St Lucia on their new music, the hipster scene, and Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesJuly 17, 2013
Childhood friends who know at the age of 9 where their destinies lie are just the worst. They spend time doing things like learning how to read sheet music, sing properly and playing instruments other than the plastic Tupperware drums. Meanwhile you learn life lessons such as computer game hubris and power failures will result in a tantrum being thrown the likes of which the earth has never seen.
The jealousy you feel over their focused mind-set to make it at all costs while following their passion, as you flutter through life trying to find your meaning and career path, is there to be felt – if you’re a dick.
And then chatting to one such childhood friend over Skype, who in a slightly genuine, completely stoked and astonished manner expresses that both Jay-Z and Leo DiCaprio attended his gig in Brooklyn the other night, leaves you questioning many things. Where am I going in life? Did Leo bring a date? How hot was she? Was she civilian or super-duper famous?
Moving to America and being allowed to stay for longer than a tourist visa allows is no easy feat. To be the best, you need to surround yourself in the most creative space possible, lay down the challenge within yourself to be amongst peers of the highest calibre and light the fires of success under your feet.
Even if said peers reside thousands of kilometres (shorter miles) from home. You do what you can to survive; you busk, you produce and until that point at which you start to thrive – you write advertising jingles to pay the bills.
But Jean-Phillip Grobler though is no Two and a half man; he’s one man, accompanied by other men and a multi-talented lady, to bring you St Lucia. The band with which his voice found an audience, his inner beats found an outlet and his hair found a musical style that finally suits him.
This interview is a personal one – together Jean and I constantly got scolded by Geography teachers for never focusing on how rivers formed or why mountains are different from hills. We spoke mostly about girls, we were 17 and every conversation was about girls. Yo mama’s jokes became yo sister jokes and in-between these jibes and character-building conversations, we somehow found time to chat about music: Live, The Pumpkins, Jimmy Eat World, The Mayfield Four, Matthew Good Band. Many of the bands that defined my long unemployed hair and cheap beer phase were inspired by these conversations.
Couple this with many a post-studying visit to New York and Jean being the instigating force behind the most widely-regaled drunken story of all my travels (involves burlesque dancers, a dwarf with wings and some questionable pizza toppings) I blackmailed convinced him into an interview about his current music, being a grown up kid living in America and what it’s like working with Taco Bell and supermodels.
Jay: Dude, first off let me say this, Hello.
Jean: Hello Jay.
Jay: Excellent, now that the pleasantries are out of the way lets get to the crux of this interview: You seem to have really become a true Williamsburger (is that the word?), Do all of you living there behave like hipsters? Are the non-hipsters then not the true hipsters?
Jean: Ha! I think we do all behave like hipsters but we don’t realise it because everyone else behaves in the same way. But there are different levels to hipsterdom, and even when you’re a hipster like you and I evidently are, there are people who are 900% more of a hipster because they know about infinitely more obscure music than you do, or have the balls to wear clothes and grow beards that would alienate even the hardiest and most loyal of friends. Like you have alienated me, with your beard.
Jay: With so many musicians, artists, people willing to do anything for money. Is there massive competition between you musos?
Jean: I suppose you could say there is competition, but it’s definitely more of an undercurrent than an out-and-out competitiveness, because everyone is really friendly and nice to each other, even though there might be other things going on behind closed doors.
I really admire a lot of the other bands in our ‘scene’, or whatever you want to call it. From my point of view, if I see another band doing something great, it just makes me want to do something great too
Jay: Ever read the art of war?
Jean:Yes, but many years ago.
Jay: Maybe read it again.
Jean: I’m good, thanks.
Jay: You had a few bands before this, all different in style. Were you just waiting for this ‘80s revival to whip out the synths and saxophone all along?
Jean: Haha, I mean, yes, in a way I was I guess, but not consciously. I think that the music of the ‘80s is a very natural thing for me because it was so ingrained in my consciousness as a small child. I spent years making way more guitar-based rock music, which I’m really proud of as well. But I think it took me rediscovering my ‘roots’, so to speak, to make something that was more myself and perhaps more unique.
Jay: I played your first EP to everyone who had ears when it came out – it helped in me projecting this air of musical taste. That was two years ago, my street cred is due for a top up.
