How Grouplove Escaped L.A.

We catch up with spouses Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi about the band's new album I Want It All Right Now

Music Features Grouplove
How Grouplove Escaped L.A.

When we hop on our phone call, Hannah Hooper is quick to inform me that she and her husband Christian Zucconi are calling in live from their car, which is parked in front of a Walmart in Atlanta. The two are on their way back from a full day of tour rehearsal, and the fact that they now have to stare into the megastore abyss as they field questions about their art is not lost on me. But if they’re reluctant to chat this way, they hide it well. Over the course of an hour, the couple who are the backbone of Grouplove are kind and open, as charismatic as you always hope the artists you’ve grown up idolizing will be. We talk about the Rolling Stones’ obsession with sex, the Barbie/Oppenheimer debacle (2023’s bouba/kiki with a weirdly gendered twist, in my opinion) and the Bebe Rexha phone-throwing incident (worse than having underwear pelted at you, better than being handed someone’s dead mom’s ashes—which happens weirdly frequently—we decide).

I leave feeling way too confident in the notion that I could totally be their best friend/confidante/Almost Famous groupie when they tour this fall. And who can blame me: Grouplove’s music is meant to make you giddy. It’s the soundtrack to your very own coming-of-age movie, the one you play in your head when you’re sure no one’s looking. It’s music for afternoons on the I-95 and drunk nights in living rooms you won’t recognize in pictures a couple years down the line, a poster-child example of the swirly, hypnotic indie-pop that so many early 2010s bands careened into when it was so en vogue.

But you can’t do that for six albums straight—it’s ingenuine. And soul-crushing, at that. Grouplove realized this somewhere between moving to L.A., having a kid and the pandemic. I was a high school senior in spring 2020, and if there was any lifestyle more disrupted than that of the celebratory graduate, it was the rockstar’s. How do you pass the time without the screaming crowds and the global tours? Who are you when the audience is empty? That world shift is what I Want It All Right Now is about—kind of. 2020 saw Grouplove unmoored in more ways than they could have imagined in the Never Trust a Happy Song era; that gleeful, watercolor portrait of youth that skyrocketed them to international fame. They were trying to raise a daughter, and L.A. felt alienating. And, bereft of a label, they weren’t sure exactly why they were making the music they did. Their Healer tour was canceled, and when Hooper and Zucconi holed up in Southern California with drummer Benjamin Homola in March 2020, their next steps were unknown to them.

The next two years would prove improbably prolific for Grouplove. On March 12, 2021, almost a year to the day after Healer was released and then thrown off course, the group surprise-dropped the rock-tinged, self-funded This Is This LP. After a tour meant to pay homage to both This Is This and its neglected older sibling, Grouplove settled back down in Atlanta, where their bassist Daniel Gleason has resided since 2006. There, they did what felt right: They kept working. They’d written so many songs since quarantine, but not all of them had fit on the tracklist of their boisterous, poppy last album. The group needed a softer outlet to unspool the ever-evolving catharses they had begun disentangling during the pandemic.

“We talk a lot about what it means to want it all right now and I think when we were about to embark on this [Healer] world tour, we wanted fame and friends and money and touring and airplanes and all this shit,” Hooper says. “When we stopped, we started looking inward and being like, ‘What do we really need to be happy and to love ourselves?’ And that’s how the album came to be…it was so nice to just be an artist, without the, ‘We need the next “‘Tongue Tied.’

If you’re a visual learner when it comes to thematics, look no further than the album’s cover art, created by Hooper—she met Zucconi as a painter, after all. A splotchy, Marilyn-bleached blond with a confused, Coolidge pout gazes limply from her painted prison as gawking onlookers encroach on her with DSLs and selfie-sticks raised up in zombified salute. “When I was a kid, what I thought having it all would be like was—I had this memory of playing with Barbies and I was this awkward, solitary girl holding these stringy, long, big-breasted blond dolls and being like, ‘If I looked like this, I know I’d be happy,’” she laughs. It’s untrue, of course—the woman on the album’s cover looks more like a tranquilized animal at some Black Mirror sex circus than a happy-go-lucky starlet.

