Talking touring and traveling with St. Lucia
The other day I had the chance to chat via phone with Williamsburg-based artist Jean-Philip Grobler, known better by his stage name St. Lucia. For those unfamiliar with his work, St. Lucia’s tropical 80s pop has this exotic quality of joy riding under every note, and the best way to experience its infectious effect (other than seeing the band perform live), is listening to the band’s debut, When The Night(2013). While the project remains entirely Grobler’s, the live band is rounded out with the talents of Nick Brown (drums) , Ross Clark (bass, guitar, keys, vocals), Nicky Paul (keys) and Grobler’s wife, Patricia “Patti” Beranek (keyboards, vocals). St. Lucia, who hails from South Africa, has been been on a whirlwind of touring through the U.S. and other continents since early last January (they’ve already hit Philly twice this year!). Read on to check out our conversation.
The Key:I love the way you crafted the concept on When The Night, did you do all the curating yourself?
St. Lucia: I more or less did that myself – I had a little bit of help from Chris Zane [of Passion Pit]; I get a lot of opinions from my friends and those I trust. I guess deciding on the track-list and flow came from at the time—I’m a big fan of great albums, and albums are very aware of mood and stuff like that, so the whole time I was making it I was constantly like “Do I like this intro? Does it need a break at this point?”…Some of the tracks on the deluxe edition of the album, the bonus tracks, were originally going to be on the album—the track “Out Tonight” was originally going to be the opener, and then “Night Comes Again” would come after that, but “Night Comes Again” is so obviously the first track so it [“Out Tonight”] fell by the wayside.
TK: I was actually going to ask about those three other tracks, so that’s funny you brought that up. Were all three of those ones that had just ended up on the cutting room floor before, or were those produced after you already hit the road?
SL: They were all made during the album sessions. At some point, all three of those were going to to be on the album. But the reason they were all going to be on the album is that something kind of supplanted them in the flow of the album, if that makes sense. But then adding them in some way just didn’t feel right because the album already had a really great flow.
TK: How has this leg of the Night Comes Again tour been different from last winter when you kicked off the tour?
SL: Well first of all, it’s like a lot warmer. Last year was like freezing cold, we were in a van which had heating troubles, and we were in Minneapolis on the coldest day in a hundred years. So it was intense that way. It was our first time doing a tour that long and it was a full national headlining tour, it was definitely a learning experience. But this time we’re on a bus, we sleep on the bus, we wake up in the next city we’re playing in, so we get full days basically for the city. We have like a full crew, so we just arrive at soundcheck and it’s a lot more relaxed, but by the end of it we’ll have been on the road for ten weeks. It’s pretty intense as well as being relaxed, sort of a juxtaposition.
TK: What’s your favorite part of touring?
SL: I mean, like I said, traveling to all of these different places you haven’t been to before, we try to see the things that are important in that town, eat that town’s food, you know…we’re fortunate to be in some naturally really beautiful places. While we were in Flagstaff, which is a really beautiful city itself, it’s forty-five minutes outside Sedona National Park so the band HAERTS went hiking with us that day in Sedona, for like five hours. So to me those, going to those place you might not see if you aren’t on tour, are great. And then if you ever meet someone who’s from that town, you can actually have a conversation about that town.
TK: So then what would be your least favorite part of touring?
SL: The flipside of what I just said—only having a brush of the places you’re in. Some places you think about how you might be if you were there for a month, but you really can’t because you just have a day, and also, just sometimes being away from home is difficult because you lose touch with your friends a little bit, but you know, I do really enjoy touring most of the time.
TK: As far as like home goes, I saw the photo diary you guys kept from South Africa – what was it like playing to your hometown crowd?
SL: It was amazing. When we went back, it was the first time I played in South Africa in like 12 years. There was never an impetus for us to tour there—it’s expensive to fly because we have so many instruments. It’s amazing playing for the people that I grew up with, and my family, and seeing my sister on her husband’s shoulders like dancing right in front of us.
TK: So you guys have toured with a lot of different bands—do you have any favorite bands to work with or tour with?
SL: This is going to sound very dramatic, but every band we’ve worked with has been really nice, we’ve never had a bad experience. We’ve toured twice with Two Door Cinema Club so I feel like we kind of have a special bond with them, but there’s nothing bad I can really say about any of those bands.
TK: So you guys have been through Philly a couple times now, at least three or four times?
SL: I struggle to remember but it may be even more than that, maybe even like, seven times? Especially including, like, Camden.
TK: Have you been able to explore Philly as much as the other cities you’ve visited?
SL: Not as much, actually, we’ve sort of just been in and out since it’s so close to New York. We don’t normally stay the night; we arrive late in the day, play, then drive back at night. When we did the Susquehanna Bank Center show we went to a great noodle place downtown and a bar, but that was really the first chance we had to get out a bit.
TK: What’s been your favorite city to play so far?
SL: You know, it’s funny that sometimes the venues that feel the best are the smallest venues or ones you don’t expect. We always have a great audience in Denver—Denver always seems really amped to see us. But I think from this tour, Minneapolis was probably the best; there was just something about it. And the venue we played, First Avenue, is such a legendary venue, like that’s where Prince performed and recorded Purple Rain. It’s crazy—occasionally, a video of that performance will come up on YouTube, like every two years or something, and then disappear because Prince doesn’t want anyone to see it. But it’s pretty amazing to play there and know that that happened.
TK: Was there a song from the album that took off as a crowd favorite more than you expected it to?
SL: I mean, I think the song that kind of surprises people when we play it live is the title track, When The Night, to kind of end the set. You know, we play “Elevate” as our encore and then When The Night is the last song. It’s kind of a song that most people haven’t really heard, and probably don’t get when they listen to the album, but it just feels really good as a closer and I think it hits people unexpectedly as well.
TK: What’s your current favorite song?
SL: Hmmm, let me look at my phone for two seconds to see what I’ve been listening to…“Silver” off of the new Caribou record. It’s such a good record.
TK: How did you choose your stage name?
SL: When I developed the project in the early days, I was coming from other projects that I had, and I just kind of bought my own unglamorous little studio in Williamsburg, and I had those like ten or so ideas that kind of have like an escapist, tropical aesthetic. So I pulled out a map of South Africa, closed my eyes and put down a pen and put it down on St. Lucia. It’s very similar to St. Lucia in Caribbean, you know, I went on vacation there as a kid; all these places called St. Lucia sort of have this exotic tropical mindset, so to me it just seemed like a perfect marriage of the connotations.
TK: What’s in the works for you next?
SL: I’ll probably head straight back into the studio. I have ideas but I haven’t even really been able to develop them so I’m hoping to get into the studio as soon as we get off the road. I’ll go back to South Africa for the Christmas break, then first few weeks of the year will be spent in the studio.