They say everything happens for a reason. People are placed in your life and every interaction we have possesses greater meaning. For Hannah Hooper, Christian Zucconi, Sean Gadd, Andrew Wessen, and Ryan Rabin—the five members of GROUPLOVE—having met at a music retreat in Greece and forming a band that is now touring the world, they’re touching the hearts of fans, and selling out venues left and right.
We had the opportunity to chat with drummer/producer Ryan Rabin and get to know what GROUPLOVE truly is and who’d have your back in a fight.
Was there a particular artist or album growing up that really inspired you to make music?
There’s so many, but the first I started loving when I was young and listening to every day was Michael Jackson. I used to turn on Bad and dance to it until my parents would dose me with sleeping pills to get me to put it down.
When you met the other members of the band how did you know you wanted to collaborate together?
We didn’t really. We kept in touch and about a year later, Hannah, Christian, and Sean came out to visit Andrew and me in Los Angeles. I was producing and recording for other artists in my little home studio. They came over and we were thinking about what to do one day, so we decided to just mess around and play some of the songs that we had heard each other play in Greece when we first met. So we said, let’s try to record something for fun.
We were just going to do one song, then it turned into two songs, and a month later we had done our first EP. It was never actually planned. I don’t think we ever thought directly, wow, we really want to collaborate together, I think it just happened naturally, which is what’s nice about it.
Is that how you approach the writing process as a band too; you just play and allow it to be organic?
Yeah. It really depends on the song. The one thing we try to do since we’re all so opinionated and different from each other musically and stylistically, is we try to make sure we’re not sticking to one formula for each song—whether it’s the way we write it or the way it came about or the way we record it or the sound—we try to be different from song to song. So, we’re not trying to be a concept album band; nothing against concept album bands, we just really like trying different things from song to song.
So what made you include the wolf call at the beginning of “Close Your Eyes And Count to Ten?”
Oh, haha. I think it was just something that Christian did one night. It was one of our first shows, we’d only been playing together for a short time at that point. You know, we made the EP before we did any shows. I think it was a particularly good show, and he just wanted to get some energy out, and he just howled before the song. The audience howled back, and the whole band was howling. It was a fun call and response thing. When it finally became time to put the song on the album and record it, it just happened naturally; we just knew it was a special thing and that it would be a part of it because it had happened live.
Let’s talk about the album cover. Hannah does most of the art, right?
Yeah, Hannah does all of the artwork and she’s pretty much the head art director, if you want to call it that, for all the merch, the live show—visually, she’s very much in control.
Why do you think it’s important to include personal touches like that?
I think it’s just part of the fundamental nature of what our band is and how it started. I think if she wasn’t doing the artwork or I wasn’t recording and producing, and we weren’t self-sufficient, then it wouldn’t be our band anymore. That part of us is so fundamentally what our band is and how naturally and unexpectedly it came together is important to us, and we’d like to keep that dynamic as intact as possible, despite the fact that we’re now on a label or have booking agents and all the other things that go along with what you need when you start gaining notoriety and people start knowing the music.
At the end of the day, the people that we work with outside of our band respect the fact that we all control creatively everything that’s going on with the band, and if we weren’t doing that I don’t think it would be GROUPLOVE anymore. That’s not to say we can’t invite outside collaboration, but as far as right now goes, we’re very much dedicated to that fundamental trait that is what GROUPLOVE is all about.
How involved are you as a band with the music video concepts?
That’s a good example of something where we do invite outside collaboration. All of our music videos are directed by the same guy; his name’s Jordan Bahat. He’s a friend of mine from Los Angeles, and he heard our music early on before anyone else did and responded to it in a way that was really different from the way we interpret our music, and we thought that was cool. He had really strange visual ideas when he first heard “Colours,” and we did that video, and then it stemmed from there.
