On the heels of their astounding initial success—including two critically and commercially successful albums (Never Trust a Happy Song, 2011; Spreading Rumours, 2013) and a hit single in 2011 (“Tongue Tied”)—Grouplove, the five-piece Southern California pop-rock band, took time to reassess. Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi, two of its founding members, had a child together. They wrote and wrote and wrote, and after collaborating with an outside producer for the first time, released Big Mess (Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records), their third album, last month. The result—and we mean this in the best way possible—is largely more of the same, albeit aged finely. Their songs are romp-y and infectious, but shot through with a dark side, and have a way of staying with you long after the first listen.
Tomorrow, they embark on the North American leg of their tour, one-year-old baby in tow. Interview recently caught up with Hooper and Zucconi to discuss where the band’s heading and where it’s been.
MATT MULLEN: What was the writing process like for the album?
HANNAH HOOPER: We actually had the most time that we’ve ever taken to write an album since our first one. It took about a year. And we wrote about 40 songs, which is pretty crazy. It was the first time we weren’t touring, and we just felt really inspired. I was pregnant—Christian got me pregnant. [laughs] We had lost touch with our family and our friends; we just hadn’t been in one place at one time. So I think coming back to our house in L.A., there was a lot of emotions and baggage and longing, and things that we were feeling. And I was pregnant.
CHRISTIAN ZUCCONI: It was like rediscovering our new selves after our tour, and having some success as a band. We got to be artists again, which was really fun to have time off and explore ourselves and our work.
MULLEN: So out of 40 songs, how did the 11 that ended up on the album make the cut?
HOOPER: We wanted to make a full album that had a full conversation, and felt almost like a complete circle. The songs were all written over the period of the year, but we picked songs that fit together and told an entire story—obviously not literally but emotionally. Some of the other songs were overlapped, or weren’t completely thought out, or some of them would have been better for a folksier album, or a harder album.
ZUCCONI: Or a sad album.
MULLEN: Given the length of the writing process, and your emotional states, how would you characterize this album in relationship to your past two?
HOOPER: We consider it to be the best album. We’ve matured a lot. We’ve come closer as friends and as a band. That eliminates the fear factor in the studio. Personally speaking, when I was first recording with Grouplove I was scared to let go in a certain way. And I feel really safe with these guys now. I feel like I can go lyrically, emotionally, sonically to these places I wasn’t capable of going to before. Christian’s voice has gotten a lot stronger.
ZUCCONI: This is also the first time we worked with an outside producer [Phil Ek]. That was liberating.
MULLEN: In what way?
ZUCCONI: It was cool to trust someone outside the band to take us through their vision and their dreams for what they want us to be. Phil X is just an amazing dude; he’s done so many great records, for Built to Spill or early Modest Mouse or Band of Horses.
HOOPER: We came to Phil with these songs we wanted to record. A lot of producers rewrite songs for bands and do things like that. And Phil was like, “Dude, these songs are awesome. Let’s just get in there and record them.” That kind of reaffirmed the fact that we are good songwriters, because it’s a little nerve-wracking to work with someone new and reveal something about yourself, but for me that was the most important part of the entire experience. And we got to go to Seattle, which was where he’s based out of.
ZUCCONI: That was super fun; it was the first time we got out of L.A. to record, and we have a real soft spot for Seattle, because music that came out of that part of the country changed our lives when we were younger, so it was nice to romanticize about that when we were up there.
MULLEN: It’s certainly a different vibe than Southern California. I wonder if that’s what I’m picking up on, on the new album. I associate your older music with Southern California so much.
ZUCCONI: Right. It’s funny, because Hannah and I moved out to California from New York, and we’ve been struggling for years, so it’s always funny when we hear people describe our music as a Southern California thing, because it’s not really what we ever listened to, or thought we would be in a band that people perceive that way.
HOOPER: When people say the pop, sunny, happy band from California we’re like, “Who the fuck are you talking about?” [laughs] Sonically there’s definitely a lightness to it, but if anyone’s ever seen us live, we pretty much thrash. To me it’s an interesting dichotomy. The name alone, Grouplove, that coins us from the beginning. It’s funny, because we were actually going to be Group, which sounds like a weird disease, looking back. But our label said, “You know, this is totally un-Google-able, so you guys will be pretty much non-existent.” So we said, “I don’t know, I guess there’s a lot of love in the group, so we can be Grouplove.” And that has a lot of hippy connotations. I think a happy song is the hardest song to write. But these songs are about pain and struggle and finding happiness through that. We’re trying to look at the world like, “Let’s make it better.” I think it’s time for some grouplove. [laughs] Right now the world needs us.
MULLEN: Totally. Lets talk about this huge world tour your have coming up—how does that feel?
ZUCCONI: We’re excited because we’ve missed ourselves. When we get on stage we become our truer selves, I think; when we get to use music as our form of communication. At least for me, I’m a pretty awkward talker and communicator, and I’m kind of shy. But I’m like my superhero self on stage. It feels good to connect to that person again.
HOOPER: We definitely lost touch with that person. When you’re writing you get a little glimpse of them, but it’s not until you’re on stage, letting go, that you get to reimmerse yourself in that part of you. As for the scale of the tour, and how long it is, with a newborn baby: meditation and marijuana are the two saving graces in our lives right now.
MULLEN: I was going to ask, how do you manage with the new kid? Even on a day-to-day level.
HOOPER: We have a great tour manager and an amazing nanny. And then the rest of it is just being present and not thinking about anything, or you will probably collapse. It’s a lot.
ZUCCONI: Your priorities shift so much when you have a baby, and it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had one. Now that we have a kid, we can’t even imagine what it was like before. You realize how much time you wasted, or how much bullshit you can get caught up in, too.
MULLEN: How has having her changed the music?
HOOPER: That’s an interesting question. We write from our subconscious, so I think everything affects the music. I’m not trying to say that as a cop out; I genuinely think the election that’s going on, my parents moving, us having a baby, I’m not sleeping enough, whatever—it all affects the music.
MULLEN: And your other bandmates—Daniel Gleason, Ryan Rabin, and Andrew Wessen—they’ve gone along with that? Because they don’t have kids, right?
ZUCCONI: Right. I remember telling them for the first time on the phone, and being nervous for their reaction, but they were so supportive. I’m sure they were a little worried we were calling to say we’re not doing the band anymore, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby around them, because it brings us all closer, and cuts the bullshit out of what could be bullshit.
HOOPER: I think the baby has affected us in the way that our priorities… I feel like I’m much more who I’ve always wanted to be.
BIG MESS (CANVASBACK MUSIC/ATLANTIC RECORDS) IS OUT NOW. GROUPLOVE BEGINS THE NORTH AMERICAN LEG OF THEIR TOUR TOMORROW, OCTOBER 5, 2016, IN LAS VEGAS. FOR MORE ON GROUPLOVE, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.