When the members of Grouplove met it was like a dream. The setting was a remote artist colony on the exotic, mysterious Greek island of Crete. Drummer/producer Ryan Rabin and his childhood friend and former bandmate, guitarist Andrew Wessen came from California, guitarist Christian Zucconi and keyboarist Hannah Hooper traveled from New York, and bassist Sean Gadd was the lone Brit. Each member went to Greece for their own independent reasons but over time they gravitated towards each other and discovered the sound that unified them: a merging of richly narrated, intricate songs with anthemic classic pop production. It took the band the better part of a year to reunite after they left the island, but as they prepare to release their debut album Never Trust A Happy Song, they’re starting to realize what began as a fantasy has now become very real.
The story begins in the grimy, grey urbanscape of New York City. Hannah was a painter living in a tiny apartment in Chinatown. Christian was living in Brooklyn, realizing the band he’d been in for several years was coming to its natural end. Forty-eight hours after they met the couple decided to abandon the going-nowhere struggle of city life for the idyllic restfulness of Greece. “When we first got there we didn’t know what to make of it,” Christian remembers, laughing. “We were sharing a single bed and there was no real shower. It took a few days to adjust.” They soon settled into a rhythm – Christian wrote songs and Hannah painted, but eventually they started mingling with the other residents. “To begin with, we just sat around on the beach or in caves, playing each other songs,” Sean recalls. “I thought Christian and Hannah were very eccentric and very artistic. I liked their style. And right away we were all very supportive of each other’s music and really enjoyed being together. That was the beginning of Grouplove, we just didn’t know it then.”
The colony, which Andrew’s brother founded, allowed the members of Grouplove to step outside their comfort zones. “We spent our days together at a secluded beach far from the tourist traps, passing around the guitar or ukulele and sharing our songs with each other,” Andrew remembers. “At night, we would spend time in the town or the zen garden, continuing to hang out. The fact that we met as individual artists and songwriters is a dynamic that has remained to this day.” The individuality factor was huge. “In New York you’re limited to what you’ve defined yourself as,” Hannah laments. For the affirmed visual artist, this was a particularly powerful revelation. “I’d been surrounded by the same people for so long, which at a certain point becomes stifling,” she explains. “Even though I was bright red the first few times I sang, it became an immediate way to be creative with the people around me. We were making something together.”
It wasn’t just the unusual circumstances that set these artists free, it was also each other's company. “We are all so different,” Hannah explains. “Sean is the traditional rock and roller. He’s got humor and style.” “And he’s the guy you want in your corner,” Christian seconds. “Andrew is the free-spirit, blonde, California surfer boy,” Hannah says fondly. “And the ambassador of the band – he’s very social,” Christian adds. “Ryan seems serious at first but he’s actually really funny and weird and has an exceptional ear,” Hannah says. When it comes to describing each other, the couple keep it short but sweet. “Christian writes the purest songs I’ve ever heard,” Hannah says. “She’s the real rockstar of the band,” Christian responds.
It’s one thing to play around with a new art project from the comfort of a supportive community, and quite another to transport that delicate synergy to the real world. Ryan, who’d come to Greece after attending an exchange program in the Czech Republic, went back to LA, thinking of Crete as nothing more than the cherry on top of an eye-opening year abroad. Sean went back to play with bands he’d been with, but just like with Christian, it became clear those projects had run their course. And Andrew, a surfer, went home to California where he picked up the chirango and ukulele, adding to his repertoire of stringed instruments. “We kept in touch in a summer camp way,” Hannah recalls. “But people started getting back to their lives working their crappy jobs. Christian and I just really didn’t want Greece to become just a memory.” After an impromptu reunion in LA, during which they all stayed at Andrew’s place in Venice and Ryan’s garage recording studio, jamming for a few days, it became clear this was something special. “We just cancelled our flights back to NY,” Christian remembers. “That was it.”
Never Trust A Happy Song is a brawny, ecstatic album filled with ambitious, varied, expansive, tunes underscored by crisp percussion and killer harmonies. “The variety in the musical taste and writing styles of each member really makes each of our songs unique,” Ryan explains. “The honest, open-minded process we go through in rehearsal and in the studio brings the songs home and gives them the 'Grouplove' sound.” Under the Grouplove banner, “Colours,” became a delicate but powerful slow/fast jam. “Itchin On A Photograph” is a soaring epic propelled by spacey guitar licks and vigorous handclaps. And “Tongue Tied,” is an electronic infused dance anthem that showcases the band’s obsession with careening harmonies. In keeping with the progressive context of their meeting, Hannah, Andrew, and Sean all share vocal duties and take their turn fronting the band - though Christian sings lead on most songs – Ryan produces all of their material, and all five bandmembers receive songwriting credit on every tune: Grouplove is a true collaboration.
