Grouplove's genesis has all the cues of an urban legend: a serendipitous meeting at an artist's commune in Crete, a whirlwind love story, and some good ol' psychedelics. The LA five-piece's bona fide storytelling, coupled with gutsy melodies and sheer talent, has seen them charm millions around the globe. After a well earned year-long break from touring and the birth of a baby in the band, they've hit the stage running in their finest form yet.
We chatted to guitarist/token band surfer Andrew Wessen on the Down Under leg of their world tour to chat about hotel shenanigans, making bloody good music, and growing up (well... sort of) on the brand new LP 'Big Mess'.
Andrew: Hello! How are you?
Good, thanks. I can imagine you’re probably exhausted or on a crazy high.
Ah – it’s both. Someone lit the hotel on fire last night, so we had a 3:30am fire alarm go off.
Not one of you guys?
No, it wasn’t. Not this time. Then me and my girlfriend got locked out of our room and the key didn’t work for an hour and a half. They sent all these people, engineers, to try and open the door but they couldn’t get the door open. They felt so bad, they ended up putting us in the presidential suite. We just partied all night and never went to bed. We’re still going right now.
I feel like that’s a strategy you should probably replicate in future hotels.
Yeah, I’ve realised pulling the fire alarm really can get you everything you want!
A nice little welcome back to Sydney! I actually first saw you guys play here at the start of 2012.
Wow! Many moons.
How does it feel being back?
It’s my favourite country in the world, my favourite place to tour. I’m not even just saying that. I’m a surfer, a foodie, and a coffee junkie, so it’s kind of paradise for me. We’ve played a number of the best shows of our career in this country. The last few nights at Oxford Arts were just above and beyond any expectation I could have ever had.
So you’ve squeezed in some Melbourne coffee as well today, I’m hoping?
We’re just getting here. We’re gonna get all cracky in like 10 minutes flat – get a big pick-up.
Right before this, you guys played at a massive Korean Rock festival. The photos look insane. Can you give me a quick run-down?
Yeah, it was really interesting. South Korea – the cityscape has a beautiful but sort of dystopian vibe to it. It’s really odd and cool. We had this crazy night out and it was like a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and humid, and we were kind of baked into the stage, under the flesh-frying sun. It was incredible – the crowd, people met us at the airport, fans... there was security! It was a fully bizarre situation, especially cause we’d never been over there, but the people were so, so lovely. It was cool. I was curious because there were so many people singing along and I was wondering if they even really understood, or if they were just mimicking the syllables. I met some of them and they couldn’t really speak any English but then were like “Oh, I like 'Colours'”, and they knew the songs. It was really culturally enriching, really cool. It was an honour to be invited somewhere so far away.
How was it getting back onto the tour game again after your big break? Was it hard getting momentum, or did it come naturally?
It’s funny – we played for four years straight and we took that year. It’s all there, you know. What you get back when you string a few shows is just that carelessness. You don’t have to think about what you’re playing or what you’re doing anymore. That’s what we’re definitely back to now. No one’s staring at their fingers, being like, “What’s the next chord?” It’s all about how you engage with the audience. You’re just in the moment, you’re just freaking out, trashing about. It’s days old so it feels well-oiled right now. We’re really on a good roll, and we really feel at home in Australia. Honestly, it’s such a special place. We’re about to launch into this whole US and etc. tour and it’s giving us a little pep in our step for the upcoming events.
Well we’re so happy to have you guys, and we're pretty excited for ‘Big Mess’ to come out next month.
Me too! I can’t wait.
You guys usually keep everything in-house – musically and visually – but you brought in Phil Ek to help out on the album. How did you go about letting someone else into your ‘zone’?
It was actually a communal decision. Everyone, even Ryan [Rabin], was open to the idea. I think – whatever that quote is - "madness is trying the same thing and expecting different results". We were at a crossroads. We just took a year off, and then our singers had a beautiful child. Hannah [Hooper] was actually fully pregnant at that time. We were like, why don’t we just try something new. We’ve never had any sort of routine or way we write songs or record them.
It’s really always spontaneous, and I think that’s what keeps it fresh and interesting. That kind of bled into the producer question; why don’t we try a different way?
It was really fulfilling. We went to Seattle and it pretty much poured rain every day. Phil was like a mad scientist, and it was such a fun experience to go away from everybody and block off from the world, and not have to be like ‘these social obligations’, and ‘this and that’. We just hunkered down in this mildly depressing environment and dove into it face-first. And then the other half with Ryan was equally incredible. We were in this beautiful studio in downtown LA and they just have completely different styles, and in a great way. Phil’s very much the mad chemist, like everything going in – we spent hours on the one guitar sound before it goes into the mix. And then Ryan’s super spontaneous and in the moment, like “Oh let’s try that”, “Grab that”. It’s full on Jekyll and Hyde, but they’re both the good guys, and it’s fun to contrast that. I think that’s why the album has a lot of dynamics to it – it takes you through all sorts of terrains.
