After three big years, St. Petersburg’s Hip Abduction is set to grow again with a new album

The band has spent three years opening for larger acts and playing major festivals. Now they’re ready for what comes next.
Published August 8

ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Powers sat down with a hibiscus soda fresca as he awaited his sandwich at Bodega.

“This is like the band favorite,” said the bassist for the Hip Abduction. “Whenever we have time in rehearsal, everybody’s like, ‘Let’s take an extra hour! We’re going to Bodega!'”

It’s been a while since singer David New has been here, though. So long that he didn’t know a second Bodega had opened across the bay.

“There’s one in Seminole Heights? I used to live there,” New said.

“That place has changed. Drastically,” Powers said.

“In a good way?”

“Yeah. There’s just so much more stuff there.”

Still, the Hip Abduction aren’t looking to leave St. Pete — even though New himself moved with his girlfriend to St. Augustine in December. And even though the band — which on Friday will drop its fourth album, To the Ends of the Earth — keeps moving on up to bigger and better things around the country.

In the three years since their last full-length, the Hip Abduction has toured with bands like the Dirty Heads and Twiddle; twice played Colorado’s iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater; and appeared at mega-festivals like Atlanta’s Shaky Knees and Monterrey, Calif.’s Cali Roots. Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing Company brewed the band its own limited-edition beer. This fall, they’ll embark on their first West Coast headlining tour and play the inaugural Miami Beach Pop Festival.

It’s all rarefied air for any local band. Especially one as tricky to pin down as the Hip Abduction.

Almost from the beginning, more than a decade ago, the group resisted the “global fusion” label — even though that’s kind of what they were, blending African pop, tropical sounds and reggae-rock flavors from Jamaica, California and New Zealand. Even today, New said, “I don’t want to put a stamp on who we are. People have got to figure it out.”

Such sonic shape-shiftiness enabled the Hip Abduction to bounce between the jam-band and reggae-rock worlds, expanding the range of festivals they can play and bands they can open for.

“We don’t fit perfectly in any other scene,” New said, “so it’s been hard for other people to figure out who we are.”

That has, at times, included their own team. Early in the making of To the Ends of the Earth, the band’s management flew them to Los Angeles for sessions with hit songwriters, to try to cross them over and get on the radio. For a band that had written many songs at Fort De Soto or Pass-a-Grille, it felt completely unnatural.

“They wanted to shape us and go in an alt-rock direction,” New said. “And it wasn’t us. We scrapped it all. We came out like, We need to write this music.”

New would also like the Hip Abduction to be bigger, so long as it’s on their own terms. He believes they can someday headline Red Rocks on their own merits. But so far, they’ve built a still-growing fan base just by doing what they do. In almost every city, they end up playing for fans who’ve already seen them at least once.

“It’s been a slow grind, but as we’ve seen, those fans don’t go anywhere,” New said. “Bands we’ve played with in the past, they get a song on the radio, and boom, they can’t even put 200 people in a club anywhere in the country. Whereas we haven’t released a song or an album in going on four years, and we do pretty good numbers pretty much everywhere.”

To the Ends of the Earth, recorded in Tampa and New York, captures the band in a state of emotional unease, from personal breakups to label unease (the band rejected one potential multi-album deal because of the control over touring it would’ve cost them). While some songs still carry the band’s hallmark summer-adjacent sound, “this record has a lot of weight,” New said. “We made light out of all the darkness we went through.”

Take the opening track, Float, a song New said is about trying to get back to your happiest place in life, “knowing that you’ve been there and you get to go back there, and that piece of the world is part of you.”

As long as they hold onto that idea, the next phase of their evolution out of St. Petersburg could take them anywhere.

“We’ve carved out our own niche, and we’re doing really well,” New said. “I don’t care where we get shelved. That’s better for the music. It’s better to put our guard down and let it flow out without overthinking and trying to sound like something else.”

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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