When it’s time to make music, married couple Jean-Philip Grobler and Patti Beranek come together to form the synth-pop duo known as St. Lucia. South Africa-born Grobler and Germany-born Beranek released their debut album, When the Night, 10 years ago. Since then, they’ve released several other hard-hitting, electro-pop projects, and are continuing to do so with the release of their fourth studio album, Utopia, later this year.
St. Lucia’s music is largely filled with bright beats, feel-good melodies, and thoughtful lyricism. Their new single, “Touch,” encapsulates all of the things St. Lucia fans love about their songs. The music video, directed by Nicole Lipp, showcases 80s-inspired aesthetics and a beautiful dance sequence between two queer actors, Liv Mai and Canyon Carballosa.
With St. Lucia, there is much on the horizon to anticipate. Their LP, Utopia, releases October 7, followed immediately by a 29-date North American tour.
Jean-Philip Grobler of St. Lucia spoke to Pop Crave about his new song, “Touch,” upcoming album, Utopia, and how he feels the music industry has changed over the past decade.
Congratulations on all of the recent success with your new EP, and also congratulations on this amazing new song, “Touch,” and your upcoming tour! You have so much going on, so firstly I just wanted to ask how it feels having so many exciting things going on at once!
Sometimes overwhelming [laughs] but mostly good. I mean, it just feels good, especially after the whole pandemic thing where I was like, “Are we going to be able to do music again?” I was just kind of questioning things, even though I think I’m a music-for-lifer because I’ll just do [music] no matter what. I don’t know what it would take to stop me, but there were moments there, you know, which is crazy. It’s just good to be back, playing shows, and being with the band again. It’s good, and I’m honestly really enjoying myself right now.
I think it’s really inspiring how you and your wife are not only a couple that do music, but you’re also parents that do music. What advice would you give to other parents on balancing their personal lives with wanting to pursue their dreams in the music industry?
Maybe I would say to try and get established before you become a parent [laughs]. It’s not because once you’re established you need to work less, but I think the un-comfortability of building your music career or artistic career doesn’t lend itself well to having kids, I would say. We’re at a stage now, though, where when we tour, we tour on a bus… We can take our kids with us. We like to share the experience with them and involve them in our lives as much as possible. Our studio is literally in our apartment… They just hear music being made all the time, but yeah. To me, it seems like a fucking nightmare to try and separate your family life from your career life. I like to sort of involve them a bit.
Your new LP, Utopia, releases October 7, and it’s your 4th full-length album. I’ve always wanted to ask a music artist this: What’s the feeling you get when you suddenly release such a personal body of work into the world for everyone to consume?
I feel like the feeling has changed over the years. At first, it was nervousness and this pressure to get recognized, establish yourself, and all that kind of stuff, but now we’re established to a degree. Obviously, it would always be nice to be more successful and make more money [laughs]. We’re good, we’re happy, so now it’s more just about hoping that people like it as much as their other favorite St. Lucia songs that they like, you know? And I think increasingly, it seems like it’s difficult in this world of streaming and social media to kind of get people to pay attention because there’s so much new stuff happening, so that’s kind of been the biggest challenge for us with this current cycle. It’s literally just that people’s attention spans are just so short, you know, but we’re very excited to do it. I feel like I would say this because I have to sell it [laughs], but I think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever released. We really paid a lot of attention to making it an enjoyable listen, but also having depth and being diverse. I’m really excited to see what people think!
Is there a track on the album that’s currently your favorite?
I think right now it’s “Gimme the Night.” Me and Patti live in Germany, Patti who’s my wife and also in the band, but I’ve been going back and forth to New York and the states quite a bit over the last few months. I’ve been rehearsing and preparing for the tour, doing private shows and stuff, and we can already play the whole of Utopia as a band. That song in particular has been feeling really, really good to play.
Your new single, “Touch,” is genuinely so much fun. What would you say the overall meaning of the song is about?
It sort of has the surface level meaning, and then there’s a deeper meaning to it. I think the surface level meaning is you having a relationship with somebody and you kind of breakup with them or they do something to kind of wrong you, like they cheat on you, and then you’re like, “I’m moving on and going forth,” but you still somehow, deep inside still desire them no matter how much you try and convince yourself that you don’t. Subconsciously, it sort of speaks to society right now and how it’s so divided and stuff, but how we actually need each other no matter how different we think we are. We need the different opinions and parts of society that might seem at odds with each other, but they balance each other out in some weird way.
Is there a lyric of yours, from either “Touch” or one of your other new songs from Utopia, that sticks out as being one of your favorite lyrics?
My favorite lyrics in general are probably from “Separate World” and “Hey Now.” Those are probably the lyrics I’m the proudest of. “Hey Now,” which is the last track on the album, was written pretty early on in the pandemic. We were just locked in our apartment in New York with our firstborn, and he was two at that time, and it was just crazy. I mean, everyone experienced this craziness and just not knowing what was going to happen. It was kind of dealing with that but putting a positive spin on it. It was kind of like a train-of-thought absorption of the world around me, and it was just spat out with this positive message in the chorus: “It only takes a second to fall, but it only takes a minute to start over again.” You can fail and fall really quickly and easily, but even though it’s a bit more difficult to get started again than it is to fall, it’s not as difficult as you think and it’s important to do it.
I had the chance to see the “Touch” music video early, and it truly filled me up with so much joy and happiness! I loved the dancing, the 80s vibes, the pink and yellow color hues, and the amazing representation of two queer actors being happy and in love. How would you describe the overall concept of the music video?