The album’s title initially seems ironic: On the surface the band’s vibe comes off as happy, the songs soar with a kind of shimmering, youthful exuberance. But just beneath that sunny sheen, there is a reservoir of longing and melancholy. The Grouplove signature is blending those two pillars of life: sorrow and joy. Hannah explains, “As individuals we are heavier, darker, but when we are together we bring the love.”
Family of the Year
Channeling Fleetwood Mac's musical stylings with a hint of late-era Beatles, Family of the Year braid catchy melodies, stellar male/female vocals and personal folk tales to create some of the happiest and saddest music you've ever heard. The band's classic musical style has been integrated with a modern fanbase that the band continues to create and release new music for.
Family of the Year self-released their debut EP Where's the Sun on their Washashore imprint in September 2009. The EP showcases a variety of Family's music, and includes "Let's Go Down," "Castoff," "Summer Girl," "What a Surprise," and "Psyche or Like Scope." Where's the Sun is available for digital download at FamilyoftheYear.net for an optional donation. Contributions went directly toward the release of the band's debut full-length album and continue to fund their collective life on the road.
In October, Family was handpicked out of 700 artists by Ben Folds and Keith Lockhart to open for Ben and The Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. Shortly after, the band flew west for California shows with Bell X1 before returning east for the CMJ Music Marathon, marking Family Of The Year's New York debut. SPIN.com selected the band as one 25 Must-Hear Artists from the 2009 CMJ Festival.
In November, Family hit the road with Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros in support of Family's debut album, Songbook, also available for optional donation.
In January the band announced the release of an exclusive song every month through their e-mail list in 2010 and followed that with the digital release of their sophomore EP Through the Trees on March 9 under their own imprint, Washashore Records. The band retains their signature folk-inspired style while pushing the musical genre exploration for which they're known on the new EP, which also features friend and fan Willy Mason.
Singers Joe Keefe and Meredith Sheldon blend seamless harmonies in the Beach Boys-esque ballad, "Summer Girl," while "Stupidland" and "Let's Go Down" are upbeat, catchy folk tunes. Crossing boundries, Through the Trees features the traditional Family sound, but will also include "The Barn," a synth-heavy rock song, as well as "The Princess and the Pea," which embodies a laid-back yet catchy reggae sound.
Like most American families, FOTY come from all over. Brothers Joe and Sebastian Keefe grew up in Wales before staking their claim as locals on the rustic country island Martha's Vineyard, where they grew up with Meredith Sheldon and Farley Glavin. Christina Schroeter is a misfit of Orange County, CA while across the country southern gentleman James Buckey grew up in Jacksonville, FL.
Musical veterans Joe, Seb, James, and Farley enjoyed local Boston success in their raw rock ensemble Unbusted. Farley and the Keefe brothers switched gears when they created the up-tempo indie-pop band The Billionaires, while James pursued a career in sound engineering. Christina, who spent five years of her childhood trying to weasel out of piano lessons, recently resigned from an entertainment PR firm, where she often rushed clients down red carpets before heading to band practice. Meredith is an accomplished singer and guitarist, and has toured with Ben Taylor as a backup vocalist.
Joe, Seb, and Jamesy met Christina in LA, and Meredith and Farley moved from Martha's Vineyard to complete the ensemble. Even when they're not practicing, you can bet that this tight-knit group are hanging out. Whether it's playing board games at the practice space or mellow nights sitting by the backyard fire pit over a jug of wine, FOTY truly consider each other family.
"I'd never heard anything like them before. They were so eclectic in the music choices, something like a combination of folk indie rock and the Beach Boys. I was fascinated. They were [Ben Folds'] favorite, too."
-Keith Lockhart, Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra
"A collective that's equally comfortable harmonizing on '70s-style Hollywood Hills piano rock as it is churning out urgent, high-tech indie pop." --SPIN.com
"They're like the Mamas and the Papas on acid." --Steven Tyler