Grooblen eerily throws impromptu, nightmarish dinner parties.
The San Francisco cabaret psych-punk trio of Ellie Stokes (vocals, guitar, piano, synth), Jack Stancik (bass) and William Stokes (drums) celebrates creepy plastic cuisine, nervous guests and ghoulish mannequin hosts in their new immersive 360 video for “Neuroplasticity.”
“It’s all kind of weird CGI people, and you turn around and someone has a plate of eyeballs,” said Ellie Stokes about the interactive video. “The detail in it is amazing, and one guy sitting down has motor legs, and he keeps moving. You’re forced to look at people and figure out what’s going on in their heads.”
One step inside the “Neuroplasticity” characters’ collective headspace reveals the innovative mindset of Honeymoon Supply Co. Grooblen collaborated with the Los Angeles-based visual artist to direct and create the stunning video.
“I told her to include some stuff, but for the most part, it was just her and how she perceived the song,” said Ellie Stokes. “She was like, ‘Well, what about a dinner party?’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that would be so cool, and what if you included some creepy dish that could be misinterpreted?’”
Throughout the David Lynch-esque video, a pair of guests anxiously determines whether to sample eyeball appetizers, bloody cocktails and emerald gelatin molds. Their spooky hosts quietly observe as floors move below and flames erupt overhead.
“She was looking for creative projects, and it took her about a week to put it together,” said Ellie Stokes. “I love that kind of stuff, and I’m excited to put it out there.”
The video also perfectly reflects the spooky, haunting imagery depicted in Grooblen’s “Neuroplasticity” single, which spotlights the human brain and body’s resilience to heal and adapt from past traumas.
“‘Neuroplasticity’ is about how everything can change in a second and how our brains and bodies are so interlinked,” said Ellie Stokes, who was diagnosed with a rare optic nerve condition in 2020, but has since recovered.
“I wrote it from the perspective of the nerve in my brain telling me what was going on. It’s digging deep into this new part of myself that I hadn’t really thought about before.”
For Grooblen’s “Neuroplasticity,” Ellie Stokes looks inward for health-related answers as ominous bass, cautious drums, shaky cymbals, frightful electric guitar and ghostly synth tiptoe alongside her.
The jazzy, lounge-style track slithers to and fro as she sings, “I can choose what you remember/I can choose what you forget/You may move me now or never/I am smaller than a speck.”
“The lyrics can be perceived as scary and threatening, but also perceived as helpful and kind. That’s how I was feeling at the time with both sides of the brain,” said Ellie Stokes, who took experimental medication to treat her former optic nerve condition.
“I felt like it was really good for me, but it also felt like it was really bad for me … it’s almost like a Jekyll and Hyde kind of song.”
One of Four
“Neuroplasticity” also serves as one of the latest singles from Grooblen’s cerebral, multifaceted debut album, One of Four. It vividly chronicles Ellie Stokes’ diagnosis and recovery from a rare optic nerve condition in her left eye.
During the early days of the pandemic lockdown, she experienced double vision and learned the condition was caused by the coincidental collision of an optic nerve and an artery.
“There was no trauma that could have contributed to it. When I went to see my doctor, I got an MRI scan, and then I got called in again. In my case, it was a specific kind of nerve and artery that don’t usually touch that were touching,” said Ellie Stokes.
“In the medical records of people having it, my doctor was like, ‘You’re one of four people in the world that basically have this from what we can tell.’ I basically became a lab rat, and it was COVID anyway.”
Under her doctor’s care, Ellie Stokes briefly took trial medication to treat her condition. Luckily, her vision corrected itself a few months later.
“The medication didn’t actually end up working, it just kind of made me feel like I was going insane,” said Ellie Stokes, who experienced mood swings, vivid dreams and other side effects while taking the medication.
“Some of the songs on that album were written during that time, too. It was kind of looking back and saying, ‘Well, I was in a totally different mental state, but I was also on this medication that was making me depressed, and I’m not a depressed person.’”
Throughout One of Four, Ellie Stokes encounters two distinct paths along her lucid journey of recovery. The album’s “diagnosis” section spotlights gecko companions, carnivorous plants and mind-bending spiders while the “solution” section explores alien brains, injured dogs and devious puppets.
“That was coming up a lot when I was writing the album,” she said. “Originally, I was like, ‘What if it’s a concept album? This whole idea … I could add this whole level of mysticism to it.’”
