Pause for the Applause
Christian Zucconi of the Indie-Rock Band Grouplove Sits Down and Opens Up About His Journey Into the Spotlight
Written By: Alexa Erickson
Photos Provided By: Anna Lee Photography
Walking into the quaint coffee shop in Silver Lake called Muddy Paw, I scour the back patio for a young man in an oversized T-shirt, skinny jeans and blue hair, or maybe pink hair … some vibrant color he is known for. But, to my surprise, I look up to the sound of my own name as a bearded gentleman with short, black hair peeking out beneath a green beanie approaches me. “Christian?” I reply, hesitantly. As he nods his head yes and we make our way to a table, I am shocked that the grunge-worthy digs of Grouplove’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Christian Zucconi, seems more normal folk than I had imagined.
Since their debut album in 2011, I have been thoroughly intrigued by this American indie-rock band with a flair for the dramatic. The lyrics to their second hit single, “Tongue Tied” creep into my head as I fluster to form words to begin our interview. How ironic, I think.
A New York Native who has been musically passionate and involved since a young age, Zucconi helped form the post-hardcore band Aloke in 2004. The band released one live album and three EPs. Having moderate success, but never quite breaking the barriers and achieving international notoriety, they disbanded in 2009, but Zucconi’s time finally came through a dedicated fan of Aloke, Hannah Hooper.
Inviting Zucconi on a whimsical, spur of the moment trip to an island in Greece to attend an enigmatic musical commune, the trip would become a magical connection between not only her and now boyfriend Zucconi, but also between a group of talented musicians. Grouplove formed in 2009 by Christian, Hannah (vocals, keyboards), Sean Gadd (bass, vocals), Andrew Wessen (guitar, vocals) and Ryan Rabin (drums).
Since then, Grouplove has gone on to achieve major acclaim in the music industry. Two albums, four intensive years of touring, a new band member and a continuously growing fan base, the catchy, cosmic tunes flowing out of Grouplove has everyone hooked. Their energy on stage is infectious, creating a freeing feeling to simply escape from yourself—moved by the power of music. Creating and performing from a place of infinite dedication to their craft, we must wait patiently as the band takes a lengthy hiatus in preparation for greater things to come.
I sat down with Zucconi to discuss his journey from a struggling musician to an integral part of the formation and success of Grouplove.
Q: Before Grouplove, where did your musical background come from? Did you grow up in a family of musicians?
Christian Zucconi: I did and I didn’t. My mom is a great singer and an incredible actress, but she had to bury those dreams to raise my brother and me as a single mom. I know my grandparents on both sides played instruments, and my dad’s mom sang on the radio when she first came to New York City from Italy, so it’s definitely in there.
Q: Was there an “aha” moment when your parents realized music was the thing that you were really good at?
CZ: When I was very young, like 2 or 3, I would make my mom and brother leave the living room. I’d shut the doors and blast Billy Joel. I had this Mickey Mouse guitar, and I would be jumping from the couch to the floor and back up. My mom kind of knew then. I actually don’t remember that, but that’s what she tells me. But I do remember always being moved by music starting at a very young age. I started taking piano lessons as a kid and writing all my own songs. I never wanted to study; I just wanted to write.
Q: Would you call your rise in the industry tough? Where were you 10 years ago as opposed to where you are now?
CZ: I’ve been playing in bands for many years. I put my first band together in middle school, and knew then it was what I wanted to do. I stuck with it because it’s the only thing that really makes me feel alive. As for the industry, it’s an unpredictable thing I don’t think about.
Q: Before Grouplove, there was Aloke. It’s a totally different vibe than Grouplove, but I have a feeling you brought some of that with you. What are the similarities and differences?
CZ: In Aloke, we all grew up together in the same town, so we share the same musical background. We all have the same influences: Nirvana, Fugazi, The Pixies. In Grouplove, what separates us is that every member grew up in different parts of the country/world so we all have completely different life experiences, backgrounds and musical influences. I brought that real, passionate East Coast headbanging “screamy-ness” to Grouplove. That’s an innate part of who I am.