Jay: When is the full-length album coming out? And can you confirm the rumours that you are waiting for the ‘80s revival to pass by so you can spearhead the long awaited ‘90s grunge comeback?
Jean: Hahaha! Who said that?
Jay: I made that up in the hope that it was true.
Jean: I have been thinking long and hard about the grunge comeback, but I feel like we still need to go through and finish the ‘90s R&B comeback before that.
“The new St. Lucia stuff definitely still has an ‘80s feel to it, but there are some new elements that might surprise you. The album just got mastered, so it should be out pretty soon.”
Your street cred is about to overflow. Although we might not get you as much street cred as we used to.
Jay: I have no doubt you will. Your songs got used for both a Taco Bell and Victoria Secret campaign, which one made you more excited? And did they let you sample the merchandise?
Jean: I think Victoria’s Secret wins purely because of, well, the fact that it’s beautiful women in their underwear wandering about somewhat provocatively. None of them let us sample their merchandise, unfortunately. The world will forever sorely miss the St. Lucia show that never was where we all wear only Victoria’s Secret underwear onstage and have Taco Bell raining down upon us.
St Lucia with the Victoria’s Secret Angels
Jay: I don’t like Mexican food, but seeing you all playing a gig in Vicky’s Secret underwear would be worth a taco or two to the face.
You have a second collaboration with The Knocks, released on iTunes – ”Modern Hearts”; Do you guys get a discount for recording together?
Jean: Well, The Knocks were actually the whole reason that St. Lucia was even discovered or put out into the world. The drummer for St. Lucia, Nick Brown, is B Roc from The Knocks’ cousin, and when we started working together early on, he passed some of my early demos on to B Roc and the rest is history.
In terms of “Modern Hearts”, that was something that came about because they’d been wanting to feature me on a track for ages, and they wrote this song with a friend of theirs and thought it would be perfect for me. I liked it, and so I agreed to do it.
Jay: Please ask B-Roc if he got his name from amalgamating the Ninja Turtles villains BeBop and Rocksteady.
Jean: I will. I’m pretty sure, knowing him, that he did.
Jay: How does the remix process work? Do the bands ask you? Do you ask people to remix your tracks?
Jean: Well, in the early days we had to go looking for remixes because nobody knew who I was. Now that I’ve built a little bit of a name for myself, people approach me for remixes, which I find hugely flattering. I don’t normally go looking to do remixes, because if I really really like a track, it’ll be difficult for me to see past the way it’s arranged in it’s current state to a new kind of arrangement.
That’s not saying I don’t like the songs that I remix, but there will normally be a different way that I could see the song being arranged that would accentuate certain things that the original artist didn’t see, or couldn’t do because they’re committed to a particular sound.
In terms of other people remixing St. Lucia, it’s a bit of both. Sometimes people approach us, or we’ll just get a completely unsolicited remix that’s amazing. But if there’s someone that I really want to remix a track, we’ll approach them.
Jay: You’ve remixed Foster the People, Passion Pit, PAPA – so many cool bands. Do you have to like the band to remix them? What if you don’t like the song, do you turn it down?
Jean: Interesting question.
Jay: Thank you.
Jean: Haha, well, I talked about this a little bit in the last answer. But, honestly, I haven’t really been offered a remix yet where I thought the songs was terrible. But sometimes the song might be good, but the arrangement isn’t to my liking, and in some ways that’s the perfect situation because then I can make the arrangement the way that I want to hear it. I think that if I thought everything was horrible about the song and I saw absolutely no way to change it I wouldn’t take it.
Jay: You are married to your keyboard player Patricia. Beautiful woman, this question is for her. Did Jean propose in order to keep you in the band and not have to pay you as much?
Patricia: (laughs) Yes!
Jay: Excellent, so besides ‘crazy people watching’ on New York subways, the thing I miss most about America is the awesome junk food. Do you find it hard to not get fat while touring?
Jean: Jay, you are such a fatty.
Jay: I know.
Jean: It is hard to eat healthy food on the road in the States for sure, but not as hard as you might think. Things are definitely changing a lot in terms of food in the States, and in most cities you can always find something that’s a lot better than you might expect. But yeah, the combination of basically sitting in a van for most of the day and then often not being able to eat what you might want while driving on the Interstate or Freeway and not having much time to exercise definitely contributes to a bit of a bulge by the end of the tour.
