The LA-based indie band Grouplove is really, really good. They exude an honesty that comes straight from musical self-confidence and trust between band members. Their powerful, folk-tinged rock first hit my eardrums about a month ago at The Bowery Ballroom, and ever since, I’ve been listening to their self-titled EP on repeat.
Drummer/Producer Ryan Rabin was kind enough to chat with me before gearing up for Monday night’s show at Bardot in Hollywood. We talked about the band’s fabled start in Greece, their attitude towards success, and next year’s release.
Jesse Diener-Bennett: I saw your show at The Bowery Ballroom back in November. What really impressed me was your cohesion, and the obvious love you all show for each other, which, if I’m not mistaken, was largely born out of how you all met. Could you tell me that story?
Ryan Rabin: It sort of started on two sides. Andrew and I, the guitar player, grew up together in LA. His brother randomly met this Greek dude at Venice beach who took him in because he didn’t have a place to stay. It turns out that the Greek guy was investing in a property in Greece and wanted to start this artist commune, and andrew and his brother were like, “That sounds amazing.” It ended up happening, and they started this artist community in this old little village in the mountains in Greece.
On the other side, Hannah and Christian had met only week before Hannah got invited to do a residency at this commune. They met and fell in love at first site, I guess. And after knowing each other for only a week decided to just leave everything and go to Greece for the summer. I was still in school at the time doing an exchange program in Europe, and Andrew was like, “You gotta come out here, it’s amazing.” They were roughing it: there’s no running water in the village, you bathe in the ocean, but it’s a totally cool experience with great people. I was like all right, f*** it, and I went over there when I was finished with school. Sean was already there with another group of musicians. There were a lot of great people living there that summer, but the five of us just became friends quickest. We made a sort of five-person clique together in this village and shared music. We were all musicians at the time, except for Hannah, who was there for painting. It was a little “summer camp”-y but without the niceties of running water or showers. It was a really special summer, and we were such quick friends. They ended up visiting me in LA. And that’s where we put together the EP.
JDB: Did you start out with similar aesthetics, or did the cohesiveness happen over time?
RR: I think we all definitely appreciated each other’s unique sound. We grew up around the same time, listening to a lot of the same bands and going to similar concerts. Anyone in their twenties right now was raised on the same kind of music.
JDB: Like who?
RR: But musically, we were all kind of different, which was sort of cool. We listened to each other’s past music, everyone introduced each other to their own sound, and about halfway through the residency we started playing with each other. It’s definitely something that evolved during that time we spent together in Greece.
JDB: I saw that you guys had an interview with the LA times, and that you’re hearing your songs on some movie and TV soundtracks. Does it feel like you’re “making it” now?
RR: [laughs] No. I mean, that sort of stuff is nice when you get approached about it, as long as it’s not something embarrassing like an Outback Steakhouse commercial. That’s just stuff to pay the rent. It’s not making it. It’s strictly survival technique.
JDB: What would “making it” be, do you think? What’s your dream gig?
RR: God, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We try not to think like that, to look retrospectively, to think at what point we’ve done everything we wanted to. The discussion is usually more, “Ok, we did this, what can we do better next time?” I think leading up some shows we did opening for Florence and the Machine…those were our biggest shows, that was the big exciting thing for us. Having only been a band for half a year it was really humbling to have been at that point. But at the same time, once the show was over, the question was “How do we do that better in the future.” Obviously, headlining a venue like The Wiltern is better than opening, but we’re taking it a step at a time.
JDB: Can you describe Grouplove’s writing process?
RR: Every song is different. There’s no set method of how we do it, and we try to change it every time because we never want one song to be too similar sounding to another. Hopefully you hear that on the EP, and you hear a difference between the songs, not necessarily in genre but in overall vibe.
I can give you an example. “Naked Kids “was something that Hannah and Christian had just been messing around with, almost in a jokey vibe. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek song. And then from messing around with those fun lyrics, they brought it to the rest of us. When we were making the EP we were like, this is a really fun song, it’s super summer-y, let’s try to make it into a full song. So we took their original idea and as a group took it from there and developed it in the studio. A song like “Colours,” Christian wrote the base of that song quite a while ago and just had it in his back pocket. We heard that and we just said “Let’s build on that.” A lot of times it will be a song from someone’s past that gets brought to the band and evolves from there, and other times it will be just something we’re jamming on as a band in practice, just messing around with chords or a drum beat. Overall every song is a group effort, but where it comes from varies.
JDB: Who writes the lyrics to your songs?
RR: It depends what song it is. Again, Christian had the idea for “Colours” before he even met us so he had those lyrics written. Getaway Car, the song that Sean sings, is another song that he had written from before. On the album we’re doing right now… you know, everybody is a writer. The person who “quarterbacks” the song usually writes the lyrics, but when we’re in the studio we definitely sound things off each other. No one song is written the same as another.
JDB: Speaking of “Getaway Car,” that song seems to be the most unique you’ve got, not only because Sean sings it. It’s got a different vibe, it’s a little heavier…are you guys experimenting with these sorts of different sounds for your new album?
RR: Yeah. We like to try different things on every song. There are definitely songs that are a bit more electronic-based on this album, and there’s more traditional rock-based stuff. Hannah sings a few songs on the album, Andrew sings a song. So there’s definitely an eclectic mix of sounds on there. And that’s reflective of the fact that everybody in the band is a songwriter, so everybody brings a different style to the table.
JDB: When is that going to be released? Do you have a date yet?
RR: Not a set date, but we’re shooting for May or June, hopefully May.
JDB: I’m really looking forward to it.
RR: Us too. We’re super excited to get these songs out there.
Until that fateful day in May, you can join me in wearing out your speakers with Grouplove’s eponymous EP. To follow other crazy (but probably less Greek) adventures of Ryan and Co., check out their blog, “Group Livin’.”
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