Geckos, Plants and Dogs
Grooblen brings a refreshing level of mysticism to One of Four, which blends timeless flavors of jazz, psych-rock, pop, soul, punk and cabaret with indie singer-songwriter sensibilities and metaphysical instrumentation. It’s a lush, spellbinding 30-minute sonic journey across nine insightful tracks.
One of the album’s most captivating tacks includes “Me & The Gal Twogs,” a dreamy friendship ode to Ellie Stokes’ late gecko, Twiggy.
Ethereal electric guitar, pounding drums, clanging cymbals, eager bass and whimsical synth echo their lasting connection as she sings, “When I look in your eyes/When I look in your eyes/When I look in your eyes and see tiny galaxies/When you look in my eyes/When you look in my eyes/When you look in my eyes, you can’t compare/Cuz only one is there.”
“I had a leopard gecko, Twiggy, for the longest time, and I used to call her Twogs. I’d spend hours lying down in the living room because that’s all I could do. Whenever I stood up, I got vertigo. I had a clear view of her terrarium in the corner of my eye, and I’d watch her all day,” said Ellie Stokes, whose band moniker comes from a childhood nickname her father gave her.
“Around the same time my eye thing happened, one of her eyes just closed shut and stayed like that for the rest of her life. One of her feet also burned off randomly, we don’t know how.”
After commemorating her late reptilian companion, Ellie Stokes develops a deep fascination with carnivorous plants, including sundews, on Grooblen’s “Dinosaur Plant.”
Twirling acoustic guitar, airy electric guitar, curious bass, bold synth, light drums and glistening cymbals echo her enthrallment as she sings, “The other day I went to a carnivorous plant nursery/They had drosera capensis and round-leaved sundews/And even though they didn’t have physical eyes that could stare at me/I was feeling stared-through.”
“They have this big carnivorous plant nursery in Half Moon Bay … and I would just spend time going and looking at them. I’ve always had a fascination with prehistoric plants, and they’re like little monsters,” said Ellie Stokes.
“When I was writing ‘Dinosaur Plant,’ it felt like there was something happening that was going to make me a better person in a way and that would lead me to a different kind of self-discovery. It also came across as really scary, kinda like a Venus flytrap.”
Ellie Stokes also confronts scary visions in the hallucinatory, nocturnal Grooblen tale, “R.E.M. Dog,” which fuses worrisome electric guitar, frantic bass, thumping drums, crashing cymbals and sinister synth into a sonic omen.
Images of mascot eyeball costumes and dogs with missing paws wreak havoc during the deepest hours of sleep. She sings, “Dreamin’ days into night/And believin’ that everything’s fine/‘Til my mind/My mind catches up in the nighttime.”
“Both verses of that song are two dreams that I had while I was on the medication. I was on a reality TV show in the dream, and I was in a house with a bunch of people. A villainous person in an eyeball mascot costume would chase you,” said Ellie Stokes, who’s influenced by Fiona Apple, Matthew “Shark” Shartsis and Danny Elfman.
“I had another dream that I was in the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland with my mom … and we heard this yapping. I looked next to me and there was a rock with a paw underneath it. And I chopped it, and it was bleeding. Then, I rolled the rock over, and it was my family’s old dog.”
Ellie Stokes captured those surreal experiences while writing and recording the nine tracks for One of Four. She expanded them sonically with producer Ken Stringfellow, Jack Stancik, brother William Stokes, trumpeter Arin Vasquez and Matthew “Shark” Shartsis from March to September 2021.
“The way they took what I wrote and based it on their own music tastes … and the way they played their instruments, they shaped it to be something different,” said Ellie Stokes.
“And it was perfect. It was exactly what I wanted in my head, and I’m so glad it was them. If it was anybody else, then it would have been totally different.”
Looking ahead, Grooblen will perform Saturday, July 9 at San Francisco’s El Rio to celebrate Psyched Radio’s one-year anniversary. They also will record new material later this summer and embark on another tour this fall.
“I have a whole second album written and ready to go, like 10 or 11 tracks. But I’d really like to put out an EP of some of the songs that might be on that album. I’m looking to record a few of the songs from that in July or August,” said Ellie Stokes.
“As a band, we have a lot of shows coming up still around here. We’re playing some new places that we’ve never played before, and we’re going on tour again in November. It’s gonna be really fun … I’m mostly gearing up for that.”