Play with GROUPLOVE on Chromatik now! Every user who signs up on Chromatik will receive an exclusive playlist of GROUPLOVE sheet music and tablature to practice and perform hit singles like “Tongue Tied” and “Itchin’ On A Photograph.” Share your recordings back with the band via Chromatik for a chance to interact with GROUPLOVE directly and get personal feedback and coaching.
GROUPLOVE presents a special breed of chemistry-driven artistic value that takes shape in both their songwriting and live performances. Whether you look at the individual members – Ryan Rabin, Hannah Hooper, Christian Zucconi, Sean Gadd, and Andrew Wessen – or GROUPLOVE as a whole, you are bound to discover chunks of relatability that move you closer to the core of their music. We sat down with drummer and producer, Ryan Rabin, to sift through the intricacies of what has made GROUPLOVE develop into a chart-topping success and how they continue to evolve.
Photo by Aaron Farley
You were pretty experienced as a musician before GROUPLOVE came together. What was your musical upbringing like?
Originally I took piano lessons when I was younger, I think just because I asked for them. I stopped after about six years when I started actually getting into girls and stuff around 13 or 14-years-old. I just kind of picked up the drums on my own, which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do had I not had taken the piano lessons. Then I just played drums and wrote music in a bunch of different bands growing up. I took up recording and production at the same time just from secondhand gear that my dad brought home.
Your dad is an amazing musician as well [Trevor Rabin of Yes fame]. What influence did he have on you?
Well I think I definitely chose the wrong instrument in terms of having him teach me stuff [laughs]. He’s an amazing guitar player and somehow I ended up playing the drums. In general terms, yeah, he taught me a lot about music and also just growing up being surrounded by music allowed me to pick stuff up as I went. When I was first learning drums we would jam a lot. Then as I got a little better I started getting more and more opinionated about what I liked. He laughs at me because anytime he has a little comment or opinion about something, I usually do the typical know-it-all son thing like, “Listen Dad, I know what I’m doing; don’t worry about it.”
But in general, he’s been a huge influence in terms of his musical work ethic and his creative side. He’s always been really supportive and never pushy about getting into music in any way. He definitely just let me discover it for myself.
You brought in a good deal of studio experience to the band. What were some of your early production and engineering experiences like?
Initially I think I had an old two-channel stereo DAT tape recorder, which actually sounded pretty great for what it was. All it really was though was a stereo mic, so I would just record myself playing drums every now and then. At some point I got my hands on an old Korg 8-Track Digital standalone machine. It was a small, lightweight, cheap little machine, but you could do bounce-downs and you could actually do a lot with it. It was unbelievably tedious to get stuff done on it, but I didn’t know any better. So that’s when I started actually learning how to track drums and multitrack with different mics and overdub. It was all without a computer too, which is a good way to cut your teeth.
Eventually I got into Logic and Digital Performer and ProTools. It was a natural progression. Then I went back in time a little bit and learned about recording with 24-track tape in college. I cut my teeth with the bands I was playing in mostly. Only after college when I wasn’t actually in a band did I start really actively pursuing production of other artists where I wasn’t playing drums or involved in the actual performance aspect of it. That was great and lasted a little bit and then GROUPLOVE came around and got me back into performing. It was an amazing opportunity to actually be able to produce and play in a band that I was really excited about.
What made you go to the artist residency in Greece where you met the other members of GROUPLOVE?
I knew Andrew [Wessen] at the time, our guitar player, who was in bands with me growing up in high school. His brother started the commune or whatever you want to call it. I was actually finishing a college semester abroad in the Czech Republic. There was a direct flight to Crete from the Czech airport, we were emailing, and he was just like, “Dude you’ve got to come out! It’s crazy here; there are all of these crazy people.”
At that point I think there were a couple weeks extra at the end of the program where we were done with school and could choose to stay in the Czech Republic or not. So my girlfriend and I just took a little time and met Andrew over there. He was supposed to pick us up at the airport and he didn’t. He was surfing. We arrived there and nobody spoke English. We had to call them like 20 time before somebody picked up and said, “Hey, Andrew’s surfing, sorry. Get in a cab and I’ll direct the cab driver.”
You must have had a ton of incredible experiences over there along with meeting the future members of GROUPLOVE. What were some of the craziest experiences that you had?
All of it was pretty crazy just because it was not what I had expected. Andrew kind of painted it like it was going to be this beautiful European vacation kind of thing. It was amazing and it was beautiful, but just in a different way than I imagined. It was very rustic in this rundown town that had one little taverna next to it where we would eat every day and every night. There were a lot of very strange and great people there – other artists and painters.
There was one shower which was in Christian and Hannah’s room and so that’s how we started getting friendly with them. I would just go over and kind of borrow their shower which had no hot water. It was just very rustic. To just make friends like that with complete strangers who are having the same experience as you is extremely special.
On a musical level, what brought you all together?
Jut the appreciation of each other’s music really. There wasn’t any recording gear to speak of; it was basically just singer-songwriter show-and-tell. Everybody would just play each other their music and everyone was very diverse and had different styles. We each just appreciated each other’s songs at that point. It wasn’t until a year later when they all visited LA that we actually decided to jam a little bit and record some songs.
Each of you are talented songwriters in your own right. The word on the street is that you are great with harmonies.
[Laughs] Sometimes maybe I over-harmonize things. That’s just my tendency as a producer – I like to try every possible thing we can throw in and then slowly kind of take things away and see how well something can stand on its own without all of the ear candy and production. But yeah, I like to harmonize from time to time.
What’s your personal songwriting process like?
It’s so different with GROUPLOVE because it’s such a collaborative experience. Before GROUPLOVE when I was just sort of producing and writing for other artists – a lot of it was pop stuff – it really just starts with a very simple chord progression on the piano or a keyboard sound and a vocal melody.
I’m definitely much less lyrically inclined than the other writers in the band, which is actually kind of nice. We all write in such different ways, and this particular band has been great because nobody has too much possessiveness over their own instrument or their own part. A lot of times I won’t even worry about the drums and someone else will give me those ideas. Then they can be open to me writing a lead guitar line or a keyboard line or a vocal melody. It’s very much fragmented like that; we all delve into each other’s instruments a little bit. It’s fun that way.
When you were recording songs like “Tongue Tied” or “Colours” that later became hits for you guys, did you have any thoughts that these would be the ones to make you big?
I don’t necessarily think it was, “This is going to make us big.” I think there is a definite feeling you get with certain songs even on a demo level. “Colours” for instance was an old demo that Christian had from his past. It was very different in the feel and how it was played and some of the arrangement when he brought it to the band, but still in that really stripped down state, you could hear that the song had something special to it. That’s the first step. When we’re excited about a song like that in such an early stage, that’s how we decide what to work on as a band. Once we really started using the studio as a writing and arrangement tool and really getting the song sonically to a place that we were all happy with, then you can say, “This is really working.” It works simplistically first and then it has to work as a full production.
“Tongue Tied” as well started as just a cool piano line with a Garageband beat behind it that Christian had done and we took it to such crazier heights than we ever expected. When that song was done I definitely felt there was something special there, especially because we had never really done that kind of production before as a band. We had never done something so left-of-center and electronic.
With a couple songs you went on to create music videos as well. Was that a collaborative process as well?
We collaborated with our director. Hannah is a painter, so she’s very involved in the set designs. All of our videos were directed by an old friend of mine, Jordan Bahat, from Los Angeles. He came to us with the initial treatments and the storylines for the videos and they’re just so weird and different from anything we picture or think about when we listen to the song. We like that because it’s such an outside perspective that we feel we can detach ourselves from the song a little bit and see it from someone else’s perspective.
Songs go through an arc from songwriting to recording and performing them. Do you see the songs change throughout this process at all, especially on the performance end of things?
Definitely. It’s not like a conscious thing where we say, “Ok, we have to change these songs up.” When you start playing bigger and bigger venues, you know, 80% of the people haven’t seen you play live before. But there are definitely returning fans and they want to see something different. It’s still a natural thing. We don’t go out of our way to make sure we change things because you don’t want to ruin the initial magic of the song.
It’s definitely a show though. It’s not a little club concert at this point. There is a lot of production involved. We add extensions on the songs or certain things we play a little differently here and there. It’s the inevitable thing – no matter how many times you play a song live before you record it, eventually after you’ve recorded it you’re going to still have things that you wish you did differently. You discover them as you continue to play the songs live. That’s just a natural occurrence when you’re playing live so much. You can practice something a million times, but you can’t choose when to think of something cool or new.
Things tend to change a lot. This tour particularly, we’re doing some new songs that will probably be on the next record and we’re playing a few things differently than we do on the album. It keeps it interesting for us. I don’t think we’re disenchanted or bored yet with any of the songs.
The GROUPLOVE songs range in style from electronically driven to mainly acoustic and anywhere in between. Do you go into the creation process for an album with a cohesive vision, or is it a song-by-song basis?
No, I think we try to go as far away from any kind of concept going into the album sonically or production-wise because the nature of this band is that every song turns out to be vastly different whether we like it or not just because everyone is stylistically so different and writing-wise so different. So the one thing we try to consistently do is make sure that we approach each song differently and from a fresh perspective. In some way or another we just try to have a new approach or a new trick or something to kind of switch it up from song to song. We’re definitely a song-focused band as opposed to a concept album band. Nothing against concept albums, it’s just not the way we work together.
What’s the driving force behind a great track in your opinion?
I think at the core, the melody has to be something that’s almost like a theme to a movie, you know, a character theme that sticks with you. For me there’s always got to be something that’s really going to stick with you. It’s not always the same thing; sometimes it could be a lyrical hook or a melodic hook, but for me at least I want to be captivated right away by some kind of hook, whether that be a production trick in the beginning, some kind of cool sound or just the traditional catchy melody or some kind of lyric refrain.
I think there’s always got to be one special theme that runs through the whole song. It can vary, but that sort of character driven theme is very important. Focus on one theme and weave it in and out of the song.
There is a certain sense of relatability to your music and the chemistry that GROUPLOVE shares. What has been the fan reaction from your view?
What we’re happy about is seeing the different ages in our audience. There tends to be a really big wide array of people at our shows. We expected 12-17 year-olds because that is the age group that is going to these types of concerts now, but our audiences really run the gamut. They’re all equally excited to be there. I think every now and then we get a tweet from some older guy at a concert was annoyed by the young kids in the crowd, but for the most part everybody is pretty happy to be there. And they’re all really cool. Our fans are really cool people.
Are you interested in collaborating with any other artists in the future?
The five of us probably have our Top 5 list of people we’ve always wanted to work with. I know Hannah has always talked about working with Jay-Z and everyone thinks she’s joking, but she really wants to do it. In terms of contemporary artists, I’ve been a Nine Inch Nails fan for a long time, so it would be really cool to do something with them, even though they’re not actually playing anymore. I’d also love to produce a bluegrass song, which is kind of completely outside of my comfort zone. Those are some of the most technically trained musicians in the world. So to be able to record and coach something in the studio would be pretty crazy.
What’s next for GROUPLOVE?
We’re really excited to play with No Doubt. We’re opening for them three nights in LA. It’s going to be amazing. Andrew and I in particular have been huge No Doubt fans since we were like 10-years-old. It’s maybe a boring answer, but we’re just excited to start recording new material.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)