It's been all systems go for St. Lucia lately that it's lucky the AU review even got a chance to catch up with Jean-Philip Grobler. Squeezing us in his tight schedule between touring, mixing up tracks by Passion Pit and if Facebook evidence is anything to go by, a check-in at one of the biggest festivals in the world Octoberfest, we get the low down on his story, his travels and his music. Check out our interview here for the latest before you head to see him live at Parklife before he jets off to entertain fans across Canada and the U.S with Two Door Cinema Club!
Hello Jean-Philip! What has been the highlight of your day so far?
Taking my daily swim in the new McCarren Park Pool.
I hear that St Lucia is touring Australia for the first time playing at Parklife next month. Will this be your first time travelling to Australia?
I came to Australia once when I was about 14. I was a part of the Drakensberg Boys Choir, and we did a show at this Vineyard close to Perth called Abbey Vale and stayed in Perth for a few days. I loved it.
I know it must be a pretty tight touring schedule, but do you have any ideas for your free time while you are here?
I think we're going to have 4 or so days in-between the two weekends of Parklife, and then we might stay on for a bit after our last show. Still figuring out what to do, but we have friends in Melbourne and Sydney, so we'll probably end up somewhere there.
You are originally from Johannesburg and now you live in Brooklyn. What makes a place feel like a home for you?
I think it's mainly time that makes a place feel like home. When I started developing friendships that were more than just acquaintances and got to know the places around where I live on more than just a superficial level, it started to feel like home. Having a nice apartment that has things in it that speak to me in some way is also really important.
I understand that you were a member of the Drakenberg boys choir and toured around for much of your life. How has travel inspired and influenced the sound that you create?
I think that just being in different places and being open to the influences they gave me eventually morphed into the St. Lucia sound. Even though it hasn't always been that way, I've gradually opened up to all these different musical influences. For a long time I rejected all the 80's stuff, even though I loved it when I was younger, but over the last few years I started to rediscover it as well as African music and that naturally started making its' way into what I was making.
Is the travel bug the reason why you chose the band name St Lucia?
It might be! I'm not really sure though. I don't only like escapist music, but there is something about it that attracts me and the idea of being somewhere else that's different in some way to where you are. In some ways, there couldn't be anywhere more different to New York than St. Lucia (even though we do have good summers here), and so maybe it was the idea of it being the opposite that attracted me to it.
Your music to me has a modern orchestral feeling, combining electronic synth sounds with real instruments. How do you create that layered sound?
It's a pretty painstaking process. Most of the work happens right in the beginning, when I first come up with the idea, and right at the end, when I'm forced to make certain decisions because of time pressure. I also just gravitate towards arrangements that combine a lot of different instrumental textures, rather than being purely electronic or purely acoustic or whatever, and so I think that filters into my music.
Speaking of your classical background, what instruments do you play?
I can play pretty much any instrument apart from brass, string or wind instruments. I'm definitely by no means a virtuoso at any of the instruments I play, though. Actually, most things take me a lot of takes to get right. I'd say my main instrument is guitar, but if you were to put me in a room with a bunch of musicians and tell me to do a solo I'd probably just freeze up.
Did studying music ever hinder your ability to enjoy it?
Not really. In fact, there was a point when I was younger when I made a conscious decision to stop thinking about music theory consciously and just to trust the way I feel about music, and if I think it sounds right. I think this is an interesting question, though, because I've noticed that a lot of kids who go to music school find it difficult to let go of what they learned at school.
I noticed a picture of you playing Ping Pong on your Facebook page. How are your skills?
Ha! It's funny, that wasn't actually a picture of me, that was a picture of a friend of mine Benjamin Gebert who everyone always mistakes for me in pictures. He plays in this band I'm producing called Haerts, and has a studio right next door to mine. In terms of Ping Pong skills, I'd say they're pretty similar to my Pool and Bowling skills: sporadically brilliant, but mostly terrible.
Do you have any other secret talents or surprising abilities?
I'm disturbingly good at doing the chipmunk voice.
We are awaiting the release of your debut album later this year. Can you try to describe what you are creating in one sentence?
It's not totally finished yet, but when it is in a couple of weeks I'm hoping that it's a complete trip through a summer day and a summer night.
St. Lucia will be playing Parklife 2012, visit http://www.parklife.com.au for tickets and more info.