Grouplove’s Ryan Rabin: strings, sticks and synergy

By ELYSE GLICKMAN (Special to the CCJN)

This past April, at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater, a few hours from the Hollywood Hills home where Ryan Rabin grew up, a crowd of teen and 20-something fans of his band Grouplove cheered rapturously through a set of songs, many culled from their album “Never Trust a Happy Song.” Though drummer Rabin kept the beat and the momentum going through their 90-minute set, he could hardly be considered a background player. In fact he is as compelling and visible as the rest of the band.  New Orleans fans will get to see that for themselves this Sunday evening, October 14, at the House Of Blues when Rabin and Grouplove perform those tracks, along with their summer hit “Tongue Tied” and their current single “Itchin on a Photograph.”

Ryan Rabin, drummer for Grouplove will be featured at the House of Blues this Sunday night, October 14. (Photo by Elyse Glickman)

At the Lobero show this past April, a handful of older concert-goers observed the clean-cut drummer with the big smile. They noted his charismatic stage presence resembled that of his virtuoso guitarist father, Trevor Rabin.

Chances are 30 years ago, they probably witnessed his father bring down the arena as a member of Yes. The elder Rabin helped to transform Yes from a niche art rock curiosity into a mainstream sensation, especially through their 1983 hit, “Owner of  a Lonely Heart.”

Ryan’s energetic mother (and Trevor’s wife of three decades), Shelley,  held up her iPhone to capture the action in real time for her husband.  She explained Trevor wanted to attend the show, but was back home in his studio putting the finishing touches on a soundtrack with a looming deadline.

After the encore song, Shelley took me backstage and introduced me to Ryan. All of the attention is not unlike what his father must have experienced in the mid-1970s as a boy band teen idol with Rabbitt (South Africa’s answer to the Beatles). Ryan appeared calm and self-possessed.

The talented Rabin family of (from left) Trevor, Grouplove member Sean Gadd, Ryan and Shelley Rabin (Photo by Elyse Glickman).

The Rabins are one of pop music’s royal families, but unlike other showier showbiz clans, Trevor Rabin stayed on track by never losing sight of his vision—to make music that transcends trends in a body of work encompassing 40 films. These include the scores for “Armageddon,” “Get Smart,” “National Treasure” and “Remember The Titans.  A point of pride for the older Rabin was that the “Titans” theme also became the celebratory soundtrack to Barak Obama’s acceptance of the presidency on Election Day 2008.  These values, along with a multi-generational work ethic, unyielding family support and business savvy, are things he’s successfully passed on to Ryan.

“My dad did not force me to do anything musical, so I don’t feel his musical past is anything I have to separate myself from,” Ryan said confidently. “Unlike musicians such as Jakob Dylan, who won’t discuss his dad in interviews, my father’s musical path is something I embrace. When I think about how many stages he lived through in his career, I am reminded each success was not something he had sought after.”

Emphasizing his point, Ryan Rabin continued. ”He was dropped from Geffen Records just two weeks after they signed him and he had moved to Los Angeles. Next, out of the blue, he had been invited to this rehearsal with (bassist) Chris Squire and (drummer) Alan White, which became Yes.”

Indeed, the family that plays together stays together.  Even during the 1980s heyday of Yes and Trevor’s transition into film scoring, both parents believed a “take your child to work” day should be a regular occurrence. Trevor still gets a little choked up when he remembers his then pre-school aged son earnestly and gingerly bringing him his guitar on stage for a particular song.

Ryan notes being a witness to music history also taught him to be as open-minded and welcome any professional curve ball that may come along.  Though he had a successful run with a band called The Outline, he decided to return to college to get his degree and have his own time of creativity out of the spotlight as a producer.  But it was a summer retreat in Crete, Greece with a long-time best friend and fellow musician that changed his outlook and redirected him.

Grouplove appearing at the House of Blues on Sunday (Photo by Aaron Farley).

“At the moment the opportunity to form Grouplove happened upon me, I was in a state of mind where I did not want to tour again or be in a collaborative environment,” he continued. “I had been working as a producer for so long that I really thought I was truly thriving in this role. I enjoyed that freedom to exercise that creative objective view. However, a year after my friend (guitarist) Andrew (Wessen,) and I had met the others at an artist’s retreat in Greece that he helped stage, I realized something inspired happened when the five of us came together.  We all concluded this combination of people brought out something special, and we should make a run of it as a band.”

Ryan went on to explain that lot of great ideas and songs came out of those first spontaneous sessions, which in turn prompted him to ask his parents if the kindred spirits he connected with in Crete could hang out and record at the Rabin’s home in Los Angeles, in the virtual shadow of the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign.

As Grouplove transformed from a group of friends experimenting and jamming to a fully viable band, Trevor and Shelby became a second set of parents for the entire group.

