A chance meeting in the Greek isles gave Grouplove its storybook beginning, but the band's second album is built from nothing but hard work.
The Los Angeles-based indie-pop group still carries the buoyant exuberance that made breakthrough single "Tongue Tied" an inescapable hit, but Grouplove's sophomore album, Spreading Rumors, branches out in several directions. It's a progression that the band's drummer and producer, Ryan Rabin, credits to three years of nonstop touring in which the musicians solidified their sound.
"It was a natural progression musically within the band, and our tightness playing together that comes out on the second album," Rabin says. "We recorded a lot of it live with everybody playing together to capture a bit of that live raw energy we developed touring so much."
So while "Tongue Tied" (and its appearance in an iPod commercial and on Glee) took Grouplove to the top of the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, Spreading Rumors was created to do much more than just offer a catchy follow-up hit.
Grouplove—Rabin, Hannah Hooper on vocals and keyboards, Christian Zucconi on vocals and guitar, Sean Gadd on bass and vocals and Andrew Wessen on guitar and vocals—labored to make the follow-up a record that took new risks.
"As far as the creative direction of the songs themselves, what defines our band is we try to do something different and approach each song individually and not repeat the process," Rabin says. "On Spreading Rumors, we took the same diverse tangent that we did on the first album, and just took things further. Rock songs got taken even further, electronic songs went even a little further."
So while the first single, "Ways to Go," won't shock Grouplove fans drawn in by "Tongue Tied," it has a deeper groove and more dynamic tension, from the song's opening verse to its wall-of-sound and call-and-response chorus. "Shark Attack" blends acoustic guitar, steel drums and whistling into a hard-driving electro-pop stew. "Hippy Hill" is a reverb-laden psychedelic tune with some serious background swirl and a universal-love vibe in the lyrics: "I'd rather be the dying than the rising sun/ Yeah I'd rather leave my spirit for everyone."
"Borderlines and Aliens" is an overcaffeinated rock song made for blowing speakers, with loud blasts of guitar and incessant drums. The album's second single, it comes accompanied by a surreal animated music video from NYC-based animation studio Ace & Son, created using original illustrations from Grouplove's Hooper.
Both Grouplove albums feature cover art from Hooper, who was a painter in New York before she started playing keyboards for the band. The DIY-spirit for the cover art carries over from the band's approach to songwriting and recording.
"We're a very self-contained band as far as the creative process goes. That's what always worked for us," Rabin says. "We try not to have any preconceived notions or goals about what we're going to do before we go into the studio. We want to be spontaneous and let whatever piques our interest drive what we do."
Fittingly for the band's creative process, songs start in a number of ways.
"A lot of times it will come out of riffs we do at sound check. And if something is album-worthy, it'll stick in our heads and we'll come back to them," Rabin says. "Sometimes it's something that comes out of a rehearsal or a jam. Sometimes we'll write a song on the fly in the studio if a certain sound or riff catches. Sometimes it's a prewritten song or idea that one person brings to everybody else to Grouplove-ify."
The songwriting reflects the band's origins. The first time the five Grouplove members were all together was at an artists' colony on the Greek island of Crete in 2008. Hooper and Zucconi had just met in New York, but took a love-at-first-sight leap to travel to Greece together. Wessen was there because his older brother helped found the colony. Rabin, his friend from Los Angeles, was already a busy drummer and producer, the son of former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin. Gadd was visiting from London at the urging of a friend.
For whatever reason, with Rabin playing bongos on the beach, the five became friends.
"It's such a crazy story," Rabin says. "I don't want to say (forming a band together) was meant to happen, but I think us being together as friends was meant to be. There were so many people there and the five us were just drawn together. The principle of how we first met definitely keeps us grounded."
After Greece, the five could have parted and never gone on to form Grouplove, but they got together in Los Angeles, their lives similarly altered by the time spent on Crete.
"After we all met in Greece, it was about a year before we all met up again in Los Angeles and I'd just been producing other bands at that point. I had a little home studio and we could mess around and play music for a while and afford it and that's how we've done things ever since," Rabin says. "We try to preserve that open-mindedness and creative freedom that drove what the band was all about. We all remember what it was like before this band and nothing really came close."
Not surprisingly, the first Grouplove album was largely about living out your dreams, encapsulated particularly well by "Naked Kids," a laid-back let's-go-to-the-beach tune that emphasizes the harmonies from Hooper and Zucconi.
And even during the band's early practices, before anyone else heard "Tongue Tied," Rabin says he knew he'd finally found the right fit and the right band.
"It was amazing. You don't know that feeling until it happens," he says. "I always had confidence in the other things I was involved in growing up, but when this happened it was like all the puzzle pieces suddenly coming together when you didn't even know you were trying to solve a puzzle."
Though Grouplove formed in Crete, only Wessen has returned since 2008.
"We would like to go back," Rabin says. "The funny thing is, we never wrote any music together while we were there. It all came a year afterwards. Greece was the seed that was planted and the growth was in Los Angeles."