Shaky Knees Presents

Grouplove

With Natalie Prass

Saturday, May 4
11:00PM doors / 11:45PM show
18 and Over
  • Price$25
TICKETS

Grouplove

Turns out that a big mess can actually be a good thing. In the case of Grouplove's third studio album, Big Mess refers not only to a lyric in the buoyant lead single "Welcome To Your Life," but also to the situation in which they found themselves when they got off the road following 2013's Spreading Rumours. For the first time since releasing their breakthrough 2011 debut, Never Trust A Happy Song, Grouplove were back in Los Angeles indefinitely, with a lot of catching up to do. "We got off tour and realized we had been completely neglecting normal life," says singer and keyboard player Hannah Hooper. "We were out of touch with friends and family, our house looked like we were hoarders -- it was like an explosion of so much at once." In the midst of it all, Hooper and Grouplove singer/guitarist Christian Zucconi, who have been a couple since the band's inception, found out they were going to have a baby. Like the true pair of artists they are, Zucconi and Hooper viewed the chaos as an opportunity to be creative. "We felt so out of control. Instead of trying to deal with the mess, we just started writing," Hooper explains. "We had so many songs come out of that, and Big Mess is a collection of our favorites." The album's opening track, "Welcome To Your Life," was one of close to forty songs that began in that messy moment. Hooper recorded the hook -- "we're back in business, you're such a big mess, and I love you" -- on her laptop, but the rest of the tune took awhile to come into focus. Months later, on the same day that Hooper went into labor, the joyfully defiant chorus came to Rabin in the shower, like a bolt from the blue. Says Rabin: "I showed them the idea and when we put those two parts together, they fit perfectly, both lyrically and melodically. It almost felt a bit fated." There has been the tinge of fate to Grouplove since the beginning, when its five original members met at an arts colony on the island of Crete and formed such an immediately comfortable bond -- both personally and musically -- that they started the band upon their return to LA in 2010. Though Sean Gadd left Grouplove amicably in 2014, new bassist Daniel Gleason says he connected to the familial spirit of the band right away. Describing the vibe in the studio during sessions for Big Mess, Gleason says: "It was really open and honest. I've never been a part of an environment where everyone was willing to be so selfless if it made the song better. The lack of pride or ego allows the best ideas to drift to the top, and that's rare, but I think that's what makes the band what it is." While those core qualities remain, Grouplove continues to mature on Big Mess, which demonstrates their ever sharper instincts as songwriters and their growing ability to make a bright, bold, genre-defying sound that is entirely their own. The band members say they feel most inspired when they're collaborating on new ideas with a completely open mind. "What influences us the most is each other," says Zucconi. "Even a song you that think might come out a certain way will be completely reimagined by someone like Andrew or Ryan or Dan, because their tastes and inclinations are so different." "It's always been sort of a rule for us is that we want the writing process and studio process to be spontaneous," says drummer Ryan Rabin, who has been Grouplove's in-house producer since their earliest recordings -- tracks including their platinum-certified 2011 single "Tongue- Tied," as well as alternative radio mainstays "Colours" and "Ways To Go." (As part of production team Captain Cuts, Rabin has also produced and/or written tracks for Tove Lo and Jennifer Lopez, among others.) "Most of our best stuff has come from letting the song dictate the moment rather than forcing it into some preconceived sonic space," says Rabin. "We've stuck to that process because we're in love with that spontaneity." Rabin's recording technique -- "using the studio as a writing instrument, to elevate the song to where it couldn't have gone otherwise" -- serves Grouplove perfectly on Big Mess tracks including "Welcome To Your Life" and the anthemic "Do You Love Someone?," among others. But the band also wanted to challenge themselves on this album by working with someone new, and they found the ideal partner in Phil Ek, who produced five Big Mess tracks and whose approach in the studio is the polar opposite of Rabin's. Among indie rock's most beloved producers, Ek has worked on albums by Band of Horses, The Shins, Built To Spill and Father John Misty. "Built To Spill's Keep It Like A Secret -- when that record came out, it hit me so hard," says Zucconi. "And since then I've been a fan of his work. I love the sounds he gets." The band previously teamed with Ek to record a song for the soundtrack to Paper Towns, and embraced the opportunity to return to his Seattle studio. "Few producers care so intimately about every minute sonic element of their production like Phil does," says guitarist Andrew Wessen, "and it shows in the warmth of his tones and the organic clarity of the soundscapes." "It was fun to explore stuff with Phil that we hadn't done with Ryan," says Zucconi. "Phil is really known for his guitar tones, and he'd spend hours getting the right tone. We started calling it 'Tone Questing.' It became a running joke in the studio. We even bought tunics and swords and made Phil wear a cape, and got a chainmail shirt for his assistant Cameron to wear. We found this really funny, medieval song we'd play while we were killing time to make everyone laugh." Of the songs recorded in Seattle with Ek, Hooper points to "Traumatized" as her favorite. "It has kind of a raw, Nirvana feel to it which I really like," says Hooper, who wrote the song with Zucconi in their LA home. "The lyrics discuss realizing what our parents gave up so we could become what we've become, and how much they've sacrificed," she says. "When you're an artist, you're stuck in this interesting, child-like state, but I wrote that song in a moment of understanding that we were gonna have to pull it together to raise a family." Grouplove unanimously cite the haunting, cathartic "Enlighten Me" as a linchpin moment on the album. Lyrics such as "I don't feel my life is real / I'm on the fence with common sense," capture a sentiment all five members of the band felt a personal connection to, even though the words and song were written by Zucconi. Says Wessen: "This album embodies the headspace that we all collectively share as band mates, as new parents and as human beings. I think these songs have a shared consciousness that we've never been able to capture as a band." "It's a real rare thing, how we came together," says Zucconi, reflecting on what keeps Grouplove's outlook so positive, even after all they've experienced and accomplished. "There was this energy we had all been looking for, for years before we met. And it came together so effortlessly with this group of people. It's still totally there and happens whenever we play shows. The energy is even stronger now. We all bring out the best in each other musically, and it helps me to grow and become a better person, being around the vibe of this band." Big Mess is out September 9 on Canvasback Music/Atlantic.

