Smart, slick, organic, catchy synth pop is a rare bird. But Jean-Philip Grobler has it on lock. His music, which he releases as St. Lucia — sounds like what nightclub in paradise would play. And not Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It's way more angelic than that.
I caught up with him via Skype before his Indy show tonight at Deluxe. Locals Party Lines will open.
NUVO: Yesterday was your 12th anniversary with your wife, who is also in your band, correct? Congratulations!
Jean-Philip Grobler: Yes! Well, it was our 12th relationship anniversary, not our … our actual wedding was just two years ago. So we've only been married for two years, but we've been together for a while.
NUVO: St. Lucia is not your band's name; it's your stage name, and you bring a band with you to create your music. Do you foresee in the future more collaborative studio work with the group of people you're currently touring with? What part do they play in the music writing process?
Grobler: The way that I view the band and the project in general is really open. In my head, it's not strictly my thing. It just so happens that it maybe just feels right when the music is music that I've written. There are songs that I've worked on that are collaboration. For example, the first track on When The Night, “The Night Comes Again,” I wrote that with Garrett [Ienner] who plays guitar in HAERTS. We sort of co-wrote that together. Ross [Clark], the bass guitar player in St. Lucia wrote part of “Elevate,” he wrote the bass line and he has a writing credit on that. Patty, my wife, has written a whole bunch of other parts. For me, it's just if it feels right, then I'm open to a collaboration. But it's never something that I want to force. And I also never want to shut out the possibility of a collaboration.
I think because the first album was written mainly just by me by myself in the studio, alone, before I even knew anybody in the music industry, I feel like it was just me figuring out what I'm doing with my life and music and stuff like that. I think in the future, there will be even more collaboration as a result of me just knowing more musicians and more writers and more people now. For the next album, I'm probably going to work with a producer and co-produce the album with them, because I don't want to lose my mind this time. [laughs] It's just like right up until now, it has been that thing where it has been my project, but it may very well change. And it already has changed in a way.
NUVO: Can we talk about your past in commercial music placement? What did you do before you started with St. Lucia?
Grobler: I've pretty much been doing music my whole life. I was part of this boys choir in South Africa when I was growing up, from when I was like ten. We traveled the world and traveled around South Africa a lot, did a lot of touring. After that, I went to university in England in Liverpool and studied music over there. Once I finished that degree, my best option was to go down to London and try and do something there, or move back to South Africa.
Patty, my wife, her sister was traveling at the time, and ended up in New York, met this guy and started dating him. He was this guy who co-produced and mixed all The Prodigy albums. He was also a partner in this music house, this jingle writing company. I think as a favor to her, he gave me an opportunity to write and do some freelance with them from England. I really liked what they did, so after a few months, they offered to move Patty and I to New York, and then, it was an opportunity that I just could not turn down. Great city, having a full time job in an industry that I wanted to be in. I never aspired to be a jingle writer … but it just felt like a really good opportunity to learn. So, I did that. I did that job for a little over two years, I think. Through the time, my mission was to save up enough time and buy enough equipment that I could leave and keep doing the jingle writing thing freelance, but also make my own music with a bunch of great instruments. So eventually, I did that, when I got burnt out on the whole thing. So I started my own studio, and out of that development process came St. Lucia, over a few years of me being in that studio and working on my stuff and some other stuff.
NUVO: Do you see similarities between a successful pop song and a successful jingle?
Grobler: I think in some senses, there are similarities. It just depends on what your definition of a successful pop song is. There are definitely successful pop songs that are written in a very formulaic way. People get together and they're like, “We're going to write this hit, now.” They write it, it becomes a hit. That definitely happens. I'm more interested in the kind of writing that is from the more intuitive and mystical place, that has more to do with feeling. I like to think of music as something more than just a craft. Songwriting can definitely be a craft, and that's been proven many times. It's like, thinking of it that way is not enough to make me want to spend my whole life doing it, to devote my life and my time to doing a craft.
The interesting thing with jingle writing is that I also took that approach to jingle writing. And I was definitely one of the least successful jingle writers at the music house that I was at. It's kind of a weird thing, because I do think to be a more successful jingle writer, it's good to think of it as a craft, and to think of it just as, you're not trying to make your own personal emotional expression. It's better to just think of, “Okay, what kind of music will not fight with this tampon commercial?” Or whatever commercial you're making the music for. With some writing, I think the music that really sticks around and stays, to me it seems is music that was written from more of a intuitive place, if that makes sense. I do think that the two approaches can be very similar, but to me the more successful examples of pop song writing – at least the pop songs that I love – come from a different place than jingle writing.
NUVO: I know you've served as a producer with HAERTS and have done remixing for several other artists. What new projects do you have cooking that you can tell us about?
Grobler: I always have a bunch of different things. Unfortunately I don't really have enough time to devote to doing another similar thing like HAERTS. The HAERTS thing almost took up as much time for me as it took to make my own album. I was really working on that almost as a band member. It was like a full-on production process, and I just don't really have enough time to devote as much time as I would like to producing someone else's album. What I'm doing at the moment is more, kind of, collaborations with other artists on one track for them. I'm working on something with Alex Metric at the moment. There's a few other collaborations but I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about them. There's a few exciting things coming up.
I'm really devoting a lot of time on working on the next St. Lucia record. I've barely had any time in the studio basically for the last year. I've just had to embrace working on our tour van or bus or wherever we are, using a laptop and stuff like that. I'm doing a lot of writing and making sure I have a lot of material to work from when I eventually do have time to enter the studio, which I think will be after this tour, at the end of this year, beginning of next year.