Like the rotation of Zodiac signs, there's a cyclical transition in the world of pop music. Unlike the shifting stars, however, music doesn't follow a set schedule, and the evolution is often unpredictable. Throughout the past few months, we've been closely following this change in dominance. As many listeners have grown tired of the repetitive sounds of nu-folk, they have simultaneously grown fonder of electronic synth pop, allowing once unrecognizable names like CHVRCHES and Haim to rise in prominence. Also at the forefront of this revolution is St. Lucia, a group led by South African-born Brooklynite Jean-Philip Grobler, who released their transcendental, full-length debut When The Night today. While CHVRCHES reaches into the gloomy depths of 80s New Wave, St. Lucia does so with an inspiring, florid tone that's guided by Grobler's voice and kaleidoscopic synth.
Last week, I was invited to sit down with Grobler over coffee at Marlow and Sons in Brooklyn where I picked his brain about the new album, his perception of this pop transition, and how greatly St. Lucia's sound has been influenced by "extreme 80s" Fleetwood Mac.
M: What have you been up to since we saw you back in March at Hype Hotel?
J: That was at the end of our big six-month tour where we started in Australia and did Mexico City and the Two Door [Cinema Club] thing. We were basically on tour constantly, and once we returned to the New York, Patti [Beranek] and I had to leave to renew our U.S. visas, and since then we've been doing festivals most weekends. During the week, we've had some free time so we've been writing some new stuff and preparing for the album release.
M:When The Night comes out in a week, how are you feeling about it?
J: It feels amazing that it's coming out. It feels great that finally after thinking about it for so long I'm going to see how people actually react to it.
M: How has the album felt to you in a live setting?
J: We've been playing quite a few of the songs from the album for a while, and we've been playing "The Way You Remember Me" since we started playing live, and it seems good. We're still figuring out exactly how to do them as it's always a bit of a challenge for us to pull it off live. But so far audiences have been reacting best to songs like "Elevate" and "The Way You Remember Me".
M: You've said in previous interviews that you appreciate artists who are breaking musical boundaries. In particular you mentioned Kanye West's Yeezus. Will When The Night break any such walls?
J: I started St. Lucia at a time when a lot of music felt like it was trying to be crazy or weird. I felt like there was a long period when it was frowned upon to be artistically inferior. It was similar to the guilty pleasure thing of the 80s. A big part of St. Lucia was bringing music that was instantly enjoyable but also has a longer lifespan. It gets you instantly but the more you listen to it, the more it reveals itself. I feel like that idea isn't as groundbreaking now as it was when we first started. I honestly don't know if it ever was groundbreaking, but my idea felt refreshing; to have something that wasn't intentionally alienating to its audience.
M: With the Mumford and Sons hiatus and bands like CHVRCHES and St. Lucia grabbing everyone's attention, are you noticing a cyclical transition currently occurring in pop music?
J: I don't know if I see that, but that's just because I'm in the middle of what's happening. I'm just making my music and it's not because I see this trend, I make it because that's what feels good to me and those are the natural influences that come out of me. I love CHVRCHES; I think what they're doing is amazing, and at the same time, I think what Haim is doing is amazing, although they're less synthy than us and CHVRCHES, but I feel like there are a lot of bands that are coming up now in our scene that I really respect. We're a part of something that's good. Everything goes through a period and what we're doing will eventually fall out of favor as well. I feel like Radiohead is in that place right now where people weren't excited by their last album and they're in that whole 90s rock thing that is currently of out of favor. However, at some point that too will come back. So yeah, it's cyclical, but thinking about that can make you crazy and cynical. It's important to not think about it and to just do what you feel is right.
M: Which albums were you listening to when writing and recording When The Night?
J: It was all of the Fleetwood Mac albums. Tusk was a huge influence, Tango in the Night was a huge influence - it took me a while to come around to that album. I always loved the big songs like "Little Lies", but it took me a while to see how much of an amazing album it actually is, in its own 'extreme 80s' way.
Fleetwood Mac - "Little Lies"
M: When did you and Patti get married? What's it like touring and working with your wife?
J: It happened literally a year ago, on the 22nd of September. It can be really, really good, and it has a lot of benefits, but it also has some drawbacks like when we're on the road. We have this six-week tour coming up and we probably won't have a single moment of alone time together because we're sharing hotel rooms and sharing a queen bed in a double queen room with the tour manager. That can be challenging, but we also never have any time apart. We're together so much, and I think what's important in a relationship is the negative space as well as the time you're together. We've been together for 11 years so we've been through a lot of shit. We have a really good working relationship, but also we've been through enough down times or challenging periods in our relationship that we can see past it because we know it gets better or things will improve. I would much rather have it that way than not see each other for six months.
M: What are a few of your guilty pleasure albums?
J: It's funny, I've sort of stopped feeling guilty about liking certain things. But, I think a guilty pleasure of mine would be something in the alt-rock sound. I went through this period where I was really into the band Live and their early albums.
M: We've discussed pop music at great length, but how would you describe the perfect pop song?
J: I think the songs that really stick with me are those that somehow exist in an area of conflict between joy and sadness, or anger and joy. It's something that isn't purely sad or happy. That's why I love Fleetwood Mac so much. Every song that they've made has that tension in it, and that tension is very important when making a song memorable.
M: What are some of your favorite albums released this year?
J: The CHVRCHES album is pretty unbelievable...just the first six tracks are like, "BOOM! So good!" [Laughs.] The John Wizards album is definitely up there because of its originality. It's a little insane but very original.
M: Tell us about the "Elevate" music video. Why did you choose to shoot around your neighborhood?
J: The timing was too perfect not to do it. We are actually being evicted from our studio and we have to be out by the end of November. It's a very special place and one of the last like it in Williamsburg. We saw it as the end of an era; that's where the Haerts album was made; that's where my album was made; where Diane [Birch] and Bruno Mars albums were made. So many things happened there and I've been there for four years now. We thought it would be cool to celebrate that moment and "Elevate" is such a celebratory song. It had to be made. All of our videos up until now have been dreamy and weird, and it felt good to go 180-degrees and do something completely different, but while still being very us and not trying to be pretentious in any way.
St. Lucia - "Elevate"
M: When we saw you at Hype Hotel, I recall being hypnotized by "September". Are there any other songs on the album that have that same slow-build into brilliance quality?
J: There's an element of that in "Elevate", even though it's instantly a pop song in the beginning and then something quite different in the end. The end of the album, from "We Got It Wrong" to "When The Night", is a bit darker and a little slower to develop. And that's what I wanted to have in St. Lucia: instantly gratifying pop songs that just take you somewhere that you don't expect, and what they give you is even better than what you imagined. I don't know if my songs have that effect because I wrote them, but I'd like to think they do.
Watch St. Lucia's performance of "September" at Hype Hotel:
M: And my final question may be a bit random. With such bizarre collaborations happening in music like Phoenix and R Kelly, who do you secretly wish to work with?
J: There's a few, but maybe a weird one would be Grace Jones. She is amazing...just her whole mystique. It would be really interesting to tap into that. It would also be interesting to produce an album or a track for an artist who hasn't made an album in many years, and who's maybe trying to tap into what they used to do. I'd love to produce something for them that resembles their old stuff that could reignite their fire.
When The Night is out now via Neon Gold/Columbia. Get your copy here.