Tropic Wonder: St. Lucia Breezes Past Commercials to Commercial Success


You don’t often see Taco Bell and Victoria’s Secret in the same sentence, and that’s probably for the best. But both commercial titans have enlisted exuberant, ’80s-leaning pop songs by St. Lucia to push their products. Before bandleader Jean-Philip Grobler, 30, started St. Lucia as a solo studio project, he produced original jingles, and his tune-crafting skills are evident upon first listen of the band’s buoyant 2013 debut, When the Night. In between festivals, tours, side projects with indie darlings Passion Pit and HAERTS, and returning to their native South Africa, St. Lucia stops at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool on April 11. Here we talk to Grobler about venomous snakes, floral shirts and how Radiohead changed his life.

How did you pick the name St. Lucia?

I basically took out the map of South Africa and I was just really frustrated at the time, trying to find a name. I took out a pen, closed my eyes and put it on a couple of places in South Africa. I think the fifth try was St. Lucia.

What made you pass on the other four?

They were just ridiculous names. One of them, I think, was Puff Adder—that’s like the most venomous snake in South Africa, and there’s a town named after it. I just thought, OK, maybe if it was like a metal band that would be cool, but no.

You picked a good one. So to clarify: Is “St. Lucia” just you or you and a band?

The first album was 90 percent me in the studio, going crazy most of the time. It’s kind of my solo record. There were other people involved at various levels for additional production or drums. When we play live, it’s very much a live band.  It’s not [just] me with a laptop. For the next album, I’ve been working with the [band] more. I’m still the main songwriter and producer.

Does that mean you’re already working on a follow-up to 2013’s When the Night?

Yeah! I have tons of songs already. When you’re on tour, in the van, you have so much time that you can either watch movies, stare out of the window or just try to be creative. It can be difficult in a van with all these people around you—especially because I’m so used to being in the studio and having all of these synths around me. But I’ve really developed a good working process for getting these done in a van—at least as far as I can take it in that context.

You used to write commercial jingles. Can we find any of them online?

The one you can find online—because, most of them have been random commercials for like, Tums—is a campaign for Sealy mattresses. It’s a commercial called “Jump.” Patty [Beranek, Grobler’s wife and band mate] is singing.

Are you still writing jingles or publishing songs outside of St. Lucia?

Not really. Doing what I’m doing now has always been my ambition—making records. The thing with jingles is that your initial vision for whatever the music was going to be will—most of the time—not actually be what comes out in the end. You’re dealing with clients and everybody’s opinions. I’ve always wanted to do something where I could do what I want as much as possible. … I’m just kind of exploring my own whims at the moment.

You grew up in South Africa, partly during apartheid. What music were you exposed to and what influenced you?

We weren’t exposed to much international music. The government was banning subversive records so we got the poppiest of pop music, whether it was from America or the U.K. … The first time I ever became aware of [different] music was listening to Radiohead’s OK Computer. From there, I just went on this discovery process of, “Wow, there’s this whole other side of music.” I think the music that I make now is kind of a mixture between my pop upbringing and this kind of experimentally leaning side that I discovered later in my life.

Is it true that you wanted to return the Radiohead album at first?

My parents bought it for me for Christmas. [Laughs.] I put it on and I was like, “What is this?” It sounded so alien and foreign to me. After the first listen, I basically wanted to return it, but I couldn’t because it was Christmas weekend and stores were closed, so I was forced to listen to that album. I think after the third or fourth or fifth listen I began to fall in love with it. Little fragments of it started to stick in my head and make sense to me. Then it just started to reveal itself. I’ve never been the same since.

You’ve also remixed and produced for other artists such as Passion Pit, Charli XCX, HAERTS and Foster the People. Are you still doing that?

Yeah! I just did a new remix that I can’t really talk about but when it comes out [fans] will be like “What the fuck?” I sent it to [the artist] and I haven’t heard back so it’s possible that they just think I’m crazy.

Would you say its something left field?

A little bit. There are strong elements of St. Lucia in there, but I think the pairing with the artist is perhaps unexpected. That’s part of the reason that I decided to do it. I’m very excited for it to come out.

You have a collection of floral shirts that’s just fantastic.  What’s up with them?

My business manager hates me because whenever I see something I try to buy it before anyone else in my band buys it. So I have a lot of floral shirts. It’s crazy because I feel like every men’s clothing shop I go into now that used to have stark black-and-white patterns, everything is now just floral shirts.

St. Lucia

Opening for Young the Giant, Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan, 8 p.m. April 11, $25 and up,