Q: Was that something you always wanted to do—the headbanging “screamy-ness”?
CZ: I’ve just always done it, yeah. It’s just how I move. It’s not put on; it just happens. Normally I’m really quiet and reserved, but on stage I let the animal out. Aloke was more of a post-hardcore, post-punk kind of band. The thing with Aloke was, we were always writing so much so our sound kept changing. We would play a show every few weeks, and it would be like 10 new songs, so we kept evolving which was awesome, but never repeated songs for our fans to connect to. I’m excited that Aloke is going to finally release a record later this year that we did with Steve Albini in 2007. It’s an incredible album.
Q: Enter Grouplove. How did that happen?
CZ: The story of Grouplove is a surreal one—the more I try to explain it, the more it doesn’t make sense, but I’ll try anyway. I met Hannah at Aloke shows. We really hit it off. There was an undeniable magic between us, so when she invited me to join her at an artist commune in Crete, Greece, I decided to get out of New York for the summer and see what happened. The artist residency was run by Andrew Wessen’s older brother and his friend Tasos. Simultaneously, Aloke fell apart. Our drummer left, and I was away, so when we got home 10 weeks later, Hannah and I started singing together. It’s hard to believe now, but Hannah was super shy and nervous about singing with me. But regardless, we played shows with the Aloke bass player and our friend Jimmy tap dancing as the percussion. It was fun and experimental and a nice transition after Aloke. We played shows for about a year playing older Aloke songs and new ones we were writing. Sean, who we met in Greece, decided to come out to NYC—he actually opened up some of our shows there. We decided it would be a lot of fun to head out to LA to meet up with everyone from Greece and get the group back together. Hannah and I had all these songs ready to go, and it just so happened Ryan, who was interested in producing, was like, “Why don’t you come over to my house. What you guys got?” And we recorded our songs. That’s what became the EP.
Q: And that’s why you guys call yourselves the “accidental band, ” right?
CZ: Right. When we were recording these songs, we were just doing it for fun … as friends. We had no idea or expectation that this would become a thing.
Q: Where did you guys play your first show?
CZ: Our first show was at El Cid, which is right up the street from here, in Silver Lake. It’s a Mexican restaurant.
Q: Were you nervous? I know you’ve been performing for so long, but as your first time with this group?
CZ: It was kind of remarkable because I’d been performing for so long but was never getting the turnout I’d hoped for. But Grouplove’s first show sold out, so it was very exciting for all of us. We had all been in bands for years, and we had never really gotten that response.
Q: Did you guys have a breakthrough moment for Grouplove, when you guys realized you really had something special—something long term going on?
CZ: I think the breakthrough moment was making the EP. It came together so effortlessly, and we were friends first with no expectations. Once the band started touring, we had a slow, natural progression, so it was hard to notice a breakthrough moment. Even today, it’s hard to realize everything that’s happened. It’s hard to soak it in, but it’s been a very humbling and encouraging journey.
Q: What musicians and bands have you guys had the most fun touring with?
CZ: We’ve been lucky to have met a lot of great people on the road. The members of Manchester Orchestra are probably our closest friends that we’ve met. But Cage the Elephant, Alt-J, Young the Giant, Portugal. The Man, Foster the People are all homies. We’ve been lucky to meet all these great artists and musicians out there on the road. There is a unique bond from living on the road together and understanding the unique lifestyle that we all share.
Q: It seems like you guys really didn’t stop touring from the moment of your first album to your sophomore album, and then you recently just stopped! Did you have any moments where you just wanted to go home and sleep for days, or were you on a high of success?
CZ: Yeah, it was like a high. And we wanted to ride it for as long as it made sense, which is now about four years. We’ve just hit that moment now where we want to be home and relax and recharge our creative batteries, but it was such an unforgettable experience. And it happened progressively; we took each step. It’s not like we went from playing El Cid to The Greek in a year. It was step by step, which is a great, organic way to do it. It was very rewarding in that way, too— just to put in the work and see the results.
