Stopping in their old haunt of New York City for two nights, Hannah Hooper & Christian Zucconi of Grouplove sat down with QRO. In the conversation, the married singers (and new parents!) discussed this long tour (including how it has been having a baby on board for it), making & playing their new album Big Mess (QRO review), but not forgetting their old songs, the ‘trendy vs. misto’ couple, making a record before & after having a baby, having songs in teen movies, making music videos, their Genero.tv fan-generated video contest, BoJack Horseman, backstage at Late Late Show, and much more…
QRO: How’s this tour going?
Christian Zucconi: It’s going awesome.
Hannah Hooper: It’s unbelievable. It’s almost a sell-out tour. Humbling, exciting.
CZ: It’s fun to play new songs. We’re playing a bunch of new ones, and people are into it. They’re not like bored, waiting for the old ones…
HH: We still got it, and we’re parents. That’s the primary fear is you lose your mojo, once you become a parent.
QRO: What’s it like touring as new parents?
HH: You already don’t really sleep on the road, but with a baby, you really don’t sleep.
It enhances everything. Knowing that we created this beautiful baby girl, and she gets to see her parents go out and be artists almost every night. She’s side stage with headphones on. I don’t know if she really knows that it’s us, but it makes it all that much more inspiring.
CZ: It’s good to have her around on the bus, too. You know, tour can be hard, and it gets long, but seeing a happy baby crawling around brings out the best in everyone.
That’s the primary fear is you lose your mojo, once you become a parent.
QRO: What about when she’s crying?
HH: She’s a minimal crier.
HH: Yeah, I’d say we cry more than she does.
CZ: She’s having the best tour of all of us.
HH: Honestly, she’s really loving it. I think the constant change. We’re always searching for new playground – it used to be thrift stores and bars, and now we’re searching for playgrounds…
QRO: It is hard to stay ‘rock & roll’ as a parent?…
HH: It’s almost more rock & roll, in a way. You get to see cities more.
Being a parent is rock & roll. You’re covered in barf, covered in food. You have to go with the flow so much more than you ever imagined…
QRO: It’s been pretty massive – coast-to-coast, Europe before that, Australia before that, Korea before that. Has this been your biggest tour to-date?
CZ: I think yeah, this is our headline biggest tour we’ve been doing.
HH: I don’t really look at things that way. We look at things normally how we’re responding, how the crowd is, the vibe. I don’t think of it in numbers, I think of it more of that conversation between us and the audience – which sounds so cheesy & arty, but it’s the best way to really calibrate like how you’re doing. We’ve just been having nightly conversations with the audience, the give & take that’s been the biggest.
CZ: It’s the best feeling.
QRO: Going around the world and all, touring so much, do you all even have regular home in Los Angeles?
HH: I wouldn’t call it ‘regular’.
CZ: It’s there, when we’re not there. It’s very dusty.
HH: It’s this polluted mound of wood… [laughs]
CZ: It’s there though, it’s waiting for us, when we go home.
HH: It’s waiting for someone…
Grouplove playing “Colours” live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on September 25th, 2013:
QRO: I suppose that this tour is mostly focused on Big Mess. How hard it is to pick which songs from the new album to do live – or rather, which, if any, not to do?
CZ: We’re doing eight right now, which is cool. We’re only missing three songs. And those three that we’re not doing, one’s really slow – we already have too many slow songs for Grouplove set right now.
We’re always playing them in soundcheck.
HH: We’re always bringing them in.
CZ: We’re trying to bring ‘em in. We’ve been changing the set slightly every night, to kind of bring in some new songs, old songs.
HH: We’re pretty honest about how we pick songs. If it feels good… Our songs are high, so Christian & I, if we can sing 140 shows in a row and sing a song really well tonight, we’re gonna put it in the set.
[November 3rd], we played “Standing In the Sun”, which has been out of the set – it’s our third song on our album – it’s been out of the set for a few shows. Christian’s guitar just went out, literally first strum of the song. He just kept playing it, and I had literally nothing to sing off of, in my monitors, because his guitar is 100% of my mix…
But we wrote these songs, we know these songs, they’re part of who we are. It’s not about ‘picking’, it’s about the night – them picking us, I guess.
QRO: What about songs from prior albums/tours – your set time probably hasn’t gotten much longer since your last album tour, do you drop some, or just play some less frequently?
CZ: Yeah, it’s tough. Songs that we love, that we know our fans love. But we really want to make it all about this new album, we’re so proud of it, we love the songs on it, we just want to showcase those more.
