Grouplove’s first album, Never Trust A Happy Song, is aptly named. Each track is a lively exploration of vibrant choruses and soaring melodies, yet something menacing slithers slyly below the surface. ToneDeaf spoke to drummer/producer, Ryan Rabin, about the philosophy behind the album title, a SWAT team invasion during the recording of the album, and kicking down the doors of a burning building…to get inside.
It has been less than six months since Grouplove first visited Australia, playing Splendour in the Grass and a number of sideshows in July and August. Since then, they’ve been busy touring North America, Europe and the United Kingdom, as well as releasing their first album. “It’s going to be quite a bit warmer since we were last in Australia,” says Rabin. “So that’ll automatically be a nice change. We didn’t get too much time to see the scenery, but it’ll be nice to do the touristy stuff, like climb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge or something cheesy like that. You’d probably think it’s really stupid,” he laughs, “but I want to do the stupid stuff.”
Rabin admits the philosophy behind the album title was formulated unexpectedly. “Sean Gadd, our bassist, said it as a joke when we were recording our EP [2010’s Grouplove] and that phrase stuck with us. When we were thinking about what we should call the album, that phrase kept coming up again, so it started to develop individual meaning for us. If you take a closer look, usually you find a lot of sorrow and melancholy underneath the surface of what seems like a happy song, and I thought that was fitting for us.” Rabin chuckles, “so I started to really never trust happy songs.”
The crisp production of the EP is also present on the album, reflecting Rabin’s history with electronic and hip-hop music. “We tried to keep a lot of the same approaches as we did with the EP, so we recorded it in my apartment in LA. Apparently, my neighbour had been growing marijuana for about three years and a SWAT team burst in during a vocal take and cut the power to the building. I don’t think you’d get that if you were at a real recording studio, so we’re glad we did that at my house.”
The band has been rapidly gaining popularity, which has seen them as support on tours by Foster the People and Two Door Cinema Club. Although he didn’t expect it to happen so suddenly, Rabin admits he could feel something significant brewing with this band. “I don’t think I thought too far ahead, but I knew it was more special than the other projects I’ve worked on. I’d never done something so creative with people I didn’t really have any history with.”
The origin of the band is infamous, forming at an artist residency in Greece. It wasn’t long before the band had released an EP together and touring North America and Europe. “When you’ve known each other for such a short time, you’re going to learn new things about each other, every day,” he laughs. “Sean likes to take peoples’ cell-phones out of their hands, which gets our nerves, but it’s fun to discover weird things about people. Only a year or so after we had started touring, we were in the van and I asked Hannah what she was listening to, and – I’m not joking – she was listening to the dirtiest West Coast gangsta rap I had ever heard! I was like ‘Hannah! You listen to this?! That’s cool, I like it too, but I had no idea!” Then, she said, ‘Dude, I used to freestyle at all these hip-hop parties when I was in San Francisco.’ I’d definitely never expected that.”
It usually takes several decades of releasing albums of consistently poorer quality, numerous headlines detailing various acts of drug and sexual depravity, then the unexpected death of a key member in a hotel room before a band starts to take on an oddly superhero-esque cult image. However, Grouplove have already transcended the gap between indie-pop band and a pack of travelling superheros. Kind of. “We had just finished a set at a club in Glasgow when the fire alarm went off. We didn’t really take much note of it, but ten minutes later the fire department was there trying to get everyone out. We walked outside to see the building was literally engulfed in flames to the extent that the fire department just had to let it burn, because they couldn’t do anything about it. We had our passports and bags still inside, so we had to sneak past the fire department and kick down the back door and get everything out before it got burnt down. It was pretty cool to kick the door down and run into a burning building.”
Yet, despite all the excitement of forcing down doors and watching buildings burn to the ground, Rabin admits that, out of all the potentially crazy rock-star tomfoolery he could engage in, he’s mostly looking forward to getting lost. “I’m trying to think of anything that I might want to recreate from This Is Spinal Tap, but there’s not really much. It would be cool to get to a level where you’re playing such a big venue that you get lost in the backstage area and can’t find the stage,” he laughs.
A controversial topic, increasingly popular music streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora have been the subject of great debate recently. Artists like The Black Keys and Coldplay have actively rejected their services, suggesting that their increasing popularity is adversely affecting the band’s ability to be self-sustaining musicians. Rabin offers a different perspective, proposing that they might actually save the business. “I think more and more people are beginning to transition out of illegal downloading. The quality of streaming is becoming just as good as mp3s, and subscription services basically give you access to everything at any time. Hopefully, since we’re transitioning out of an environment where we need to physically download a piece of information like an mp3, people will be a little more receptive to paying for music, because it’s keeping up to date with the technology.”
– Lara Moates
GROUPLOVE are touring as part of The Falls Music & Arts Festival at Lorne and Marion Bay, as well as Western Australia’s Southbound Festival. Additionally, they’ll be headlining a number of sideshows around the country, with Sydney and Melbourne support from The Head and the Heart.
Tuesday, 3rd January @ The Factory Theatre, Sydney
Wednesday, 4th January @ The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Thursday, 5th January @ The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide
Tuesday, 10th January @ The Zoo, Brisbane
Wednesday 11th January @ The Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay