What happens when you take an aspiring musician from South Africa, bounce him around the globe a few times, and let him grow into his sound in Brooklyn? You get St. Lucia, an eclectic music project that stirs up memories of the ’80s greats and tropical vacations all laced with an infectious electro-pop beat. Jean-Philip Grobler, the man behind St. Lucia, can do it all—writing, singing, and producing. We sat down with him prior to his live set at the Middle East in Boston and asked him what it takes to be a one man band.
Interview by Rosa Barney
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1. Be Inspired
If you’re going to give it a go as a one-man (or woman) act, you’re going to need to have some ideas. Generating new concepts isn’t always easy, so look for inspiration in the small things. Here’s what Grobler told us about his inspirations:
“I am inspired by a lot of different things. It could be a really good movie that has a good mood or something. I am really inspired by Hayao Miyazaki who is a Japanese Anime director. He directed the movie Spirited Away; I love his movies. I am obviously inspired by music. I could be inspired by spending a weekend at a lake– it could be anything really.”
2. What’s In A Name?
Sure, you could just go by your real name, but if you go that route, a lot of people are going to assume you’re just another singer/songwriter, and the one-man band is so much cooler. So you’re going to need to think of a name. Start off by thinking of what kind of music you make, and then come up with something cool and not-so-obvious that fits.
“Well, actually St. Lucia [in the Caribbean] is named after the St. Lucia in South Africa, there is a town in South Africa called St. Lucia. I was looking around for a name for ages and I decided to do that thing where you take a pin and close your eyes and make it land on a map. I did that five times and the fifth time was St. Lucia and I thought it was cool because the music felt really tropical at the time. I used to go to St. Lucia as a kid so it brought back all these childhood memories. It just kind of made sense to me.”
3. Play Instruments, Lots Of Them
This one is pretty obvious. When you’re the driving force behind a project, you can’t be relying too heavily on other people, so you’ll need to learn your way around a few different instruments. If lessons aren’t you’re thing, don’t worry. Grobler claims that he just picks things up and figures them out.
“I play a lot of stuff. The only things I don’t play are violin or string instruments and brass. I’m not really that amazing at anything. Whatever I feel like [playing] I just try and figure it out and then I make it work.”
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Change
When you’re a one-man band, your plate is going to be full. If you get too caught up with trying to micro-manage, you’re probably not going to get much done. One of the things that’s made St. Lucia work out so well is an open-mindedness and willingness to just let things happen.
“I try not to control it too much. Any project is going to go from this small seed and it is going to expand in some way and you have to embrace every step of that process. Obviously certain songs work well on record that won’t work the same way when you play them live and vice versa. We might play a song and we might feel that it doesn’t work well live so I might go and change it. Also, if we have been playing a song live and it hasn’t been recorded I might go and record it and it might come out completely different than the live version. I just think it’s a about being open minded and knowing what you like.”
5. Triple Threat: Writer, Singer, Producer
Turning your poems into melodies is for the coffee shop regulars. You need to think big picture. Grobert explains that when he’s got an idea for a song in his head, it’s often just a collection of different ideas of lyrics, melodies, and production elements and it all comes together at once.
“As time has gone on it has all become one and the same for me—the whole process. I very rarely sit with an acoustic guitar to write a song. Normally I will be walking in the street and something will come into my head and there will be an element of production in there, how I want the production to feel. There will be an element of the chords and the melody, maybe a little bit of the lyrics. The whole thing kind of develops at the same time. The song is written as I record it and as I produce it. That influences the production process and the way I’m singing influences it, so it’s very symbiotic process.”
St. Lucia released his self-titled EP digitally on March 6 with the physical copy to follow on the 27. You can catch St. Lucia live on tour with The Knocks.