But we still play the classic three or four songs off each album that we kinda have to play.
HH: I would say, though, there’s a nice mix in the band. Christian is legitimately an artist, and will want to play what he feels like playing, what would be best in the city. And I’m a genuine music fan, so I’m like, “Dude, we’ve gotta play…”
Like, if I was in the audience at a Grouplove show, I know what I’d want to hear – I’d want to hear some hits. Christian’s like, “Fuck that – let’s never play those songs again…”
So there’s a nice mix between some deep cuts & some hits, and I think that’s kind of always been the dynamic between the two of us. The trendier one, and the more laid back in the cuts version. We definitely switch spots sometimes, too, but I would say normally you’re the misto stoner, trying to keep us weird, and I’m the louder, trendier…
‘Trendier’ is not the right word, but yeah, there’s a nice balance between us, on- & off-stage. ‘Cause we’re married…
QRO: How much leeway do you even have? With all of your singles, it seems like there a lot of songs that you ‘have to play’…
HH: We could never play them, if we wanted, but give the people what the want, you know what I mean?
It feels good to play a song like “Tongue Tied”, and then play a song like “Beans On Pizza”, and only our true fans know.
Last night, Christian, it was his birthday, and he’s like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna play BoJack Horseman right now!” Almost the last song on the set.
You just saw the people that were like, “Oh my god!” Some people were like, “Dude, I love that show! I had no idea you had anything to do with that song…”
So there’s all these moments. We like to keep it exciting, for ourselves, for our audience, but also, we want to fulfill – you spent your hard-earned money on coming to our show, let’s play some songs you want to hear.
Grouplove playing “Tongue Tied” live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on November 2nd, 2012:
QRO: Do you still get to do any covers, like “Sabotage” or “Drunk In Love”?
HH: I think we’re gonna do “Sabotage” tonight. We put it in the set sometimes.
CZ: It’s too good not too…
QRO: You both had lived in New York previously. Is it a little like coming home, when you play New York?
CZ: Oh, yeah.
HH: It’s further & further away from the New York I originally knew.
I would love to genuinely be an artist, and be able to afford New York, but I still – even with our band doing this well – can feel how expensive New York is.
It’s like San Francisco. I would never live there again. I experienced it, it was beautiful.
I would love to move back to New York. I heard like all the artists are moving to Woodstock, Beacon…
Grouplove playing “Borderlines and Aliens” live at Central Park SummerStage in New York, NY on September 16th, 2014:
QRO: How was making Big Mess?
CZ: So good. It was so much fun.
We got to half of it in Seattle, with Phil Ek. We did the other half in L.A. It was really nice, the dichotomy, working with two different producers [also Grouplove’s own Ryan Rabin], and also working in two different climates. Also getting out of L.A. was pretty important to us.
HH: We hadn’t taken any time to make art in so long. I wouldn’t say we ‘rushed’ the last album–
CZ: A little bit, we did.
HH: We were just on a flow. We were on a tour, we moved into a house together, for Spreading Rumors (QRO review), so this album, Big Mess, was the first time – I got pregnant, so we almost had to take the time off? It gave us the ability to really – we wrote forty songs.
Our approach to recording, we just had all this time off. It was just a wonderful thing to get to know ourselves again, to… I don’t know, take time off to make art, to make an album, because that’s what we do. It was really fun.
CZ: It was really fun.
I would say normally you’re the misto stoner, trying to keep us weird, and I’m the louder, trendier…
QRO: You said that you got pregnant – was there any, “We have to finish this by…”
CZ: There were some conversations, ‘We’re gonna try to finish the album before the baby came,’ just to be done with it, but…
HH: I was losing my breath a lot. That was something we didn’t know about.
CZ: Her vocal chords were all swollen because she was pregnant.
It was good, though. It was a lot to do. Our baby was three months old when we started living in Seattle.
HH: Honestly, for those who want to know, being pregnant, for me at least, was a huge creative catalyst. Or maybe it was just being off tour, you never know. Just finally alone.
QRO: Was it easier, this being your third record, since it was neither your debut, nor your follow-up?
HH: Maybe me, just not coming from being a musician, but I’ve never felt the pressure of the album. I think that that is the curse that people who want to be on top, want to be a big band. If you try to be in style, you’re not going to be in style. If you’re making art genuinely, from a real place, I feel like people are going to respond to it, because there’s an honesty there, and that’s all we’ve tried to do.
CZ: This was the most relaxed album, though. I think we have more experience in the studio now, challenging ourselves, working with somebody else. It was very chill, and we were all very calm. We believed in the songs.
We had more time with the songs, before going into the studio, so we were more confident, because we had been rehearsing them a lot more. The other times, we kinda wrote it in the studio; this album, we wrote most of it in the rehearsal room for six months, so we went in there nice & ready.
HH: The curse of having that much time, I must say, because of how many songs we had, we had the ability to make so many different albums. So it was really in the song selection that was the hardest was.
CZ: It really was.
Honestly, for those who want to know, being pregnant, for me at least, was a huge creative catalyst. Or maybe it was just being off tour, you never know. Just finally alone.
HH: There’s so many dimensions of Grouplove that people will never be able to see. Because there’s five of us, collectively, choosing what songs we’re gonna pick at the end. We have a really sad side to us, we have a really jammy side to us, and we like to reveal that on stage more, when you actually can physically see us, and you can see the passion.
This album, inevitably there’s a lot of pop songs that we picked. I think once we went through the cycle – there was a point when I think we were gonna have a darker album. Towards the end of the album…
CZ: We wrote like three pop songs.
HH: We wrote three right after Willow was born. We just wrote these really fun pop songs.
I think a happy song is a much harder song to write than a sad song. We all carry a lot of sadness in us, and it’s something that we can write, individually, but together, we really can write fuckin’ happy songs, man…
QRO: Just Never Trust them…
QRO: You’ve had some original songs in teen movie dramas, “Let Me In” from The Fault In Our Stars, and “No Drama Queen” in Paper Towns. Were those just songs you already had (but not released), or made with the movie in mind?
CZ: “Let Me In”, Hannah & I saw the scene.
HH: We wrote it directly to the scene.
It was fun for us to be so emotive directly, visually. Just to be like, ‘Oh my god, this is us responding.’
CZ: [“No Drama Queen”], had that as a demo, something I was messing around with. We recorded that will Phil, in Seattle, and that was kind of us ‘test the waters’ with this dude, and we did that with him, loved the experience, so went back to him with the album.
QRO: Does it ever make you feel old, having songs in teen coming-of-age movies?
HH: I think it makes us feel relevant. You know what I mean? That is the time in your life when you really connect to a band, and become, hopefully, a lifer. Band’s that I loved when I was a teen are bands that I love now.
QRO: How was making the video for “Welcome To Your Life”?
HH: That was awesome.
QRO: With all the rain/water at the end, did you have to carefully pick what to wear, make-up?
HH: No. That video came together really fast.
Christian & I had this idea, based on a Philip Glass movie [Koyaanisqatsi]. We linked up with [director], and he just took it to a whole new level. ‘What if instead of doing this just so visual, kind of these scenes that you just don’t have the budget for – for these shots would be millions of dollars – taking it from a child’s perspective? You just had a child, your child’s in part of the song’ – her voice is sampled throughout the song. He just took it to this really interesting place.
CZ: The rain was a good idea.
HH: I wish we could see the rain more in the video. We did all of that in one day.
QRO: Were those your instruments? I was thinking that the rain would damage them.
CZ: For the rain shot, we used some dummies.
HH: Or covered my keyboards with Saran Wrap.
Grouplove’s video for “Welcome To Your Life”:
QRO: I’ve always really liked your videos, especially the concepts behind them. What goes into coming up with them?
HH: Just really depends.
CZ: It’s a really collaborative effort. A lot of the concepts from the last record were done by this guy, Cameron Duddy, who’s a director. A lot of times, we’re on tour, spread pretty thin, so it’s nice to have someone at your back, who comes up with cool ideas, and you can get behind them. Everyone’s always been down for collaborating.
HH: The great thing about this band, is that if we don’t like it – I think a lot of bands, they just don’t really care. The thing about this band is, we are so involved, so we if we love the idea, then we let the director take full rein, if we don’t, it becomes a collaborative thing, or we find a new director. There’s no, “I guess we’ll just do this…’
We’re always involved, up until the very end. It’s almost a little crazy, but that’s how we do.
QRO: Where did the idea of the fan-generated video contest for each song on Mess come from?
HH: That was something we’ve always wanted to do.
I think, part of it, is that I’m a visual artist, and our fans have responded to that. ‘What do you guys see?’
The range of people who have done the Genero.tv videos, from people who are in film school, or run their own production companies, or are just kids on their iPhone, getting an editing thing. That is exactly what we’re looking for. To see our fans interpret our songs in their own way is just unbelievable.
On tour, there are some nights when we’re watching hundreds of videos. It’s crazy. To see where people take it, it’s awesome.
CZ: To have that interaction, to have people make art to your songs, is powerful.
Genero.tv fan-generated contest winner video for “Do You Love Someone”:
QRO: Previous records have had a few singles – are there going to be more coming from Big Mess?
CZ: Yeah, we’ll have some more singles coming out.
HH: There are certain songs on the album where you just feel the crowd already responding to them. And you feel like, ‘Oh, this could be a single, this could be the next single.’ So it’s cool to feel the crowd naturally respond.
And so they help pick the direction of our life.
QRO: How did you come to make the closing music for BoJack?
CZ: Our manager was friendly with this music supervisor, and I guess he was a fan of the band, and asked if we wanted to take a stab at writing the theme song.
So it was kind of quick turn around, so I wrote a bunch of stuff. The first song I wrote was the one that they picked, eventually. They weren’t too sure about, because it was too self-referential, and they wanted just like ‘a song’. So then I wrote like six more, and sent them in, and after two weeks, they were like, ‘Actually, we like this one…’
HH: ‘Actually, we like the first one…’
CZ: And it ended up being the closing credits, which is fine. We’re very lucky that the show’s doing so well.
We one day want to finish the whole song. It’s two minutes…
Closing credits to BoJack Horseman:
QRO: Oh, and I loved your ‘backstage scene’ when introduced on Late Late Show with James Corden – how much was that planned out?
HH: The whole thing.
CZ: We thought of it two days before, when they asked us to get an idea ready.
HH: Basically, you know the thing with every band, everyone when they open the door, they plan that before. It’s always a planned thing.
Our theme is ‘Big Mess’; we just turned the room into a shithole.
CZ: It was fun. Hannah was screaming in French, through the megaphone.
He was so sweet. That was the best late night show we’ve ever done. It was great. He’s a really nice guy.
HH: He’s just a cool dude, who loves his job, and loves meeting people. It’s not like, ‘Nice to meet you,’ you shake hands, an obligatory thing. We genuinely spoke to him for like twenty-five minutes after we played. He talked to us about music.
CZ: He did not have an air about him.
QRO: Live, do you play any of the songs from the movies?
CZ: We play “Let Me In”. That’s one of our most popular songs on iTunes, so we do play it. People get into that song.
HH: It’s such an interesting time for bands, because putting stuff in movies, or in commercials, even. We always kind of thought that was… ‘Ugh, don’t do that…’
And that is our bread & butter these days.
CZ: People have seen commercials more than listen to the radio.
HH: People are openly like, ‘Dude, I learned about you from the commercial…’
‘Ooh, don’t ever say that…’
But you can’t hate on getting your music out there.
The funny thing is, is bands used to make fun of each other, and now people are like, ‘Dude, I heard you in the fuckin’ Delta commercial’ or whatever. They high-five each other, and I’m like, ‘I still don’t feel cool about this…’
CZ: It’s much more accepted.
HH: I do feel cool about getting our music out. So it is a catch-22…
Grouplove’s video for “Welcome To Your Life”:
QRO: You’re going to be releasing a video for “Good Morning”. Does it at all make you feel bad that, after fans have generated videos for a song, you’re like, ‘That’s great, but here’s the real one…’?
HH: I know – I was thinking that.
CZ: [laughs] We’re trying not to release them at the same time.
HH: But the fan videos, it’s for all of us, just a community of people, sharing. Which is honestly what we wanted people to do. Just to make art to make art, not make art to be famous…
CZ: “Good Morning” is the same way. It’s just done by a really good friend of ours, Chris Blauvelt, who’s been in the business for a long time. He’s like forty-five.
HH: He’s directed a bunch of stuff, but he’s normally a really amazing cinematographer.
CZ: For a bunch of dope movies.
He had off, and we didn’t have anyone to do it. He’s like, ‘I’ll write a treatment!’ And it came together in like a week, and it was a dream to work on. Can’t wait for it to premiere.
HH: It was so official. It felt like we were on a movie set.
CZ: There’s some good cameos in there. We’ll keep it quiet, but you’ll see.
QRO: In the video for “No Drama Queen”, you all were doing karaoke of the song (with fans). Was it extra-weird karaoke-ing yourselves – with & in front of fans?
CZ: There was a combo.
HH: There was some people in other bands…
That was a rushed video, and I was really pregnant. I was actually getting really dizzy – we were jumping around and I’d have to sit down. I was huge during that video…
QRO: Were the other guys in the band happy to be the singer for once…
HH: I’m sure they were… [laughs]
CZ: Yeah, probably…
Grouplove’s video for “No Drama Queen”: