Grouplove might just own the best “how did your band get together story” ever. And for those who haven’t heard it, allow us to recap.
Singer Hannah Hooper, who wasn’t a singer at the time but a starving artist who barely left her art studio in Chinatown, was dragged out one night to Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see some band play.
Said band featured Christian Zucconi, a talented-yet-struggling musician who scraped rent together by gigs with his band, bartending and driving a commercial production truck.
As destiny would have it, the two met out on the street later that night.
“She just really fell in love with the music I was playing and then we fell in love with each other,” shared Zucconi.
Meanwhile, guitarist Andrew Wessen’s older brother, Matt, had also just met Hooper on a park bench earlier that week. He proceeded to visit her studio and upon seeing her paintings, invited her to the Greek Island of Crete for the upcoming summer (2008) to take part in an experimental artist commune he was spearheading.
Despite knowing each other for only a few days, Hooper extended the invitation to Zucconi.
“It was one of those weird things that just drops into your lap that you just have to do,” said Zucconi. “It just came out of such left field that it probably means something to do it. “Even though we had both just met, we had both been struggling there in New York artistically and kind of personally for a while so it seemed like a perfect escape for a summer to try something new out.”
The commune was called the Ikarus, after the Greek myth of Icarus, son of master craftsman Daedalus. As the legend goes, Icarus and his father attempted to escape from Crete with wings constructed from feathers and wax. Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, but Icarus did not heed his father’s warning and fell into the sea when his makeshift wings melted.
“For the commune, it was an homage for creative people that so often walk the line between sanity and madness,” explained Matt Wessen.
The commune was by no means a five-star resort experience. Living arrangements ranged from tents to decrepit homes, roofless apartments and single mattresses on flooring surrounded (in British bassist Sean Gadd’s case) by the bones of a dead cat, but the island was exquisitely beautiful and free from life’s entanglements.
“You could rent a scooter for the month and go down these winding Roman roads down to the water so everyone would kind of hang out there during the day and go swimming or play guitar on the beach,” said Zucconi. “It was just really cool. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t that nice or anything. It was just a real communal kind of community place where we are kind of learning about each other and learning about ourselves for the first time in ways we hadn’t before.”
On Friday nights, the commune’s residents gathered for show and tell. The musicians of the group — which included Zucconi, Gadd, Andrew Wessen, drummer Ryan Rabin—would often pass a guitar around and share new songs they’d written that week. It was during these evenings where the future members of Grouplove realized that although they came from different backgrounds, they shared a love for early-90s rock/grunge music.
“We definitely shared common ground musically; There’s big love for bands like Pixies and Nirvana,” said Zucconi, who switched from piano to the guitar once his brother popped in a cassette type of the Seattle grunge act. “I just freaked out and starting learning all of Nirvana’s songs, and eventually begin writing my own music.
“I think we definitely had music influences in common but we all had unique styles in our approach,” he continued. “Andrew would play like a surf-y type of song and I would maybe play a grunge song, but we found that we kind of united through those differences.”
The idyllic summer came to an end much too quickly and Hooper and Zucconi found themselves living back in New York with Zucconi’s mom, albeit 45 minutes north of the city.
“It was just depressing to come back to a situation where were still struggling,” he reflected. “I think we were in denial for a while.”
Zucconi begin gigging again, with Hooper often tagging along. Finally, prior to a show in Toronto, she amassed enough liquid courage to actually join him onstage. Seemingly similar to their personal relationship, Hooper’s honeyed harmonies perfectly complimented Zucconi’s impassioned and unmistakable wail.
“I recorded it on a tape cassette recorder from the back of the room and we listened to it on the way home to New York,” said Zucconi. “We really liked it so we started playing shows in the city with the bass player from my old band. We also had this tap dancer named Jimmy from Louisiana, and he was like our drummer but he was a tap dancer. So we played for 6 or 7 months in the city and worked out a bunch of the songs that would be on the first Grouplove EP.”
Around that time, Gadd traveled across the pond to visit the couple and began opening for them with an acoustic solo set. Eventually, all three of them decided to road trip out to California for a reunion with Wessen and Rabin.
Turns out Rabin, whose father Trevor played guitar for Yes, had a home studio. Just for kicks, the reunited friends recorded one of the songs Zucconi and Hooper workshopped. The process was so much fun they decided to form an official band, and continuing upon the communal aspect of Crete, all moved in with Rabin’s parents.
It was during that time that Grouplove also selected its name.