You guys cut down from 40 songs for the album. Is it easier now to kill your darlings?
It’s never easy, actually. There’s fights and there’s all sorts of stuff about it.
We’re as unified and as close as a band can be, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fight and argue over that kind of stuff, and we did. That’s important, because people care, and it’s not always just sunshine and smiling. It got heated at points, which is good though. It’s just that a lot of passion lays on the project.
When it comes down to it and you’ve got a whole lot of tracks and you can only pick 10 or 11, it gets sort of messy – no pun intended – but the album has great flow.
So there’s “Welcome To Your Life” and now in the new single “Do You Love Someone” – there’s the lyric “You had a lifetime living on your own”. And baby Willa was in the picture this time round. Is this album an ode to adulthood?
It’s a bit of a coming of age for our band, definitely. Getting off tour after four years straight – we had 10 or 12 days off between the end of our first record cycle and getting into the studio for the second. It was the first time we came home and realised that we had become completely disconnected as people from our own lives and everyone around us. We were in a bubble and we kind of re-immersed ourselves into the world with this record. It is a sort of an awakening as a band – as humans, as artists, and as friends. And obviously welcoming Willa, it’s been such a joy. It definitely puts things in perspective, having her around. She tours with us and she’s like our mascot. All of us got no sleep last night and, when we were in the lobby, everyone was really grumpy. And then you see this child and you just can’t help but laugh. It just makes everything better. It’s an incredible chapter in our band's career.
You guys have been around for a while now. ‘Spreading Rumours’ was about word-of-mouth being the driving force behind your big audiences. Has social media and the changing media landscape made it harder to stay organic?
Yeah – I’m like a 90-year-old man. I don’t have Instagram, I’m not active on social media at all. I have Facebook, I haven’t changed my profile picture in five years. I’m completely disconnected. Obviously some people in the band have to be connected because you have to connect with the fans at large and that’s the world we’re in now, but I think the way that we keep it like us, is that Hannah does all the art. Her and her brother do all our merch. My brother shoots photos for the band, and we write all the songs ourselves.
We don’t collaborate with anybody. That way, if you control the process, and you control your art, it is uniquely you. If you keep bringing in a million different people, then your identity gets watered down.
No matter what, if our song’s in this film and whatever, and if we’re associated with this and that, that’s okay. But the art at the source, when it was created, is unique to us, and it’s a sound that’s ours. And that’s how we keep that identity – it’s by keeping that nucleus really tight.
The new album artwork definitely has Hannah’s fingerprints.
I don’t really know how she picked the album artwork. I don’t know how she keeps on doing, because she is so prolific as an artist. I don’t know how or why she picks certain things, but I’m just always happy with it. I don’t ask too many questions. It’s always like “this or this?”, and she’s probably picking from a thousand things she’s done, and I’m like “oh..” She’s actually an incredible oil painter and artist. That’s what she was even before this band was a thing, so it’s really our ace in the back pocket. Beyond her knack for songwriting and singing is her vision as an artist. Collectively, but with her at the helm, we do all our stage design, all our backdrops, all our merch. All the visuals are from the source, from us.
So after your Australian tour is done, you’re hitting Europe, then back to home crowds in the US. How are you finding audiences around the world have been responding to your new material?
We went to London – we don’t do incredible well there, but the response was insane. In Australia and the US, we’re humbled by it. I’m just blown away by it every day – the response to the new record and the new songs. “Welcome To Your Life” has been the fever pitch moment of the whole set, and that’s so exciting as a band. You take a risk every time you throw something new into the world. When you see it translate, it’s something really special.
We’ve been looking at each other on stage during that song the last couple of nights and just being like "Holy shit, this is fucking happening. It’s real."
It’s amazing, and I’m just grateful every day to do this and that anyone cares at all. Especially when you walk into a room with a bunch of kids who know every word to your song – it doesn’t get old and I don’t ever take that for granted.
So are you going to get any surfing time squeezed in while you’re here?
Yeah! We did a song for a film called Spirit Of Akasha. It was directed by Andrew Kidman. He’s a really famous Aussie surf filmmaker, and me and my girlfriend are going to stay with him at his ranch in Byron Bay for three nights, and we’re going to just trip out and surf. I can’t wait. But we’ve gotta watch out for the landlords out there, if you catch my drift – the sharks, sorry. The sharks.