The Intuitive Synthpop Success Story of St. Lucia [Interview]

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St. Lucia makes powerful music that takes you away, carrying you upon nostalgic winds to an idyllic beach of vacations past. It’s a unique sound and at the core of it Jean-Philip Grobler, the main creative driving force for the project, achieves an intuitive aesthetic that draws upon heavy influences from the 80’s. If you love synthpop and indie electronic, then St. Lucia is one of the best things out there.

There is not much like St. Lucia today, it does sound like some of the best music of the 80’s, yet at the same time it’s very forward thinking in its compositions. It’s informed by the past, rocking out in the present, and moving onward and evolving to something better with each release.

With effective songwriting, a commanding vocal presence, and excellent instrumentation, the future is very bright for St. Lucia. Just finishing up touring on their latest album, When the Night, and ready to dive right back into the studio, I got a few moments with Jean-Philip Grobler at Treasure Island Music Festival to talk things past, present, and future with St. Lucia.

What’s new with you and St. Lucia?

We are on tour at the moment. We’re almost half way through our big fall tour. We just did the whole South, Southeast, Southwest, some of the midwest, and the Fonda in LA. Once this tour is over, we will be jumping right into probably recording the next record.

It’s been a year since ‘When the Night’ was released, how do you feel about it now?

I’m really, really proud of the record. But it was finished nearly a year before it even came out, so it’s definitely something that I finished two years ago, and I feel very ready to move on to the next thing. I am still just as proud of it today as I was the day that I finished it!

What are your favorite songs on the album?

It kind of shifts a little bit. Normally, it coincides with what I am playing live at the time. I think ‘Elevate’ is definitely one of them because to me, that song is kind of a statement of intent from myself and for the band. It’s the template in a way.

Then, you know, I love ‘When the Night’ because that was the last song that was written for the album, and it was a very last minute thing, like a week before the album went to mastering, I was like, “I have this song!” and we just did it. It’s one of the most of the fun songs to play live as well. I think it’s a song that not a lot of people know because it’s often people don’t get to the last song on the record.

What is next? How do you see the project evolving?

I feel I naturally evolve as time goes on, and as I listen to and discover new music, and travel to new places and meet people. So, I think it’s going to evolve, it’s probably going to become more open, less just me in the studio doing stuff, like it has been.

More collaborations?

Yeah! More, kind of, working with, bringing other flavors into music, other than just my thing. You know, it’s still going to remain chiefly, mainly my project, but I think there’s a lot that other people can offer, bring to the table, refresh the whole thing.

How would you describe succinctly St. Lucia to a potential fan?

It would depend on what kind of person that person was. I would say, it’s very lush, I guess, influenced by the 80’s. It’s quite joyful in general but it also has a juxtaposition of somewhat sad, darker emotions. Yeah, I think that’s the toughest question to ask me because obviously I want to describe it in all these different words.

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Of course! Of course, but you got at the essence of it!

The 80’s clearly had quite the powerful impact on you as a person and as an artist. Was it a beautiful, happy childhood or why does 80’s music influence so much?

I think I had a pretty happy, good childhood. I grew up in the 80’s, I was born in ‘83. So, I think just the fact those early formative years were during the 80’s, that music took a hold of my consciousness. There were times when I became a teenager and started listening to like alt rock and stuff like that, I was like “Oh, the 80’s were like the worst thing ever!” because those two aesthetics are so different. One talks about being aggressive, being sad or angry or something. The 80’s was about celebrating, doing all this stuff like that. Then there came a point, around 2008, where it just felt like all the music coming out that was being critically lauded was, even though I enjoyed a lot of the music, a lot of it felt very alienating in a way. The point of it, the stuff that was most critically lauded was the most alienating music. I just started feeling a little stuck trying to make that kind of music and it didn’t feel natural to me, so I started to gradually go back listening to the music I listened to as a kid that was my earliest influences, and that felt really refreshing. It gradually started to inform the music I was making and that turned into St. Lucia.

How has the tour been? Any memorable highlights?

This is our first bus tour. Basically we’ve been touring in a van for years up until now, and being on a bus, it is not always easy sleeping on a bus because it’s constantly shaking and moving, but you wake up in the city that you are at. We basically get a full free day to do whatever we want and have a little soundcheck, which is great.

On this tour, there have not been that many crazy things that have happened. On our last headline tour, we had this moment where we’re in Minneapolis playing on the coldest day in a hundred years, it was minus 40 or something. We arrived at the hotel after the show and the hotel was half an hour away at the airport, and we took everyone’s suitcases out and our drummer couldn’t find his suitcase! So we kept looking for it and then after some deliberation we realized that we traveled the whole thirty minutes with a completely open trailer. No one had closed the trailer because it was so cold no one wanted to go outside, so we’d just completely forgotten. The only thing we lost was like his suitcase, and one of my smaller bags. He went without fresh clothes for like weeks.

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Who, aside from you, should we be listening to right now?

Some of my favorite recent records, I really love the new Lykke Li album. The new Caribou record is amazing. I really, really like Jungle; we’ve hung out with the Jungle guys a bunch, they’re really, really nice.

What are some of your core artistic values? Is there a St. Lucia philosophy?

I guess so. I don’t live my life or make art or music from a specific philosophy, but generally for me I try to be as unjudgemental of the initial ideas that I come up with. To they are almost, it sounds kind of corny, you are giving birth to a little child. The best thing to do is let it do its thing for a little while, help it along, only to to really start making judgement calls later on in the process, when you’re like, “Okay, what’s going to be on the album?”

So, I like to be very open about things, intuitive in the way that I do things. I always feel like that way I’m going to come up, and to me it does feel this way, that way I come up with more interesting things rather than I’m going to a write a this song or write a that song. I’m always a bit surprised by what comes out. It’s more exciting that way!

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What are some parting words of wisdom for aspiring musicians?

I’d almost say what I just said in a way. The best thing to do, and the biggest thing that I see with people who struggle to be creative is that they are judging themselves to much, they are blocking their flow too early on. I would say, just trust your instincts, trust your intuition, and go with that rather than being too conscious in the process and hopefully that works.

I bet you get this all the time, but where did name St. Lucia come from?

There are a whole bunch of St. Lucia’s all around the world, there’s Australia, here in Big Sur, St. Lucia Mountains, but I grew up in South Africa and there was this coastal town, coastal area called St. Lucia that I used to go to on vacation as a kid sometimes. When I was trying to come up with a name for weeks I couldn’t come up with anything and then one day I just took a map of South Africa, and I was just going to try this, took a pen, closed my eyes, put it down on the map and the fifth try was St. Lucia. The moment I hit that, it was like, “Oh my god!” Everything just made sense. I love the idea that whenever anybody thinks of the place St. Lucia, it will bring up something exotic, somewhere where they maybe have nostalgic memories, somewhere where they have escaped to or can escape to and in a way that’s almost the mission statement of the music, that becomes what the music is, the place. So I always think about that when I’m making music, those tied together.

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Photo Credits:
Noise Pop
Josh Withers
Mike Rosati Photography