St. Lucia’s Jean-Philip Grobler, originally from South Africa, burst onto the scene early last year with lush, vibrant electro-pop and is poised to gain even more attention in 2013. St. Lucia is in the midst of touring the U.S. so be sure to check out their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/stlucianewyork for all their touring info.
How does the music culture of South Africa compare to New York and the US in general?
I can’t really speak for what it’s like now, because I haven’t been living in South Africa for over 10 years and I’ve become more involved in the music scene over here in the US. In many ways, it’s just like any country. You have super-mainstream poppy music, and then some really cool, forward-thinking bands. I think that what is interesting about the South African scene is that it’s very, very difficult for anyone to make any real money from doing music over there, and so most people aren’t doing it for that reason. Also, there are a lot of different influences in the music, because you have the real African music thing, and then people doing stuff that is more poppy or more Western. The most interesting stuff to me, and it’s rare, is when people aren’t trying to sound like some band from America or the UK, and are rather combining some of the international sound with a more African sound, which is actually quite rare.
You’ve also studied music in England. How did that experience affect your music and lead to where you are now?
England in many ways was a huge learning experience. Pretty much when I left South Africa for the UK, South Africa still didn’t have very fast internet at all and it would take a day or two to download an album, and the Blog thing hadn’t really taken hold yet, so I was completely unaware of a lot of things that were going on in the musical underground. To me, the most alternative/underground band there was Radiohead. So, I went over there and learned about so much other music that I’d never heard of, and realized that the music world is bigger and a lot more diverse than I realized. I think that leaving South Africa also made me fall back in love with African Music, because sometimes when you’re surrounded by something it doesn’t seem as special to you. But then, when you’re surrounded by bands that sound like Bloc Party or Klaxons, African music suddenly sounds incredibly special. What’s interesting, I think, is that for a long time I felt like I was somehow lacking in musical experience because of what I just said, and I somehow had to catch up with everyone else. But, what I’ve come to realize is that’s not true, and can’t ever really be true because I could never listen to and absorb all the amazing music out in the world, and I have a unique perspective because of where I come from and what I’ve experienced.
What is the story behind the name St. Lucia?
I literally took out a map of South Africa, took a pen, closed my eyes, put it on a few places, and I think the 5th try was St. Lucia in KwaZulu Natal. It seemed to tick all the right boxes, so I kept it.
Have you been to the Island before?
I haven’t, but desperately want to go this instant please.
You’re in the midst of a coast to coast US tour, how has that experience been going so far?
It’s been pretty good in general. I feel like this has been the best tour so far in terms of band morale, even though we’ve had some pretty epic moments that could have resulted in disaster that I’m very proud of our team for figuring out. We had one van breakdown which thankfully happened in the Bronx on our way from Boston to Philly, and we took all our instruments and got on a train to Philly, and fortunately the house tech guys had a band and all their gear was left at the venue so we actually had amps and stuff to play through. The other big one was, 2 days later, when we were in Montreal we were leaving our hotel and noticed that one of the wheels of the trailer we were dragging behind us was at an angle. We then spent the whole day trying to fix it, get a new trailer, anything. Eventually we had to take a seat out of the van, put all the gear in the van out of the trailer, and leave the seat and trailer in Montreal and pretty much drive straight to Detroit. Other than that, it’s been great.
Your self-titled EP has an atmospheric feel to it while grounded in accessible electronic pop. What is the biggest inspiration for your sound and music in general?
I get inspired by completely random things. I think the things that inspire me the most are visual, funnily enough. For example, I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki, and they’ve inspired a lot of stuff. I also love going to a book store with a Café and sitting there paging through picture books and interior design books, and that, for some strange reason, really inspires me. I also often come up with ideas while I’m just walking around New York, or anywhere really. It’s quite rare that music inspires me to write my own music, apart from if I get a new instrument or something. For the sound in general, it’s just a combination of all the music I’ve ever loved bubbling up from my subconscious. Anything that seems refreshing at the time to me.
Perhaps one of the catchiest songs of 2012, what inspired your song ‘Closer Than This’?
I wrote that song when I’d just bought my Dave Smith Prophet ’08 in 2008. Pretty much whenever I get a new instrument, the new sound possibilities inspire something. What’s funny is that I spent about 3 or so hours on the song when I came up with it, but at the time it felt completely out of context of what I was doing musically. Then, in 2011, as I was finishing up the St. Lucia EP, I was desperately trying to finish another song when I realized that I had that song lying around, and proceeded to record it from scratch and finish writing the song and mixing it in a day and a half.
Was the September EP your idea or did others come to you with their remixes?
Actually, I think it was Derek Davies from Neon Gold who came up with the idea. We knew that we wanted to release it as a single, and in many ways it seemed obvious to us that we should pair it with some remixes.
What can listeners expect from your first full-length? Will we hear more dance driven beats like ‘September’?
There are definitely some more dancey tracks. I like to think of it as an exploration of the two opposites of what I love in music, the slightly more experimental side, and the melancholy-pop side. So, there’s a good amount of both things.
You’ve traveled the world more than most. Where would you like to go that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
I’d absolutely love to go to India, and I also know that it’s unlikely that we’ll go there as a band, which just increases its’ appeal. I’d love to see the Himalayas.
What are your plans for 2013 and where do you hope to be a year from now?
I think we’re going to be on the road a ton, and I’m going to be working with the band I’m producing, Haerts, for a few weeks at the end of February and March, which is really exciting. I really love being in the studio, and I love working on music that isn’t my own, because it feels like there’s less pressure in a way, but I also just love helping somebody else realize their vision. A year from now I just hope that we can still be doing what we’re doing, and that we’ll be able to travel in a bit more comfort than we are now, or at least have a mechanic on call who can fix our van.