How Kanye West, Bowie, and the Streets of New York Influenced St. Lucia's 'Matter'
Photo by Shervin Lainez
While St. Lucia may have started out like any other indie act from Brooklyn, the band's debut album, When the Night, took them down a path of mainstream success that set them apart from many of the artists who have cut their teeth in the city. The band — fronted by Jean Philip Grobler — went from playing gigs at Cameo Gallery and Santos Party House to performing the festival circuit, but New York really did play a significant part in St. Lucia's story. "We were very much a resident New York band, and I think New York in the way it is and was has always influenced our sound a lot," says Grobler.
Following the second wave of electropop bands like Passion Pit and Neon Indian, St. Lucia surfaced with anthemic choruses, catchy pop hooks, and live shows tailor-made for dancing. Hailing from South Africa, Grobler grew up singing in a boys' choir, something that contributed to the layered vocals on singles like "Elevate" and "Closer Than This." "Basically, the last record was made in my studio in the almost perfect situation where I had all my instruments around me — my life was very domestic, in a way," says Grobler. "I was in New York all the time, and my studio was three blocks away from my apartment."
After releasing their first album, St. Lucia spent a lot of time on tour and had to give up their studio. "I realized if I didn't want to take five years to write my next record, I had to embrace writing on the road," Grobler explains.
Though St. Lucia's music thus far has been rooted in pop, their latest record, Matter, was influenced by St. Lucia's time spent living in the States, exploring the country and American music. Grobler unexpectedly found inspiration in hip-hop this time around. "I've never been a massive hip-hop fan, just because it was just not a part of my culture growing up," explains Grobler. "Living in the States has made me really grow into liking hip-hop. I think Kanye West was a huge influence on this record — how epic, huge, and uncompromising his music is." Because he was unafraid of changing his sound, David Bowie had a profound influence on Grobler's songwriting. "When we were on the road in our spare time, I thought we should listen to some artists' catalogs that I haven't spent listening to, and I listened to all of his records in order," Grobler recalls. "At times when I was afraid of changing the sound or direction, [his music] helped take the fear away."
With Matter, there were a lot of differences in the way St. Lucia approached making the record. For Grobler, it was a lyrically contemplative experience of growing older, watching his parents get older, and uprooting his life to spend a ton of time on the road. "I think as you get older those things start to weigh on your mind a bit more," says Grobler. "I think when you're in your twenties, you're living in the moment all the time."
The first single on Matter, "Dancing on Glass," is an obvious pop track that fans of St. Lucia might expect from the band, but one of the standouts is a song called "Help Me Run Away," which Grobler wrote with Jack Antonoff. "[The song] is a tribute to America and psychoanalyzing my reasons for being in this country," he explains. "Like, I'm here running away from my responsibilities that I have back in South Africa and the secrets in my past, whatever they might be."
For now, St. Lucia are staying put — at least for this week, when they play their upcoming NYC gigs, which take place at Baby's All Right on January 29 and Webster Hall on January 30. They're going back to some of the venues that helped them get on the map and amass a mainstream following. For Grobler and Co., music has been their livelihood, and the success is something they're grateful for. "I'd like St. Lucia to be around for a really long time, but St. Lucia may evolve into something else or there might be a different musical project that comes along," says Grobler. "Music is something I always wanted to do — for better or for worse, it's my passion."
St. Lucia play Baby's All Right January 29 and Webster Hall January 30. Both shows are sold out, but check secondary markets for tickets.
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