St. Lucia's Jean-Philip Grobler Explains Why He's Into Guilty Pleasures

Jean-Philip Grobler has some advice for us all: Get out, see the world, and while you’re doing your thing, ignore the haters. He’s not preaching, but whether he knows it or not, he’s absolutely setting an example for not only other musicians but the rest of us too.

The frontman of St. Lucia, a synth-pop band Grobler founded in his native South Africa, is incredibly pleasant during our conversation ahead of the band’s show at the Culture Room on June 14. He’s also super-direct and honest when sharing his thoughts about his new record, Matter; making music he can be proud of; Hawaiian shirts; and how to both survive and succeed on the road with someone who’s not only your bandmate but also your wife.

"I wanted to stop trying to be cool."

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Let’s talk first about the new album, Matter. This album feels even more '80s than When the Night. Was that a conscious decision?
Definitely not. I feel like when I’m making music, I’m not thinking specifically of what influences I’m trying to bring forth. Actually, it’s funny, before the album was released, I thought that it was less '80s than When the Night. [Laughs] But then after it was released everyone was like, "This is the most '80s album ever made!" And now when I listen back to it, I noticed the whole '80s influence more. It was a subconscious thing. The fact that I grew up in the '80s, it’ll never escape my music.

You opened yourself up to collaboration with your wife Patti Beranek and with Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and [the band] fun. How did you come to that decision?
I like challenging myself a bit and changing things up from album to album so I don’t get bored. Collaboration is something I did in my early days as a musician when I had actual bands. When I started St. Lucia, I was doing everything myself. For the second record, I had what I considered all the songs done. Because I had extra time on my hands, I thought, why don’t I just try writing with some different people? I can’t lose anything. I ended up doing these sessions, and most of them turned out really, really well. The one with Jack was great. I only spent about three hours with him. He had a date with Lena [Dunham] that he had to rush to. It was great. It flowed really well. In some ways, we come from the same playbook.
So are you still wearing the Hawaiian shirts?
[Laughs] No. I haven’t been for a while.

Was it your decision or because the band didn’t want you to?
No, I mean, I didn’t fucking care what they think. They hated it at first. I remember the first time I was gonna wear it, I actually got threats they were gonna quit. And then a year later, they were wearing the same stuff.

You’re so energetic during shows that in the past, you’ve swung your guitar so hard that you’ve broken your strap. What other funny or wild experiences have you encountered during a concert?
Yeah, man. That happens all the time. That guitar strap thing happens a good amount. They just wear and tear and eventually the guitar just flies off. One of the things is that when I do “Love Somebody,” I go out into the audience, just kind of like walking around and feeling the vibe of the crowd — I think it was a girl, I don’t know, she grabbed my whole package. It was really kind of shocking.

It’s surprising that doesn’t happen more.
If I was Justin Bieber, it would happen more.
In an interview with MTV, you said your music was born out of the guilty pleasures no one is supposed to like, but secretly do. Do you think there are guilty pleasure elements to St. Lucia?
Um, sure. It’s a little bit difficult to talk about this. The reason I’m into guilty pleasures is, my big thing when I started St. Lucia is I wanted to stop trying to be cool. I feel like there were so many years, there were so many bands around us, especially when we were signing, that were trying to be as cool and seem as disinterested as possible. I was certainly trying to do that for a while, and there just came a point where I realized that it’s stupid. I went back to the music I listened to before I became a self-conscious teenager and I realized how a lot of that music was instantly satisfying and made you smile and made you happy and made you want to dance.

The moment you start thinking, "Oh, what do other people think when I listen to Phil Collins or Earth, Wind, and Fire?" then you sort of start closing yourself off to it. I made this concerted effort to allow all my influences, whether it was a guilty pleasure or whether it was Radiohead or Interpol, and let all those things come out, because all those things are a part of me. I feel like, in a way, maybe that’s the reason why we don’t get much love from people like Pitchfork or Spin or whatever, because we’re not trying to sound like the Smiths. I’m just trying to be honest about who I am, and whether some people like it or not, it’s immaterial.

You and Patti are very clearly in love. What’s the key to making a relationship work under stressful situations such as touring or anything else?
It’s hard to say. I feel like she’s right there in front of me on the bicycle. It’s odd for me to tell if we have a relationship because we were lucky to find each other, or if we have a good relationship because we worked at it. I think it’s a bit of both. Some relationships just aren’t meant to work. If you’re with somebody and your personalities are completely different and work against each other, you’re probably going to have a shitty time together. I think if you give each other space and allow each other room to grow and be your own person, be yourselves and not change each other, that’s a good starting point...

We see the band as a family, and when we go to new cities, we go explore. When we go to cities we’ve been to before, we have our favorite restaurants or coffee shops and we go to those places. I see so many people hating touring, but then I also know they’re not leaving the venue all day or leaving the bus. They’re not making an effort to make their lives interesting. Touring is hard and I sympathize in certain ways, but also embrace it and take pleasure for what it is.

St. Lucia
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 14, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $18 plus fees via
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Angel Melendez is an unabashed geek and a massive music nerd who happens to write words (and occasionally take photos) for Miami New Times. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University and an accomplished failure at two other universities, Angel is a lush and an insufferable know-it-all, and has way better taste in music than you. His wealth of useless knowledge concerning bands, film, and Batman is matched only by his embarrassingly large collection of Hawaiian shirts and onesies.
Contact: Angel Melendez