The Grouplove bio reads like fiction, or a publicist drunk on YA romance novels. The story goes like this: A dashing, down-on-his-luck New York crooner (Christian Zucconi) was scraping by, tending bar at night and driving a truck during the day. In between these soul-crushing doldrums, he was playing open mics and yearning for an escape. Into his world walked the improbably beautiful Hannah Hooper, a starving artist with wanderlust and a song in her heart bursting to get out. It was love at first sight, and after a whirlwind, 48-hour courtship, the young couple jet off to a mysterious artist commune on the faraway Greek isle of Crete. There, they meet the rest of the Grouplove collective and spend their days on secluded beaches passing guitars and ukuleles, thinking that that summer will never end. Drunk on young love and renewed creativity, Christian teaches Hannah to sing, and two years later, Grouplove is signed to Canvasback Music/Atlantic, with hit singles “Tongue Tied” and “Colours” featured in iPad Touch and Taco Bell commercials, respectively. They tour the world and live happily ever after. The end.
While it may sound improbable—and downright infuriating to thousands of struggling songwriters— Zucconi insists the story is true, and is rightfully thankful for his amazingly good fortune. Before Grouplove’s May 19 show at the Ogden, The A.V. Club caught up with Zucconi to discuss the artist commune, happy songs, and Fleetwood Mac.
The A.V. Club: Do you believe in fate, or do you make your own luck?
Christian Zucconi: I believe in a little bit of both. I think there are some things that are definitely out of our control, but hopefully we can recognize them and take full advantage when the situation presents itself. Hannah invited me to go out there [Crete] and I didn’t dilly-dally and just went for it. Sometimes you gotta take the bull by the horns.
AVC: The artist colony sounds like an impossibly idyllic fantasy. You didn’t have any hesitations toward taking that leap?
CZ: I didn’t at the time, because I was a struggling New Yorker for so long, and it was just kind of a dead summer. I was working behind a bar and driving a truck. So, it seemed like a great time to get out of there. Plus, I was really excited meeting Hannah because she was super cool. I felt that in my gut it would be cool to do it, and I just didn’t really look back. It was a point when I needed to change stuff in my life. The colony in Crete was this kind of crazy, run-down place. The town was 20 minutes from the water so we’d rent mopeds to go down the winding mountain road. But, we basically just stayed at our place and worked. Hannah would be downstairs painting and I’d be upstairs writing a bunch of songs. At that point, Hannah hadn’t ever planned to be a singer or be in a band. She was doing her own separate thing artistically.
AVC: For you and Hannah, it was basically love at first sight?
CZ: Yeah, pretty much.
AVC: Was it love at first jam with the guys in Grouplove?
CZ: We didn’t really jam that much. At the commune, we’d hang out and pass the guitar around and play each other our songs. There was definitely a shared love of musical influences and a vibe between us. A year later, when we all got back together and found ourselves in L.A. with nothing really to do that day, we laid down some tracks in the studio for fun, and it was love at first jam, or love at first recording experience. It just came naturally and organically, fast, and kind of easy, so we just ran with it. That kind of became the EP, which is cool because we didn’t plan any of that. All of us were in bands before, just kind of trying and trying and nothing ever happened. With this band, we just kind of stopped trying and let go and let things happen naturally.
AVC: You guys are all from different places—from New York, L.A., and England, correct?
CZ: Yeah, Andrew [Wesson, guitar and vocals] and Ryan [Rabin, drums] came from L.A. and they were the only two people who knew each other. Sean [Gadd, bass and vocals] was from West London and he came out because one of his good friends was at the commune and invited him. There was a music festival at the end of the month at the commune, and he was trying to play, so he invited him out. It was the same kind of situation Hannah and I were in.
AVC: Back to the commune for a minute. Can anyone go there, or do you have to be invited by a member?
CZ: It was a super experimental, first-year kind of experiment. It had never been done and it hasn’t been done since. Andrew’s older brother kind of started it with this Greek guy that he ran into in Venice, California and they hit it off. His family was from that village, and Andrew’s brother had a little bit of money to invest, so they went in on it together. Andrew’s brother Matt saw Hannah’s painting studio in Manhattan and fell in love with her paintings. She had done the cover for The Morning Benders’ album Big Echo, and he was really into that, and just kind of invited her on a whim to the commune, even though it was this first-year thing and wasn’t really a properly run commune, just a free-for-all, take-it-as-it comes kinda thing. Hannah was one of the painters there, and there was another painter from Denmark or Holland, and just a bunch of us musicians. It might have been a one-time thing.
