Interview: Grouplove Talks Drugs, Being Yourself, and Learning to Play an Instrument Late

PHOTO Grouplove Interview: Grouplove Talks Drugs, Being Yourself, and Learning to Play an Instrument Late

Grouplove is an indie-pop band with the rapidly-growing following to prove that they have a knack for the pop side. Over the past few years, the Los Angeles quintet has released a series of anthemic singles that feel like pure, infectious escapism. It’s fun music, but it’s the diversity of the band’s catalog that sets them apart from any contemporaries. Their sophomore album, Spreading Rumours, which came out this week, puts a point on how truly eclectic Grouplove can be, without ever sacrificing the pop edge that makes the band something of a sure bet to grow into something huge or the childlike enthusiasm that bleeds through the recordings. We caught up with lead singer and keyboardist Hannah Hooper to talk about the new record, what it’s like to be in the one indie band signed to a major label that doesn’t seem to have anything resembling an image, and painting the album artwork for the band.

I normally don’t like asking a question that bands get asked all the time, but you guys meeting in Crête is a little too interesting. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind running through how the band was formed?
Oh yeah, not a problem. Can I give you my perspective?

Sure.
I was a painter in New York and this guy who happened to be our guitarist’s older brother was referred to me through a friend. He was like, “I’m gonna come and buy a painting from you” and I was stoked because I needed to pay rent. And he came by and was like, “Whoa I didn’t realize your work was so big. I can’t buy a painting from you, but I am actually one of the founders of this residency in Greece. Would you like to go there this summer? I think you’d be perfect” and then he kind of broke it down for me. “Once you get there your food and your housing is accommodated for and you just stay in this beautiful little mountain town on the island of Crête making art with a bunch of other artists from all over the world.” I honestly was at a point where I had to get out of New York and was so excited by that aspect. So that’s how I got there.

I brought Christian (Grouplove vocalist/guitarist Christian Zucconi) who I had just fallen head over heels for at a show a few nights before I was invited to the residency. I saw him play a solo performance and I had been just cooped up painting when my friend dragged me out. He was just like, “You’ve gotta see this guy sing” and I came in my painting outfit with splattered paint all over me like, “Whatever, I guess I gotta do this” and I got to this little show and there was like a light around Christian and I was just not blinking. I was possessed. I fell in love with him immediately and we just hit it off and I totally would never have done this before, but when I found out about this Greece thing I was like, “Can I bring someone?” and the guy was like, “I don’t see why not, if he’s an artist, so of course you can bring someone”. So I call him up literally after knowing him for no time, it must have been so creepy and weird. I just said, “Hey you wanna go to Greece with me this summer?”

And that worked?
He said yeah. It worked!

Congratulations.
Thank you. We met the rest of the band there. Andrew (Grouplove guitarist/vocalist Andrew Wessen) was there because his older brother was one of the founders, and it’s also an epic surf spot so he was there surfing and playing music and stuff. Sean (Grouplove bassist/vocalist Sean Gadd) went with his friend from London who’d never left England before and Sean was like, “Dude. You’ve gotta come to this spot in Greece where there’s this artist thing going on”. So Sean via London got there and then Ryan (Grouplove drummer Ryan Rabin) was there playing the bongos on the beach doing his drummer thing so yeah that’s where we all met.

We’re told our whole lives that, basically, if you don’t learn a language or play an instrument before you turn ten you’ll never be able to pick it up, and I say, ‘That is not true, my friend!’

That’s awesome. So you were doing visual art before that—had you ever played an instrument or been a musician before getting out there?
No I hadn’t, and it’s kind of embarrassing but hopefully it will get people excited to try (to start playing an instrument). We’re told our whole lives that, basically, if you don’t learn a language or play an instrument before you turn ten you’ll never be able to pick it up, and I say, “That is not true, my friend!”

I had taken piano kind of through my school when I was little and a teacher knew that I was not reading the notes. I guess she figured it out. I didn’t take it for very long, and that was the extent of my musical stuff. I was a really shy kid and that’s why I think I was originally drawn to fine arts because it’s a really private medium you know? You make your piece in private then you share it, I like doing that and the fact that I’m in a band now totally blows my mind.

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I saw him play a solo performance and… I was possessed. I fell in love with him immediately.

So you just picked up the keyboard and the singing after meeting the rest of the band and went from there? 
Well, I painted mostly in Greece and kind of observed (the music) and occasionally would be humming and I noticed, “Oh, I can harmonize!” Which was weird but I was too shy to actually harmonize out loud. I was just kind of sitting there all quiet. And then we went out to Los Angeles—we all got back from Greece and we had all lost our jobs, lost all of our apartments, we lost everything by going to this residency. So we got back and everyone was kind of in the same boat, Sean was back from London and we all missed each other so we were like, “Let’s just continue this grown up summer camp and ignore the fact that we’re totally not being responsible anymore,” you know?

Yeah.
So we all made it that way and that was kind of when we started jamming together. I was smoking joints so I could get comfortable, there’s no lie . You know but it wasn’t self-destructive or something. I’m kind of bugging out. Then with the band I was starting to experiment as a musician and be more comfortable and being like, “Whoa, I can do this, I have a good ear.” Everyone was really encouraging so it just started happening really quickly and really naturally and we started writing songs together and it was really fun. Then came the live show which was like the next big…

The next step.
Yeah, the live show. That’s when I kind of felt like—Christian is, he’s kind of possessed on stage, it’s amazing. So I got to learn. Just having him by my side made me more comfortable obviously, but he comes alive. It’s like he turns inside out on stage. He’s a really quiet person off stage and I’m kind of a louder person off stage but I’d get quiet on stage and he’d get loud. It was like him just being there helped me come out of my shell but I think that for the first forty, thirty shows I wore a mask.

Really?
[Laughs] I wore this silver mask, it was so weird.

That sounds awesome.
Looking back at that time it makes perfect sense. Then I read this thing on someone’s blog and they were like, “I don’t know if maybe the girl in Grouplove is a burn victim” and I was like, “Okay I gotta take the mask off, I gotta stop wearing the mask”.

Yeah, that might be the point of no return. What is it like being an artist outside of your medium of choice?
It’s actually really liberating for me. Being an artist in general in this day and age is a risk. I mean it’s always been a risk – there’s no guaranteed income. Being a painter and being alone all the time, there’s so much pressure that you put on yourself. I wasn’t painting with a group of artists like you hear about in the ’60s. It was just me alone in the studio, so to be in a band and have that kind of support, I’m kind of just like… When we’re writing a song together you know immediately if it’s a good song. There’s no “let’s let it simmer” the way you do with a painting. So I come back to my work and approached it that way with a much more “there isn’t a problem of flowing when there’s something wrong from the get-go.” You just know there’s something wrong. It’s made me approach art with a much more creative.. I’m having a lot more fun making it, which is the point of being an artist in a lot of ways. It’s a much more natural progression which I’m enjoying.

You do all of the album art for the band, right?
Yeah.

I’m looking at the cover right now, what was the idea behind that?
That’s crazy, that was the first drawing I did while we were recording for this album. I just literally took a Sharpie, and every time we—I always have a sketchbook on me—and I was just drawing people. I wanted to do one-line drawings and this was the first one I did. Since then I did like fifteen more that have turned into online animations, and I did this big painting that was super detailed and trippy about people whispering into each other’s ears and stuff that I thought could be the album cover and everyone in the band, when it came time to choose the album cover, was like, “Dude remember that first drawing you did the first day we were recording?” I was like, “Oh yeah” and flipped back through sketchbooks and everyone was like, “This should be the cover, it’s just so bold.”

I was looking at it, and I’m used to putting up the paintings that I’ve spent so much time on and really showcasing that I can paint, so I enjoyed the fact that it was a risk to just do this quick gestural drawing. The more we looked at it, this psychedelic kind of… I don’t know, this guy there’s something bizarre about him with the crazy glasses… It popped. There’s the black and white element of it and the more I thought about it being really small on iTunes and thinking of walking to Amoeba and seeing it on vinyl, I got really excited and then I was talking about having a white vinyl and then I just got really into the whole simplicity of it.

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Yeah it was surprising, it was not what I expected from a Grouplove cover. I don’t know what I expected exactly, but it was different.
Yeah, I didn’t expect it either [Laughs].

When you went into the second album, what were you thinking about? What were you guys trying to do with this one?
Well, we had just gotten off of about three years straight of touring and we decided to go right into recording because we were kind of at the peak of our tightness as a live band. We had all of this energy stored up and all of these songs we’d been writing on the road and we were just like, “You know what? Let’s find a house that has a studio in it” because we’d all been living on the tour bus. We found this spot in the Hollywood Hills, this old Motown house where the Jackson Five and Diana Ross and all these people had lived and recorded, and we were like, “Okay, this is the spot. This is amazing.” It was underneath the house that The Beatles rented in the 60’s and took acid in so there was all of this crazy history surrounding the house.

Our approach was just—we’d been gone for three years, all of us had kind of severed friendships, lost touch with everyone, and didn’t have a place so there’s a lot of things that we’re coming to terms with and the fact that all of the stuff you’ve given up on. We had lost touch with life, the life that we knew, our everyday life you know what I mean? Going getting groceries… We were coming to terms with that together as we recorded the songs. So there’s this… Our album just somehow it came together so that there’s this dynamic between us having good times and us also having this tension of being like, “Oh my god, we’re kind of stuck with each other.” [Laughs]. Because we’re kind of all that we have in a lot of ways. And that is really the push and pull feeling that I feel when I step back and listen to the album.

Sonically, it’s really diverse. You go through a lot of different styles and instruments.
Yeah, we do.

Was that a conscious decision to keep switching it up?
Well, we don’t have a process. Which is something that, not being in a band, I feel like I kind of pushed onto the guys in a way because whenever I start a painting and there’s a process to it it becomes the same as the painting before. So when we write songs we just write them as each individual project with their own mood and their own experience. We’re not scared to go synth or poppy or rock ‘n’ roll style, whatever it takes to make that idea kind of come to life. So that’s why each song is kind of like its own little person. Yeah, it’s eclectic for sure, but it seems to work for us.

There’s something terrifyingly boring about knowing exactly who you are.

Apart from the songs and just as a band, you seem really eclectic. A lot of artists we see that come out as fast as you do will have a really defined aesthetic and image, and you guys don’t seem to have that at all.
It’s so cool that you say that, because it’s kind of like if you dressed the same way that you did in sixth grade. You know what I mean?

Sure.
I genuinely believe that artists should be constantly developing and growing, aesthetically taking risks, incorporating new mediums. There’s something terrifyingly boring about knowing exactly who you are. Like, “I’m the letter-jacket, black jeans, boots band with the electric guitar.” There’s something really limiting with that. At a certain point you’re gonna be bored of your audience and there’s only so much you can do with that, and I’m coming from a perspective were I don’t even really know how to play any instruments well, you know? I do understand that if you have any limitations, it’s gonna be a limitation.

What’s your personal favorite song on the new album?
It definitely switches around. Right now my favorite is “Sit Still” I think. Last week it was “Hippy Hill,” but it rotates a lot. The sounds are so different so it really just depends on my mood. “Sit Still” has a folkier vibe so maybe I’m just thinking about my family. They live on an organic apple farm that’s all solar and wind power so that might have brought out the folky girl in me.

That’s really cool. “Shark Attack” sounds like a hit.
“Shark Attack,” yeah! Dude, “Shark Attack” is the journey [Laughs]. Christian and I, we found in the middle of our three-year tour—there were these four days off that we were just eyeing—we rented a house in the desert, this hippy house where we took psychedelics and wrote that song [Laughs]. That song is literally exactly what we experienced. We saw the devil and saw this mirage that was really cool of these two kids kind of running away from the city. It was pretty…

That sounds crazy. You guys get a lot of attention from people remixing your stuff—there’s a new Grouplove remix coming out all the time online—what’s it like to here people reinterpreting your music?
I love it. I think it’s so cool. I wish I could remember anyone’s name, I feel so disrespectful. I know, like, Xaphoon Jones, but I can’t remember anyone else’s names. We’ve had so many cool remixes, and I just love when a song that’s a pop song can turn into a dark, gothic club remix, or something where someone raps in a song, or anything like that. Any way you reinterpret it it’s so cool. It’s kind of like in the fashion world when people are like “This year it’s all about denim” and you see the big dude in jeans and trying on dresses and hats. It’s the same idea to me.

Okay, last question. What new bands or new music have you been listening to recently?
I’ve been listening to Tame Impala a lot and Alt-J. We toured with Alt-J and I fell in love with them on that tour. I think that Alt-J has been kind of a staple since we toured with them for me. I listen to a lot of Bjork and Neil Young. I actually randomly have been listening to… I don’t know. I get these mixes from my friend who is in the band POP ETC. Do you know them?

Yeah, I know them.
Yeah, they used to be The Morning Benders.

Yeah.
The drummer’s a really good friend of mine and he sends me mixes still which is so cool, and he introduces me to a lot of music so I’ve been listening to Charli XCX sometimes. It’s a mish-mash you know? Metallica [Laughs].