If Romeo and Juliet were a millennial couple who decided to recruit three additional talented musicians and start a band, rather than kill themselves, that band would be Grouplove.
Catchy, indie-pop fivesome Grouplove has had a genesis and evolution that reads more like a work of fiction than the journey of a modern band. It all began in 2009, when Hannah Hooper (keys and vocals), at the time a struggling painter, went to see Christian Zucconi’s (lead vocals and guitar) previous band, ALOKE, play in New York City. Their connection was instantaneous and unlike anything either of them had experienced before. So when Hooper was invited to be part of an artist residency in Greece, rather than leave her whirlwind romance behind, she invited Zucconi to join her. After meeting Sean Gadd (bass, vocals until 2014), Andrew Wessen (guitar, vocals), and Ryan Rabin (drums), at the artist residency, their jam sessions quickly evolved into a full-blown band. And just like that, Grouplove was born.
“It's funny,” Hooper says, her husky, melodic voice emanating confidence, even over the phone, “I'm still wondering to this day how it happened. Everything kind of happened so organically and so quickly. First of all, I was absolutely head over heels about a guy. I never thought I could fall in love on that level. I kind of didn't believe in love. Then, I was with someone that was so inspiring and so hot, everything I never thought I could get. It was like, ‘somebody, please wake me up.’”
Her tone is contemplative as she speaks about the trip that changed everything for her. “When we got to Greece, I was just exactly who I was right then. I was with nobody I knew, so nobody knew anything about my past. I didn't feel restricted in any way. I was just completely the artist and the girl that I was that day. And that summer changed my life. It really did. There's a great thing about having old friends and being around things that are familiar, but there's also something really liberating about taking risks. That summer was just a big risk.”
One of the biggest risks Hooper faced was transitioning into an artistic realm she knew nothing about. In contrast to Zucconi, who started playing piano and guitar at a very young age, and the remaining three members of the band, who were already musicians when they met in Greece, Hooper had never played music or sang in any sort of professional setting before Grouplove.
“I don't even know how to explain it because I feel so free on stage now. I hope that anyone who has stage fright will take advice from me that anything comes from just doing it. Our first show, honestly, I wanted to run away. I was totally fine with just leaving the band and running away. That's what I felt like I should do. I couldn't breathe that day. I threw up before the show. I decided that I was going to wear a mask on stage. I got this silver mask and cut the mouth out so you couldn't see my face, and I actually wore that mask for the first like 30 shows.”
Hooper lets out the kind of comfortable laugh close friends would share over an incident that has long since passed the point of embarrassment, “It's so crazy. It was very artsy, I like to think, but we were in Germany at this show and this guy thought I was a burn victim, and that's why I was wearing a mask. I sort of realized at that moment that it was time to take the mask off.”
A lot has changed for the group since their initial formation and Hooper’s stage fright. After reconvening to Los Angeles, where they now reside, and signing to Atlantic Records, their debut single “Colours” hit number 15 on the Modern Rock Charts, and things took off for the pop-rock band.
Speaking with Zucconi about the fairytale meeting and formative months, his sentiments are perfectly in tune with Hooper’s own. “Meeting [Hooper] and falling in love with her completely changed my life. Without meeting her, I'd probably be in the same boat as I was before. Depressed, and down-and-out and driving trucks to make ends meet in New York City.”
“Still, to this day, I can't really wrap my head around [the fact] that we're a successful band because it's weird,” he murmurs, dreamily scanning over the years past, “I can't understand. I'm still in shock in a way. There are always people at our shows, and we're on TV, and putting our third record out. I don't know why that is, but it definitely was surreal, and it's been kind of surreal ever since. It's hard to take in.”
After chart-topping hits and countless tours and festivals, including Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Firefly and Coachella, acquiring their new bassist in 2014, Daniel Gleason, and writing impressive original songs for films like The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and Frankenweenie, as well as shows like HBO’s Girls and Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, Grouplove deserved a moment to catch their breath. That moment came when Hooper discovered she was pregnant.
The discovery allowed the band to write their third album, Big Mess, released September 2016. “We actually had time and space and just wrote just to write and just to express ourselves,” Zucconi tells me, a slight note of excitement in his voice, “and the pregnancy obviously had a big part of that. It was just cool to grow and take that time off and just be who we are at this time in our lives. We like to be different [with] each album because you grow and evolve as you're out there in the world every day, so we're really happy with how this one came out and the songs we chose for the album. We wrote like 45 to 50 songs, something like that.”
While maintaining a lot of their signature, catchy sound, Big Mess also has a thoughtfully curated mix of unique melodies, comprising an album with a wide range of both depth and emotion.
Their hiatus from touring also allowed Hooper and Zucconi to dive headfirst into the previously unknown adventure of parenting, “[Being a parent] has changed me for the better in so many ways. It's unbelievable. Without choosing to, it puts your whole life's priorities in check. You just don't have time to be shallow anymore. You don't have time to be like, ‘Me, me, me.’ My life is [my daughter] Willa, and when I have free time, I meet up with the friends I genuinely love. There's just no time for the bullshit. It's honestly extremely liberating. I used to always be trying to everything, and really figure out that meant to me, and Willa balanced it for me. It's amazing.”
Up next will be their first few months touring as new parents. And while to most, it would seem utterly daunting, for these two, the months on the road only solidify their larger-than-life love.
“We keep each other sane on the road,” Zucconi says, a clearly audible air of affection in his voice. “We're just two peas in a pod and without each other, we could never have done it. [If] We weren't in the same band it just wouldn't work out, because it's so hard to have that lifestyle and to be in a relationship, when someone's not with you. I think we're very lucky that we get to work together and live together and love one another and do it so well. It's very rare. I think a lot of people are shocked that we can do it, but I think we're meant to take this trip together and be on this journey.”
Hooper’s views on the topic prove just how in-tune the talented couple is, “I feel so annoying saying this, because relationships in life change, or whatever,” she pauses briefly, choosing her words, “but Christian is genuinely my soul-mate. We've gotten just closer and more creative. I’m in a band where everyone else's significant other is at home when we're on tour, and there's no way to share with them what it feels like to be on stage. What it feels like to be on a plane every day and to watch your audience growing. Or what it feels like to be tired like we do. When Christian and I get into bed together at night, we are both always on the same level. We're either high from the show and can't sleep, or we're totally exhausted and need to sleep for like 40 hours. We're just on the same wavelength.”
As we end our call, Hooper’s final thoughts reverberate with passion and intensity, “These kind of interviews remind me how lucky I am, and how genuinely rare this is. There's so much emphasis on being cool and all these things actually don't matter. What matters is you're touching and changing and sharing something with so many people, and you can't explain why it's working, but something is registering at a certain level with people, and that's just exciting. It's almost like magic. As close to magic as I understand.”
And there is a kind of magic to Grouplove’s music and its founders. The kind that makes it understandable how a story so remarkable could be so inherent to the nature of their existence as a group. In a world filled with tabloid romance and robotically manufactured artists, it’s rare to see, not only such genuine talent but also such open gratitude and unrelenting love. Their affection is as catchy as their music. If there is such a thing as destiny, then Hooper and Zucconi, as well as the rest of Grouplove, is destined for a long and fortuitous run. We’ll be watching, front row.
Photography by: Patrick Maus
Written by: Lauren Hoover
Hair by: Paul Desmarre @ Exclusive Artists Management
Using Olivia Garden Brushes
Makeup by: Blondie @ Exclusive Artists Management
Using MAC Cosmetics