If you ask Jean-Philip Grobler how he was able to start his breakthrough band St. Lucia, you might be surprised by the answer– writing jingles. Grobler’s band. St. Lucia, has received a lot of praise for their debut album (“When the Night“) and the artist says none of it would have been possible if it weren’t for his years spent creating jingles.
“It’s the best thing I could have done,” exclaimed Grobler. “It forced me to write in so many genres that I never would have investigated had I not had this job: hip hop, R&B, fake metal, an orchestral thing. I never took production at university, so it was trial by fire. I was in a (lousy) little room, a junior writer when I started. I would have to write one to two thirty-second bits of music — write, record and mix it all in a day. Being forced to write in certain genres that required synthesizers, I had to learn about them. And over a couple years I fell in love with creating on them, and what I could do with them.”
Exploring His South African Roots
The artist/producer is a Johannesburg native where he spent much of his childhood singing in a local boys choir. This upbringing taught him a lot about the traditional music of South Africa. However, he always yearned to expand his musical basis.
“We were so sheltered in South Africa from the international music community,” he explained. “We were exposed only to the biggest acts, the biggest pop music from the U.S. or U.K. or sometimes Australia. I never knew there was an alternative music scene until I was older. The first alternative album I discovered was (Radiohead’s 1997 album) ‘OK Computer,’ and the first time I listened to it, I didn’t understand it at all. My parents got it for me as a Christmas present. I listened to it once and wanted to take it back, but the stores were all closed because it was the holiday weekend. But by the third or fourth listen, it opened itself up and I found it beautiful. I realized music can be more cerebrally challenging, not just directly emotional.”
Writing Jingles in New York
Grobler soon left Johannesburg to pursue a career in music. He studied at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in England then secured a job writing jingles in New York. He managed to produce some music for a personal project while working his demanding day job hours. While experimenting with various concepts, Grobler eventually made the transition from indie-rock to synth-pop.
“When I came to New York, I was into alternative, indie, bands like Interpol, and my attitude was, ‘Why would you ever want to use a synth?'” states Grobler. “When I was a teen, discovering Radiohead and listening to guitar music, the ’80s was the worst thing I could think of — contextually it felt so wrong. But there came this time in the mid-2000s to late 2000s in New York where it was considered good to be as weird and crazy as possible, and Pitchfork would give most of it a great review. It felt like a dead end to me. At that point, I started listening again to music I loved when growing up: Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, and the African music I performed in choir, as well as discovering parts of African music I never knew existed. That music spoke to me on a more primal, instantly gratifying level, and that influenced the music I started to make in St. Lucia.”
Choosing a Name that Fits
Over time, he was able to save up enough money from producing catchy jingles to purchase a small studio in Brooklyn. Grobler invested in a few instruments and was able to create the first few tracks that would be released by his group. Amazingly this was not the most challenging aspect of the project. In a desperate ploy to find a good name, he looked at a map of South Africa and chose St. Lucia.
His project was heavily influenced by the ideas that sprouted from the ’80s scene and traditional rhythms inspired by Africa. They wanted to create something uniquely new by taking the best qualities from both. St. Lucia’s ideal sound effectively toes the line between multiple genres including:
- Rock, and
St. Lucia also holds significance for this established jingle writer. He used to vacation there with his family while growing up. The music his band was producing had a nostalgic almost tropical quality— so that name really matches their work perfectly. Be sure to check out St. Lucia’s debut album if you get the chance.