Groupthink believes in pop music’s power to push people to become their best selves.“If you make music, you have a line into people's emotions,” he says. “It’s about doing something that makes people feel like it’s possible to do what they want to do—to listen to themselves.” The North Carolina-born artist’s latest EP, Guilty Pleasure, is a vibrant, emotional record powered by the joy of finding your place in the world. Pairing vulnerable lyrics with head-spinning instrumentals and punk-inflected energy, he comes to terms with a lifelong desire to be liked—and reaches out to other people who feel the same.
Every time Groupthink sits down to craft a new song, he allows himself to sing whatever he needs to get off his chest. “It’s about getting over the shame of trying to get other people’s attention and connect with other people,” he says. “It’s getting connected to the process of it and finding the pleasure or joy of just singing.” As he puts it in the first lines of the synth-fueled “Guilty Pleasure”: “I don’t want no money, yeah, I’m just singing this to you.” He’s held fast to this pure understanding of the purpose of art since he was a kid.
Growing up in North Carolina, Groupthink gravitated toward self-expression. He banged on pots and pans as a toddler, and he often was transfixed by movie soundtracks, but his upbringing wasn’t all storybook. He nearly died from pneumonia at two and he was just a preteen when he lost his father. Rather than get bitter, he let the tragedies mold his outlook on life. "It was just like an angel watching out for me,” he says. “And I felt blessed to be alive, so I felt like I just owed it to the world to try."
He channeled his feelings into poetry at first, earning a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, where he soon tried to find his voice as a musician. After six months of playing in private, he auditioned for the music school at the university. “I was, by far, the worst person in the class, so I literally cried,” he recalls. “One day, I showed the class a song that I wrote. I played piano and sang, and I realized that maybe my gift is making songs for people to enjoy.”
After school, he moved to Chicago. He didn’t give up on mastering the technical aspects of producing—working as an audio engineer on top of his day job in advertising—while he continued to grow as a songwriter. As he thought about how to push his music, he thought about the boundary-pushing artists he grew up listening to like MGMT, Daft Punk, and Jai Paul. He especially admired their abilities to transcend barriers and contribute to cultural moments larger than the music itself. “Music is a vehicle for spreading and shifting culture, and that's a big part of why I do it, but it doesn’t stop at the music,” he says.
Guilty Pleasure is the result of his years of studying his craft and contemplating the future—as a result, his songs are intense and intricate in a way that feels unique. The three-track project is a raw glimpse at the fleeting impulses of youth and reckless romance. He has a knack for simple, yet evocative lyrics—like the crushing depiction on “Sex Is a Sport” of “real tears in my eyes, real fear in my mind—but he also adds color to the tracks through vibrant alt-pop production, and provocative music videos, which he directed himself for the shimmering title track and the percussive, bratty “Me and Your Boyfriend.”
Come September, he will take the universal messages and memorable melodies on the road to connect with his blooming fan base even more profoundly as the opener for KennyHoopla, his former roommate in Wisconsin, on the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour. As he travels, he hopes to leave a lasting mark, literally. “I'll make a song with the same chords five times,” he says. “That’s not as important to me as having really meaningful lyrics that someone would get tattooed.” He’s on the precipice of achieving that very goal, reaching ears around the world with relatable songs that cut to the bone.