“I remember driving around L.A. and there was this great song on the radio,” recalled Zucconi. “We couldn’t believe that number one, we all met to begin with and secondly, that we were all together again and had actually followed through. It wasn’t just a one summer thing where you never communicate with each other again. So we were blaring this great song and had the windows rolled down and we were just screaming ‘GROUP! GROUP! The GROUP is back together again! We couldn’t believe it. Going forward with the name, group was not the best band name and there’s a lot of love in our group; We had signed emails before that with ‘Group love all around’ so it only made sense to naturally progress and call ourselves Grouplove.”
With Rabin producing, Grouplove culled together an eponymous EP and played their first show at El Cid in Los Angeles in May 2010. Tours with Joy Formidable and Florence and the Machine soon followed, which led to a deal with Atlantic Records.
During a brief break in touring, Grouplove recorded full-length debut Never Trust a Happy Song, which hit shelves in September 2011 and spawned anthemic singles in “Colours,” “Tongue Tied” and “Itchin’ on a Photograph.”
Sophomore album Spreading Rumours arrived September 2013, and it’s been nonstop touring ever since as rumors of their ebullient live shows spread right along with the new album.
This spring and summer has seen the collective at some of the nation’s top festivals, including a recent standout set at Bonnaroo.
“We had such a huge crowd – it really completely overwhelmed us in one of the tents that we were in,” said Zucconi. “It was so awesome. We’ve got an amazing fan base that comes out and really brings it, just like we bring it. And at this show, people went crazy and it was just really reciprocated awesomeness going between us and the crowd.”
Indeed, audiences feed off the energy of the band and have hugely embraced the upbeat tempo of dance-ready tunes such as platinum single “Tongue Tied” or Spreading Rumours lead single “Ways to Go.”
The sunny material that has come to define Grouplove’s sound originally came as a bit of a surprise to Zucconi and Gadd (who has actually since left the band.)
“Being from New York and London, we had mostly been in moody rock bands/post hard-core punk bands,” noted Zucconi. “So to all of the sudden be a sunny, California hippy band is kind of funny. But, I think we’re kind of channeling what we are feeling. We are a diverse group of people and I think it is has brought something different to the table. I think the Grouplove process just churns up these songs. A lot of our songs start from this sadder place and then go through this Grouplove machine and they just kind of come out a little more bouncy. It’s amazing as we’ve toured and the crowds have gotten bigger and bigger, to see the pleasure and joy that people get from our sets. It’s unbelievable. So we’d never want to change or confine our sound.”
Still if one analyzes the lyrics, they will see the sadness that Zucconi refers to. Take for instance, “Gold Coast,” which the five-piece recently performed (with Daniel Gleason on bass) at Capitol Records as part of Fender Studio Sessions series.
So you travel ’round this country, You’re looking for your holy ghost.
And what you gonna find, Is it’s somewhere, where you like to hide.
So you run around your ego, you run around your gold coast.
You know you got the time, because this prison is our own design.
“It’s a song I wrote when I was in New York going through a crazy breakup a year or two before I met Hannah, and it’s just about trying to find your way and progressing through tumultuous times,” shared Zucconi.
Music has always served as a much-needed outlet for the Grouplove singer, whose songwriting tends to draw from his real life experiences.
“I did that whole American kind of routine as a kid bouncing between divorced parents, which was hard but really helped me find myself,” he said. “I was still really a bit all over the place until I picked up a guitar and could express myself that way. And those experiences that I was going through definitely served as songwriting inspiration.
“But like with some of the bands I mentioned earlier (Pixies, Nirvana), I just really loved the talent and passion and honestly that they gave into their songs. When it went to a chorus, even if it was painful, it would still be catchy and make you feel alive. That just felt so good to experience their songs in that way, so I’ve wanted to express that feeling back in the songs that I write.”
And together with the collective and diverse contributions of his bandmates, Grouplove has certainly demonstrated a knack for crafting danceable pop songs that easily exhilarate their thriving fan base.
It’s one of many reasons the L.A.-based band was tabbed alongside Portugal. The Man to co-headline the upcoming Honda Civic Tour.
“It is going to be amazing because we are doing the biggest kinds of rooms and stages we’ve ever done as a band,” said Zucconi. “We are doing the Greek Theatre in LA which is a real bucket list venue to play. We are doing Red Rocks, which we’ve never been to before and Central Park in New York so it’s really kind of ending on a really nice high note for this North American tour.”
Meanwhile, the band’s latest music video for “Let Me In,” which appears on the soundtrack of critically-acclaimed film The Fault In Our Stars, has already racked up over a million YouTube views.
Seems like the stars were certainly aligned for this group.