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After scoring success with their chart topping single “Tongue Tied” and spending over two years on the road supporting their 2011 debut Never Trust A Happy Song, Grouplove took less than a week’s break before beginning work on their new album, Spreading Rumours. Where most bands might opt to take more time off, the LA-based quintet found themselves invigorated and inspired by the energy shared with their fans and, perhaps more importantly, with each other whenever they took the stage.
“On the first album, we probably only had about 10 shows under our belt, explains drummer Ryan Rabin. “This time, we had over 600 and were playing as well as we could individually and as a group. We wanted to transpose that energy into the studio.”
“And whatever that intangible is that happens when we get in the studio or on stage, we just become one unit. That’s what’s special about it,” continues bassist Sean Gadd.
For two months, the entire band – Christian Zucconi (vocals, guitar), Hannah Hooper (vocals, keys), Sean Gadd (bass, vocals), Andrew Wessen (guitar, vocals) and Ryan Rabin (drums) – lived together in a Hollywood Hills house, complete with an adjacent studio and its own musical legacy.
“It was built in the 60’s by [Motown founder] Berry Gordy,” relates Zucconi. “The Jackson 5 would come to town and stay there. Diana Ross would stay there. And right up the hill was this old house that the Beatles rented in ’64. So it was amazing in a historical context to be in such an artistically rich place.”
This new living arrangement also allowed them to be both continually creative and highly productive. At any given moment, Gadd might be experimenting with some bass lines in the studio, while Hooper and Zucconi worked on lyrics in the living room, and Wessen sketched out guitar parts on the patio. As with all of Grouplove’s recordings, Rabin took the helm as the album’s producer. The band would jam all night, working on songs until the sun came up. After sleeping for just a few hours, they’d go straight into the studio to record while the ideas and excitement were still fresh and inspired.
“I think that’s why the songs pop and have that energy,” says Wessen. “Because they were recorded with that excitement. We tracked almost everything live and in as few takes as possible, before it became ‘take number 400’ and the soul was gone. We captured that youthful exuberance and that spontaneity, and it’s impossible to do without giving yourself fully to the album like we did.”
“We woke up every day and lived and breathed the album,” recalls Zucconi. “It never ended. The album absolutely consumed us. Even after a day’s work in the studio, we would retire into the house and, still, all we could do was talk about the new music.”
While the chemistry between the band members and even the house itself were conducive to Grouplove’s creative output, it was also a source of tension that made its way into the songs.
“We’re really deep friends, but going straight from two years in tour bus to living together in a single house felt like being trapped sometimes,” explains Hooper. “It was liberating and suffocating at the same time. We put ourselves in this situation where we were all stuck together and there really was nowhere else to go. For me, that’s why the whole album straddles this line of being really fun but also having a feeling of hectic rebellion.”
That dichotomy can be found throughout Spreading Rumours in both its lyrics and sound. “Ways To Go” disguises a journey of thoughtful self-discovery – full of questions and doubt – in a sparkly package of synth-based pop. Thematically similar but much darker sonically, opening track “I’m With You” starts the album with slowly building piano arpeggios, evoking an almost melancholic feel before breaking into an eerie soundscape steered by driving rhythms and a melodic bassline. The progressive “Borderlines and Aliens” is a display of the band’s musicality and heaviest song to date. The schizophrenic “Shark Attack” takes you on a wildly psychedelic ride, incorporating steel drums into its sunny verses before exploding into an electronic infused chorus. There’s a vulnerability displayed in the folk-tinged “Sit Still,” a song that the band cites as one of the album’s many examples of how the anxiety of living in the house translated directly into a song. And later on, “Raspberry” charges into a soulful groove, combining wavering rhythms and soaring guitar trills in an unabashed nod to the Pixies.
The band’s own origin is a story of spontaneity, fate, and self-discovery, reflecting many of the album’s themes. On a whim, after knowing each other for a matter of days, Zucconi, a struggling musician in New York City, accompanied Hooper – an accomplished painter who remains responsible for all of the band’s visual art – to an arts colony on the island of Crete. Drawn to one another by a shared creative spirit, the couple met Angelenos Wessen and Rabin, and Gadd, the band’s lone Brit. An impromptu reunion in Los Angeles a year later resulted in recording sessions that became their 2010 self-released EP. Response to the music was overwhelmingly positive – completely unexpectedly, the five friends became a band. Released in 2011, Grouplove’s full-length debut Never Trust a Happy Song served as a buoyant and beautiful introduction to the world, wound together by irresistible choruses, radiant harmonies, and cheery bits of pop-rock perfection. Buoyed by a trio of singles “Colours,” “Itchin’ On A Photograph,” and the aforementioned “Tongue Tied,” Grouplove became a mainstay on Alternative radio. Meanwhile, live in concert, the band was harnessing a growing energy. And as their popularity grew, it paid service to this success by building up a live show that would come to define Grouplove as a band and result in back-to-back, sold-out headlining runs in the U.S. and high profile sets at the biggest music festivals in the world.
Spreading Rumours sees Grouplove elevating from a band of friends jangling together music and words without much direction into focused artists making a beautiful album together – standing behind one vision and a sound that is uniquely their own. And, when it came time to determine the album’s final track listing, they went back to what inspired the new songs in the first place – which songs would convey the spirit and vitality of the band live.
“People who come out to our shows expect a certain level of energy; that craziness that we bring in our performances and in our songs,” says Zucconi. “You just see the reaction of people coming out and you see how much they need it.”
“We all need it,” he continues. “That’s how the five of us are going to feel happiest in our lives. It’s survival by song.”