St. Lucia Lovebirds Jean-Philip Grobler and Patti Beranek Talk Music and Tropical Getaways
When singer-songwriter Jean-Philip Grobler was stumped on choosing a name for his band, he opened up a map of his native South Africa, blindfolded himself, and put a pen down. On the fifth try, it landed right smack on St. Lucia, an idyllic, coastal town that he used to frequent as a child. "It's like an oceanside nature sanctuary where people go to escape," he told InStyle. "To me, the moment I hit that, I was like, 'This is the place that represents everything I'm trying to do with our music.'" The escapist element is definitely palpable with St. Lucia, the synth-pop band Grobler fronts with his wife, Patti Beranek. "It's nostalgic, a little bit melancholy, happy—all these different feelings that you might associate with being somewhere far away," he said. The lovers and bandmates took some time before their show at Terminal 5 in N.Y.C. to recall the early days of their courtship and music-making:
Patti Beranek: The first time we met was at school in Liverpool. We were both 19-years-old.
Jean-Philip Grobler: I had literally just moved to England from South Africa to study music over there, and Patti was the first girl that I met. I was planning on having some fun, but then it just sort of happened.
Beranek: We just saw each other and were like, "Okay, what happens now?"
Grobler: We listened to all kinds of stuff together. I was really into Radiohead and Live.
Beranek: And U2. The Joshua Tree album was big. I listened to Norah Jones a lot as well, and Portishead, Massive Attack, and Goldfrapp.
Grobler: I was coming out of a totally different world. When I was a kid, pre-1994 was still apartheid, so we didn't get a lot the subversive music from the states or from the U.K. A lot of the music we would get was the poppiest pop music, so I've never really had a bad association it. When I left, it was a pretty huge cultural shock for me realizing there's all this other underground music. I think that's part of why there's such a strong pop element in St. Lucia, but then there's also this experimental side to it as well. I was also in a boys choir, and we had a whole African music set, so that really stuck with me. We had a gumba dance, and we had a section where we did African night sounds with drums and whistles. Then ten years later, I was offered a job to be a jingle writer in New York from a guy Patti's older sister knew.
Beranek: I set it up! Then the head of the company just got obsessed with Jean's stuff. You wrote a whole seven-minute thing in a day once. Remember?
Grobler: Yeah. I'd come in the morning and we'd have a brief or two briefs for a variety of commercials, and I'd have to write two thirty-second pieces of music every day—from writing it and recording it to mixing and mastering it. My goal was to save up enough money that I could leave and start my own studio and make my own music.
Beranek: Then we found a little studio in Brooklyn. And here we are. We've gone around North America four times this year, and we've been to Australia, we've been to South Africa, we've been to Europe. Apart from a couple of months, we've been on the road. We're nomads, but we've always been. Ever since we met, we haven't found a place that we could really call home. We love traveling though.
Grobler: I've been doing a lot of writing on the road. Once this tour is finished, I'm going straight back into the studio to work on the next record.
Beranek: Packing on the road is always a challenge. I just wear what I feel comfortable in, but we tend to favor bold, colorful prints onstage.
Grobler: I feel like people associate us with the tropical Hawaiian print, because for a long time we were wearing a lot of bright colors to exert our personality. Then I started noticing that the colors started messing with the lights onstage, so we started dressing more monotone. Now the color just becomes whatever the lights are.
Beranek: That whole Hawaiian shirt thing started in Australia the first time we went there. We went into a secondhand shop and Jean picked up this really crazy ugly print, and he was like, "That's so cool!" Everyone asked him not to wear it. He obviously didn't listen.
Grobler: It wasn't like, "This is ugly," to me. At the time we were wearing the most normal clothes, so I was looking for a way to up the ante to what we were wearing onstage. It was one of those southwestern, Native American shirts. Everybody shook their heads.
Beranek: They were like, "We'll give you whatever you want as long as you don't wear this shirt."
Grobler: I feel like Hawaiian shirts have definitely made a comeback.
Watch the video for "Elevate" below, and purchase When the Night for $11 from the iTunes Store.