Make Music Pasadena took place on a rather warm and sunny Saturday, yet devoted fans managed to battle through the heat to see the headliners, Grouplove. But before their set, I had a chance catch up with the band to discuss their tour, artistic background, DIY attitude, and pranks.
How are you guys doing today?
Hannah Hooper: Good.
Christian Zucconi: Good, good. We’ve been on tour for like two and a half months and this is our last day of tour and it kind of wraps it up.
Aren’t you hitting the festival circuit soon?
CZ: Actually no. We did a bunch of festivals already. We did Coachella, Sasquatch, and Bonnaroo this year.
You haven’t had much rest have you?
HH: No. We got back last night from our headlining tour. So yeah, this is kind of our celebration.
This is with Reptar right? How was that tour?
HH: It was seriously incredible. They were such a fine band to tour with so having that kind of friendship is so important on tour.
CZ: We had the Company of Thieves too before Reptar, so they split it up. They were awesome too. We were lucky to play with those bands.
You’re also hitting up Japan soon right?
CZ: Yeah in August.
HH: Which is crazy!
CZ: Yeah, for this festival called Summerside.
I’ve been following you for awhile. I first saw you play a free show at the Satellite now you’re selling out shows, playing festivals, getting on late night talk shows. Has all the success sunk in yet?
CZ: It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s so very surreal.
HH: It definitely hasn’t sunk in, which is crazy. It’s insane coming back to LA and hearing us on the radio. It’s so exciting! It’s kind of psychedelic (laughs). But we’re excited for the whole time off too to let it sink in because this never happens. This is so rare and amazing.
I don’t want to necessarily ask you about your origin story since it’s pretty much out there, but have you gone back to Crete ever since your formation?
HH: We haven’t.
Would you like to go back?
CZ: Yeah, I think one day we will go back.
HH: We have an idea that it might jinx us.
CZ: Yeah (laughs), like it’ll unravel everything if we go back. It’s superstitious.
HH: The fact that we all met there is so bizarre already and the fact that it was Crete; none of us are big travelers or anything. Just the thought that we go there and kind of undo the magic spell…but a vacation sounds awesome (laughs).
CZ: Or just another month off to write new songs again.
The band is from all over the country and Sean is even from England. Does your background or where you came from play a big factor into your music?
CZ: Yeah everyone has different influences and different areas where they were brought up. It kind of makes it special.
HH: We’re so influenced by different things and it keeps our process unique.
Have you ever tried to start your own artist commune here in LA?
HH: I think we accidentally tried to. Christian and I were making a u-turn on a dead end in frog town right by the LA River and saw this place for rent and ended up renting it. It was like the bath house of a house that had a goth band in it. There was a painter there and a studio. It just ended up being this crazy, creative zone.
CZ: A creative dead end.
HH: Yeah a creative dead end (laughs).
Do you plan on bringing it back?
CZ: Well we moved out of that place because we were on the road so much. But some friends of ours have moved in there and they’re keeping it alive. But we want to eventually get a great creative space to live in.
HH: We would love that. We’ve been kind of bringing our artist commune on the road for the last year or two years.
Hannah, you specifically have an artistic background in painting. Does the music and your visual arts ever influence each other? Does anyone else in the band have any other artistic background?
HH: I think everyone is pretty crazy and artistic in our band in general. The fact that I came into the band unexpectedly as a painter is just another way that the five of us get together and do things differently and don’t have a process. I approach the music the way that I would a painting – I don’t want to be repeating myself and always trying to keep the process new.
So you bring the visual aspect to the band?
CZ: Yeah, everything visual. She’s branded us completely from day one.
It’s like a DIY-type of thing and keeping it in-house.
CZ: Yeah, yeah.
HH: I mean Ryan produces all our stuff.
(At this point, Hannah introduces me to two other members of the band, guitarist Andrew Wessen and drummer Ryan Rabin, who joins in on the interview.)
Ryan, you produced the album. Was that planned or did you seek out other producers? It’s kind of convenient to have an in-house producer.
Ryan Rabin: I think it was always planned. When we did the EP, that’s just how it happened. We weren’t trying to be a band at that point, we were just doing it. Once it developed into the band, it was like what Hannah was doing with the art – we’re keeping it in-house and you’re doing the production. It was how we always do it. There was never really talk of other producers. I mean I always wanted to do it too.
