Well, we're pleased to say that are numerous things we like about the new St. Lucia album, Matter. There is, for example, the fact that it takes the slick and rich sound of their debut and ups it by many notches. There is also the fact that almost every one of its 11 tracks could be a massive radio hit. Or how about the cover art? It shows Mr St. Lucia - Jean-Philip Grobler - and his mates in what uncannily looks like Don and Megan Draper's apartment in the later series of Mad Men (with added cat and Siberian husky, amongst other things). Oh, and the font is pleasing to the eye, too.

So, essentially, we're talking an all-around excellent package and, certainly, enough to give The 405 an excuse to publish a - mind the dreaded term - long-read interview with Mr Grobler and learn more about his background, the new album, record company politics and his views on touring.


Hey Jean-Philip, where exactly are you? It sounds like you're surrounded by crickets.

Yes, there are a lot of them around here. I'm in South Africa at the moment. When I was about 10 to 15 years old, I went to this Boys' choir school in an area of South Africa called Drakensberg and I haven't been back here since I left. I mean, I left when I was 15 and I am 32 now so that's nearly 20 years ago [laughs] and I haven't been back for a proper holiday since then. I've been here for four days now and I am sitting looking at this massive mountain in the distance as it gets darker. If I sound a little delirious it's because I did a 35km hike up the mountains with my brother-in-law today, so it's been a very full day.

You have a very substantial following despite the fact that the first St. Lucia album only ended up getting limited distribution. For those who may not be as familiar with your music, can you tell me a bit about how St. Lucia came to be?

Sure. I was a jingle writer for a couple of years, which is why I first moved to New York. The idea was to save up enough money and buy enough equipment so that I could move on from being a jingle writer and have my own musical project. I eventually left my job and started my own studio and, over three or so years, I began developing this project which then turned into St. Lucia. It's still, basically, my solo project but I do have a live band that are also involved in the recording process but I'm still the guy that spends the most time in the studio.

At the risk of being over-inquisitive, can I ask what happened with the limited release of your first record, When The Night? We didn't get it here in the UK.

Ah, man, you know - I have to be somewhat diplomatic when I give you this answer but... it was 100% label politics. Our label in the States has been very good to us - we are signed to Columbia - and for a major label they are very, very artist-centric and they have many great bands who don't necessarily sell them a tonne of records but they really care about their artists. But when it comes to the international side of things there are certain politics at play, where they have to choose a certain amount of bands that they are going to push in the UK from the States and we just weren't a part of that. I know that there was some inner-wrangling and whatnot with regard to why our album wasn't released until recently but we are hoping that that has now been solved. The biggest heartbreak of the last few years was that I had spent four very formative years of my life going to LIPA in the UK and knowing that I had so many friends there and so many people who wanted to get hold of the music and couldn't even go online and buy the album. That was completely heartbreaking to me.

How was your time at LIPA?

It was great. Well, obviously great is a little bit of a vague term but it was, in many ways, a big cultural shock for me when I first arrived because I had grown up in South Africa and I always wanted to - hopefully - have music as the thing I make my living off and to be able to live my life doing. Growing up in South Africa I guess we were a little bit guarded from the international music world, or music community in general, so when I moved to the UK, to me the most underground, crazy band that I knew of was Radiohead, basically. So suddenly I had all this cultural catch-up to do of all these amazing underground bands that I had never heard of before. In South Africa people thought I had all these cool, interesting influences and then, as soon as I moved to the UK, I suddenly found out about bands like My Bloody Valentine whom I'd never heard of before. So there was a lot of catch-up involved but it was also different to what a lot of South Africans tended to do, which was to move to London. I had moved to Liverpool. I think this provided a different influence to what other people had. I definitely saw a different side of the UK than a lot of other people from South Africa had.

Where is home for you now?

Home is such a loaded term for me [laughs] because in a lot of ways I think of New York City as home or Brooklyn, specifically - that's where I live with my wife. That's where I have built my grown-up friendship groups and when I go back there I definitely feel like an adult. But, you know, when I come back here to South Africa... this is where my family lives. And this is where my childhood friends are, so home for me is like a jigsaw puzzle. There are elements of it in all the different places where I have lived in my life but New York is definitely the place where I feel like my current life is taking place. But there are pieces missing - like, my family is definitely missing from that and I would love them to be more of a part of it but it's complicated.