Natalie Prass

The songs were written, the band was ready, and the studio was booked. Fans and critics alike were eagerly awaiting the follow-up to Natalie Prass's 2015 self-titled breakout album, a collection hailed by NPR as "a majestic debut," but perhaps no one was more eager for record number two than Prass herself. She'd waited what felt like a lifetime to release that first album and then toured the world relentlessly behind it, sharing bills with the likes of Fleet Foxes and The War on Drugs on her way to becoming one of the year's most talked-about artists. By the time recording sessions were scheduled to begin, she was absolutely dying to launch the next chapter, which made what happened next all the more shocking: she scrapped the whole thing. "The record was ready to go, and then the election happened," explains Prass. "I was devastated. It made me question what it means to be a woman in America, whether any of the things I thought were getting better were actually improving, who I am and what I believe in. I knew I would be so upset with myself if I didn't take the opportunity to say some of the things that meant so much to me, so I decided to rewrite the record. I needed to make an album that was going to get me out of my funk, one that would hopefully lift other people out of theirs, too, because that's what music is all about." The result is 'The Future And The Past,' a stunning work of art and a powerful feminist statement from an artist who's only just begun to tap into the full range of her considerable powers. Reuniting Prass with producer and long-time friend Matthew E. White, the album is at once celebratory and defiant, capturing all the joy, frustration, fear and hope inherent in modern womanhood as it synthesizes the influence of everything from vintage gospel and 80's pop to 90's R&B and Brazilian Tropicália. Prass displays a rare gift for transcending time and place in her songwriting, tapping into age-old struggles for autonomy and equality that resonate profoundly in the present. Though she'd been honing her craft and paying her dues for years, Prass first emerged to international acclaim in 2015, when her debut record earned its rightfully rapturous reception. Rolling Stone swooned for the Virginia native's "beguiling voice and refined taste," while Pitchfork praised her album as a "smoldering perspective on passionate romance," and The New Yorker simply called it "timeless." She appeared on the Martin Scorsese-helmed HBO series Vinyl, performed on the BBC's Later... With Jools Holland, and CBS This Morning, and racked up more than ten million streams on Spotify. Before long, she was headlining dates around the world and playing festival stages from Bonnaroo and Rock En Seine to End Of The Road and Forecastle. Once touring for the album had wrapped up, Prass took a stab at writing in new cities with fresh faces, spending time in London, LA, and Nashville, but it only served to reinforce the feeling that she belonged back home in Richmond. There, she holed up with White for intensive creative sessions as she attempted to work through the difficult existential questions she found herself facing in a country that expected women to be seen and not heard. "I went over to his house every single day, and we'd work from 10am to 5pm straight just writing and listening and talking," she explains. "It was very therapeutic for me, and I think it actually helped Matt to understand my point of view as a woman, too." Recorded once again at White's Spacebomb Studios, the album showcases both a new political depth to Prass's songwriting and a bold willingness to follow her muse wherever it leads. While her debut was marked by elaborate horn and string arrangements, 'The Future And The Past' finds Prass stripping her songwriting back to its most essential elements. Groove reigns supreme as she channels Dionne Warwick and Janet Jackson and lets her dazzling vocals dance across funky instrumental arrangements. Album opener "Oh My" sounds like a lost slice of 80's gold, complete with off-kilter Talking Heads-esque guitar, but dig a little deeper and you'll find a song that's pure 2018 as Prass sings, "Seems like every day we're losing when we choose to read the news." Losing's not an option, though, and Prass makes it abundantly clear that women won't even entertain the notion of moving backwards. On "Ain't Nobody" she confidently promises that there "ain't nobody can take this from our hands," while the soulful, swaggering "Sisters" plays out like a mission statement for the entire album, as Prass and a chorus of female backup singers proclaim, "I wanna say it loud / for all the ones held down / we gotta change the plan." "I didn't want to point any fingers, and I didn't want to sound desperate or defeated," she explains. "I wanted to stay positive and joyful. The world's obviously not perfect, but there's nothing we can't do if we love and support each other. It was really important to me that these songs make people feel that way." It's a principle that guides Prass throughout the album, no matter her subject material. On "Short Court Style," she taps into Diana Ross disco and reflects on the bliss a healthy relationship can bring, while the hypnotic "Hot For The Mountain" assures all the outcasts and misfits that they're not alone, and the playful "Never Too Late" conjures up a world where a wish upon a star can bring back lost love. Even in the album's darker moments, like the Karen Carpenter-inspired ballad "Far From You" or the cooing pop gem "Nothing To Say," Prass refuses to let go of her rebelliously optimistic streak. "I will never kneel when power is in fear and aimed upon me," she sings on the South American-influenced "Ship Go Down," adding "no no I am never drowning" in a breathy delivery that's light as a feather and tough as nails. Ultimately, 'The Future And The Past' is a record that's about neither of those things. Instead, it's about womanhood and the modern world and the things we can do right this very moment to make them both better through love and support and camaraderie. The album may have been born out of deep doubt and disappointment, but it insists on faith and optimism, and it succeeds because Prass leads by example, embracing her femininity on her own indomitable terms. "Music's supposed to make you feel better," she reflects, and in that respect alone, she's created a genuine triumph.