HH: Ryan was producing it accidentally because we weren’t writing an EP. We were just writing songs as friends that he was recording. It’s hard to explain it but there was just no plan for this band to be headlining Make Music Pasadena (laughs).
Since you do it yourself, it leaves more of your own imprint and reveals more of who you are as a band.
RR: We’re also not one of those bands that has that big of a grasp that some other bands do, of doing the label side of things ourselves or getting into the marketing and advertising. Given that we do trust people with a lot of that other stuff, we like to maintain 100% creative control because the other stuff, people know what they’re doing and we don’t.
HH: It’s the freedom too and it’s an amazing freedom to have as an artist. You trust your team and have people supporting you so you can just make art. I mean, that’s the dream right?
The title of your debut album is called Never Trust a Happy Song so it forces you to pay attention to the lyrics instead of just the sound aspect to it. Have you ever felt betrayed by a song?
CZ: The last time I was betrayed by a song was “Pumped-Up Kicks” (by Foster the People). We were touring with those guys and we finally started listening to it, then (lead vocalist) Mark (Foster) told us what it was about and I was like “Oh…OK.” (laughs)
RR: Not even betrayed. You listen to something enough and you realize that it’s about something else – whether it was happy to you to begin with or sad to begin with and then it comes to mean something else to you. You feel a different nostalgia as you grow with the song and things completely change. Just like relationships can take on different meanings as the band grows, a song can take on a completely different meaning just by listening to it enough. It’s the same as a weird band name can sound weird at first and then to hear it enough, it’s like “woah, I guess Coldplay is a good band name. Nirvana? Cool, guys.” (laughs)
The title reminds me of when I spoke to Gareth of Los Campesinos! and he mentioned that fans would go up to him saying that his songs would them happy or cheer them. But in reality, the songs had lyrics that were really dark, like they’re about getting out of a relationship or something depressing.
RR: “Thanks for understanding!”
The album title really shows that you have to focus on the lyrics because they’re such an important aspect to a song.
HH: Yeah, absolutely.
I read in an interview with The Naked and Famous about a prank that David and Andrew did on David’s sister. Could you describe more about that?
Andrew Wessen: We were playing with them in Oakland at this place called New Parish. We had just played with them before and taken this photo where me and David look identical. It was really scary, like more than my brother even. I knew his sister was coming and he hadn’t seen her in a long time, so we got word that she was there and we came up with the idea super quick that I put on a bunch of his clothes, basically, and stood with their band with my back to the entrance of the room. When she came up to me, she was like “David!” and I was like “oh sister!” or totally something you’d never say to your sister. For a good two or three feet she had no idea that it wasn’t him and she was looking right at me. And then only at six inches away, she just freaked out and screamed, “oh my god who are you?!”
HH: (laughs) That’s so scary!
AW: We all had a good laugh about it. We actually look that much alike. It’s scary.
Do you play a lot of pranks on bands that you go out on tour with?
CZ: Usually on the last night of the tour, we try to pull some time of prank like a funny walk-on song.
Did you do one with Reptar?
CZ: Yeah, it didn’t work out that well.
HH: Actually they said it was hysterical. But we couldn’t tell that they thought it was funny.
CZ: What song was that?
HH: “What’s Your Fantasy?” (by Ludacris)
AW & HH: (sings) “I wanna li-li-lick you from yo’ head to your toes.”
CZ: There was that moment of confusion where they were like “What are we doing? I guess we go on.”
HH: They were awesome about it. I think they thought it was a mistake though, like something was wrong.
What’s the rest of 2012 like for you?
CZ: Like we said, Japan and we’re going on another headlining run in the fall.
You don’t stop, do you? (laughs)
HH: No (laughs). But we actually are going to stop. I think we have some secrets building up, but a lot more creative and we’re going to make a bunch of stuff with our hands. Take a little time off the road.
Has the scavenger hunt (on Twitter) happened yet?
CZ: We did a few cities.
HH: I felt people were following me around, looking for clues and stuff. I was like “I need to think this through a little better” (laughs).
CZ: Yeah, we need to perfect it a little bit better.
Grouplove plays the Firefly Festival on July 21st. Find out more of their tour dates at www.grouplovemusic.com