Press Photos Courtesy of Marcus Haney, Live Photos by Brett Bean
Matt Benton had the opportunity to interview Andrew Wessen of Grouplove by phone as he was on his way with the band for a short tour around Europe.
Matt Benton: So growing up in LA, what were some of your favorite spots to hangout and surf?
Andrew Wessen: Yeah, I was born right in Topanga Beach and Sunset Mesa and was raised there. Spent a lot of my life driving past Pepperdine even though I didn’t go there, but I went to LMU. My very first memories of surfing are at Topanga or Little Dume. My friend’s dad had a key to Little Dume. Some of my first memories were going down the line were there, and I still have the same feeling when I walk down that beach and the little cove there.
MB: What was it like to combine two of your passions when you scored the surf film “The Westsiders?”
AW: Holy s—, how’d you find that? No one knows that. It was cool being involved with that project, at the time I was 19, so it was like really a big deal and meeting people who were my heroes in the surfing world. Being involved in the project where there were a lot of responsibilities for a 19-year-old in the film, and some of the people working on the film were Mike McCready from Pearl Jam. I can’t think of the others now, but it was weird. One guy was like “I believe you can do it,” and I asked who else was involved, and he was like Mike McCready from Pearl Jam. It was fun, it ended up working out.
They put a lot of hard work into that film, and I don’t know how much it succeeded in the scale that they were hoping, but I think the film is actually a really good in-depth look at the underbelly of surfing and the life behind it. I perceived it as such a one-way life as a kid learning about these guys, and like then you get to know that they were on drugs and dealing with scary upbringings. It’s cool to see a side of surfing that you don’t see every day. Everyone thinks it’s just them out there in their board shorts. They grow up surfing, and that is sort of their outlet for all of the s— they are dealing with. As a kid, it was really eye-opening and inspiring that people who were much older than me and a lot more established than me were relying on me for music. It made me become good at making music on the spot and adapt quickly.
MB: You all have been a band for almost eight years, what have you taken from this experience?
AW: Honestly, I am so grateful that anyone cared at all about what we do, so humbling, This sounds like a cheesy Oscar ceremony speech, but there is so much truth in the fact that when I showed up to play in New York yesterday and the rain was torrential, I watched hundreds of teens who wouldn’t leave, and the security guards were peeling them off because they wanted to see us play. Then later they let the kids back in, and there were a bunch of kids who were watching and singing along, even to the new songs.
Now, Hannah has a baby, and we have just grown as a family. We are like a strange dysfunctional family and still being able to do what we do. It’s incredible, you can learn to rely on people, and they won’t let you down for this many years — it’s really inspiring too. We still do all of our art and all of our merch. We write all of our songs. It’s still this isolated group that controls and produces everything we make, and I am super proud of that, too.
MB: What changed in recording Big Mess compared to the previous records?
AW: Ryan, our drummer, always produces our records. We wanted him to do this record, and also we wanted to try a new outlook and new message. So we went up to Seattle with this guy Bill Eyck, a pretty legendary producer who did a lot of the SubPop, Fleet Foxes, The Shins and bands like that. He creates a really rich and warm sound, everything’s really organic, even though I usually hate that word. We would end up spending two hours to get one guitar sound because he’s insane like a mad chemist.
Ryan’s style is way more run and gun, get caught up in the moment, see where this goes, see where that goes. Throw a mic on that, throw a mic across the room, which is cool to see two different producers at work in very different ways. Just to know there is no absolute truth, like with two legitimate producers at work in completely different ways. To know there isn’t like one way to get the best outcome, like anything in life. There is not one way to get the right outcome. That’s what matters, that you feel something, that it makes you feel something in the end.
MB: What track has the most meaning to you and why?
AW: There’s a couple, I mean, there’s a couple. So Track Four is a song called “Light Me.” It’s a song Christian wrote, and it’s the first time we took a year off, and we sort of weren’t hanging out that much or anything because we hung out for five years straight, like 350 days a year. So we were kinda like done and then we had this like rehearsal because we were going to play this whole show. Then Christian was like, ‘Oh I’ve got this song I want to play you guys,’ and we all sat in the car and he played the song — it was a demo — and we were just like … I don’t know. I was really blown away by it, and I think it’s one of those songs and we all kind of had that feeling where I was like worried. I didn’t even know if we were going to make another record. Not out of bad blood, it just was so much for so long. So much moving around and being in tight spaces. I wasn’t even 100 percent sure we were going to make another record.
So that moment, when they played that song, we had that sort of connected feeling, without saying anything, that it’s on. We’ve gotta do this. And then that was sort of the catalyst to, you know, this whole record, so that one’s special for me. “Welcome to Your Life” is special to me. Ryan wrote that chorus, it’s about Willa, in the shower the day Willa — it’s their baby — the day she was born. And then the song was kind of built around that. And then I wrote a song called “Cannonball” which I get to sing. I haven’t sung on anything since the first record, so that’s really fun for me as well. [Plus I think] it’s going to be one hell of a live song. We haven’t dropped it in the set yet but by L.A. we will. So those three are really special to me; those songs.
