The Accidental Family Band: An Interview with Grouplove
“I don’t want to be that girl,” Hannah Hooper sighs, “but I kind of don’t feel like taking my sunglasses off.”
Hooper and her bandmates in Grouplove, Christian Zucconi (guitar, vocals), Andrew Wessen (guitar, vocals), Sean Gadd (bass, vocals) and Ryan Rabin (drums), have been churning through interviews in the auroral corporate lounge of Atlantic Records’ midtown offices for the better part of the day and are noticeably punchy. I offer to assume my own shades and the rest of the band follows suit, all of us hiply incognito for the entirety of the interview.
“It feels like we’re all old school 1960s rockers now,” says Wessen, the dreamy former pro surfer and quintessential Californian, as he slouches a little deeper into his seat.
“You know what we should have?” Rabin offers excitedly. “Fake mustaches.” As the heartbeat of the band, Rabin hardly lives up to the scores of drum and dumber jokes that rock percussionists have long endured. Charismatic and articulate, Rabin, whose father was a famed guitarist in Yes (another Atlantic band), is responsible for producing all the band’s material. (He’s also a huge New Girl fan.)
Keeping the L.A.-based band on track was like trying to keep Lindsay Lohan in rehab. But it wasn’t the time of day (3pm) nor the sugar high slump from the bowl of candy on the table (formerly brimming with Tootsie Rolls and Red Hots) or even the fact that the night before we spoke, they’d successfully slayed a joyful crowd in Prospect Park, Brooklyn while sheets of rain swept viciously across the stage. It was hard to get a straight answer out of Grouplove because they’re all so intrinsically in sync that a single person’s response often turned into a collective run-on sentence — a verbal game of ping pong where one fleeting word could spark a breathless backhand and finish in a different court entirely.
The fivesome met in 2009 in Avdou, a small Grecian village north of Crete, by way of an artist’s commune that only existed for a single season: “A place that artists could go and not have to worry about the trappings of everyday life — the things that take you away from what makes you creative,” explains Wessen, whose brother founded the colony.
As childhood friends and plateauing musicians, Wessen and Rabin both made the trip from L.A. Hooper, an artist, and Zucconi, a guitarist slash bartender slash commercial truck driver, flew from New York just days after meeting. Gadd, a bassist and “tree surgeon” (also known as an arborist), journeyed solo from London — and on this Island of Misfit Toys, five struggling artists first found friendship and later discovered a strength in their cohesive sound that made them a big-name band before the buzz had time to build.
“Everyone was visiting Andrew and me and we weren’t planning on being a band,” recalls Rabin of the recording of Grouplove’s eponymous EP. “But that’s when we first really made music — Not as an actual band, just as the five of us in my parent’s garage for fun one day.”
Word spread quickly after their “summer camp” reunion, and the group decided to permanently reconvene in L.A. to continue writing. “It was like, what are we doing in our lives that’s so substantial that we can’t just take a risk?” Hooper says of the cross-country move. “Because we were all artists, but independently from each other, it wasn’t really working out, so why not? We were just like, ‘Let’s do this! Let’s try to do something a little scary.’”
“We formed such a good friendship [in Greece],” remembers Gadd, the soft-spoken bearded Brit — a “traditional rock and roller” rarely seen without a wide-brimmed hat. “Meeting these guys, I felt like I knew them better than people I’d know for years, people I’d grown up with. Moving [from London to the U.S.] was the easiest decision in the world.”
Grouplove sold out their first live show without ever having appeared together on-stage. Shortly thereafter in 2010, they were whisked away to the road, opening for Florence and the Machine and Joy Formidable on opposite coasts. In 2011, they co-headlined a national tour with Foster the People and scored spots at big-name festivals like Lollapalooza and Glastonbury. The commercial success that followed was unheard of for such a neophytic troupe: “Tongue Tied,” the band’s second single from their debut album, Never Trust a Happy Song, landed them a highly viral iPod Touch commercial, an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (alongside Matthew McConaughey, who denied them a bongo drum collaboration) and a montage cover on Glee.
Other than Hannah, who’d been poised as a painter and now does all the band’s artwork, “we’d all been trying at [music] for so long,” says Rabin. “And for it to just click this time is kind of a testament to whatever it is that makes the five of us together, special. We’re really special,” he laughs.
Most of their friends bailed on the free Celebrate Brooklyn show in Prospect Park in June because of the rain, Zucconi tells me. His cerulean hair and crew neck striped shirt bear him an uncanny resemblance to Kurt Cobain, an observation that has almost surely been made before.
“It’s okay,” shrugs Rabin. “We know who our true friends are … our fans!”
Hooper, Zucconi’s longtime love and the only member of the group without roots in music (“You don’t have to learn stuff when you’re 4! You can actually learn things later in life!” she exclaims), is hardly the temperamental Courtney Love to his quiet, thoughtful Kurt. Wildly talkative with an ear-reaching grin and ginger-come-scarlet streaks, Hooper laughs loudly and often, verbally prodding at her all-boy bandmates with playful sarcasm.
“The Celebrate Brooklyn show felt like Beyonce,” says Rabin.
“Yeah, it was awesome,” adds Wessen. “Wind blowing through your hair.”
“Except there were like, trees falling,” says Hooper. “It was a bummer.”
Friends and fans alike will be able to redeem themselves when the band returns to New York for two nights in the fall to support their sophomore album, Spreading Rumours, which is due out on September 17th. They don’t want to talk about the song-writing process because you really, truly can’t explain it. You just do it. It just happens. They recently released a video for “Ways To Go,” their first single off the new album, but they don’t want to talk about that either. Plenty of people are talking about the “controversial” video for them, which depicts a young Korean dictator choosing a Hawaiian t-shirt over a starched suit and music over mayhem. (You can check out some behind-the-scenes footage here.)
Instead we laugh about bad habits (Ryan takes ill-timed bathroom breaks, Andrew talks in circles) and celebrity crushes (Sean picked a young Kate Bush, “Bjork is super hot.,” Christian says. “Think of all the weird orgasm noises she’d make!”). Hannah laments that they don’t have more time to spend with fans after shows (“It really is a full-time job, morning to night”). They all roll up their sleeves to reveal the same stamped tattoo of their band’s name in solid black ink, not a regretful face in the crowd.
And their true to that name, Grouplove — because it always comes back to love with the tightly-knit serendipitous band, who often prod at each other’s shortcomings and compliment each other’s strengths in the same breath. This becomes inherently clear as Andrew chides Hannah for her in-ear monitor sound descriptions.
“She’s like, ‘I’m in a pool, under the couch, down a hall,” he laughs.
“The complaining!” Ryan chimes in with a high-pitched imitation, “It feels like the drums are purple in my face! It’s silvery. I feel like I’m in a wind-pipe tunnel! In a vortex of pleasure!”
“Wait.” he says. “That’s actually kind of amazing.”
All images via Atlantic Records