Every time he came to us with an idea for a video, it was nothing like what we originally would have pictured a video for the song being. We like that; his ideas are so incredibly out there and weird and crazy, but the quality of his videos look great, they’re very narrative, and they have sort of a cinematic quality to them. Hannah’s very involved with Jordan on the visual side of the videos, with the costumes and the art direction, but beyond that creatively the ideas and filming are all Jordan. We like working with him, he’s sort of the sixth cinematic member of the band.
You mentioned the video for “Colours” and I have a question about that. In that video, Sean’s the only band member who’s unarmed. Would you say he’d be the one to look out for in a fight?
I think so. He’s not the biggest guy in the band, but he’s super scrappy, he’s from West London, which is not a horrible neighborhood, but it’s not a great neighborhood. I think Sean’d be good in a fight. He’s also a huge fan of boxing. He’s one of the biggest boxing fanatics I’ve ever met, he knows every fighter ever, so I think based on all that I’d trust his punch better than anyone else’s. Although, Hannah really punches hard in the arm; she’s got a good birthday punch.
So, Sean’s got some tricks up his beard?
I think he does; he’s got tricks in his beard. Although in the “Colours” video he doesn’t have his beard yet. But yeah, he’s got some tricks in there.
What do you mean by the album’s title, Never Trust A Happy Song?
I don’t think any of us really know what we mean. I can tell you how it came about. Sean, our bass player, our bearded, British bass player, I don’t know where it was, but he just kind of said it one day when we were hanging out. I don’t even remember the context, I just remember that everyone thought it was really funny. We left it alone, and as we continued to make the record, it started to gain more meaning for us.
I know, for me, I look at a song really differently the more I know them, or have them in my catalogue. Certain songs I used to listen to when I was eight or nine years old now have completely different nostalgic meanings for me and give totally different emotions now than they did when I was listening to them back then.
Songs in general, the way you listen to them and the way you react to them can be so vastly different over time and depending on your mood. In a general sense, it’s speaking to that contextual nature of songs, which is that they can really mean anything to anyone.
It’s particularly relevant to our band because the five of us are so different from each other, but at the same time, when we work together, it really works. All of our songs have different meaning and feeling to all of us, so I think that just started tying into that phrase “never trust a happy song”—for me it might be happy, for you it might be sad.
It was kind of crazy because last night; we played “Cruel & Beautiful World,” we did it fully acoustic, as an encore. We went off the mics and went out into the crowd. We could hear everybody, the crowd got really quiet, and we started playing it and this girl goes, “Oh, my God. Are you playing “Cruel & Beautiful World?” And we said, “Yeah…” She said, “Every time I hear this song, I know this song is really pretty and beautiful, but something bad happens in my life.” We felt really uncomfortable, but we were like, “Well, still going to play it. Sorry.”
I hope nothing bad happened to her!
I don’t think anything bad happened to her, unless after she left the club she got into a fight or something. But, I think that’s the long-winded explanation of the album title, but it is something that just initially came out of nowhere.
How do you feel about the vinyl resurgence?
I think it’s great. It’s so cool to see kids actually care about holding something physical in a world where the real majority of music business is done online. Well, I don’t want to say the majority because I think in the States there is still a high percentage of physical sales, but as far as singles go, that’s all downloads. We don’t even have a physical single of “Tongue-Tied,” which is crazy because that was what drove the business for so long.
So, to see kids at shows really interested in wanting a physical copy on vinyl and a large printout of the artwork and the liner notes and all that, it’s important, and it shows that that stuff is not lost on the young twelve- to fifteen-year-old generation of music fans.
There’s a lot of lobbying going on right now by the recording academy trying to ensure that there’s enough liner notes going on in digital sales that are available to you—who produced it, where it was recorded, who did anything like that—and I think that the vinyl resurgence shows that kids still do like to look into what’s behind the music. It’s important also that the people involved in the recording and studio work are credited and appreciated, and I think the vinyl resurgence is a part of that.
It’s nice to hear what something sounds like on vinyl. It’s got a warm quality to it. There’s a special aspect to it. If you have a record player in your house and you put on a record, that’s more of an experience than just plugging in your iPod in the car. You’re actually actively listening to something.