At 32, St. Lucia (aka Jean-Phillip Grobler) was a long way from being born when Earth, Wind & Fire was in the midst of its career-defining 1970s run. But the group and its leader Maurice White — who died recently at the age of 74 — still provided a musical touchstone for the South African-born electropop artist.
“They were a massive influence, for sure,” St. Lucia tells Billboard. “Everyone knows Earth, Wind & Fire. We know ‘September,’ all the big sort of hits from going out and dancing and stuff. When I was developing St. Lucia, I really started listening a little bit deeper, listening back to their stuff from the ’70s and ’80s and really dug into it. I think ‘Fantasy’ is one of my all-time favorite songs, as well as ‘After The Love is Gone.’ It’s all undeniable, isn’t it?
“When I really started to listen to them along with other things that had a similar approach, what got to me was the unabashed joy that was in there, that, like, not trying at all, on any level, to be cool or understated. They were just throwing it all on the table, and I think that really factored into what I wanted to do with St. Lucia, which is not trying to be cool and not trying to second-guess and just make something joyful and full of energy and life. I definitely got that from (EWF).”
St. Lucia displays that approach on his sophomore album, Matter, which came out Jan. 29 and has spawned the singles “Dancing on Glass” and “Love Somebody.” Working with studio cohort Chris Zane, St. Lucia determinedly made the 11-track set more about energy than mood, making for a more diverse palette than on 2013’s “When The Night.”
“I think certain songs feel a little more bombastic and brave in a way, especially with having my voice being less drowned in reverb and atmospherics,” he says. “On the first recording I wasn’t singing out that much; I was shy with my singing. But I think as a result of touring and playing live a lot I’ve grown more confident with my abilities as a singer and performer, so on (Matter) I’m singing more full out. This album just goes a little more extreme on both sides; something like ‘Love Somebody’ is way more exposed and way more downtempo and sort of bare than anything on ‘When The Night’ was, and ‘Physical’ is so much more extreme and in your face. To me it’s expanding the dynamic range of that first album, and I’m press sure the next record will do the same again. I always like to push the extremes of what anybody thinks St. Lucia is.”
Grobler says he has a number of tracks not included on Matter as well as some other unreleased St. Lucia material he’d like to put out at some point, and he’s also beginning to work with other artists again after making St. Lucia his primary focus for the past few years. Before any of that, however, he’s taking St. Lucia on tour to support “Matter,” which kicked off Feb. 12 in Columbus, Ohio.
“We like to try doing new things in the shows and doing things that we haven’t done before. We definitely have some tracks because the records are so lush and there’s so much stuff going on there’s no way we can reproduce all that live as a band, but we do most it, as much as we can live,” explains Grobler. “And now we have so much material to choose from that we’re spoiled in a way. We’ll be able to keep the energy up rather than being forced to include everything we have, B-sides and whatever, just to fill up the show.”