The alt-rock that coursed the veins of the early 2010s is back in the limelight with a vengeance, and it’s led by indie-pop artisans, Grouplove. The band’s euphoric, energetic earworms soundtracked a generation of youths: 2011’s “Tongue Tied”, 2013’s “Ways to Go”, 2016’s “Welcome To Your Life” and 2020’s “Deleter” are but a few genre-smashing highlights that checkpoint Grouplove’s misfit hits throughout the years. But now, to accompany a tumultuous start to a new decade, Grouplove has dropped its fourth album, Healer (2020), empowered by a steady move towards raucous, unapologetic indie rock.
When we talk, it’s 10.30am in Los Angeles, California, on another miscellaneous Monday morning in quarantine. Under normal circumstances a breath of fresh air would be impossible, but recently it’s been as clear as the Swiss Alps, says Hannah Hooper, vocals and keys in the band. She’s quarantining at home with her husband, Grouplove’s vocalist and guitarist Christian Zucconi; their daughter; and the band’s drummer, Benjamin Homola. It’s been a rough week – a new normal of intense and open emotion during the pandemic – but the birds are chirping in LA again, and with quietened streets the city’s once-polluted atmosphere has dissipated. It feels like nature is returning, Hooper says, and it’s beautiful to see.
Formed in 2009 (with fellow bandmate Andrew Wessen on guitars and vocals; later, newcomer Daniel Gleason on bass), Grouplove is nearing the end of a five-album deal with Atlantic Records, and its maturing sound – from indie pop to synthpop to electronic rock – can be traced throughout its discography. There’s a growing catharsis; an increasing closeness to open aggression, grunge and a refusal to stay quiet about the things that matter. Particularly as ongoing political turmoil unwinds and, presently, as a pandemic sweeps the globe.
“I can’t imagine bedroom pop being a thing after [quarantine],” Hooper muses. She suggests rock music, intimacy and even breaking rooms will fast become outlets for release. “I know this sounds crazy, but I want to have sex and break shit.”
At first, Hooper seems to despair under the Covid-19 crisis. With a cancelled tour (thus no wild performances or crowd-surfing), Grouplove has been starved of intimacy and forced to adapt. For a long time, Hooper has been delicate with her internet use – she confesses it’s a little bit intimidating – but social media has kept alive an honest connection with fans during lockdown that shows Grouplove has made the most of the situation.
Through a series of Instagram live sessions and a special event titled Grouplove Fans Cover Fest, fans have played virtual gigs and shared conversation with the band. Given the circumstances, it’s been a pleasant surprise to retain community, especially on what can often be a superficial social media platform.
“Instead of it being like a performance piece online, it’s more like a therapy thing. We have this chance to connect and feel better, and I think that’s what people are taking advantage of now. […] It’s immediate and it’s really beautiful,” Hooper says of the sessions. Connecting over a live platform is “more immediate than texting or posting,” she adds, because “a lot of the time, the message is lost without the tonality of voice.”
Despite Hooper’s renewed appreciation for social media, she admits human touch is irreplaceable. Nothing is quite like a sweaty gig with new friends, best friends and lovers, Hooper says, or rubbing bodies with strangers. She looks forward to a return to normalcy in the music industry – if that even exists – but elsewhere, she craves change.
Quarantine has been an overwhelmingly reflective time for everyone, offering insight into ourselves and the world at large, emotionally, politically, environmentally, and otherwise, Hooper summarises. Coincidentally, Healer, released just as lockdowns hit, is an expertly crafted examination of this.
During the ongoing Healer era, Grouplove sports punky, orange jumpsuits, which positions them as a coalition of jailbreakers on the periphery of society at large. Fitting, since it matches the album’s content to a T: politically aware, environmentally conscious, stick-it-to-the-man rock-pop soaked in escapism. Breaking free from the status quo, Grouplove’s message is one of love, hope and progression, even in a world on fire.
“This is a time to reflect on all of the inequalities going on,” Hooper says. “Like, why can’t people just be fucking cool? Why can’t people be kind? Why can’t we approach life with love?