And, to no surprise, getting older in the Hollywood limelight is stupefying. “All the imperfections that make us unique as artists, I was looking at them backwards,” Hooper notes. “I was like, ‘Wait, I don’t like this about myself,’ rather than embracing that and making that the beauty of your art. A lot of us got flipped upside down a little bit and then had to come out the other end.”

Enter I Want It All Right Now, a record more intentionally vulnerable than Grouplove’s expected oeuvre. “Everyone’s like, ‘You guys are this super happy California band,’” Hooper adds. “We definitely want to be happy, and we want people to feel good when they listen to our music, but there’s a long journey to get there. I don’t know if people think we’re just, like, drinking some magic Kool-Aid. But we’re not.”

In Atlanta, the band escaped some of the stagnancy they’d waded through on the West Coast, refreshed by new environmental stimuli and quieter surroundings. Surrounded by Georgia maples and pink azaleas, they refashioned the band into something more complex, more grown-up – something that held the capacity to serve as an outlet for the personal metamorphoses they’d undergone.

“Achieving some kind of success in the band—it’s awesome, it’s cool, but it doesn’t solve your problems,” Zucconi adds. “As the band continued on and we’d achieved these things, I thought I would be cured of some of my depression or all the shit we deal with. No, it’s like the same; I’m the same person. It’s like this notion—what you think is gonna make you happy really doesn’t; [you realize that] what you want and what you need are two different things.”

Devoid of all distractions, Grouplove peeked into the void between those poles—and out came I Want It All Right Now. They “relearned the basics” of their music, of their roots and of one another. In fact, the way they see it, the new LP is split in two: The first half is “resistance pop,” a doomed last stand against the Goliath of their own dissatisfaction. It’s difficult to blame them: the whole “happiness from inside out” spiel is one of those cloyingly saccharine pills we’ve been force-fed since before we had critical thinking skills, the sort of feel-good drivel it’s so tempting to write off for the sin of its very simplicity. Annoyingly, it’s also probably true.“In the first half of the album, up until ‘Eyes,’ we’re just running into a wall over and over again, looking for outside help, desiring connection, suffering all of these things—but there’s no solution to it,” Hooper explains.

On the second half of the album they “lean into the pain,” if only to see what other side it will send them to. Starting at the song “Cream,” they gave themselves “permission,” Hooper believes, “to have this orgasmic, total, beautiful, psychedelic life.” Not to mention, she gets to sing the word “cream” over and over again. “Guys are always singing about what’s happening to them sexually!” she says. Zucconi had to keep Hooper from changing the word: “We love music like that, but we’ve never made it,” he explains. The tune does read older than their other work, emblematic of a more rhapsodic, somatized Grouplove—not because they’re more self-assured, per se, but less hung up on whether mainstream listeners will understand where they’re coming from.

They’re not all the way there, of course. As is the way it goes with the ever-shifting world of the arts, they’re still scared shitless that they’ll wake up one day and it’ll all fade away. Hooper remembers working double shifts at a New York restaurant and writing in her journal on the hour-long subway home. It’s a strange balance: How do you appreciate how far you’ve come without becoming paralyzed by fear of losing it—or worse, by the gnawing feeling that it could somehow be even better?

That might be the real crux of I Want It All Right Now: a self-soothing exercise in appreciating that even if you’re not sure where you’re going, you’re still getting there. It’s hard for Hooper and Zucconi to describe, but they’re sort of glad for that. “I know how I feel when I listen to it,” Hooper explains. “I still couldn’t tell you exactly what I will know about this album after we tour it. There’s no method to the madness.” At the end of the day, that frustrating, familiar, inexorable ambiguity has almost become the point of the whole ordeal. “We’re going through all these things together in our life, but we push through and come out on the other end, and then start all over again,” Hooper adds. “There’s a human element that I want. When I listen to music, it’s just about being human.”

I Want It All Right Now is out now via Glassnote Records. Listen to Grouplove’s Daytrotter session from 2011 below.

Miranda Wollen is Paste‘s music intern. She lives in New York and attends school in Connecticut, but you can find her online @mirandakwollen.

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