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Grouplove’s Hanna Hooper Turns a ‘Big Mess’ into Art

"I've honestly never been more proud of something we've done."

By Jay Tilles

Hanna Hooper pinches herself to remind her that this is real, not just a childhood fantasy. She’s in a band that’s actually making a living. Scratch that… not just making a living; her band is doing quite well, thank you very much. They just released their third album, Big Mess, and are headlining festivals… something that just didn’t possible just a few years ago. Both a singer/songwriter and a respected painter, Hooper is clearly amazed she’s been able to do what she loves for a living.

Radio.com caught up with Hooper just hours before a festival headlining gig in Chicago and the new mother reflected on a magical two years and everything that brought her band to their current scenario.

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How does it feel going from playing in garages to headlining festivals? 

We’re headlining a festival. We’re headlining! Like, what—is—happening?” Honestly, I believe we’ll always play garages… I’m still looking for that connection with the fans… still giving that same sweaty, grimy punk rock vibe but the fact that we stay so true to that and we’re headlining now and still getting that high—if not a bigger high from our fans—it’s so trippy. I feel so humbled and excited. We’re so lucky to be in this position.

Are you ever able to sit back and soak in what you’ve accomplished?

You know, we were so caught up in it for six years and just being on tour—and there is this kind of routine that happens on tour where you lost a little bit of sight of how amazing what’s happening really is. Taking two years off to write the album and have a baby has really brought it back home to what it’s all about—the music, the band and our fans. It definitely gave us perspective.

grouplove big mess cover Grouploves Hanna Hooper Turns a Big Mess into ArtWhat’s the story behind the album’s cover art? Is it safe to assume you painted it?

I had this entire vision for our album cover and we were recording half the album in Seattle and while we were up there I painted like forty paintings. They were all these crazy landscapes that I’d seen or dreamed up in Seattle—you know I really wanted to do this landscape cover—and I found the one I wanted but it just didn’t work. It didn’t feel right with the album. It just felt that I was trying to make the album cover a beautiful piece of art rather than something that reflected the album cover. I was listening to our album and was just responding to it really abstractly and that’s how that piece came to be. It’s almost like a painting of a song. [view Hooper other paintings here]

Christian mentioned in an interview that you made this album at a crossroads in your lives. What did he mean?

We spent six years on tour and part of being an artist is being in that Peter Pan syndrome forever… where you have the liberty to forever be a kid. And then we got off out and I got pregnant right away. It was just that moment where you’re like, woah, we can continue to be artists and still have a child but we really didn’t know what it meant to have a kid until Willa was born. There’s so much change that happens that’s out of your control. You’re responsible for a life. For us there was this moment where we had a baby and all the bulls— in our lives, all the things that were priorities—there was just no time for it any more. Willa just kinda clarified our life for us. All our priorities are in perspective now. We just don’t have time for bulls—. It’s like we high five at the end of  the day.  It’s like, “We did it! We did another day.” Once you become a parent it doesn’t stop.

How old is your daughter Willa?

She just turned one year.

On the song “Big Mess,” you say you’re back in business. What did you mean by that? 

I think you know by this point that we’re pretty subconscious writers. There’s a real stream-of-consciousness that comes in the writing and the lyrics. I always look back after we write a song and go, “What are we trying to say here?” That song came together in an interesting way. When went into labor Ryan wrote the chorus and Christian and I wrote the intro and the verse. It’s an interesting collection of Grouplove brains collaborating on a song. In a lot of ways, it’s like “We’re back. We got this. We’re parents, we’re musicians, we’re lovers, we’re friends, we’re in this world together, let’s do this!”

What’s the story behind “Enlighten Me?” 

Yeah, I love that song. That’s a Christian Zucconi song. There was this night where he was just playing finger drums for hours. We’d been playing guitar for weeks and weeks while writing songs… I remember sneaking in hearing him working on this amazing song and seeing him headbanging over a keyboard playing finger drums. I think a lot of it was just being off tour. We’d been off tour for half a year when he wrote “Enlighten Me” and there was a line, “I don’t feel like my life is real.” We were having a hard time feeling present on tour and understanding our band is becoming a bigger band and that we were actually surviving as artists and Christian and I were still totally in love and that our band was actually friends… all these things that we kinda took for granted… we didn’t even have the time to process. “Enlighten Me” was a way for him to come to terms with all these things. It was a really beautiful healing process for him to write that song.

“Cannon Ball” is begging to be remixed and turned into a club banger. Agree?

Awesome. I can totally see that.

What was the most difficult track on the album to produce? One that took more work than others…

For me that would have been “Cannonball.” Andrew came in with “Cannonball” and he wanted me to sing the lyrics and it didn’t feel right. I actually re-wrote all the lyrics at one point. I was like, these are Andrew’s words and even though we’re best friends he’s a surfer and lives in Venice and he’s a man… ha ha. It just didn’t feel like it was me. Whenever I’m singing, I wrote the lyrics to that part. That was the first time Andrew and I had a real head-to-head and he’s—as all artists are—sensitive about their work. So that was the hardest song for me but I absolutely love the way it turned out. We found an amazing balance of how to share that song vocally.

“Traumatized” has an old school punk feel to it. Is there a story behind it? 

“Traumatized is my favorite song on the album.  We recorded this with Phil [Ek]. I love this song lyrically because it’s us coming to terms with us becoming parents and reflecting on our parents’ sacrifice so we could become artists.. and just starting to realize all these people that have been part of your life and made it so that you could do what you do. And it’s got this ripping Nirvana grunge thing… it feels like it’s really speaking my language.

Living with Christian and Willa and writing music in our house, do you ever feel cramped or do you love the mania that is family life?

I mean, we’re all humans so there’s definitely moments when I didn’t have a baby that I was like, “I gotta get the hell out.” [laughs] Christian and I both battle with the light and the heavy, the good and the bad. “Standing in the Sun” is actually a song that talks about that. It’s about trying to be an adult and trying to have that one crazy night out where you might have gone too far and think you’re still 18 years-old and you’re not. You’re standing in the sun feeling like such s—, trying to recover from hanging from the ceiling. You know, we’re parents, but we’re artists, we’re kids, we might physically grow up and I might have my proprieties in check now but I have the heart of a child. I think I always will.

Are there any Easter Eggs hidden on the album? 

Willa screams on “Welcome to Your Life.” Our manager Nicky does some guitar feedback on “Traumatized.” We got him to go up and press the guitar against the amp which was awesome.

You’ve made a permanent record in such a temporary town; Los Angeles. Did you set out to make such a timeless album?

Honestly, this is not a joke. We wrote forty songs for this album and brought it down to eleven. We wanted to create a really nice full-circle with you listening to the entire album. There’s the pump-ups, the anthems, but there’s also the ballads and I think there’s something for everyone. I’ve honestly never been more proud of something we’ve done.

Big Mess is available now.

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