And where was the new album predominantly created?

It was written all over, actually. The first album was very much written in New York City, in the studio I had in Brooklyn. We had to give that up a couple of years ago and at that point we started touring a lot so I realised that the second album would have to be written in a different way. With this album we were on buses, we were on planes and I needed to make sure I created a really good laptop recording when I was sketching ideas. It was written in the States, in Europe, in South Africa and, partially, in Australia.

To your ears has the St. Lucia sound changed between the two records?

The first album was very tropical-influenced, very Balearic in a way, and I'd say that the new album shows a little bit of progression from that. It's a bit more aggressive and definitely less drenched in reverb.

Do you think that the progression is in any way related to the different ways in which the albums were written and recorded?

I think it is, in a sense. But what is interesting with this [new record] is that I couldn't explore ideas that I had to their full potential because I was on my laptop, I wasn't in a studio. So, for example, I couldn't record acoustic guitars or guitars in general or even vocals. A lot of the songs, until they were actually finished in the studio, just had these very rough demo vocals that I had recorded onto my laptop through the built-in microphone, like holding the laptop to my face [laughs]. In certain ways I think that when you have limitations it forces you to be progressive in other ways and it allows your imagination to run a little more riot than if you had everything available to you. So, those limitations enabled fantasy ideas of what the songs could become to build in my head. And we could only really explore those ideas during the three - or, just over two - months that we had to actually record the album.

When you wrapped up work on the album, was 'Dancing On Glass' the unanimous choice for first single? Was it an easy process picking it as the introduction to Matter?

No! It was very difficult [laughs]. I really wanted 'Physical' to be the first single and a lot of different people said a lot of different things. People were talking about 'Love Somebody' being the first single or "Help Me Run Away' being the first single but I think that after talking to a lot of people and after the label asked around it sort of became clear that 'Dancing On Glass' was the diplomat from the record, for want of a better phrase. It was, sort of, the nice song that is not super-abrasive. I think 'Physical' has this abrasive quality that some people can find annoying - some have been very vocal about that [laughs]. 'Dancing On Glass' seemed like the song that is a song in the purest form of the word, you know -verse/chorus - that kind of thing. It's a little bit similar to the stuff that we've done before and it may be a little bit of a safe choice but it is a choice that wouldn't necessarily piss people off but would nicely herald the new album. I think that there are lot of other songs on the album which I like more than 'Dancing On Glass' but it's a diplomatic song [laughs].

OK, so what is your favourite track on the album?

I think it's 'The Winds of Change'.

That's a good choice. Why that one?

Well actually I'd say it's 'The Winds of Change' and 'Home' but I tend to go with 'The Winds of Change'. Those two are the oldest songs on the album, like, they were written a couple of years ago before the bulk of the album was written and, actually, I came up with the idea for 'The Winds of Change' when I was in the studio with Michael Brauer mixing the HAERTS album. They're a band which I produce and they're also on Columbia and, in my head, I thought it could potentially be a great HAERTS song. After a few days I realised that, no, it should actually be a St. Lucia song and I think that, initially, when I was working on ideas for the album everyone said, "oh, man, that should be a big single" and I just always had a really good feeling about it. In the end, the process of going from the demo to recording it to then mixing it ended up being one of the most difficult on the album but I had my vision for the song - it was difficult to achieve - and for a while it wasn't living up to what I had in my head for it but, eventually, after mixing it about 6 times from scratch we eventually achieved it. There is something about it which feels mystical. There's a darkness to it and it is slightly melancholy. I think that there are a lot of Fleetwood Mac references in the song - they are one of my absolute favourite bands. Maybe what I like about it is intangible but in the end I always keep coming back to it, as the centrepiece of the album.

I think that my favourite track on Matter is 'Rescue Me', which is one of the longest songs on the record and sounds like the kind of extended remixes you'd get on a 12" single in the late 80s, without outstaying its welcome. Curiously it also reminds me - and this is an intangible thing, again, rather than any particular similarity - of the second single from Madonna's Immaculate Collection, which is also called 'Rescue Me'. Are you familiar with it?

I'm actually not, although I'm a big Madonna fan. The thing is, I don't know if I've ever actually listened to The Immaculate Collection because I am such a fan of listening to her studio albums and hearing her pop vision. So I need to go back and listen to that.

Don't worry, by the way, there's nothing here to cause Madonna's intellectual property lawyers to bring legal action against Columbia but it's more about the general feel of your song that called one of the extended versions of her single to mind.

Haha. That's really interesting. And, again, that's definitely one of my favourite songs because I love pop songs, I'm a big sucker for great pop songs and I was very much focused on making the album an experience and "Rescue Me' was the song that everybody went 'what the hell is that?!' about because it has so many layers and it takes so long for the vocals to come in. But it's funny that you mention that about Madonna because with 'September' [from St. Lucia's first album, When The Night], right up until it was done, no one had said anything to me about it sounding like this classic house track - I forget what it's called - and a good friend of mine who had basically mixed all the Prodigy records said to me at some point later 'ah, I love the sonic reference to this house track' and I had no idea what he was talking about. When I then went back and listened to it I got what he was referring to. But I'd never heard the track. I'm not a big scene-head, like, I don't get into all the classics necessarily. So often I miss these references until someone mentions it to me. But I really appreciate you saying it's your favourite because a couple of my friends have also picked it as their favourite. You know, it's so interesting - in the States people kind of shrug their shoulders when you come to them with a track like that and they're like: 'why are you not just making an album full of singles? But, to me, it's so important to have these more exploratory tracks and not just feed into radio-play.

How did you come up with Matter as the title for the album?

We were working on the record and, normally, with EPs I've done or with the last album it became clear towards the end of the process what the title should be. Like, with When The Night I came up with the song 'When The Night' as the last song and it was just a perfect title for the album because there are so many night references, etc. But with this album none of the song titles seemed that appropriate. There was a day when I was having dinner with Patricia, my wife, and I asked her if she had any ideas for an album title because I was struggling with it. And she immediately said: "how about Matter?" and the moment she said that it lit a lightbulb above my head. I was, like, wow. Yes. It just seemed like such an interesting word because it can mean so many different things. Like, things that matter or even the cheesier reference to how we are all made of matter. I asked her how she came up with that and she said that she'd been walking around in Brooklyn and she saw this word in a shop window and it also lit a lightbulb in her head. As the weeks and months progressed and we were finishing the album off there was no better option and I kept coming back to that word. A lot of the lyrics on this album are darker and deal with getting older. A lot of the last record was, lyrically, very train of thought but with this album, I really thought deeply about the meaning of the songs and the meaning of the lyrics and how they mattered. That word seemed to encompass a lot of these things.

You tour quite a bit. Is touring a loss-leader for you or do you actually manage to make any money out of it?

Touring is actually the only thing we make money out of, apart from some licensing. We've been fortunate enough in the States - even though we don't get much radio play - we're not a big, hyped pop band but we've managed to build quite a large live following, because I think when people come to our shows they see that we are playing most of the stuff that is on the records live. We have some tracks behind us just because there's so much stuff happening in the music that it would feel empty if we left it out. We do manage to make money - not a tonne - and as we grow, and as people come to our shows and as offers to play festivals go up we always try and increase the levels of production and the levels of the things we bring to the stage, with that. For this upcoming tour we have a tour sponsor who has given us a certain amount of extra money because they want to be associated with us and that enables us to have a few more lights on the road with us and one extra crew member, who'd be able to sell merch for us and that sort of stuff. It's a balance of a bit of commerce and trying to provide the best for our fans.

Finally, who are you most excited about in terms of artists you'd like to see doing well in 2016?

I'm definitely excited to see where HAERTS go, partly because I am unable to be involved as much as I used to be because how time-consuming St. Lucia is to me. One of the artists that is coming on tour with us is Grace Mitchell and I am definitely excited to see where she goes. She is very young and is still in some ways finding her sound. We did a songwriting session together when she was, like, 14 or 15, and even at that point I could see that she had this incredible artistic voice inside, which she was kind of trying to wrestle with and figure out what she wanted to do with. But in all the new music that she has released, there is something very interesting going on.

Matter is out on 29 January via Columbia.