We worked with a really great music video director, Nicole Lipp… We’re doing each EP with a different director. The first EP was with a really great animator, so all of the videos were animated. With this one, we wanted a bit of a different flavor, and we finally call and she’s really cool. Her parents are from South Africa and I’m South African too… We sort of imagined there being some kind of dance music video, and she was really passionate about having a couple queer actors in it, and we thought it was a great opportunity. We’ve always had great support from the queer community, and we’ve played a number of pride parties in the past. It’s great to show a love story, although is it a love story or a passion story? I don’t really know, but it’s just cool to show different perspectives.
I have to shout out two of your remixes because I love these artists, and the remixes are incredible: “Pretty Places” with Aly & AJ and “Dark Bird” with Jake Wesley Rogers. How did those collaborations come about and what was it like working with them?
It was great working with them both! With Aly & AJ, we did a writing session before the pandemic started. I think it was early 2020, maybe, and we wrote a few cool songs together. Hopefully one of them will come out at some point, but they then reached out and wanted me to do a remix because they really like my remixes, and then I did it and it was pretty straight forward. My thing with remixes is to always try and bring a slightly different angle to it. Not necessarily to make a club remix, but to almost do a reproduction of the song as if I were to produce it, you know?
With Jake, it’s a slightly longer story. We play this place called The Surf Lodge in Montauk. A lot of great artists play at this place, and everyone’s kind of just playing on this little stage and doing their best. They normally post follow-up videos on Instagram or social media, and I saw Jake’s video and was like, “Holy shit, man, this guy’s really talented and really good!” This was last year in 2021. I just decided to reach out to him and was like, “Hey dude! I saw your performance,” and I saw he didn’t have that many followers at the time, and I thought this dude was about to go gangbusters. I just reached out to him and was like, “Man, I’d love to work with you. I’d love to do a remix or whatever,” and he responded really quickly and was like, “I’m such a fan of what you guys do and I’d love to work together!” Then it just took a while for anything to happen. His team came back and decided they wanted me to remix “Dark Bird,” and that was in February or March of this year. I did it, of course I accepted gladly, and then I did it and he loved it. I then flew to LA to write with him. We did a two-day session together writing in the studio, which is amazing. He’s such a talented, lovely guy… I meet a lot of talented artists, but I think Jake is next level… Just totally natural, not a diva in any way, very down to earth, and he’s a nice guy who was just a pleasure to work with.
Releasing a remix for @jakewesleyrogers of his song Dark Bird tomorrow. We happened to be in NYC at the same today and so we met up in Bryant Park to take some pics and drink matcha. The only two times I’ve ever had a matcha latte were the first time I met Jake and today pic.twitter.com/RS3AMik467— St. Lucia (@stlucia) June 23, 2022
What music artists are inspiring you right now, and is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
For the last couple of years, I’ve really loved this band Parcels. And Jake Wesley Rogers, I just can’t wait to see where he goes with his career. I think it’s going to be huge. There’s a lot of good music out there right now.
You have a 29-date North American tour for Utopia that starts in Boston on October 7. What’s been your favorite part about planning out the tour so far?
Honestly, just getting in the room again with the band and playing with them. I feel like there’s a renewed sense of purpose and energy with us. We’re at the stage now where we’re on our fourth record, and although I feel like on some level there’s something for us to prove, we just don’t give a shit anymore. We’re just honestly enjoying it and loving playing together, and we know that we’re kicking ass. It feels really good, and I consider myself very blessed to be surrounded by such great musicians. Obviously, we’ve been missing Patti. Patti hasn’t been on any of our recent shows, unfortunately just because it’s tough having two kids, but she’ll be back for the tour. Once she’s slotted in there, we’re just going to have liftoff and it’s going to be awesome.
Is there a certain location you haven’t been to before that you’re really excited to play at?
We’ve never played in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but we spent a day off there, and I just fell in love with that place. The aesthetics of the place really fits with the aesthetics of this record, with the artwork and stuff…and I think the venue is kind of, like, a legendary spot… We’re playing at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, and I’ve heard a lot about this venue and that it’s really cool.
The last question I wanted to ask is about your decade-long journey with releasing music. With TikTok and streaming services and things like that, how would you say the music industry has changed and/or shifted since first starting out?
Oof, man, how long do you have [laughs]? I would say like anything, it’s changed for the worse and for the better. Even though I have a complicated relationship with social media, and before the pandemic and during the pandemic, we took a year and a half full break from social media where we just weren’t on it at all. It’s kind of put us in a weird spot now because we have to play catch-up and reignite the algorithm or whatever… A lot has been said about the bad stuff of social media, so I don’t need to go there, but what is good about it, to play devil’s advocate, is that you are, in many ways, able to have your social channel be way more powerful than any other channel, unless you have no followers… Your channel is the most powerful means of communication that you have, and you have full control of that. That’s actually a great gift for an artist in many ways, because even though it can be annoying to have to always think about these posts, if you treat it like you’re now running your own magazine or your own media channel, then there’s a way that you can think about it in a healthy way. You don’t always have to be checking shit constantly or thinking about how people are reacting, but I think it’s important to kind of somehow try and distance yourself from it emotionally, because I think it can really fuck with your brain. If you can do that and treat it in a professional way, then it’s not all bad, but I do have an issue with the whole algorithmic thing and how they select certain posts of yours and show it to some people but not others.
St. Lucia’s new song, “Touch,” is out now.