Jean-Philip Grobler, also known as St. Lucia, creates music with vocals and synths that make you feel like you’re everywhere in the world at once, nostalgic for something you never had.
Grobler has had plenty of time to develop his unique sound. Born in South Africa, he performed with the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School before moving to Liverpool to study music. He currently lives in New York city, a place he never thought he’d end up.
“In my head, New York was always the antithesis of what I aspired towards,” said Grobler. “Basically, I got offered a job to be a commercial music writer here not long after I finished university in the U.K., and it seemed like that would be stupid to turn down.”
New York might be full of aspiring musicians, but one thing’s for sure — none of them have achieved the dream-like, ethereal quality that St. Lucia’s songs possess.
“My music is my subconscious attempting to marry my more experimental inclinations to my ‘poppier’ inclinations, and I just go along for the ride,” said Grobler, referring to the distinctive pop aspect of his music.
Long before the days of St. Lucia, Grobler and the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School toured Australia, Europe and Japan. Seeing so much of the world at such a young age undoubtedly impacted his sound.
“I think it’s given [the music] somewhat of a worldly quality,” he said. “To me it doesn’t sound specifically American, British, South African or anything really. It’s its own strange beast. The funny thing, though, is that I often hear more African influence in bands from the U.S., like Vampire Weekend or Yeasayer, than I do from bands in South Africa. Maybe that’s because when you live there, the idea of being in Africa isn’t as novel.”
His music was further influenced by the three years he spent at university in Liverpool; he had friends from around the world whose tastes were all vastly different.
“I credit them for teaching me to appreciate a good song for a good song,” he said.
Indie and electronic music are both reaching a peak in their levels of popularity. St. Lucia is a blend of both, yet something completely different as well. His music is impossible to lump into just one genre, and he likes it that way.
“I love a lot of bands from the indie movement, but as with any genre that gets a lot of hype, there’s going to be artists that start doing it just to be cool,” he said. “I felt it had gotten to that point, and my knee-jerk reaction was to go the other way. The electro-pop scene is also having its time in the sun, and I’m sure the same thing is going to happen.”
Regardless of genre, St. Lucia’s sounds simultaneously invoke feelings of familiarity, longing, sorrow and joy. As hard as this feeling may be to imagine, it’s exactly what the artist strives towards.
“I’m most satisfied with a song when it has an inherent sense of conflict in it — a sense of being happy and sad, both sides of the emotional spectrum,” said Grobler. “I find songs that are only frustrated, angry or happy to be boring because almost nothing in life is that way. The most memorable moments in my life are generally the ones with the most inherent conflict.”
Since his move to New York, St. Lucia has worked with HeavyRoc Music, Columbia Records and Neon Gold Records. His EP, September, came out in September and was Neon Gold’s first full-length release. The label has previously released singles by artists including Passion Pit, Ellie Goulding and The Naked & Famous. While Grobler acknowledges this as an honour, the highlight of his career is something more personal.
“I think it was having my parents see me perform for the first time in 10 years last December,” he said. “They flew in from South Africa, landed and came straight to the venue just in time for us to go on.”
St. Lucia is currently touring with Ellie Goulding and tells fans to expect a set comprised of his biggest hits.
St. Lucia plays Metropolis with Ellie Goulding on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m.