Jean-Philip Grobler has been playing in rock bands since he was 10 years old, though that may not be clearly evident considering he’s best known as the mastermind of Brooklyn-based breezy dance pop band St. Lucia. Prior to moving to New York for a jingle-writing job (after schooling in Liverpool), the South Africa native went through a stretch of listening to nothing but guitar bands like Interpol. If you find any videos of his previous project, Kites, the influence is obvious.
“I hadn’t found my artistic voice yet and was really intimidated by these other artists that I loved,” Grobler said. “I would become obsessed with an album and everything I made would sound like that that. I was really obsessed with Mew for a while … and I think you could so obviously hear it in those records that I made. With M83 as well.”
Writing jingles for the commercials and other projects expanded his musical tastes by forcing him to write in multiple genres. And after he quit that job, he spent another two years in the studio looking for his own artistic calling. St. Lucia headlines two sold-out shows at the Fillmore and the Independent in San Francisco next week, and Grobler took some time to talk with The Bay Bridged about St. Lucia’s sophomore album, Matter, meeting change head-on, and learning to love his earlier influences.
On his mom being the first person in South Africa to see the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video:
“My mom was a documentary filmmaker and she was involved in television for many, many years. She worked at one of the television networks and had to view content to see if (the network) was going to ban it. … I think everyone loved (the video). This sounds kind of horrible to say. I remember seeing a lot of Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie on TV when I was growing up, and I think the unfortunate reason for that is because their skin was a little bit lighter.”
On early musical influences:
“I realized that something I was doing was stopping some of the less cool influences from coming through. If something sounded like Phil Collins, I would say that was uncool. It was the height of the Pitchfork way of thinking. It came to a point where I decided if I really wanted to make music that was true to myself, I need to allow all my different influences out. That’s what St. Lucia came out of.”
On embracing other musical impulses Grobler previously detested:
“Something that I found really annoying until recently is trap high hats, that are, like, frrrrrthththththt. I found that to be such an annoying novelty thing. But there were a couple of points on this album where I thought, ‘Maybe we should put trap hats at this point, because maybe it will be new and fresh.”
On whether Brooklyn, where Grobler has lived with his wife (and St. Lucia keyboardist) Patti Beranek for six years, is now home:
“That home question is one of the most difficult questions for me to answer. I do feel very at-home in New York and I feel like my adult self. When I go home (to South Africa) I feel like my child self. But this is where Patti and I have our apartment. She’s originally from Germany so this isn’t her original home, either. We’ve toyed with the idea of maybe moving to L.A. or Nashville, or somewhere different. But every time we go and look at places, we keep being pulled back to New York. There’s something about the rub of this city. You’re dealing with the cold, and you’re dealing with the fact it’s too hot, and then you’re dealing with the rent going up. But there’s something about that that’s a leveler for people here. You can look from someone across from you in the subway and no matter their walk of life, you’re both sitting in a shitty subway.”
On Grobler’s writing style on Matter.
“They (the songs) are things that I experienced but they don’t go into so much detail that you can picture the specific scene. They’re things I like to think people can relate to. I write these things and the words kind of fit in some way with the mood of the song, or they juxtapose the mood of the song. It’s only after looking back at the lyrics, a few months down the line, that I suddenly realize what it’s about. It’s like a weird therapy process.”
On the meaning of the new album’s name (which Beranek titled after Grobler could not summarize the work):
“The meaning of that word just struck a such a chord with all the lyrics I had been writing; all the ideas. Matter is what we are all made of, it’s the deepest parts of ourselves. And it’s the things that matter. I liked how all the meanings of the word work to describe the album.”
Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.