Q: What was the craziest thing that happened during a show?
CZ: We played this wild set in Australia, and I somehow jumped off the stage onto a rising hot air balloon. It was pretty out there … a spur of the moment type of thing.
Q: Where does your inspiration for music videos come from? In one, you’re about to be hung, and the one with Kim Jong-Un is interesting because it’s like he’s reimagining how music could possibly make a change for the better. Where do these ideas come from?
CZ: We were so busy with the trajectory of the band taking off that we really put our trust and collaboration with these directors that came into play in the beginning. The first few videos we did were all done by Jordan Bahat, who was an old friend of Ryan’s. He did all the videos for the first album. It was fun to stick with one director, and really evolve together. The next album, we worked with Cameron Duddy. He did all the videos as well. He’s just a really creative dude. He did “I’m With You, ” the Kim Jong-Un video “Ways to Go, ” and “Shark Attack.”
Q: Does it have anything to do with the actual essence of the song, or do you think you leave it open to interpretation?
CZ: It’s all up for interpretation: the lyrics, the meaning, the videos … we never want to define our songs. We always help out with ideas for the video, but a lot of the initial ideas and concepts come from these talented directors.
Q: What has been the most challenging thing about being a professional musician?
CZ: Taking it on as a full-time job. It’s a lot more work than I think people realize, especially for a singer. Hannah and I really have to be careful with our voices, because we go so hard each night, so it’s challenging to still enjoy yourself and take in all the rare experiences you get from being on the road all the time and making sure you can perform your absolute best each night.
Q: What about the most rewarding thing?
CZ: It’s rewarding that I get to go and put my soul out on stage every night with the love of my life and my best friends. It’s really amazing, especially for all of us who’ve been in the game for so long. This isn’t our first rodeo, so it’s really nice that it finally paid off after all these years of hard work.
Q: When you’re not making music, you are…?
CZ: I’m listening to music, drinking coffee, eating all the time, reading books, taking long baths, and constantly writing new songs. I just can’t help myself. I don’t really know how to relax. This is the first time I can take some “me” time in years, so it’s nice to have some quiet time to get to know myself off the road again.
Q: What about your musical inspirations? Who do you look up to?
CZ: My mom and dad first, because they sacrificed a lot for me to become who I am. Musically, Radiohead, Thom Yorke and Neil Young are all big inspirations. I started playing guitar because of Kurt Cobain. Newer bands like Alt-J, Manchester Orchestra and Portugal. The Man are also peers that are inspiring bands because they’re always pushing the envelope. Nicky, our manager, is also a great source of inspiration because he brings an energy to the table that keeps me motivated. It’s all about being around good, creative and positive people, you know? Oh and Hannah, but that’s a given.
Q: Living in LA, what’s your go-to spot?
CZ: There’re so many different places! We come here, to The Muddy Paw, a lot. It’s quiet, which I like. There’s a French place in Echo Park that’s new to us called Taix. This old school neighbor of mine has been going there forever. I love the bar room because it’s nice and cozy with a fireplace. It reminds me of the East Coast. And of course Casita del Campo, which has really great Mexican food and the best chips I’ve ever had. Ever.
Q: What’s your favorite song to play?
CZ: It changes a lot, but on the last tour it was actually a cover of “Baba O’Riley” by The Who. We played it almost every night with Portugal. The Man. It’s a lot of fun to share the stage with other artists that you respect. But for a Grouplove song, I really love playing “Borderlines and Aliens” and definitely “Ways to Go” because live, it just goes off. Chills.
Q: Having recorded and toured in 2013 and continued to tour in 2014, you guys are now on a lengthy hiatus. Do you know for how long?
CZ: Just until we’re ready. There’s no rush right now.
Q: Would you say 2015 has anything big for you guys or are you letting everything resonate?
CZ: We’re just recharging and taking the last four years in. But we’ll be back before you know it. This third album is gonna be magic.