Grouplove Finds Catharsis on “Healer”

A decade into their career together, Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper discuss family, origins, and recovery.

Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper are lamenting all the times they cursed LA. The married couple—who are the central figures of Grouplove—are freezing in upstate New York. They’re in the town of Ossining, which houses Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and was made a household name by Mad Men as Don Draper’s place of residence. Less than a month away from the release of their fourth album, Healer, Zucconi and Hooper are visiting family. Ossining is where Zucconi grew up, the town’s “waiting for our family member to be released from prison” tension breeding excessive creativity. 

Zucconi doesn’t come from a prisoner family, but as a child of divorce with two working parents, he didn’t spend much time with his father. As of the last four years, he’s become the parent of his own daughter, Willa. “It’s completely uncharted territory,” he tells me of being a parent via FaceTime, huddled in a car with the heat turned on, head covered by a red lumberjack cap with sheepskin earflaps sticking out like two giant tortilla chips. 

“We have an amazing nanny but we don’t have help in terms of family nearby,” he adds. “We can never have a last minute date night. If we want to do something like that, it takes planning and coordination and it’s expensive. We always joke that if we go to dinner and a movie, it’s a $500 night.” 

While Zucconi and Hooper are huge appreciators of their time with Willa, this is tempered by touches of guilt whenever they have to leave on tour with Grouplove. Touring is still the main source of income for the quintet. They are set to hit the road many times in 2020 in support of Healer, and joining them are the organizations Ally Coalition—providing support to better the lives of LGBTQ youth—and HeadCount, registering voters and promoting participation in democracy.

“We’re shortening our tours with bigger breaks in between,” says Hooper, who is walking the streets of Ossining in a floor-length, sleeping bag–size puffer coat, trying to generate some heat and rapidly losing her bearings. “Being on the road is not conducive to Willa being with us and it’s not fair to her. If another member of the band had a kid, it would be a different story. 

“It’s been a ride for me to figure this out,” she continues. “I’ve talked to other working moms that have to leave their kids. As your kids get older, it’s empowering for them to see their mom doing what she loves and coming home happy, rather than the extreme opposite, which is an unhappy mom, not living her dreams.”

Hooper and Zucconi have been in sync since their accelerated start as a couple some twelve years ago. Their story is one of alternative rock legend. She was a visual artist living in New York City, and saw him perform with his hardcore band. She fell in love with him on the spot. She asked him to go with her to an artist residency on the Greek island of Crete almost immediately, and once there, they met the other band members. Grouplove was conceived, and the rest is history.

“As your kids get older, it’s empowering for them to see their mom doing what she loves and coming home happy, rather than an unhappy mom, not living her dreams.” — Hannah Hooper

“Our guitar player [Andrew Wessen] is dying for us to go back there,” says Hooper of the Greek island. “I refuse. Something magical happened when we went there. We undid the curse of not being able to be artists. I have this recurring nightmare where I wake up and I’m back in Bed-Stuy with seven hundred jobs. There are so many places I can go. I don’t want to go to Greece and undo the spell, just in case this whole thing is a Disney movie.”

Hooper’s trajectory indeed has a fairy tale–like quality to it. She struggled as a visual artist, first as an advertising student at NYC’s Parsons School of Design, then working as an illustrator. The fortuitous trip to Greece put her in the musician position unintentionally. With no musical background, Hooper approaches songs as she does her impressionistic painting. Expressive and instinctual, songwriting comes naturally. She likens her style to painting over her bandmates’ creations. “I feel super free writing lyrics, which is how I hope everyone gets to feel in some medium,” says Hooper. 

The first album without the production involvement of former band member Ryan Rabin, Healer was written and already sent to TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek when Grouplove joined him at the Sonic Ranch recording complex in Texas. The music was enough to pique Sitek’s interest, but once Grouplove arrived, he scrapped what they had and made them write from scratch. 

“We wrote on the spot,” recalls Zucconi. “Created a song in a night. Next night, next song. That is not easy to do. Back in Los Angeles, we did songs with Malay [John Legend, Frank Ocean]. Those were on the spot too. It’s more fun for a producer to write songs with the band rather than taking a finished thing and making it sound better. For us, it’s fun creating songs with someone new in the room. We learned a lot and grew a lot as a band working with complete strangers. It was an eye-opening experience.”

After working with Sitek, and before starting work with Malay, Hooper got the news that the numbness and blurry vision she had been experiencing for some time—which she’d been attributing to stress—was, in fact, due to a cavernous malformation in her brain. She needed brain surgery. This information was relayed the day before FLOOD’s interview with Hooper ahead of her solo art exhibition at Shepard Fairey’s Subliminal Projects, Oblivion, which took place over the summer last year. 

There was a six-month period between being told about the brain surgery and the surgery happening during which Hooper tried to stay distracted and not spiral—her default as an artist. Meanwhile, Zucconi felt he was in an ongoing nightmare. 

“We would go to sleep at night and she usually falls asleep before I do,” he says. “I would just look at her and have to face the reality of something going into her head and cutting her scalp open and pulling her brain out. I’m not good with medical stuff. If I see blood, I faint. I can’t hold it down in that department, so the idea of this surgery gave me the heebies. I had to be strong and not let her know I was freaking out because she was freaking out. It was looming over us for so long, it felt like it was never going to go away.”

“Hannah would be doing vocal takes and her eyes were all blurry, her arm was numb and she’d be scared a lot. But it was good to channel our fear into the music.” — Christian Zucconi

It was during this time that Hooper was completing her pieces for Oblivion. Simultaneously, the band was in the studio with Malay, focusing on making music rather than the pending surgery. Says Zucconi, “Hannah would be doing vocal takes and her eyes were all blurry, her arm was numb and she’d be scared a lot. But it was good to channel our fear into the music and do some amazing performances, really dive in and escape into the music. It’s important to have days to cry, but it’s also important to have the other days so you’re not completely dwelling on it.”

Healer has tapped into a much more personal space with Grouplove than ever before. This is, in part, due to the emotional extremes experienced during its creation. But it was already on its way to this space when the band worked with Sitek, prior to the health issues being identified. Besides the title, which clearly connects with what Grouplove have experienced in the last year, “Deleter,” the shredding album opener, hones in on what each of them wants removed from their lives. 

For Hooper, this has been her mobile phone. She has gone from behaving as if it were an extension of her arm to treating it like a landline. Her 56K followers on Instagram can now look at a scant nineteen posts, and shouldn’t check back too often for updates. “I’m trying to get over the need for immediacy,” she admits. “Great art finds its way out eventually.” FL

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