Jay: When you are on tour, do you just sleep in the bus huddled together or do you get to fly into cities and trash hotel rooms?
Jean: Haha, well, as much as we’d LOVE to trash every hotel room, we’d have to pay for all the repairs/breakages which would totally derail everything. I’ll live vicariously through you if you ever come on tour with us for a bit.
Jay: I’ll go totally old school Guns ‘n Roses just for the bucket list.
Jean: Haha, idiot. But yeah, it’s definitely challenging touring between big cities and in places like the Mid-West or the South because you have to drive forever to get anywhere. Often, you’ll be basically driving to Cape Town from Johannesburg distances every day and a half. When we’re on a big tour, like the Ellie Goulding tour, we drive everywhere and sleep in not very good hotels, but they’re never absolutely terrible, fortunately.
For one-off shows, where we’re just playing a show in LA or something, and if it makes sense budget wise, we might fly there from New York and rent gear there, but it all depends on what we can afford at the time.
Jay: Is this the summer of St Lucia? (Or the winter of St Lucia if you live in the Southern Hemisphere.)
Jean: I mean, of course I hope it is!
“The first single off of the album has just come out, and then the actual album drops early October.”
We’ll be playing a bunch of shows between now and then, and then after that, we’ll see. But I feel like everyone feels really good about everything, which is great when you’re going into the amount of craziness we’re going into right now.
Stream St Lucia’s brand new single, “Elevate”:
Jay: What venue would you pay to play?
Jean: Well, I think the most legendary and the one with the most mysticism surrounding it for me is Red Rocks in Colorado in the US. It’s this amazingly beautiful outdoor venue in Utah that I’ve never personally ever been to, but that always looks amazing in photos. Apparently very few people ever actually make money playing Madison Square Garden in NYC, so I suppose I would pay to play there too.
Red Rocks, Colorado. Yeah, we see what you’re saying, Jean.
Jay: If you busk outside a venue while someone else is playing, can you say you played that venue?
Jean: I have some friends who played at the entrance of massive venues when huge bands were playing, but it was an official thing, and they said that they supported that particular band and that they’d played that venue. I think busking outside wouldn’t technically be playing that venue, but hey, if it makes you feel better!
Jay: “September” went from FIFA soundtrack to number 1 hit in South Africa. How amazing was it that you got your first number 1 single in your home country?
Jean: It was pretty unbelievable, I have to say. It seemed for a while that South Africa wasn’t picking up on St. Lucia, but then everything happened really fast and I was hearing from all of my friends that they were hearing us on the radio all of the time.
“It was just crazy to me because all these places that it was being played were the places that I consumed music from when I was growing up, and the stations that I looked up to, like 5FM or Tuks or Highveld or whatever.”
Every time I think about it I kind of don’t believe it.
Jay: I feel America is kind of hogging your gig guide, when will you come play some venues here?
Jean: NEVER! No, just kidding.
“Of course, I would absolutely love to come home and do a tour and play some shows.”
The moment we get an offer that makes sense from the various perspectives it needs to make sense from, we’ll do it. Unfortunately, flying us around the world with all our gear isn’t cheap, but I’m all ears if someone has an idea.
We did a festival in Australia last year called Parklife, so maybe we could do some kind of South African festival. Let’s see what happens! I’d love any excuse to come home and visit my family, who I love dearly but very rarely see.
Jay: 5Gum Experience, are you listening? Rocking the Daisies 2014 would be perfect.
Tweet to @5GumSA and tell them to get their act together and get St Lucia to South Africa.
Dude, awesome chatting to you.
Jean: Pleasure man. You realise that you say ‘Dude’ a lot for a guy who is almost 30 years old. I’m exactly the same.
Jay: Force of habit.
Jean: Michelangelo fan?
Jay: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Jean: Heroes in a half shell
Jay & Jean: Turtle Power!!!!!
Jean: Why did it become Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles?
Jean: You see they’re making a live action movie?
Jay: Michael Bay, our childhoods are in your hands.
This is what happens when friends interview friends, the possibility of getting sidetracked into talking about Megan Fox as April O’Neil is just too damn high.
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