Ahead of the release of their highly anticipated fourth album, Healer, Hannah Hooper of LA indie-rockers Grouplove reflects on her remarkable return to the spotlight following brain surgery last year.
Trauma and loss have inspired some of the greatest, darkest albums of our time. Yet, on Grouplove’s long-awaited fourth album, Healer, a life-altering health issue was channelled into something entirely unexpected – joyous, effervescent indie-pop. Emerging in the early 2010s, the Los Angeles band, fronted by husband-and-wife Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper, have consistently had a foot in both the mainstream and indie worlds. Breakout single ‘Tongue Tied’ reached No.1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, and catapulted them to global attention, with their unique, ‘90s-flavoured alt-rock rapidly garnering a cult following. After three successful albums, and the birth of Christian and Hannah’s first child, it looked like there was no stopping Grouplove – until, in the middle of writing their long-awaited fourth album, Hannah was told she had to undergo brain surgery.
As the title suggests, the recording of Healer became a crucial part of the recovery process – not only for Hannah, but for the whole band.
“We used the album as a way to heal,” she nods. “Having that level of scary shit going on gave everyone around me the opportunity to open up about what they were going through. It was this really cathartic experience for all of us, because nothing was off limits. Everyone was just so open. We realised that everyone needs to heal, because everyone is hurting. It was this beautiful thing – to understand that we were all going through this scary thing together.”
Hannah immersed herself in both her music and her visual art during these last few turbulent years: “It honestly saved me”. Yet, with highenergy hooks and upbeat anthems, Healer isn’t as dark as fans may expect.
“When you’re in a dark time, you’re not trying to stay in the dark time, right?” Hannah reasons. “You’re trying to look for the end of the end of the tunnel, and find that hope. I really am an escapist, so a lot of the songs I wrote and sang on the album are about going out, and letting go.”
Although they live in LA, the band escaped to the famed Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas to work on the album with their friend, Grammy-winning producer and TV On The Radio member Dave Sitek.
“He could tell we were in a space where we needed to just get away,” Hannah explains. “The idea was to go there, and just be able to focus on the music, and focus 100% of our energy on being artists. It was wild – just getting away from
the city for a while, you have to do so much detoxing from technology and distractions first.
“LA is exactly what you think it is – there’s almost this desperation for fame. It’s a beautiful mess, really (laughs). There’s tragedy as much as there is success. And then there’s tragedy in the success. There’s so much momentum towards success here, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on artists, to be around that. To create something honest, you have to be in a really vulnerable state of mind. Being in the Mecca of desperate success isn’t really cohesive to making that art.”
Although Hannah is still recovering, she can’t wait to bring Healer out on the road – complete with a seven-piece live band. The tour will also see Grouplove partnering up with the Ally Coalition, bringing organisations that support at-risk LGBTQ+ youth to each show.
“Right now is our time to give back to causes that feel unheard,” Hannah explains. “We’re also bringing down our carbon imprint, and having people able to register to vote at every show – because this is a really important time to vote in America. This is a time for drawing attention to all the things that matter. There are voices that are not being heard right now.
“Musicians should talk to their fans about whatever they feel passionate about, and whatever’s motivating them at the time,” she continues. “There should be more honesty and transparency. We’re at a place right now where the ugliness is winning. There’s a lot of pain, and a lot of unheard voices. We’re an alternative band, so we’re here to speak for the alternative people.”
This growing engagement with the state of the world is inspired in no small part by her role as a mother to a four-year-old girl – who also continues to shape Hannah’s artistic vision.
“The question we have to ask everyday is, ‘What kind of world do we want to raise her in?’” she reflects. “She makes us want to stay true to that honesty of the child. That’s the space we try to stay in when we’re creating art – sort of like a child-like womb. There’s no outside forces shaping our decisions. She helps to keep us there.”
Motherhood and health issues have undoubtedly shifted Hannah’s perspective on both the world and on her art. In the past, she spoke out about Grouplove being generalised as a “happy band”. Is that a label she has learned to embrace?
“In the last few years, finding music that made me feel happy, so that I could escape from what I was dealing with, was a challenge,” she says. “There are so many sad songs, and so much moody music. Not to sound like a hippie, but it would bring my vibration down to a sad place – when I’m really trying to stay in a positive mental state. People see us as a ‘happy band’, and I thought that was frustrating. But now, I realise that happy songs are the hardest ones to write – so thank you! We will accept this Grammy! (laughs)”.
“But, I do think it’s a generalisation,” she adds. “People have this need to put people in a box to understand them. We really are an ever-evolving band.”
And the next evolution?
“I’m just going to tell you this because you have a very soothing voice,” she laughs. “We have actually written a lot of our next album already – which is funny, because we’re just putting this one out. It was being written simultaneously with this one, but it’s a much more aggressive angle. There was a part of me and Christian, and the whole band, that was just frustrated, and that was coming out through a heavier sound. But we didn’t want to come back with that sound. We wanted to come back with these mature ideas – a protest of love and escapism. But we are going to move into a bit more aggressive and passionate music. That’s the evolution – to share all the emotions.”
“WE REALISED THAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO HEAL, BECAUSE EVERYONE IS HURTING.”
• Healer is out on March 13.