“I had my moment as a rock star,” says Larry Groupé, who earned his master’s in music from UC San Diego, where he studied with Pauline Oliveros and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Roger Reynolds. “I now equate being on tour with the directions on a bottle of shampoo: lather, rinse, repeat.” When Groupé, a San Diego–based composer/keyboardist chanced to replace his idol Rick Wakeman in Yes, it was like a dream come true. “This is my favorite band. This is the band I grew up with.” He says it was the British prog rockers that inspired him to become a musician. “It was a combination of Yes and hearing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in high school. I was 16, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
The Yes gig came about when Groupé’s agent heard that the band wanted to make a record with an orchestra. Groupé said, “I have got to be that guy.” He had an initial meeting with Yes bassist Chris Squire. “A couple months went by and I didn’t hear anything. I assumed the project died or they went with someone else.” Instead, Groupé was asked to meet the band in a Santa Monica recording studio. He returned home to Oceanside with their demos, and ten days later went back to Santa Monica with his compositions. “We played them back in the booth. It was,” he says, “the most stressful playback in my entire life.”
But Groupé landed the gig and recorded the album Magnification with Yes. He describes conducting Yes with a different orchestra each day in each city on the 2001–2002 Yes Symphonic tour. “I’d get a 90-minute rehearsal, then a dinner break, and then we’d do a three-hour show. We were sight reading over half the music, and if you know Yes, it can be extremely difficult.”
Groupé is perhaps better known as a film composer for movies like Straw Dogs. He describes a long-term director-composer partnership with director Rod Lurie that is not unlike the working arrangements of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, or Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann. Groupé, whose credits go back to the cartoon Ren and Stimpy, has scored nine of Lurie’s films.
Since the early 1990s, the two-time Emmy winner has both lived and worked in Oceanside, a choice of living arrangement that runs counter to the popular notion that music pros must live in New York or Los Angeles. “I go to L.A. for my meetings, recording sessions, screenings, an event, but,” Groupé says, “I don’t have to go there every day.” He says it’s a close enough commute. “Being an hour and 15 minutes away from Hollywood is perfectly okay.”
In early 2014, his music was heard during the Olympics when Canadian figure-skater Kevin Reynolds used four excerpts from Groupé’s 2009 soundtrack for Excelsius. That five-minute edit accompanied Reynolds toward a silver-medal win for his Free Skate routine. “I’m thrilled. But you would think they would send a postcard or something saying, ‘Thanks for the music,’ just so I’d know it was on.” Of the original soundtrack, Groupé says, “It was a huge production we made with the London Philharmonic at the Abbey Road studios.”