Andrew Wessen was 23 years old and fresh out of college when Grouplove played its first show to about 100 people at a small Mexican restaurant on Los Angeles' Sunset Boulevard. That was about eight years ago, but Wessen says the electro/pop-punk band's relentless schedule of touring and recording has preserved his personality. He's basically still a college student in terms of maturity — or maybe even younger.
"It's like you're stuck in this weird bubble of being a child," he says. "My girlfriend says I'm a baby, just a giant fucking baby. I haven't really, like, matured at all. I feel like the superhero version of my 5-year-old self." It occurs to Wessen that's the secret behind the band's wildly energetic concerts: "Honestly, we go onstage and throw tantrums. That's what we do. I'm kind of realizing that right now."
Speaking to New Times ahead of Grouplove's midday set Saturday, May 5, as part of SunFest in West Palm Beach, Wessen — the group's lead guitarist — says the band is on a rare break. And he sort of forgets how to function in the real world. "I don't know what to do with myself, honestly," he says. "I'm driving with my knees right now and eating a breakfast burrito. I'm world-class at that."
The L.A.-based band is perhaps best known for the radio hit "Tongue Tied," though its three-album catalogue goes much deeper. And they had been hitting the road hard until recently. They supported Imagine Dragons' arena tour in the fall, completed a shorter jag in Australia in the winter, and then retired this spring to the small coastal town of Inverness, California, to write the followup to their most recent studio album, Big Mess (2016). It was an engrossing process in which they'd often begin jamming and recording demos in the afternoon and continue working through the early-morning hours.
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"We were all fired up from all of the touring," Wessen says. "I think that's a good time to hop in the studio or a jam space. We walked away with, like, 20 songs." He describes the new sound as "more like a band playing in a room. It's more like how we are live — like a punk band or a straight-up rock band. On the records, it's sounded like there's a bit more to it, more layers. Now, it's still hooky and there are big songs, but there are no frills. Keyboards were pretty much out the window. It's more like how we are onstage, and we haven't been able to capture that quite right on a record yet."
Grouplove has always come across as a synth-pop group in the studio but performs with the energy, excitement, and loudness of a rock band, complete with a kick-ass light show. Wessen's guitar work draws from the surf and pop-punk of Southern California and emphasizes melodies you can hum or whistle. Indeed, pretty much all of Grouplove's melodic elements are insanely catchy. Hannah Hooper (keyboards) and Christian Zucconi (guitar), who are married, split lead-vocal duties and have a seemingly bottomless reservoir of pop hooks (see "I'm With You" and "Ways to Go").
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"They're psycho," Wessen says. "If you give Christian a guitar and something to get them high — and that can be all-natural — you've never seen people more prolifically write songs. I've seen four or five songs written in one sitting. It's not like every song is genius, but the ratio is pretty legit, and it comes completely naturally for them."
Fans can look for Grouplove's fourth studio album early next year. For his part, Wessen is amazed the band still feels inspired so long after that first show on Sunset Boulevard. He thought that by this point, making and playing music would have become arduous — or that all of the members of Grouplove would have grown up.
"It's crazy that, even eight years in," he says, "we're still fully invested in this."
Grouplove at SunFest 2018. 3:45 to 5:15 p.m. Saturday, May 5, on the JetBlue Stage, on Flagler Drive between Banyan Boulevard and Lakeview Drive, West Palm Beach; sunfest.com. Tickets cost $43 to $81 via completeticketsolutions.com.