Interview by: Colleen Hale-Hodgson
Everything about Grouplove sounds idyllic.
Members Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper had a fateful meeting at a club in Manhattan, and shortly after, Hooper invited Zucconi to accompany her to Greece for an art residency where they met band mates Sean Gadd, Ryan Rabin and Andrew Wessen. After the residency, the group was scattered about the globe, but felt so strongly about their connection that Zucconi, Hooper and Gadd packed up and moved to LA, where Rabin and Wessen had a studio. Demos were made, contracts where signed, and before they knew it they were opening for Florence and the Machine during their tour of the United States last year.
The group's self-titled EP came out last year, from which the stand-out track "Colours" gained some attention in the UK as well as back home in North America, eventually. They just finished work on a full album to be released sometime at the end of the summer. The band played a sold out co-headlining spot with Foster The People at Lee's Palace earlier this month, and I spoke with lead singer Christian Zucconi before the show about fate, art and feathers.
Sticky: I want to know a little history about yourself before the band, since there's a lot of material that talks about how you met in Greece and what happened after that.
CZ: I was playing in another band in New York City called Aloke. We were a three piece that turned into a four piece. We did a record with Steve Albini. Never released it. (I don't) know what it was, we just never really got it out to the world; we just recorded it and played shows and weren't really striving to send it out to labels. I was freelancing, I was a bartender and I was a truck driver for commercials — production commercials like PA work — in New York for a while, and just playing music.
Sticky: And then you met Hannah?
CZ: She came to a nice show at Rockwood Music Academy in Manhattan. We hung out that night. My friend was house sitting in the Village and we went over there and just had a really good time. Hit it off. The rest is kind of fate from there. Since we've met it's just been a non-stop crazy roller-coaster ride.
Sticky: Yeah, I noticed that the idea of fate was mentioned a lot in the publicity materials and other interviews surrounding Grouplove. Do you believe in fate? Did you believe in it before?
CZ: I do. I did believe in it before, I just never experienced it so powerfully as this.
Sticky: What were some of the things that brought you together with the rest of the band?
CZ: Sharing music with each other, primarily. In Greece, every night or every day, wherever we were hanging out, a lot of guitars would be around and we would share the guitars and pass them around. Every Friday night we used to have a zen garden in this backyard on this little mountain, behind a 600 year old house. There was 15 or 20 people there, and everyone would just pass the guitar around, have some drinks and everyone would sing a song of their own. Hannah was there, Sean was there, and Andrew was playing songs. Ryan didn't play any songs, he's a drummer, but that's where it all happened. People were really appreciating the songs that I was writing. These are people I'd never met before, so it was cool to get this reaction from strangers. When you play in a band with kids you grew up with for so many years you fall into certain patterns, so this is a nice clean slate to share new music with people, and that's kinda how it happened. Hannah wasn't in a band ever before this — she was just there drawing everything. It was really beautiful. She would do all these line drawings at the time of us hanging out and playing. It actually wasn't until a year later, when I came up here to do a solo show in Toronto, I can't remember where it was, but Hannah came with me. My band was supposed to do it, but for some reason they didn't, so I just decided to go on a road show with her — and that was the first time she got on stage and started singing.
Sticky: And that was the first time you discovered she could sing?
CZ: Ya, I was like, "Just get up there and sing! You know the songs." And that's how it all started. That was right after Greece.
Sticky: There was a lot of art being done while you were actually in Greece, that was an artists' retreat, right? Was the rest of the band there doing visual art?
CZ: No, there was one other painter there, a woman from Norway. (It was) mostly musicians. It was the first year for the residency so it wasn't official. It was kind of experimenting, and it hasn't really happened since. It was a one time only thing, so we were lucky to be there when we were. Hannah painted huge canvasses there and I wrote about 20 songs.
Sticky: There's a lot of talk about how the album is dead because the industry has changed so much, and you guys have gotten a lot of attention based on the strength of a few songs you've put out together. Do you see Grouplove focusing on single songs, or are you going to be creating albums?
CZ: Ya, albums. We're always in a constant state of recording. We really have fun doing it, and Ryan, fortunately he has a small studio in his apartment so if Sean comes up with a great song, one week when we're all home we can just go record it. We love making a large body of work. Our plan is to be around for a long time. We have a lot of songs that we need to get out there.
Sticky: Are there any themes that you'd like to explore in an album, or that you will explore in this coming album?
CZ: The songs kind of write themselves, in a way, at least for the songs that I write. I've never really taken a step back and looked at the songs that I've written and looked for a common thread, although I'm sure there is one. Just searching... searching through yourself to find inner peace.
Sticky: There's a lot of positivity. On a song like "Naked Kids," there's a lot of it. There are some very carefree, stereotypically Californian themes running through it, but you and Hannah came out of the Brooklyn scene...
CZ: We wrote that in the dead of winter. It's a funny, tongue and cheek kind of song and that's the first thing that we recorded. It was the easiest one to do, and it just turned out much better than we thought it was going to be. I'm glad it translates to the California theme.
Sticky: I was watching the video for "Colours" and it's a pretty dark video. How did that come about?
CZ: It came about through Ryan's good childhood friend, Jordan Bahat, who directed it. He came up for the concept for it. He based it on a short story called "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce.
Sticky: I was reading the synopses for that and wondering how it related to the song.
CZ: I don't know, he just brought that idea to the table. Sean had just come over from England. We were all up in the air, not sure what was going on with the band or what was going to become of it, or how long Sean could stay in the United States before we would need to get a visa. We kind of just believed in Jordan and let him take the reigns and just went with it. We did it in two days. We just trusted his vision.
Sticky: It's a very nice looking video. Very well-produced, and the art direction was really nice.
CZ: It was fun. The costume designer dropped out a week before the shoot.
Sticky: So where did all of the feathers come from?
CZ: Hannah did it all last minute. The (costume designer) was going to get them and we just went and got them. (Hannah) made a whole new dress for herself and just put it all together really fast.
Sticky: Does Hannah still do a lot of painting?
CZ: Not as much as she used to, but now she does all our artwork. She did our EP cover, all the t-shirt designs, stickers, and she's going to do the next album cover. She did The Morning Benders cover, Big Echo. They used one of her paintings for that. It's going hand in hand. As the band gets more popular I think her painting will also get more noticed.
Sticky: Do you guys think a lot about your stage show?
CZ: No. Hannah does backdrops and stuff, so she'll paint some cool stuff, we'll try to hang one tonight. But no, our shows are kind of chaotic and cathartic, I'd say. We just kind of explode on stage. We don't think about it too much. As long as we can sing in key it's all good.