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St. Lucia Talks Musical Beginnings, Jimmy Kimmel, Upcoming Tour

St. Lucia
Sony Music

With two EPs under his belt and his debut album, ‘When the Night,’ which just released last month, Jean-Philip Grobler, otherwise known the mastermind behind St. Lucia, is doing pretty well for himself.

Born and raised in South Africa, Grobler started off in the world of choir. And it looks like all that classical training has been put to get use when he started St. Lucia and signed with Neon Gold Records last year. Grobler has also remixed tracks for Foster the People, Charli XCX and Passion Pit as well as produced HAERTS’ debut LP.

St. Lucia’s single, ‘Elevate,’ as well as the album is garnering rave reviews and have already sold out numerous dates on upcoming headlining tour, which doesn’t kick off till January in Philadelphia.

Diffuser.fm caught up with Grobler to talk about how growing up in South Africa influenced his sound, the moments before St. Lucia’s American television debut and what he thinks about potentially kicking off the new year with a sold-out tour.

You released a couple of EPs before ‘When the Night.’ How does it feel to have the full-length album out?

It’s a relief, because up until now people were basing their opinions on us off of a fairly small body of work. Of course, I’m really proud of the EP we put out, ‘September,’ but having a more detailed picture of who we are out there is comforting.

You were once a solo act. However, it looks like you’ve expanded to a band. What inspired the change?

We’re definitely a band when we play live, and that was always my vision. I’m still the person in the studio doing most things, and it’s to be seen how the next album is recorded. I’d like to involve the band more, but it depends if it feels natural because we haven’t tried it yet.

You grew up in Johannesburg but are now residing in Brooklyn. How have these two places influenced your music?

During the time that I was growing up in South Africa we were still fairly shielded from the international music community. We would get maybe 3 or 4 international touring acts coming through per year (as far as I can remember), and the internet music explosion hadn’t happened yet. Because of that, pop music was basically all I knew until I was a little bit older, and there was no stigma attached to ‘selling out’ or ‘pop-music’. Because of this, I was very influenced by pop music until I started discovering bands like Radiohead in my mid-teens. I was also a member of a Boys’ Choir, and we learned everything from classical music to pop music and African Music. I think I was influenced by all of those things, the classical music in the way that it is contrapuntal and harmonically rich, and the African Music in terms of its’ rhythms and deceptive simplicity. When I moved to New York, or just when I left South Africa in general, I realized that the music world is a lot broader and deeper than I thought, and it took me a while to catch up with what was happening and to understand it. I know it’s a cliché, but I really had to lose myself, musically speaking, to find myself. New York enabled me to eventually see the value in where I came from and in my inherent influences.

You also grew up performing in a boys choir. How did the classical training mold how you approach music now?

I guess I answered this question a little bit in the previous answer, but there are a lot of ways that I think it molded me. One of them is in how I like songs that are non-linear or that take you on a journey that is unexpected. I’m also drawn to making my music as harmonically rich as possible, whether it’s adding chorus to almost every sound, or doubling things an obscene amount even though those doubles might not be used in the end. I routinely record 16 doubles of my bass synth sounds, with different synths and at different octaves. I do the same thing with acoustic guitars, where I record up to 8 different takes on 3 different guitars and with the capo on a different fret and perhaps with some clashing notes in there, and then each guitar take I record line-in and through a chorus pedal as well, and then pan it to the opposite side. There is something that I love about a soundscape where the pitch center is a little out of focus. I imagine that being part of a choir, where a natural chorus effect is created by all of the voices being slightly out of tune with each other, had something to do with me being drawn to this.

Why did you decide to remix ‘Elevate’? And how did Great Good Ok Fine get involved?

I didn’t really ‘decide’ to get Elevate remixed, it’s just something that happens in today’s industry and I actually really enjoy hearing different people’s interpretations of my songs. The Great Good Fine OK remix is a funny story. Seth Kallen, a good friend who manages our good friends Savoir Adore, just sent us the remix one day completely out of the blue and told us that it’s a new band that he’s managing, and I was completely floored by how spot-on their interpretation was. We had to release it.

The ‘When the Night’ Tour isn’t till next year but you’ve already sold out a load of dates. How does it feel to the response?

Obviously the ticket sales have been insane, and there was no way that we could have anticipated what happened. We booked the tour quite conservatively in the beginning, and to be able to upgrade a lot of these rooms and add more dates has been a dream come true, really.

You also made your TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel recently. Were you nervous? Did he chat with you about anything? Any advice from him?

We actually never got to meet Mr. Kimmel. He had to run off before our performance for some reason or another. I definitely got a little nervous before the performance, because we have a little curse where something technical goes wrong in more shows than it doesn’t. Low and behold, as we start Elevate I realized that I couldn’t hear my guitar. I then saw that it was because I forgot to unmute my guitar tuner. I pressed it with my foot, the tuner fell off my pedal board and disconnected the power from all the rest of my pedals. Of course, I don’t want to seem like I’m stressed during our live TV debut and so I just go with it and try to figure out in my head what had just happened and how to fix it, but in the dark I couldn’t see that the power was disconnected. Someone actually pointed it out on Youtube. They said ‘Is he actually playing guitar?’ The truth is, I wasn’t. But I was trying damn hard to.

If there’s someone you would want to collaborate with, who would it be?

There are a lot of current bands that I love like Haim and CHVRCHES, but I have a feeling that it wouldn’t be that interesting if we collaborated because we all seem to have fairly similar influences. I’d love for a collaboration to come out of the blue that would surprise everyone and that would be exciting and a challenge. I think if I could name that person it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?

Aside from the tour, what’s next for St. Lucia?

I constantly work on new music, and so there are a lot of new songs and ideas I’ve been coming up with on the road. We’re also working on some more potential support tours and we’re excited to see what festivals come through for next year.

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