“There is something inspired when five people who don’t know each other that well got together in such a way that made us all conclude we should make a run of it as a band,” Ryan affirmed.  “It was that moment of realization that brought the other three back to Los Angeles. Though now we’re constantly out on the road, when we’re not, we’re all living at my parents’ house, which is also a creative home.”

Trevor Rabin traces his son’s self-determination, decision-making skills and level-headedness to the family dynamic and work ethic his own musician-lawyer father Godfrey had established in Johannesburg. He believes it was that legacy which in turn, shaped his own approach to fatherhood—even with a demanding tour schedule.

The film composer believes Ryan literally marched to the beat of his own drum, creating music in Grouplove that is very different from that he created as a member of Yes. The elder Rabin is proud that his son, and Grouplove by extension, have benefited from the creative process and not relied on nepotism to advance their celebrity.

Trevor Rabin, center, recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the ASCAP/Henry Mancini Awards next to his son Ryan of Grouplove. (Photo Elyse Glickman).

“I couldn’t have been more proud of Ryan when he called me from the road with The Outline and told me he wanted to go back to college to get his degree,” Trevor recalled, beaming. “A year after that fateful summer in Greece, he asked if he could have them stay with us to write and record. I said, ‘Why not?,’ thinking it would be just a weekend. It turned into three months, and I could not be prouder of how Ryan continues to build his career. I can also say that his college degree, and the involved (coursework in) Pro Tools, engineering and producing gives him an edge. Furthermore, because I had been doing film scores, and am not involved with the album-and-touring world in the intense way I used to be, I learn something new from him daily through his insights and his being very smart with the business.”

Inspired in part by emerging singles like “Tongue Tied” and Grouplove’s live shows gaining popularity through good reviews and word-of-mouth last year, Trevor Rabin decided to make the bold stride to return to the studio to create the instrumental album “Jacaranda,” which references locations from his youth in South Africa. It also presented him the opportunities to put different musical genres into play instead of “writing to picture,” a structured process where he writes music to specifically pair up with the action taking place in a particular scene.

“Though a lot of artists will say that a new album that’s been a personal labor of love is the best album they have ever done, I truly believe musically this is the best album I have ever done,” Trevor affirmed. “It was so enjoyable because it was so liberating. I put no restrictions, rules or guideline on myself. I just decided to just enjoy making it as an instrumental album. It goes from jazz to rock to bluegrass to classical piano, and ends up being a collection of musical ideas, where each one is like its own world.  With this completed, I hope that it won’t be another 20 years until the next album.”

One of the most fulfilling aspects of “Jacaranda” for both father and son is the creation of the track, “Me and My Boy,” which put a whole new spin on what they have learned from and about each other over the past quarter century.

“Kind of out of nowhere, he decided to do it,” Ryan Rabin recalled. “When I got into the studio with my dad, I started to listen to what he was doing, and it was just mind blowing.  My ears couldn’t even comprehend what was going on. It was so different from anything I had heard him do in the past, and it was an incredible experience to play drums and do everything I could to keep up with him, because a lot of it was so (musically) complicated.”

Father and son Trevor and Ryan Rabin at ASCAP Awards (Photo by Elyse Glickman).

“I really never heard Ryan play challenging jazz-rock stuff. The Grouplove stuff is song-oriented and my material was instrumental.,” concurred Trevor Rabi.n. “However, he took to it like a fish to water. He was really into it.  The name of the track speaks for itself, but I named it after we did the track. As a drummer, he really sorted it all out himself, and I was really quite amazed at what he accomplished.”

Just like his father, Ryan Rabin is an ace multi-tasker. Even with Grouplove’s demanding schedule of performances (including an appearance at the ASCAP/Henry Mancini awards gala honoring his father with a lifetime achievement award), he maintains a group of writing and production partners that go under the name Cap’n Cuts. Among their most recent endeavors are singles for the United Kingdom group Marina and the Diamonds. Even with his ongoing pursuit of projects that may eventually carry him back behind the scenes, and into the studio, he feels he and Grouplove are just scratching the surface of how they can transform the current state of pop music.

“The main thing that makes Grouplove different from any of the bands I played in while I was growing up as well as bands that are out there playing today is that we are all very diverse in terms of our upbringings and backgrounds,” said Rabin.  “What comes along with that is a very eclectic range of musical tastes and styles, and the reality none of us like a lot of the same things, even though there is some overlap.  For the most part, we grew up exposed to different things.  That, coupled with how the band happened upon each other rather than being a group of people who together tried to start a band (in the usual way) creates a unique creative environment. The way every song we do comes together is different every time.”

Grouplove featuring Ryan Rabin performs Sunday, October 14 at the House of Blues, 225 Decatur Street. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Opening act is MS MR with the show starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $18.00. For online tickets, click here or for more information call 504-319-4999.

Share Button