“America is scary right now. We hate our president; we don’t trust our government. It’s a really scary time,” Hooper confesses. During the creation of the album, the band fumed at the contemporary political system in the US. Grouplove had worked with producer Dave Sitek on one half of the album, slap-bang on the edge of El Paso, Texas – super isolated, in the middle of nowhere, Hooper describes – at the Mexico border.
“We could hear the protests going on at the detention centres, where they were separating kids from their families,” she explains. The experience encouraged the band to use the record as critique. “We wrote ‘Promises’ as our protest against that. [Our government’s] lack of empathy for humans blows my mind. There were kids that were still being breastfed, taken away from their parents. It disgusted us so much.”
The track explores and resists the image of Uncle Sam, a staple personification of the US federal government. “I got news for you, Uncle Sam,” the band sings over a percussive beat and gentle tambourine, “I got no use for you/You’re just another made up man in a stupid costume.” Hooper expresses respect for those who fight for her country, but notes the song puts forward an important question: what are you representing? It’s one of the reasons the band encourages voting registration in the country.
Grouplove’s relationship with the US runs through the record with precision, riding a country Americana twang. It appears in “The Great Unknown”, which seems to despair at the capitalist status quo, and “This is Everything”, an intimate, melancholic wind-down track.
The other half of the album is tinged with intoxicating escapism, heavily linked to the environment around them. To juxtapose Healer’s overt critique, there’s the infectious, indie pop track, “Hail to the Queen”, an ode to psychedelic optimism. A near-limerick paints a vision of climate change through acid-trip-tinted glasses: “What if you had the notion we’d all get swallowed in the ocean?/I’d tell you what I’d do if I were you/I’d summon all the whales/We’d ride upon their tails/Together, we can sail under the moon,” the band sings. Grouplove has a positive relationship with the earth, and a responsibility, Hooper says; recently, the band pledged climate positivity for its tour in a partnership with CHOOOSE, a climate action service, prior to cancellation.
While embracing its impact on the world, the band’s fourth LP doubly opens doorways to drown sorrows. In “Ahead of Myself”, a Britpop-ish track, Hooper’s vocals lead, and it’s the perfect tune for swigging a beer to forget yourself.
“A part of you needs to get wasted and go dance,” Hooper says of this side of the record; it’s bizarre, she says, that Healer so eloquently describes what people might be longing for under quarantine. “I can’t wait to get drunk and go rub my body on hundreds of bodies in a dance club.”
The craving for escape through music isn’t new; during the making of Healer, it was all-encompassing. Last year, Hooper experienced a health scare and had to undergo brain surgery. A lot shifted, and the band was forced to reflect on what was truly important.
“It opened up this honesty within the band. There’s this super-reality that skips all the bullshit and suddenly our band [was] just becoming closer. […] I think our album really reflects that.”
The album title captures how music brought the group together amid chaos. With surgery on the horizon, Hooper poured her energy into art: “I healed by focusing on my purpose and not my fears.
“And what’s actually kind of amazing is a lot of the songs are escapist songs about going out and partying and dancing and letting go and living in the moment. I think, this big lesson that I’m learning a lot – in quarantine too – is how rich life is when you can stay present.”
Especially right now. Everyone’s going through it, so if you’re an artist, she adds, you’d better be making art to heal. Breaking through the superficiality of everyday life – social media addiction; constant distraction with smart phones – helps to build clarity, she suggests. That’s where Grouplove is at, now. With nothing to take their attention, the band has already been writing new music for its fifth studio album. It feels powerful and aggressive (“it’s a whole new level,” Hooper adds), and the process of building it will be filmed for a documentary.
As our conversation comes to an end, Hooper’s infectious positivity shines, as if we’ve bonded over a protest. Is quarantine pushing change? we question. The future is up in the air, especially now, but Grouplove retains a hopefulness in human goodness, in facing up to pain, in challenging our governments and in trying to help one another through all the suffering.
The air might be fresh in LA and the birds chirping, but there’s work to be done. “Everybody is going through it. The next step should be, what can we all do about it? What can we all do to change? I don’t think we’re there yet, personally, but I know we can get there.”
Photographer: Niklas Haze
Stylist: Aurelie Mason-Perez
Groomer: Shari Rendle
Word: Otis Robinson