The night (and day) has finally arrived for St. Lucia. After two years of making music as St. Lucia, Jean-Philip Grobler is ready to share his debut LP, When the Night, with the world. Grobler, who grew up in South Africa, has made Brooklyn (along with Neon Gold Records) a musical home, where he creates atmospheric electro-pop coupled with dreamy synths. Since taking up as St. Lucia, he’s been busy: Grobler released his two short EPs in the last year, featuring songs like “All Eyes on You” that have an upbeat and island-influenced feel (possibly because, thanks to touring, Grobler has fallen victim to the travel bug).
St. Lucia hasn’t been Grobler’s only band: he’s toured around the world with his talent rooted in growing up and performing with the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School. Right now, St. Lucia is traveling and touring with Two Door Cinema Club.
We caught up with Jean-Philip Grobler on remixes, South African music, and the magical hour of dusk.
ILANA KAPLAN: Congrats on releasing your first LP! How does it feel now that it’s finally coming out?
JEAN-PHILIP GROBLER: I mean, it feels good that it’s finally coming out. It was a really, really long process from the beginning of the EP to the album actually coming out. There are EP tracks on the album, so it’s been such a long journey. There are so many things that are only coming out now that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. It feels great to move onto the next thing and try out new ideas.
KAPLAN: I feel like you always play around Brooklyn and you’ve been playing shows for so long, and tracks here and there, and an EP. What made you wait to release the LP?
GROBLER: There were a couple of things. The main thing was really wanting to have the strongest body of work possible. I didn’t want to have just “pop song, pop song, pop song.” I really believe in albums, even though some people believe the year of the album has passed. I love singular pop songs or tracks, but what really affects me most deeply is if there’s an hour of music or 45 minutes of music that flows really well and tells a story. I wanted to get that right. I probably—over the whole period of time—came up with 60 or 70 songs. Some of them that didn’t even make it onto the album or aren’t even B-sides, I think are really, really strong. I wanted to have the thing that took you on the most pleasing and somewhat unexpected journey. That’s what really took the most amount of time.
KAPLAN: Rad. How’d you come up with the album title When the Night?
GROBLER: I was just kind of struggling for an album title for a long time. I feel like for me as an artist, it takes me a while of living with the tracks and living with the body of work to realize what it’s all about. What’s funny was, I originally in my mind finished the album last year in September, so almost a year ago. I submitted it to the label, and over the next few months, I realized there was more work that I felt needed to be done. I felt like I needed a second set of ears to listen to it, because I made the whole thing by myself. The second round of the album was finished in March of this year, but there was this other track that I was working on, which is actually called “When the Night,” that I felt really strongly about. I sort of knew the album was finished and the label was waiting for the finished album, so I didn’t think it would be able to make it. After being on the road and working on it in the tour van for awhile, I realized I might be able to finish this track in this week we have free after we get back from tour. I was like, “Hey guys, I have this new track. I’m going to try and finish it in the next week. If I do, hopefully it’ll be able to make the album.” I did it. I went to the studio and recorded, mixed it and everything in that week. That name, “When the Night,” just sounded perfect because the album, to me, takes place just at dusk: in that sort of magic-hour period. So, the whole album happens in relation to the night. That just seemed like an interesting idea to me. It seemed natural because there was this track “When the Night.”
KAPLAN: Very interesting. You’re from South Africa. How was being from there played into your music?
GROBLER: I think there’s no way of avoiding the South African or African influence from coming into my music, just because I spent 19 years of my life there. Being a kid, my early musical experiences were there. I was in this boys’ choir for five years, when I was 10 until 15. A big part of what we did is that we had a whole African music set. The choir school was located in a very rural part of South Africa, in the mountains. A 10-minute walk from where our school was, there was a rural African school, and we would go there once or twice a year to learn a bunch of new traditional songs from them. We would have a whole African music set where we would do African night sounds and traditional songs, not just from South Africa, but from all of Africa. I think doing all of that rhythmically really influenced me. We performed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo a couple of times. Living away from South Africa for the last 10 years, my nostalgia and the fact that I was missing home so much, made those influences surface again.
KAPLAN: Do you have any cool remixes coming up? I know you’ve done a lot with remixes and collaborations, like “Modern Hearts” with The Knocks.
GROBLER: I’m really excited, one of my favorite artists from South Africa, John Wizards, is doing an “Elevate” remix. I don’t know if you’ve heard his album, but he’s amazing. I know The Knocks are doing an “Elevate” remix as well. I just finished a remix for this band Atlas Genius for the song “Centred On You.” I don’t think they’re seeing it as a big single, but it’s my favorite song of theirs. They asked me if I wanted to remix something, and I wanted to remix that. Actually, the guys from the band did an “Elevate” remix as well. That’ll be cool to hear.
KAPLAN: How long have you guys been a band?
GROBLER: We’ve been playing shows for a little over two years now. Our first show was at Union Hall; it was sort of a secret show. I do most of the stuff in the studio. I’ve been making stuff forever. I had a couple of other bands. I’ve been living in New York City for seven years, so I had another project before this one. That morphed into St. Lucia. It changed from being this slightly rock thing, more Radiohead-influenced thing into what it is now.
KAPLAN: What was your first project called?
GROBLER: It was called Kites. It was while I was making commercial music for a living. I had a bunch of bands before that. I had one while I was living in Liverpool and when I was living in South Africa. They were self-released EPs, basically.