MB: Throughout your experience with Grouplove, what has been one of the surreal moments for you?
AW: I mean just about all of it. I mean, honestly, the whole thing is, I mean we met in Greece, and it sounds absurd. I still think about it and the whole arc and the fact that just, this is the one project that all of us didn’t have to try to get noticed. Every other project everyone had been in as musicians had just failed, and you’re like trying to get people to the shows, and you’re like trying to get your music heard, and that’s what you have to do. You’ve gotta hustle. But it’s just a strange, surreal thing with this band that it was just friends making music, and the right people heard it, and it’s just somehow blossomed into this career that I just completely did not expect.
I was 22 years old, and I was just out of college, and I’m so grateful I just got this gift. In the real world, I’m still like a child. I’m just like a little baby, with a beard. That’s cool. The other day we stepped off a plane in Korea and saw all the people waiting in the airport. And I was like, we’re in Korea and people know our music, you know, and watching the whole festival crowd sing along in Korea. I was just like, this is about as far away from home as I could be, and yet people know our band. So I don’t think that’s ever going to be something I’m numb to.
MB: What kind of advice do you have for people pursuing their passion, especially as someone in a creative field?
AW: You have to be open to new experiences. Definitely be open to things coming when you least expect it. I was playing in other bands and I didn’t really foresee — you can’t see the end of the road, obviously. Don’t be closed off to chances and opportunities from people that you might shrug off at first, or it’s a different avenue than you wanted, but take that chance and just go down that road. I don’t know. And also just writing — for musicians, it’s like writing the best songs you can. It’s like you can get teased so much at home and master the craft at home; it’s just being purely dedicated to it. Don’t get caught up in the passing fads. Write what you feel is good and just refine that every day.
You’ve gotta work on it every day. I still write music from home every single day and probably 90 percent of them will never be heard by anybody. I just enjoy writing and the feeling of writing and listening to a song back from the first time that you made, and that’s the feeling that you should have when you’re making your art. It’s just the feeling when you’re totally invested. If it’s just a kind of hobby, for fun, you might want to pick something else. But if you just really believe in it every day, you should fully pursue it. You know what I mean? It’s gotta be something that gets you out of bed in the morning. If it doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning, then I don’t know what to say. But if it does, then you’ve got a good chance.
MB: What kind of show can people expect to come to on this new tour?
AW: It’s going to be a hell of a show. I mean, it’s our third record now, so it’s going to be a mix of the new record and old records, and it’s going to be one hell of a time, dude, I’m telling you. It’s going to be the best tour we’ve ever done, and we’re stoked as a band for this tour and just to share the songs with everybody. If there’s any interest in our band at all, the show delivers, and you will not be disappointed. So it’s definitely worth a night. It’s worth that long drive from Malibu to Hollywood, I promise. And I think few things are. I would say this is one of them.
MB: I noticed that you guys are donating a portion of every ticket on this tour to Charity: Water , what makes this charity special to you all?
AW: I think a few things were tossed around, but it was interesting to us because it was a specific place, and you actually know the place where this well is being built, and you know that it’s going to change a whole community. It’s not just like throwing money at some giant charity and you have no idea where it goes and you don’t get an itemized list. It just seemed like the right move because you see the transformation and you get to know where it went, the people, and it’s not like some far-off, distant thing … it’s something tangible and conscious. And it’s like some of these charities, you’re just like, yeah, here’s all my money, now where the f— did it go? I have no idea. No one does. So it just seemed like a more transparent thing and it seems like such a basic necessity and it just seems like the right thing for us. It’s really exciting. Actually we haven’t started the tour yet so we’ve yet to implement that but it’s really exciting. I’m very excited about that actually.
MB: What artists/records have you been listening to lately?
AW: Honestly this sounds like a huge cop out, but I don’t really listen to that much music. I think about music so much and play music so much and even at home I spend all day in my studio, so when I say I literally don’t listen to music, I’m serious. So I understand that sounds a bit hypocritical, that I’m like, ‘Hey, come to our show, listen to our music’. Of course I get inspired by the bands on tours, you know. I’ve seen their shows, and sort of gotten to know them as people. It would be a lie to say I haven’t been inspired by people. Of course I have. Everyone is. Either by their subconscious or it’s completely something they’re listening to at the moment and they transfer it over.
I guess in my life the Beach Boys were hugely inspiring, and I got to see Brian Wilson at the Hollywood Bowl. Then I grew up listening to a lot of 90s punk music and going to the beach in Malibu, blasting aggressive skate punk and stuff. My brother likes hip-hop and Nirvana and I would steal his records, so basically if I have a bad taste in music, it’s probably because of him. You’re just influenced by your childhood and whoever played you music that caught your attention. Hundreds of people have done that throughout my life. At the present moment, literally I’m a 90-year-old man, so I listen to talk radio. I think my ears are just too blown out at this point. I don’t listen to music softly so if I’m in the car I just like blast it.
Check out Grouplove’s new record “Big Mess” on Spotify: