The first time Jean-Philip Grobler started playing people the music he’d made as part of his project St. Lucia, many were taken aback by the “unabashed, joyful quality to it, which was uncool at the time,” he says. But to an increasingly large following of pop music fans, songs like “Closer Than This,” “All Eyes On You” and “September” started to find an audience — thanks to their sonic homage to the spirit of early Whitney Houston, 80s soft rock and synth-based Afro-pop, among other influences. The band’s new full-length, “When The Night” (Neon Gold/Columbia) was released Oct. 8, and debuts on this week’s Heatseekers Albums chart with sales of 2,000 copies. The band is currently on the road with Two Door Cinema Club playing some of its biggest gigs to date, including a sold-out hometown show at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
Grobler, who was raised in South Africa, got his start as a jingle writer for music production company The Lodge before pursuing his own music. And much like how he’s embraced indie fans’ appreciation of St. Lucia’s open-hearted pop, he’s been happy to come clean about his commercial past – much in the same way that Foster The People’s Mark Foster and Fitz & The Tantrums’ Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick have. “It was at this point about six years ago where bands were trying to do something weird or crazy, and I just started to get tired of that in my own music,” he says. “I started listening to a lot of the African music that I grew up with and Lionel Richie and Phil Collins that had really buried itself into my subs-conscious. Eventually, I learned it can take you a little longer if you’re serious with your craft, even if you’re not dealing with [the] deepest, darkest emotions of the human psyche.”
Here, Grobler explores the five influences and albums that most shaped St. Lucia’s “When The Night.”
1. Phil Collins
Grobler: When I was growing up, Phil Collins one of the first huge artists I got into, before I even knew what that meant. It’s definitely not an intentional thing, but the fact that really spoke to me at such a young age made it natural that the influence came out of me when I started St. Lucia. I wasn’t trying to control what was coming out, in a sense.
2. Fleetwood Mac
Specifically “Tango In The Night.” It took me a while to come around to that album, even though I always loved the singles from that album. Actually, the cover of that album was a huge reference of ours. It’s funny because the guy who did that cover was the only guy to do a sit-in portrait of Michael Jackson, and that cover was his version of a Henri Rousseau painting. I feel like Fleetwood Mac is less of a guilty pleasure just because their shit is so huge.
One of the big albums for me was “OK Computer.” That was the album that made me see this whole cerebral side of thinking about music. The way I found out about that album was actually through my parents. It was crazy, because at the time I was really into Bon Jovi and pop-rock music, and R&B, like Boyz II Men. It was this one Christmas where our parents went to our local shopping mall in South Africa, and there was this waiter who was serving them at the restaurant, and they thought somehow he looked cool or whatever. So they asked him, “Hey, we want to buy our son something cool, what do you recommend?” And he was like, “‘OK Computer’.” So they gave it to me and the first time I listened to it, I was like, “This is fucking terrible, please return this to the store.” But it was Christmas and everything was closed, so I was forced to live with this CD because it was all I had with me. And I think on the fourth or fifth listen I was like, “Oh wow, this is really beautiful,” and all the other listens started really opening up to me.
Through Radiohead I really got into Interpol, and Mew, especially “…And The Glass Handed Kites.”
5. Paul Simon
“Graceland” is a really, really big one for me. It’s funny, because I’m from South Africa and Paul Simon is New York, and I’ve only really discovered that album from living [in New York] the last couple years. It’s almost like the story of my life, in a way, in that it’s very, very African, but all the lyrics are about New York and about America. It’s such an incredible album, and it’s so special in so many ways.
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