What a time to release an album! Though their fourth studio album, Healer, was done in 2019, Grouplove saved the release for the first quarter of 2020. Following the album’s completion, vocalist/keyboardist Hannah Hooper was ordered to have brain surgery and following the procedure, required six months of recuperation. Thus, the band figured it would be fitting to allow everyone to rest up, regroup, and hit the new year off on a high note. “We wanted to make sure when it came out, we were ready to go,” says vocalist/guitarist Christian Zucconi. “2019 was personally a hard year for us so we were thinking ‘clean slate! 2020’s here! Here’s the new record.”
But when the morning of Healer’s March 13th drop date rolled around, the band woke up to find out that the world was slowly shutting down in the face of a COVID19 pandemic.
Grouplove is embracing the unforeseen turn of events. “We feel like in this totally bizarre way the album being called Healer and it coming out literally while the world is being shut down must mean something,” says Hooper. “And it’s this sort of crazy time where people can actually listen to music,” she adds.
Zucconi agrees, noting that he hopes the album can bring some comfort to those struggling in a very dark time. “We just hope that people will feel better when they listen to this record — because even though we explore some darker themes, at the end of the day it really makes you feel good.”
At the end of the touring cycle for 2016’s Big Mess, Grouplove faced a lot of changes. Their founding drummer, Ryan Rabin, who also served as the band’s producer, left the group. They found a new drummer Benjamin Homola and embarked upon a writing retreat.
“We went up to Northern California in the middle of nowhere, with the new lineup, and we just started sussing things out and jamming,” says Zucconi. Inspiration struck and right away, the lead single, “Deleter,” came together. The track, he explains, is a “call to arms.”
“It was about being fed up and feeling like there’s a lot of stuff in the world we want to say ‘no’ to, and also just feeling a responsibility as artists to begin to start saying ‘no’ to things that we think aren’t acceptable,” Hooper adds.
As additional songs began to flow, Grouplove collected their demos and showed them to Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Weezer), a producer they had greatly admired. “He’s a notoriously intimidating guy and also extremely talented so when we went to meet him, we were walking on eggshells,” reveals Hooper. Sitek was on board and that sent the group onto the next writing chapter, heading to Sonic Ranch recording studio in Texas where they put together the rest of the album. “The majority of the songs came from being at the Mexican-American border and not really having our cell phones on us or being around anyone we know and just writing together,” says Hooper.
Zucconi says the main inspiration for the new material was the changing political times. “We came up in the Obama years. It was more cheery, at least it felt like at the time, more innocent. The world has completely changed since Trump became president and everything that’s happened. So we needed to reflect that and step up,” he explains.
On Healer, the band explores an array of emotions. “We just wanted to have a lot more space for the music to breathe compared to the last records. And we just wanted to have an assortment of different feelings throughout the record.” And this time around, Grouplove experimented with new sounds that they didn’t have access to before. “We brought in a lot more analog gear, like an old school Mellotron and Prophet keyboards. And we also didn’t spend a lot of time perfecting anything,” Zucconi adds, revealing that a lot of the parts were done in one take. “We were like, ‘You know what? That’s good. We don’t need to go back and redo it or make it perfect,’” he says. To achieve this sound, the band looked to inspirations like The Rolling Stones. “We wanted to let it sound loose and jangly, like stuff we grew up listening to that no one cares is loose and jangly,” proclaims Zucconi.
“Promises” was inspired by the band being at the border during the height of the family separation crisis. “It was crazy. We were in Tornillo, Texas, which is where one of the big detention centers was, and you could hear megaphones and protesters down there. One night we were like, ‘what can we do about this situation? Let’s write a song about it. And that’s our form of protest,’” says Zucconi, who explains that the tune came together around a bonfire when the first line came to the band: “nothing disappoints me like the news.”
“Expectations” came along while Zucconi and his friend Alex Walker were working on music for a film score. “They wrote this part and played it for me and I immediately sang that topline on it. And we just knew. We were like, ‘let’s not give this to a movie. Let’s keep this for the album,’” Hooper reveals. And “The Great Unknown” was inspired by guitarist Andrew Wessen grabbing a funky automatic riffle-shaped guitar and an 80s boombox and playing a riff, while Sitek stood in the corner wearing a “Make America Mexico Again” shirt. “It was amazing and a little snapshot into that time,” says Hooper, with a laugh.
To put the finishing touches on the album, Grouplove enlisted Malay (Frank Ocean). “He’s kind of like Dave in a way where he is so knowledgeable about all this crazy gear that we’d never messed with before and if we wanted to go for a weird sound, he knows exactly what it is that will elicit that. He has this arsenal of amazing stuff in his studio,” Zucconi says. Hooper adds, “Once you’re given that portal into a new sound, it’s crazy how differently you can write because suddenly it’s like, ‘oh I’ve never felt this energy before from an instrument’ and you can tap into something you didn’t really know.”
Following Hooper’s recovery, the band had been feverishly preparing to head out on the road and was supposed to leave for an extensive tour several weeks back. “It’s really weird because our bodies needed this cathartic release to play the songs on stage. And now we have all this crazy extra unused energy. We don’t know how to use it and are kind of slowly losing our minds I think,” says Zucconi.
But Hooper explains the band will continue to find creative means of sharing their music with fans during the coronavirus outbreak. “We’re trying to come up with some tacky ways to still continue to play. Maybe some online shows, selfishly for ourselves. And then our fans can feel the songs live too,” she says, joking that nothing is off the table at this point. “I honestly yesterday was like, ‘I’m just going to design these giant, full body condoms that we all wear. And we will just go out there,’” she quips.