AVC: That’s pretty cool to have been a part of that.
CZ: Yeah, it was really cool. We were really lucky to have gone.
AVC: Before choosing Ryan [Rabin] to produce Never Trust A Happy Song, did you shop around producers, or was he the first choice?
CZ: He kind of inadvertently ended up producing the EP, which turned out really good for a kind of home, garage studio recording, and that body of work got noticed and got us the opportunity to make a second record. Hannah did the artwork and we just decided to keep everything in-house without any outside influence. We’re all learning together, and we just wanted to stick with what was working. We’ve all grown as a band and gotten to know each other a lot better. So, we just like keeping it within ourselves for right now.
AVC: Do you think that happy songs mask an underlying sadness, similar to comedians being really fucked up and happy?
CZ: Some of the songs are definitely born out of unhappiness. When we first started getting out there and people started seeing us, it was quite surprising to me that we were being coined this super happy, feel-good band. Other bands I’ve been in and other songs I’ve written have been more somber pieces and some of the songs on the record were that, but they went through this Grouplove production machine and changed for the better. But, you kind of hit it on the head. Before we released the record, we just thought it was kind of an ironic, funny title, because there are songs on the record that are a lot deeper and sadder than people get out of the live show, or before they explore the lyrics deeper. Your comparison to a comedian is certainly apropos to certain elements of the album.
AVC: “Tongue Tied” seemed ready made for commercial licensing. At the time, were you thinking commercially?
CZ: No. That song was written pretty fast. I was doing this really moody piano score for this really depressing, moody movie, and during my downtime on break I started playing around with chords and came up with the melody and put a garage-rock beat behind it. Hannah and I were living with Sean at the time, and I played them an instrumental version of it, almost like a dare kind of thing. Hannah just started screaming, “Take me to your best friend’s house,” and we thought it was funny. It was one of those songs that came fast and came together in the studio well and ended up being this fun, upbeat thing. People liked it and wanted to use it for things, and that’s cool with us, as long as we’re making music for us and not just to be used in a commercial.
AVC: Does the inner artist-commune, indie-music guy squirm when you hear the song on a commercial?
CZ: It’s new territory for me. I haven’t seen it that much because we’re homeless and live in a van and don’t watch much TV, so it’s nice to stay removed from it. I don’t try and go there too much and think about it or worry about it. In this day and age, you don’t really judge how people find music, and we worked hard to get it out there. Radio isn’t really doing shit anymore, so yeah, it’s strange. It’s not a squirming feeling; it’s just reality. You just have to accept it and not worry how it affects writing songs in the future.
AVC: Not to get too personal, but in terms of your relationship with Hannah and being in the same band, have you watched the Fleetwood Mac Behind The Music recently?
CZ: Hannah’s seen it. I haven’t, but I kinda know what went on. It’s a lot of work sometimes, but at the end of the day we’re learning a lot together. She’s new to music and really talented. She has great ideas and is bringing a whole new perspective to the band because she’s never been in one. She brings a fresh perspective to things, since all the other guys have been in bands and been doing it for a while. So, we just try and get time together when we can, and go for walks and stuff. The Fleetwood Mac stuff is not gonna go down.
AVC: Thank God.
CZ: [Laughs.] Yeah, I know.
AVC: You guys are pretty serious road warriors. It can be hard sleeping in your own bed sometimes, let alone planes, trains, and automobiles. How are you adjusting? Are you cut out for life on the road?
CZ: It goes by fast and has been fun. A lot of the shows have been received really well and people are coming out so that makes things easier. You tend to complain a lot more when there are only 20 kids at a show. We did a tour with Florence And The Machine a year and a half ago and we haven’t stopped since then. January we were in Australia and February we were in the UK. We just did a tour with Young The Giant, supporting them.
AVC: Do you consider Crete your paradise, or have you found a new Mecca?
CZ: I try and find paradise every day, just in the situation that we’re in involved in, and I try and make the best of any situation. Right now, it’s pretty good with the wave we’re riding. Crete was a great place to start, and we were really fortunate to have been there.