genres for the band by experimenting with ambient noise through effects pedals

and electronic beats. "He's our 'sound' guy," Oliver says.

As for the younger Hopkins sibling, Sophie says she's been singing anything she

could since childhood — even instructions to her mother like, "I'll have

grilled cheese!" She and her brother mix their vocals into a unique harmony

that they believe is rooted in an unspoken sibling understanding. "It's in our

DNA," she says.

Kauffman, who, as Hot Fox's manager and networking aficionado keeps the

musicians on track, was led into the music business in part by his uncle, radio

personality Charlie Morgan, a vice president and market manager at Emmis


"I really believe in what

these guys are doing," Kauffman says. "They're my friends first."

Welcome to Bloomington

Now all that's left is

college. Four members of Hot Fox — including Oliver, accepted into the

Jacobs School of Music to study classical guitar — plan on attending

Indiana University in Bloomington this fall. That leaves O'Connor, who already

attends Boston's Berklee College of Music, and Sophie, who, as the youngest of

the group, will become a junior at Cathedral High School.

"We want to hit Bloomington

and blow people away," Oliver says. Indeed, after they record album two with

Watkins, Oliver says they're going to tour their asses off. Their biggest

challenge, he says, will be raising funds for the U-Haul and gas it will take

to tour as far as New York or Chicago.

"It's hard to raise capital

when you're 18 years old," he adds. "We're putting all our money toward

recording album two."

Still, the band takes every chance it gets to rehearse their music —

including Friday and Saturday nights. "Instead of going out every weekend like

most teens, we play our music," Preuschl says. "We work so hard that after

practice, the music room is as hot as a locker room."

"We'd like to do this

full-time," O'Connor says. "Our goal is to make a living doing what we love and

not to have to eat Ramen noodles every day. Our second album will definitely

set the tone for the future."

"This is our chance at a new

name, a new album and a new school," Hopkins chimes in. "We're not hobby

musicians anymore. This is our moment to define ourselves."


Recommended for you