At first listen, St. Lucia seems like a band trying to recapture the synth-pop stylings of the ’80s. But after about 10 seconds, this proves to be anything but accurate. This is how Jean-Philip Grobler — the creative force behind the band — wants it to be.
While Grobler admits the group has 1980s synthpop influence, this genre is not his main inspiration from the period. “[It] was a decade where there was this feeling of there being no rules on the kinds of music you could make,” he told The Peak. “And it doesn’t feel like authors were necessarily restraining themselves or holding back. I like to make music that I feel is not limiting myself.”
Grobler’s ethos is made clear throughout the band’s latest release, Matter. “There are a lot of real instruments, obviously there’s a lot of synthesizers, and a lot of layering; and that approach comes from the ’80s.” But that is not the only inspiration that goes into creating their sound. Grobler, having grown up in Apartheid South Africa, has a different musical background to draw upon when creating music.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of variety in the music that was making it into South Africa; we basically were getting the poppiest of pop from all over the world, because anything kind of subversive would kind of be banned by the Apartheid government,” Grobler said. He grew up without a negative view of pop, he says: “I just loved pop music, I loved alternative music, and I loved a lot of different things.
“I also went to this boys’ choir school and going there, we did a lot of African music. I think that influenced me in a lot of ways, definitely rhythmically in a lot of ways, harmonically in a lot of different ways.
“That’s why the music that I make embodies a lot of those different things: embodies pop music but also embodies experimental nonlinear song formats.”
Matter fully embraces these two genres that Grobler describes. The album has the synth-heavy sound that is often associated with ’80s pop music, but this sound is filled out with African influences, creating something that is unique to pop music today.
While this mix of influences is where his sonic inspiration comes from, Grobler doesn’t go into writing a song or album with a specific influence in mind. “As I am writing, different stuff is inspiring me,” he says.
This ability to allow the writing process to unfold lets the St. Lucia sound grow. “For the first record, we were pigeonholed into like this electro-pop, tropical [sound]. People just called us this tropical pop band.” While he didn’t necessarily want to get away from that label, Grobler felt “that’s not all that we are. There’s more to us than just being a happy tropical pop thing.”
For Grobler, the song that captures this departure from this sound is “Rescue Me.” The song didn’t have that tropical, happy feeling, Grobler says: “it feels a little more epic.” The song is true to the St. Lucia sound, but has a feel that is different from their first album When the Night. It is a bigger sound that embraces the major chords and strong rhythms of African music that, as Grobler notes, serve as inspiration for their sound.
Matter still captures the essence of St. Lucia, but shows an evolved sound. Overall, the album is strong; it captures the highly danceable and singable pop sound, but grounds it with a singer-songwriter background.
The sonic profile that is associated with St. Lucia didn’t come about until Grobler moved to Brooklyn. It was living in Williamsburg and being exposed to the hipster culture that allowed him to focus on creating this sound.
“When I first started St. Lucia, it was at a time around 2009–10 when people hadn’t come back around to pop music yet. Anything that was critically acclaimed was at least a little bit abrasive and alienating.
Trying to make pop music, Grobler says, “just felt like I was hitting a creative brick wall. I think that, almost as a reaction to that approach, I started going back to the music that I grew up with [. . .] the hipster movement in Brooklyn influenced me to go against that; instead of trying to be cool, I would just allow influences [. . .] to come out.”
This creative growth that Grobler underwent — and is still undergoing — has allowed St. Lucia to evolve from the “happy tropical pop thing” of When the Night to the bigger, sparser Matter.
St. Lucia will be preforming in Vancouver on March 1st at Venue Nightclub.