"Images and music are very connected," St. Lucia frontman Jean-Philip Grobler said last night on the sixth floor of the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan. "Hearing about a visual artist's approach can change the way you think about songwriting." It makes sense that art would be top of mind for the singer, considering his five-piece synth-pop band—which includes his keyboardist-vocalist wife of five years, Patti Beranek—would play the museum's annual Armory Party celebrating The Armory Show art fair later that evening in the Agnes Gund Garden Lobby. Here, Grobler and Beranek get candid about the Surrealists, museums, and the enduring appeal of Hawaiian shirts.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Patti Beranek: The Surrealists for me. My dad's a big art lover, and when we were kids, he would always try to get us out to galleries. One of the earliest exhibitions I remember was [Salvador] Dalí. I wasn't super enthusiastic at first, but I walked in and saw this one particular painting that's maybe 15 feet long, and it's all one extended butt cheek.
Jean-Philip Grobler: A single butt cheek? That's amazing.
Beranek: That's where my love affair with Surrealism began. I laughed so much, and that was it.
Grobler: When I was a teenager, I never knew anything about art. I think in South Africa at that stage, no one was really exposed to it. There were no museums that had great artists in them. I feel like I really started my art education when I met Patti. I definitely fell in love with the Surrealists, and Henri Rousseau was a huge influence on our first record—we almost directly took the cover from his jungle artwork.
Beranek: Jean saw it [Rousseau] when he came to MoMA, actually.
Grobler: I'm very interested in how visual artists think, because I think the way that I think about music is similar. I'm very inspired by aesthetics and space.
What museums do you like?
Beranek: MoMA, of course.
Grobler: LACMA is awesome.
Beranek: I love The Met. They have such a huge collection there.
Grobler: The Getty in L.A. is amazing as well, more for the setting than the actual collection.
Do you collect art?
Beranek: My dad's from the Czech Republic and bought a few prints by this really cool illustrator named [Albín] Brunovský.
Grobler: He's one of the most loved and famous artists in the Czech Republic. It's like Dalí having a nightmare.
Beranek: He etches things into these copper plates and presses them with prints.
Grobler: It's super vivid and realistic, which is funny because these pieces were in the house Patti grew up in. There would be pictures of a demon and someone's leg being dismembered on the wall.
How important are visuals in your live performance?
Beranek: We're always looking at new visuals.
Grobler: As we work on music, certain visual cues start coming out. Matter was less of a lush record than the first record and a little bit more angular in certain ways. Those [set] visuals of the super sharp gold frames and the spiky cacti made sense because some of the lyrics were a little bit more severe and not necessarily happy. Also, we recorded it out west, so we fell in love with that whole Palm Springs aesthetic.
How does fashion factor in?
Beranek: I think with the complex set, the clothes we were attracted to were a bit more neutral and black and white versus the Hawaiian shirt look from the first tour. I think those might be done.
Jean-Philip: They might come back.
Watch the music video for "Help Me Run Away" above, and buy Matter on iTunes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.