Inspirations is a Billboard interview franchise that examines the process behind new standout releases.
“A jolt of energy.” That’s how bassist Daniel Gleason describes the sound of “Deleter,” the lead single off Grouplove’s new album, Healer. “To come back after three and a half years since the last record, it felt like we wanted to kick the doors down, get shot out of a cannon.”
“It was a beautiful start to the record,” adds frontman Christian Zucconi, who’s seated on the opposite side of the couch from Gleason, overlooking Times Square from Billboard’s New York offices.
Indeed, the raucous single was an electric way to kick off a new era for the band, what with its shout-along chorus and anthemic, anxiety-riddled message. And thematically, “Deleter” sets the stage for the rest of Healer. The collection of eleven tracks — out today (March 13) via Atlantic Records — is at turns earnest and frenetic, packed full to the brim with vulnerability, compassion and bold questioning of an increasingly broken culture, all while being set to Grouplove’s feverish brand of guitar-driven indie pop.
In a way, the entirety of the album centers around a single lyric lifted from the chorus of “Deleter.” “We love the line where the title of the album came from: ‘But it turns out I’ve always been my healer,’ is such an amazing thing,” says vocalist Hannah Hooper, who’s sandwiched between her bandmates on the couch. “’Cause it turns out, all the things you look for in life, you already have at least a lot of the answers within you.”
That kind of wisdom has been hard-earned for Hooper, who was diagnosed with a mass in her brain in the midst of recording the album in Texas — one that required surgery and threw her and the rest of the band back into songwriting mode as a creative distraction.
“I’d gotten an MRI to see what was going on, and I got a call that was like, ‘Hey the thing in your brain is big and like, you need to get it out,’” she recalls. “And what we did with that energy was we went and wrote more music, ’cause I was like, ‘Hey guys, guess what I like to do when something f–ked up is happening? I like to distract myself and delve into the art.’ And so that’s what we did, and we actually wrote probably our most positive tracks on the album [during] that time.”
The product of those sessions leading up to Hooper’s surgery effectively changed the direction of the album, giving birth to tracks like “Ahead of Myself,” “Burial” and grateful album closer “This is Everything.” And while Hooper thankfully recovered from the health scare, the unexpected crisis ultimately brought the longtime bandmates — who originally connected nearly 10 years ago at a commune in Greece — even closer together as they rallied around each other and spun their worries into musical catharsis.
“It shows you the power of making stuff,” Hooper concludes. “Like, the power of putting that pain or fear or whatever into your creativity, that is another form of healing…and we all need a little healing right now.”
Below, Zucconi, Hooper and Gleason guide Billboard through the music, art, people, places and current events that helped shape and inspire the sound of Healer.
The family separation crisis at the U.S. border. The band laid down album highlight “Promises” at Sonic Ranch, the famed recording studio complex nestled in the middle of a 1,700-acre pecan farm in Tornillo, Texas. Framed by the Rio Grande, the U.S. border town was also home at the time to an infamous tent city, which served as a temporary immigrant detention facility for children until its closure in Jan. 2019. Recording right at the height of the Trump administration’s infamous family separation policy, the band could often hear the blare of megaphones during breaks as activists protested outside the nearby camp.
“Hannah and I have a daughter,” says Zucconi. “She was three at the time and picturing these families with kids that same age and younger being separated for some fucked up policy issue is just like…we couldn’t believe that our government would do that, you know what I mean?”
“I think that we felt like we needed as people — not even just as artists — but as people, there’s a need to speak out when you see there being injustice and something that’s wrong, you know?” adds Gleason. “And I think that just being honest artists, it found its way into the music and into the lyrics, and how could it not? It’s unavoidable at this point, what’s happening. If you consider yourself a realistic person, then you’re gonna end up talking about it.”
A trio of new keyboards. Working alternately with producers Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Malay (Frank Ocean, Lorde), the band employed new instrumentation on the album in the form of multiple keyboards, including the Moog One 16-voice analog synthesizer, the Sequential Prophet-6 and the Mellotron — the latter two of which were used by Sitek to achieve the looping, polka-esque melody running the veins of pre-release buzz track “Youth.”
“That’s kind of a crazy story,” Gleason says. “Dave ran the Prophet-6 through a Line 6 looper pedal, and was reversing it and cutting it up on the pedal. Then that was going through a DJ mixer where he would use that to mute and cut it up there. So that’s where the space in the loop comes from — he was just turning the mix off on the actual turntables.”
Fresh blood and an expanded sound. Ahead of the Healer sessions, the trio and guitarist Andrew Wessen welcomed drummer Benjamin Homola into the fold. The new face (whom Zucconi credits with “instilling a selfless, strong energy” into the band) replaced founding member Ryan Rabin, who exited Grouplove in mid-2017 just as his now-former bandmates embarked on a national tour opening for pals Imagine Dragons.
“We actually added so many new sounds that we’re a seven-piece now,” Hooper also reveals. “We’re a seven-piece because it just feels more honest, it sounds better and like, that’s the only way we can play the album unless we did tracks. Which we don’t wanna do…It’s also so nice that you can change up the tempo of a song every night, like it’s in our control what we want to do. And we have these two new, dope dudes that tour with us. It’s great.”
The afterlife. For the LP’s colorful cover art, Hooper collaborated for the first time with multimedia artist Julian Gross, selecting a piece from her 2018 solo art show at Shepard Fairey’s gallery in L.A. Inspired by the death of a close friend, the cover art explores Hooper’s questions about the afterlife and what happens when someone passes on.
“All the work that I made during that show was to kind of understand where he was when you when you die, ’cause I was feeling his presence so dramatically during the whole time I was painting,” she explains. “And so I started really thinking about where you go. Is it right here? Like, I can feel your energy. Like, where is this? What’s happening?”
Punk rock and hip-hop. While working on the above-mentioned art show, Hooper listened almost exclusively to Idles’ 2018 political statement Joy as an Act of Resistance and Mac Miller’s Swimming, the final LP released by the rapper just one month prior to his untimely death in Sept. 2018.
Other music the band had on repeat during the making of the album? According to Zucconi, everything from U.K. power-belter Terry Reid, Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club to XTC, Anderson .Paak and Pulp’s “Common People.”
The rhythm of Motown. “I was listening to a lot of Motown right before,” says Gleason, who specifically cites bassist James Jamerson, an uncredited studio musician on a plethora of Motown hits through the ‘60s and ‘70s. ”I’ve always really, really, really loved it. I grew up in Michigan, so I’ve always had an affinity for that music but specifically the writing style of the rhythm section was really informative for me.”
Activism in action. “We’re teaming up with HeadCount at every show,” Zucconi says of the band’s upcoming touring plans to support the album. (The North American headlining jaunt kicks off March 18 with back-to-back nights in Santa Fe, New Mex.) ”They’re going to be coming to register voters. We’re also doing The Ally Coalition. So it’s nice to try to help out as much as we can. We’re donating money from merch to The Ally Coalition every night; for each city we’re in, the merch that night goes to that chapter.”