Grouper is the solo project of musician and artist Liz Harris. After releasing material independently beginning in 2005, Harris released the critically acclaimed Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (2008), followed by four more records, including a two-part concept album, A I A. Her tenth studio album, Ruins, was released on October 31, 2014.
Harris' music, described as "ethereal" and "hazy," often consists of guitar layered with vocals and tape loops. She has collaborated with a number of other artists, including Xiu Xiu, Tiny Vipers, Lawrence English, and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. She resides on the Oregon Coast.
Harris was born in Northern California and grew up around the San Francisco Bay area and in Oregon. Liz Harris grew up in a Fourth Way commune in northern California. "An intentional commune" was inspired by the philosophy of Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff. The community was known as "The Group", which would later serve as some inspiration for the moniker Grouper. According to Harris, the kids called each other and the parents 'groupers' sort of as a defiance. She says: "It was us making our own identities inside a pretty controlled environment, and sort of lashing back maybe... When I had to think of a name I felt annoyed at nothing sounding right. I wanted something that referenced me without referencing 'Me.' According to her, she "felt like the music was at its barest just a grouping of sounds, and I was just the grouper.""
Due to her upbringing, Harris didn't receive conventional education because her parents had a different opinion on it, of which she said: "I’m sure that if I’d gone to public school I’d have been thrown into a separate classroom or given Ritalin. Instead I was given a lot of space and time alone to come up with my own methods. Mine allow me to be myself; to be precise, and to relax/remove at the same time... Obsessing on the details, with a zen-like approach.”
After finishing the college, Harris briefly moved to Los Angeles, where she had a gallery job and worked with Mayo Thompson. Harris’ first album was 2005’s Grouper, a self-released full-length CD-R, followed later that year by Way Their Crept on Free Porcupine (re-released in 2007 on Type Records). In 2006 she released a single (He Knows), one album, called Wide, and a collaboration with Xiu Xiu entitled Creepshow. Harris made available new material steadily through the years, and continued to collaborate with various artists such as Roy Montgomery and Xela.
In 2008 she made a breakthrough when she released Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill on Kranky. An AllMusic reviewer Heather Phares praised the album for showing more musical range than Harris' previous work and for "letting more melody, more structured songs, and even a few phrases emerge from the ether." Pitchfork gave it 8.2 stars calling the work "an arresting album of pastoral psychedelic pop".
In 2011, Grouper released an album consisting of two parts: A I A: Dream Loss and A I A: Alien Observer, which was critically acclaimed by Pitchfork, while the latter part was noted for being more accessible of the two discs.
Early in 2012, Grouper performed Violet Replacement in the UK and Europe, a pair of longform tape collage pieces which originally took shape for commissioned performances in New York and Berkeley. Besides, she collaborated with Tiny Vipers to release an album Foreign Body under their common moniker Mirrorring.
At Berlin's Club Transmediale festival in early February 2012 Harris premiered a new work called Circular Veil in collaboration with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Somewhere between an installation and a performance, it found her extending the pastoral drones and warm tape noise of her more concise music outward into seven hours of music, designed to mimic one full sleep cycle. The idea for that performance was seeded during a conversation with friend, composer and sound artist Lawrence English. The pair had collaborated, and he had told her about performances he used to take part in that were specifically designed for people to sleep to. "I'd heard a bit, here and there, about shows that used to happen like that in the nineties but I had already designed this one piece for Berkeley Art Museum specifically to be music you could listen to and fall asleep during." While that piece was only an hour long - a far cry from Circular Veil's full seven hours - the conversation piqued Harris' curiosity enough to attempt something grander in scale. "I ended up thinking about whether or not you could take those sort of tones and spread them out," she explains, "and literally make it something someone would sleep to - the length of an entire sleep cycle.
In 2013, Harris released a compilation album, The Man Who Died in His Boat, consisting of outtakes from the previous several years.
Grouper's newest studio album, titled Ruins, was released on October 31, 2014. The album was slightly different from Harris' previous works, mostly because it was relatively stripped-down and piano-driven. The majority of the album was recorded in Aljezur, Portugal in 2011, while Harris was on a residency set up by Galeria Zé dos Bois. That same year she appeared on The Bug's album providing vocals for the track "Void".
In 2015, Grouper collaborated with an independent filmmaker Paul Clipson on his film Hypnosis Display.
In 2016, Grouper released a 7" entitled 'Paradise Valley'.
During her days as a part of a Fourth Way commune, Harris' primary sources for discovering music were quite limited. With a little help from her parents, whose tastes were eccentric and divergent, she has discovered Eastern European folk and the American avant-pop band Talking Heads. Through her father, who himself was a composer, she would later discover contemporary classical and early music. In 2008, when she released Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, Pitchfork compared it to classic ethereal releases from the British label 4AD, drawing comparisons to Cocteau Twins and early His Name Is Alive. The Portland Mercury described some songs from the album, such as "Wind and Snow" and "Stuck", sonically reminiscent of the Renaissance period composers Gesualdo and Monteverdi.
- Grouper, CD-R (2005)
- Way Their Crept, CD (2005), reissued on 12" Vinyl (2007)
- Wide, CD and 12" Vinyl (2006)
- Cover the Windows and the Walls, 12" Vinyl (2007), reissued on CD and Limited Edition Vinyl (2009)
- Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, CD and 12" Vinyl (2008), reissued on CD and Vinyl by Kranky (2013)
- A I A: Dream Loss and Alien Observer, two 12" Vinyl (2011)
- Violet Replacement (2012)
- The Man Who Died in His Boat (2013)
- Ruins (2014)
- He Knows, CD-R (2006), reissued on 7" Vinyl (2009)
- Tried, 7" Vinyl (2007)
- Hold/Sick, 7" Vinyl (2010)
- Water People, 7" Vinyl (2011)
- Paradise Valley, 7" Vinyl (2016)
- Creepshow, CD and LP. Collaboration with the band Xiu Xiu under the artist name "Xiu Xiu vs. Grouper" (2006)
- Eckords. Collaboration with Jorge Behringer under the artist name "Flash Lights" (2006)
- Visitor, , 10" vinyl. Collaboration with Ilyas Ahmed
- Foreign Body, vinyl and CD. Collaboration with Tiny Vipers under the artist name "Mirrorring" (2012)
- Slow Walkers, vinyl. Collaboration with Lawrence English under the artist name "Slow Walkers" (2013)
- The Event of Your Leaving, vinyl. Collaboration with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma under the artist name "Raum" (2013)
- Felt This Way/Dying All The Time, 7" Vinyl. Collaboration with Jed Bindeman and Scott Simmons under the artist name "Helen" (2013)
- Void and Black Wasp (taken from Angels and Devils and Exit EP), vinyl. Collaboration with The Bug (2014)
- The Original Faces, CD and LP. Collaboration with Jed Bindeman and Scott Simmons under the artist name "Helen" (2015)
- w/Inca Ore, Cassette (2007), reissued on CD and 12" Vinyl (2008)
- w/City Center, 7" Tour Vinyl (2008)
- w/Pumice, 7" Tour Vinyl (2009)
- w/Roy Montgomery, 12" Vinyl (2009)
- Tsuki No Seika: Volume One w/Xela, 7" Vinyl (2009)
- "Tsuki No Seika: Volume One". Boomkat.com. Retrieved 2012-12-31.