When the members of Grouplove met it was like a dream. The setting was a remote artist colony on the exotic, mysterious Greek island of Crete. Drummer/producer Ryan Rabin and his childhood friend and former bandmate, guitarist Andrew Wessen came from California, guitarist Christian Zucconi and keyboarist Hannah Hooper traveled from New York, and bassist Sean Gadd was the lone Brit. Each member went to Greece for their own independent reasons but over time they gravitated towards each other and discovered the sound that unified them: a merging of richly narrated, intricate songs with anthemic classic pop production. It took the band the better part of a year to reunite after they left the island, but as they prepare to release their debut album Never Trust A Happy Song, they’re starting to realize what began as a fantasy has now become very real.
The story begins in the grimy, grey urbanscape of New York City. Hannah was a painter living in a tiny apartment in Chinatown. Christian was living in Brooklyn, realizing the band he’d been in for several years was coming to its natural end. Forty-eight hours after they met the couple decided to abandon the going-nowhere struggle of city life for the idyllic restfulness of Greece. “When we first got there we didn’t know what to make of it,” Christian remembers, laughing. “We were sharing a single bed and there was no real shower. It took a few days to adjust.” They soon settled into a rhythm – Christian wrote songs and Hannah painted, but eventually they started mingling with the other residents. “To begin with, we just sat around on the beach or in caves, playing each other songs,” Sean recalls. “I thought Christian and Hannah were very eccentric and very artistic. I liked their style. And right away we were all very supportive of each other’s music and really enjoyed being together. That was the beginning of Grouplove, we just didn’t know it then.”
The colony, which Andrew’s brother founded, allowed the members of Grouplove to step outside their comfort zones. “We spent our days together at a secluded beach far from the tourist traps, passing around the guitar or ukulele and sharing our songs with each other,” Andrew remembers. “At night, we would spend time in the town or the zen garden, continuing to hang out. The fact that we met as individual artists and songwriters is a dynamic that has remained to this day.” The individuality factor was huge. “In New York you’re limited to what you’ve defined yourself as,” Hannah laments. For the affirmed visual artist, this was a particularly powerful revelation. “I’d been surrounded by the same people for so long, which at a certain point becomes stifling,” she explains. “Even though I was bright red the first few times I sang, it became an immediate way to be creative with the people around me. We were making something together.”
It wasn’t just the unusual circumstances that set these artists free, it was also each other's company. “We are all so different,” Hannah explains. “Sean is the traditional rock and roller. He’s got humor and style.” “And he’s the guy you want in your corner,” Christian seconds. “Andrew is the free-spirit, blonde, California surfer boy,” Hannah says fondly. “And the ambassador of the band – he’s very social,” Christian adds. “Ryan seems serious at first but he’s actually really funny and weird and has an exceptional ear,” Hannah says. When it comes to describing each other, the couple keep it short but sweet. “Christian writes the purest songs I’ve ever heard,” Hannah says. “She’s the real rockstar of the band,” Christian responds.
It’s one thing to play around with a new art project from the comfort of a supportive community, and quite another to transport that delicate synergy to the real world. Ryan, who’d come to Greece after attending an exchange program in the Czech Republic, went back to LA, thinking of Crete as nothing more than the cherry on top of an eye-opening year abroad. Sean went back to play with bands he’d been with, but just like with Christian, it became clear those projects had run their course. And Andrew, a surfer, went home to California where he picked up the chirango and ukulele, adding to his repertoire of stringed instruments. “We kept in touch in a summer camp way,” Hannah recalls. “But people started getting back to their lives working their crappy jobs. Christian and I just really didn’t want Greece to become just a memory.” After an impromptu reunion in LA, during which they all stayed at Andrew’s place in Venice and Ryan’s garage recording studio, jamming for a few days, it became clear this was something special. “We just cancelled our flights back to NY,” Christian remembers. “That was it.”
Never Trust A Happy Song (Out on September 13th) is a brawny, ecstatic album filled with ambitious, varied, expansive, tunes underscored by crisp percussion and killer harmonies. “The variety in the musical taste and writing styles of each member really makes each of our songs unique,” Ryan explains. “The honest, open-minded process we go through in rehearsal and in the studio brings the songs home and gives them the 'Grouplove' sound.” Under the Grouplove banner, “Colours,” became a delicate but powerful slow/fast jam. “Itchin On A Photograph” is a soaring epic propelled by spacey guitar licks and vigorous handclaps. And “Tongue Tied,” is an electronic infused dance anthem that showcases the band’s obsession with careening harmonies. In keeping with the progressive context of their meeting, Hannah, Andrew, and Sean all share vocal duties and take their turn fronting the band - though Christian sings lead on most songs – Ryan produces all of their material, and all five bandmembers receive songwriting credit on every tune: Grouplove is a true collaboration.
The album’s title initially seems ironic: On the surface the band’s vibe comes off as happy, the songs soar with a kind of shimmering, youthful exuberance. But just beneath that sunny sheen, there is a reservoir of longing and melancholy. The Grouplove signature is blending those two pillars of life: sorrow and joy. Hannah explains, “As individuals we are heavier, darker, but when we are together we bring the love.”
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