Hangin’ With Ms. Hooper
Last January, when the snowy season hit New York, artist and musician Hannah Hooper decided to move her increasingly smaller studio to sunny Los Angeles. Hannah and her four bandmates (who all met in Greece the summer before) formally started Grouplove, an indie-pop band, and began recording an EP that would get them signed to Atlantic Records later that year. Parsons graduate Hannah is a creative type, drawing on the road, devising ways to incorporate her art into the band’s merchandise, and their onstage persona. She gets to have the best of both her worlds, and it’s only getting better. Grouplove played dates last year with Florence + the Machine, are currently recording their second album (due out in April), and have an upcoming residency in Los Angeles and a European tour to follow.
We met with Hooper in between rehearsal in the Hollywood Hills on a less-than-perfect, stormy day in Los Angeles.
VERA NEYKOV: How has your artwork changed since moving to LA?
HANNAH HOOPER: I think I started taking it less seriously, which made it more fun. I paint representational images that I’ve either taken or collaged. I was stuck in a process [in New York], and when we came out here and painted our house, there was a lot of house paint, spray paint and enamel lying around that I began using in my paintings. My process was more relaxed, because I would go to band practice and come home, and I wouldn’t have been painting for 15 hours, so it became romantic again.
NEYKOV: Did you start looking at other art when you moved here?
HOOPER: No, I wish I had. My schedule doesn’t allow for gallery walks or anything. I love a lot of artists that grew up in San Francisco, but this was a time when I was more into street art and lettering: artists such as Chris Johansen, Ed Templeton, and Clare Rojas, who where in the Beautiful Losers exhibition. That show had a huge effect on my work… it showed me I could “paint on wood” and all of this stuff that I was considering more graphic design that I have now started incorporating in my work.
NEYKOV: You are the singer in Grouplove, and write music, but you don’t have any formal music training. How did your music career begin?
HOOPER: No training at all! When we all met in Greece, we had this small two-story house and the guys would be jamming upstairs while I was painting downstairs, humming, and Christian (Zucconi) would come down and ask, “Are you singing along?” and say, “Come upstairs and join in.” It got to the point where they wanted a female voice and asked what I could do… there was something so immediate about singing, it could be terrible or beautiful, and I got so into that process.
NEYKOV: Is there an overlap in the way you make art and music? What are the differences?
HOOPER: I feel like my approach to both is really similar. When I was sharing studios with painters, I noticed that people’s processes were really long and they had a distinct way of doing things, whereas my process with painting is what I’m feeling, what materials are around. And with singing, it’s the same way. I’ll hear or think of something and it’s really instinctual, so that’s the same. But the interesting part about music is that you have to continue to sing the same song and that doesn’t change… that’s something I’m getting used to.
NEYKOV: Do you keep a sketchbook? What kind?
HOOPER: I do. My grandmother gave me about 40 different watercolor pads and I’ve been using those. Our first van was like a moving gallery. It had clear windows and anyone driving would see everything, so we started covering the windows with my drawings…
NEYKOV: What were you drawing?
HOOPER: Mostly things on the road, but I was doing these strange motion drawings of what I would see outside. Some were of cars and roads overlapping each other, trees turning into cities. Actually at this point, I was using uniball pens and using my saliva and wetting the paper to pretend they were watercolors.
HOOPER MAKING A BANNER FOR A GROUPLOVE CONCERT
NEYKOV: For the music video that you did this summer, you ended up doing the costumes. And now you’ve started doing costumes for the shows?
HOOPER: I started to, but the truth is I’m not that good at it. I like the idea of the band being unified in their dress, because we want to put on a show. When I think of all of the shows I’ve seen, there is something distracting from the music when one person is in their really cool leather jacket, and the girl is wearing a dress that’s too short, and you just wonder, what is this about? Ryan (Rabin) and I have been looking at a lot of early pictures of the Beatles, where they all wore the same tie or blue jacket… so we’ve been trying to do that with a bit of a flair.
NEYKOV: I know that you make all of the drawings for the band’s merchandise. Do you see it as a different facet of your art? Do you feel like you finally get to “commission” yourself?
HOOPER: Kind of, yes. I feel like a lot of bands’ merchandise gets really graphic, and you lose a sense of the band. I wanted to pull it all together. I wanted everything to feel handmade.
NEYKOV: And now for your residency at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles for the month of January, you are making backdrops for the stage. Is there a theme?
HOOPER: I’m doing different ones every week. It’s a combination of animals and letters, I’m stretching out animals on these 20-foot canvases… there’s the tiger and then one of carousel horses that are tearing “Grouplove” apart. I’ve always been obsessed with animals, because they don’t have that discomfort that humans have.
NEYKOV: What are subjects for your paintings that you want to pursue?
HOOPER: When I was in SF over the holidays, I went through an old box of photos that I had taken of my sister underwater, and got back into the idea of natural abstraction, the body in water. And I want to do some new ones here in LA where it’s half above water and the other half under: the distorted and regular world, but staging it in a place where I don’t feel comfortable, like the Roosevelt Hotel, a pool area that is very LA, capture something beautiful with something that I don’t think is very beautiful.
YOU LOVE ME (2008). OIL, ACRYLIC, AND INK ON CANVAS, 54″ x 48″.
NEYKOV: Do you use photographs or sketches for your paintings?
HOOPER: I like to have several photographs that I work from. I either take my own photos, or actually I’ve learned that I have to because we can’t use that JFK cover [the painting she did for Grouplove’s first EP] anymore. This is kind of a funny story. It came from a photo of my brother and this disturbing image of JFK’s head exploding and I worked between the two, but it was about the paint: I wanted it to look like someone’s head was opening up right before something happened. So I wanted it to be our EP cover, and our lawyers said the only way you can use it is if you get in touch with Caroline Kennedy, as she is the sole person who gives the approval to use JFK’s face. Well, my uncle [Pete McCloskey] had run for President of the US against Nixon in 1972, and knows JFK’s chief of staff, who’s like 85 now, and I got in touch with him through my uncle.
NEYKOV: Wait, so the lawyers tell you to find Caroline Kennedy but don’t help you?
HOOPER: Yes! They said, we can’t do anything, find her! So, the chief of staff says, send me the painting. We did, he looked at it and said, this looks nothing like him, I’m a balls-to-the-wall kind of guy and say use it! So we forwarded the email to our lawyers and they said… balls-to-the-wall type of guy? No, you can’t use it. This is not Caroline Kennedy.
NEYKOV: So you never found her…