They're a brand new band, but Grouplove has been getting around.
The Los Angeles-based buzz band is flying straight from a series of shows in Australia to make its gig this weekend at Chicago's Tomorrow Never Knows festival, an annual multi-venue concert series of forward-thinking rock and pop bands. In another couple of weeks, Grouplove will be playing a festival in Switzerland, followed by weeks of club dates across the U.K. Then they're back on these shores, opening for Young the Giant down the East Coast, across the South and up the West Coast.
"That takes us through April, I think," says a cheerful but jet-lagged Christian Zucconi, one of the band's two singers.
This is a band with well-stamped passports. They formed on the island of Crete.
TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS FESTIVAL
• When: Wednesday through Sunday
• Where: Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln; Metro, 3730 N. Clark; Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark; and Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia
• Tickets: Prices vary, most shows around $15 each, or five-day passes for $100.
• Info: TNKfest.com
"We played Tasmania on New Year's Eve, another show outside Melbourne," Zucconi said from the band's stop in Brisbane, Australia. "We show up on Australia, it's a day ahead, and people are really into what we're doing. They're singing along, the radio is playing us. It's surreal and awesome."
Supporting "Never Trust a Happy Song," the band's debut full-length released in September via Canvasback/Atlantic, Grouplove quickly landed on festival bills before huge crowds -- including last August in a noon slot in the baking sun at Lollapalooza.
"It was super-hot, 100-something degrees," Zucconi said. "A physically hard show, but so cool to be playing this festival when you've grown up with it all your life."
They also played a Lollapalooza after-show at Lincoln Hall, where they return this weekend with considerably greater momentum.
The quintet -- singer-guitarist Zucconi, singer-keyboardist Hannah Hooper, singer-guitarist Andrew Wessen, bassist Sean Gadd and drummer Ryan Rabin (son of former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin) -- may advise suspicion of happy songs, but the sheer joy in their performances and recordings is difficult to deny. Grouplove makes a big racket, but one that's artfully arranged. Their melodies grind with grit and still manage to bounce. Lovers of new wave dance-rock and '60s psychedelics alike find plenty to embrace in their Arcade Fire-meets-Poi Dog Pondering formulas.
"Oddly, the joy came across from us as our songs actually were getting darker," Zucconi said. "It's interesting that people respond in such a happy way. We tend to move around a lot, and our shows become a real celebration. People in general sit around a type all day, so when we give them this thing where they can jump around and sing along, it seems like this joyous release. But things are deeper than the surface. It's like certain Beatles or Beach Boys songs -- the sound is blissful and happy but the lyrical content might be very dark."
The album title was first suggested in Greece, which takes us back to the band's idyllic beginnings at an artists colony in the Mediterranean.
"Hannah was in New York painting. She'd never been in a band before this," Zucconi explained. "She was visited in Chinatown by a guy who happened to be Andrew's older brother, a friend of a friend who wanted to see her work. One of her paintings, 'Redondo Beach,' became the cover art for the Morning Benders' 'Big Echo' album, and he was taken by that. He mentioned he was putting together this artists' residency for the first time with a Greek friend of his. They had this property. It was very experimental. Would she like to come? We'd just met, and she invited me along.
"In turn, we met everyone in the band there. Andrew came because his brother was putting it on. The residency ended with a festival, and Sean came because his best friend was playing in it. Ryan was friends with Andrew, and he'd been studying abroad in the Czech Republic. Andrew said, 'Hey, there's this weird hippie commune thing, come out before you go home.' We all just sort of found each other there, literally meeting over a campfire. We were supposed to be working on our art, so every Friday we would share what we'd been doing. We would play guitar, pass it around. Hannah was drawing everyone. I had 'Colours' written then [from 'Never Trust a Happy Song'], and I wrote 'Don't Say Oh Well' [from the band's self-titled EP]."
A year later, the group began hanging out again in Los Angeles. The songs came back out. A recorder was switched on. A band took shape.
"This group dynamic we have, on stage and in the writing, came into formation based on that sharing experience," Zucconi said. "Besides Hannah, we've all been in bands before, but this is different. It's more democratic, more in-house, very communal."
With buoyant, bristling songs like "Naked Kids" (celebrating the simple joy of skinny dipping), "Love Will Save Your Soul" and "Get Giddy," is Grouplove a bunch of 21st-century hippies?
Zucconi chuckles. "That word was used on the island. There's no new word for communal living and art. I don't know what 'hippie' means anymore. If it means how much fun we're having and how much we like each other, OK."
Grouplove performs on a bill with Hospitality; 1, 2, 3; and Kid Color at 9 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln. Sold out.
Also at TNK 2012
The TNK fest runs Wednesday through Sunday at five venues: Schubas, Lincoln Hall, Metro, Smart Bar and the Hideout and features more than 70 artists. For a complete lineup and schedule, visit TNKfest.com.
Here are five other acts worth checking out during the festival:
Active Child features one of the most intriguing singers you're likely to hear in indie-rock this year, Pat Grossi, whose frequent falsetto soars and swoops through spindly arrangements. 8 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln. $15, lincolnhallchicago.com.
Chairlift has suffered its "Bruises" since its 2008 iPod commercial unveiling, and now down to a duo they're readying a major-label debut later this year. 9 p.m. Saturday at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport. $15, scubas.com.
Hospitality brings its "Friends of Friends" and loads of Brooklyn hipster cred to the festival, but don't let that deter you from its sweetly tuned, earthy pop. Opening for Grouplove above.
The Walkmen, taking a break from recording the follow-up to 2010's fine "Lisbon" album, will be celebrating their 10th anniversary at this show. 9 p.m. Saturday at Metro, 3730 N. Clark. Sold out.
White Mystery is still one of our favorite local bands, crunching out great garage rock and banging two heads of righteous red hair. 9 p.m. Sunday at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport. $15, schubas.com.