Grouplove’s Andrew Wessen gives Matt Gregg the lowdown on life in a commune, scoring an Apple ad and his band’s secret shower singer.
“It’s a crazy story, a wild story but a true story,” begins Andrew Wessen, one of the five musicians that collectively make up Grouplove. After getting to grips with Otwo’s Irish twang, Wessen launches into the group’s ‘boy meets girl’ story with a twist. Leading lady Hanna Hooper met Christian Zucconi, lead guitarist, at a gig one evening in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Just days later, she was offered an art residency at an artists’ commune in Crete and invited Zucconi to join her. This commune, run by Wessen’s brother, would become the breeding ground for Grouplove‘s future success.
“Well, I didn’t know anyone except for Ryan [Rabin], the drummer, before,” says Wesssen of his fellow band members. “But for whatever reason, we just kind of gravitated towards each other and made our own little crew among the other artists there.” The final member of this crew was Sean Gadd, a London-born guitarist who would quickly become friends with Hooper and Zucconi upon his arrival in Crete.
Quick to regale tales of driving scooters through mountains and all-day jam sessions on the beach, Wessen explains that the group had no idea of what was just around the corner. “We didn’t really work on too many songs that ended up being Grouplove songs. We just hung out a lot and became really close.”
So close, in fact, that a year later they arranged a reunion in LA, where they recorded their first EP “just as friends” in Rabin’s studio. Also called Grouplove, this first EP was received positively by the online community and led to their first six gigs rapidly selling out. “I remember being over the moon about it. Then to be on Kimmel and Letterman and touring in Australia was just completely mind-blowing.” Nonetheless, Wessen feels none of that could have happened without their time in Crete. “That set up things for the future.”
A communal approach is certainly evident in their music, with the role of lead vocalist passed around from track to track. Wessen sees this as the most exciting thing about Grouplove, contrasting them to bands that “play a long set with the same singer on his seventeenth song in a row.” Variation, as well as providing interest, also reflects the band’s dynamics and self-professed genre of “exciting, contained chaos indie-rock.”
“We were all individual artists – even Ryan, our drummer, is an amazing producer and songwriter. It’s kind of exciting, because we’ve all come from projects in which we’ve had to quarterback and take the lead,” says Wessen. “All of us are the lead singers or main songwriters in our various projects … It’s not like one guy trying to take the lead on the whole thing and having all that pressure. It really was a case of what is the best song we can work on right now?” Even so, Wessen does jokingly admit that Hooper, a long-time “secret shower singer,” has really hit her stride since Greece.
When a group lists “life” as their inspiration, it is always interesting to explore how they make the transition to working with a professional label. However, Wessen is full of praise for Atlantic, who he feels have supported Grouplove in everything they’ve done, “artistically or otherwise.”
“It was literally just us,” he says, explaining that Rabin produced the entire first album, Never Trust a Happy Song, while Hooper created the artwork. “There was absolutely no outside influence. We didn’t even play the tracks to our label until they were pretty much in the bag.”
This is not to say he doesn’t appreciate the importance of outsider money in helping Grouplove today. “I didn’t understand this before the band started … but you’re actually losing money on all your tours. Stuff like getting TV shows or movies or commercials are important.” For example, the track ‘Colours’ has featured in various video games while ‘Tongue Tied’ has shot to prominence thanks to Apple’s latest advert. Of the entire group, Wessen was the most sceptical of this venture.
“I hate commercials…and everyone knows it’s not cool,” he says, before explaining why he decided to make an exception just this once. “Steve Jobs has just died. We all use Macs and every one of us uses Mac products. [I didn’t want to do it but the others said] ‘dude, it’s like the coolest company in the world saying you’re cool – what’s your problem?’ So when they put it that way, I guess it is kind of cool.”
Nevertheless, Wessen hopes this commercial will be a once-off and is keen to emphasise that the group “wanted to be at the helm of things.” This includes concentrating on touring, which they have been doing almost constantly for the last year. So much so, in fact, that Wessen sold his apartment earlier this summer because he was never at home. It would be easy to sympathise with his hectic schedule, but Wessen laughs it off. “The longest break I had was two weeks, but my god, it’s amazing to be doing this. This is special and I could never have dreamt it up.”