story SARAH WRIGLEY
photography / SHANNA FISHER
Every band that has ever been interviewed has been asked to tell the story of their formation. It seems generic and the answer is often the same. Sexual tensions are thrown in, unlikely circumstances fabricated just to prevent every musician’s worst nightmare of being ordinary. LA-based GROUPLOVE’s origin story is one fate and fantasy artfully combined. Andrew Wessen—vocalist, guitarist, and pro-surfer—and Ryan Rabin (drums), two California natives have been friends since childhood. The two decided to make the long trip out to the mountains of Crete for Andrew’s brother’s brainchild, an artist commune come music festival. Meanwhile, across the country in the Lower East Side, Hannah Hooper went to see lead singer Christian Zucconi play a show. The two quickly became inextricably linked and spur of the moment, Zucconi took up Hooper’s offer to fly to Crete to the very same commune. Bassist, Sean Gadd, was already there playing with another band. Without any running water or basic amenities the five, became entranced with the romanticism of living a Walden-esque fantasy surrounded by painters, performance artists, and other musicians. How can you leave something like that and not instantly fall in love and want to spend every night dancing naked around a drum circle—or is that just me? The shared, ethereal beauty of their time together is indicative of the band’s aesthetic. Their sound is intense and poignant. Any and every interview involving the band has exploited GROUPLOVE’s origin story. Journalists practically wet themselves for the metaphors and images of the beautiful Cretan landscape and the fatalistic coming together of this group of artists. Clearly, I’m not above jumping on the bandwagon.
Their experience in the Mediterranean changed things for the quintet. Returning to the chaos and extreme highs and lows of New York after their time on the commune seemed like a setback. “It woke us up. Life back in New York just wasn’t fulfilling. We were just making rent. You get into this cycle, same friends, same bar, same night, and you’re kind of just like, ‘Where am I going? Nothing’s really working out even though we’re all trying to be artists here.’ It just felt like that dream you have growing up of how life is going to be, that optimism; we got that back in Greece.” The group has been inseparable ever since. Admitting that their intention was not, in fact, to make a band, makes their success appear all the more genuine. The band admitted that they had long been searching for the ‘right’ band, trying to find success in music, but GROUPLOVE came out of something organic, and this fact can be thanked for their success. “It was an unplanned fantasy.” The band hasn’t returned to the compound since stating that it would be best left to be served by the preservation of memory where idealisms and fantasy reign. “It just wouldn’t be the same. “
Often pegged as a ‘happy band,’ GROUPLOVE wanted to prove their seriousness as artists with the tongue in cheek title of their debut album, Never Trust a Happy Song that riffs perfectly off of the bands feel good sound undercut with less than cheerful lyrics and subject matter.
“I don’t know, but for me, it was like the first time I was really present in what I was doing, so maybe all the energy put into dreaming now was actually going into what we were making, and [then] we made this really unique album.” The band’s success began with the infectious and eerie “Colours,” which allowed them to tour with big name acts such as Florence and the Machine.
The band has now plays among super star line ups at festivals like Coachella, Firefly, and Bonnaroo. ” I had heard so much about Coachella, but just to be there and see Katy Perry at the bar…” Ryan and Andrew had grown up with Coachella and admitted that it was nothing less than surreal being able to live out a childhood fantasy. “Normally it’s a million degrees [at Coachella], but the first weekend we played was freezing, and all of a sudden, this chaotic wind came into the tent. We built these giant grass things to keep it out. It was the first time it [had] rained in the history of the festival. That’s why people came to see us—to protect themselves.” GROUPLOVE is one of those band’s that has that kind of genuine, ear to ear smile modesty that almost makes you want to shake their beautiful shoulders and ask, “Dammit, do you even have any flaws?”
Everyone in the band contributes to vocals, but Hannah Hooper (vocals and keyboards), originally a painter, is new to the musical world. She describes her experience recording for the first time, “I was bright red and shaking in the beginning. I had such a migraine recording because of all the excitement of trying something new and feeling like, ‘Oh, now I know that I want to do this.’ But in reality, I was really just terrified.” During this confession, the rest of the band interjects supportively saying, “We could all tell that she was going to be great.” Hooper’s powerful falsetto interweaves perfectly with Zucconi’s distinctive croon. The chemistry between the two, whether performing or just standing within a few feet of each other, is unnervingly tangible—a melding of artistic minds or a possible love connection. Either way it doesn’t matter.
In keeping with the theme of this issue, I asked what the band members’ dream band would be. Their answer? “This is my fantasy band. I mean that. I’ve been in so many bands before, and this is by far the one, this is what I would have wanted all of them to be. It’s just a totally different experience than anything else.”
“I don’t want to be in any other band.” It takes a lot to pull off a comment like that without sounding like a total douche, but the bullshit free, wonderfully earnest nature of their response put to rest my raging cynicism. (Props to them.) After some pushing, I got them to admit that the idea of dancing around in a sexy little outfit with a seven-foot Albino Python ala Britney had its draws and then a tamer answer of the Beach Boys or Neil Young followed suit.
GROUPLOVE: An Unplanned Fantasy
The band have been living on and off for the past two years with Ryan Rabin’s family. “Ryan and his dad walk around in their underwear and slippers all the time, and they’re totally comfortable with it. It’s amazing.”
“Our room looks like a clothing bomb exploded in it. It’s just like a pile of clothes. We were like, ‘Yes! It’s temporary!’ No, it’s[actually] permanent.” Despite their reluctance towards the idea of being ‘a happy band,’ with song titles like “Love Will Save Your Soul” and a back story that sounds like the hippy version of the Smith Family Robinson, GROUPLOVE’s lifestyle reminds me of musicians of old, where love and music are all the sustenance needed. Don’t worry, I cringed reading that too. That doesn’t minimize the truth of the statement.
The band’s success story is striking having been sling shotted to the top after only two years together. Their song “Tongue Tied” was in an iPod commercial—no doubt an achievement that has been a launching pad for many relatively unknown indie bands—a number one position on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, and a startlingly fast-growing fan base. Even the creators of Glee got their hands on “Tongue Tied” (do with that information what you will). The band’s answer was ambivalent, diplomatically commenting that any exposure is good exposure. Infectious, passionate, and earnest GROUPLOVE is certainly a band that profits from the member’s close relationship and is not on the long list of one-hit wonder indie bands.