There’s a handful of husband-and-wife musical combo we can name – Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Tina and Ike Turner, Sonny and Cher, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and there’s also Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
But all of them started off as solo artistes.
Now, meet St. Lucia, a synth-pop duo comprising of Jean-Philip Grobler and Patti Beranek, who are truly immersed in the concept of a married music duo.
In the year 2012, they got married after dating for ten years, and it was also the year they got together as musicians before releasing their first self-titled debut EP. Fast forward to 10 years later, they have dropped their fourth studio album, Utopia, which meshes pop, dance and dance.
St. Lucia’s electro-pop approach garnered attention when they kicked off their nationwide tour across America and Australia in 2014.
Before St. Lucia, Grobler has also been a force within the music scene as he opened for Two Door Cinema Club in 2013 and remixed for Passion Pit, Foster the People and Charli XCX.
We spoke to Grobler about St. Lucia’s new exciting album Utopia, his early influences, the challenges of working as a married couple and what they want listeners to take away from their music.
Hi guys, how has 2022 been for you?
Really good so far, thanks for asking! It started off relatively busy but things have gotten insanely busy but in a good way.
It’s nice after a couple of years of just working on our record and not being super busy at all – apart from family life which always takes up a lot of time (laughs).
Tell us about the beginnings of St. Lucia – where did the initial desire to perform together come from?
I’ve just been doing this thing my whole life. I sort of have no choice, I am fortunately/unfortunately possessed by music and I need to do it because it seems like the only way I’m able to express the deeper things going on in my consciousness.
Even if I try to not do music for a couple of weeks I’m still coming up with song ideas and have things going around in my head. I went to the Drakensberg Boys Choir School in South Africa at the age of 10 which was a pretty rigorous musical education in the middle of the South African mountains and I started one of the first bands there and I’ve just been possessed by music and songwriting ever since.
I also remember that my parents loved music and listened to a lot of music when I was growing up, and they’d let me watch music videos and I think there was just something about it that just spoke to me.
The way music affects people is perhaps the most visceral out of all the arts, especially when you see a great live performance, and so I wanted to be a part of that.
Your cultural mashups are quite broad ranging and unique. Does that impact the way you create together? How?
It’s partially by design but also partially just catching the winds of life that I’ve been fortunate enough to live all over the world and experience a lot of different cultures.
Patti’s mom is from Taiwan and dad is from the Czech Republic, so we just have this totally crazy mashing up of cultures in our broader family.
The thing you realise when you experience so many cultures, at least from my perspective, is that despite our differences we’re more similar than not. This inspires me with the music I make because I like to imagine bringing people together through our shared experiences of humanity.
It can sound corny when an artiste talks about wanting to make their songs “universal” or “accessible”, like they’re selling out or something, but to me this is basically what mythology is.
When you read ancient texts like Homer or The Bible or whatever you realise that people haven’t changed all that much despite technology, and there are these experiences that unite us and appealing to that isn’t corny it’s just connecting with something deeper in humanity.
Which artistes did you grow up listening to, and how has it changed since?
I’d say there’s been more or less three or four listening stages in my life. In my early life it was mainly what my parents were listening to around the house, which was a lot of the classic rock/pop greats like Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, but also some classical music.
I was growing up in South Africa so I was naturally exposed to African music which was a huge part of my musical development.
I then went to the Drakensberg Boys Choir where we did two hours of choir practice every day and went on tours around the country and the world, and I learned so much about classical music and African music there.
There was a local Zulu school close by in a village where we would go and learn traditional Zulu songs, and we had a whole African music set of songs we learned from all over Africa and that was hugely influential on me.
That part of my life coincided with being a teenager in the 1990s and going on my own musical journey of discovery and listening to bands like Radiohead, Live, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis or The Verve, but then also loving the pop music of the time like The Spice Girls and Britney Spears.
In this time there was very little looking back for me, it was all about the music being made now.
The next part of my life was moving to the UK to study and then to the US, where my mind was really blown by the diversity of music out in the world that I wasn’t exposed to in South Africa.
It also took me moving away from South Africa to realise how amazing African music is and to really appreciate it.
Now I just listen to everything. I feel like we’re living in a great time where listening to everything is a strength, in a way. People are a lot more culturally hip than they used to be.
How did you first start finding your sound, and what was that process like?
I’ve been making music for a long time, and so I’ve been through a bunch of different iterations of “my sound”. But the way the St. Lucia sound came about was basically me embracing all elements of my musical heritage and influences.
There was a long time there where I was basically making a lot of very bombastic Indie Rock, but I think when I started including elements of my “guilty pleasures” (even though I don’t feel guilty about them) and the music from my home continent that things started coming together, and I found my sound.
I now feel like the perfect St. Lucia song contains elements that are high-brow and low-brow, things that are very well recorded mixed with shitty quality samples. Nothing can be just a straight-ahead thing, it has to have some kind of twist for me to feel like it’s part of St. Lucia.
Oh, and a generous serving of romanticism.
What do you think makes your sound unique? What other arenas would you like to explore together in your music?
Similar to what I said in the above answer, I think what makes us unique is that we’re meshing things together that sometimes feel at odds with each other.
I am exhausted by music that seems too “cool”, that doesn’t seem like it’s risking maybe seeming uncool. Often to make something affecting or beautiful you have to risk coming across as uncool or clueless.
A lot of the most beautiful and influential art throughout history that we now revere wasn’t considered good at the time because it wasn’t made to satisfy the tastes of the people at the time.
Artistes see things from a different perspective, but now there’s all this pressure to make yourself appealing to Instagram, and so a lot of people it seems are playing into that.
What I/we do is literally just our own thing, and there’s very little consideration of whether people might think it’s cool or not.
Of course, I love good pop music, and so there is a strong pop element to our songs, but we have a distinct signature to our sound that comes from working at this for a long time and honing our craft.
How do you feel your sound and creative process have changed since you started in the industry?
I’ve been through so many phases and eras as a musician, but I’m honestly feeling more assured and confident now than ever.
I realise we aren’t the biggest band in the world and we’re sort of a bit of a niche thing, but everything I make and do I make as if it’s the most important piece of music that’s ever been made and as if we are the biggest band in the world.
That’s not to say that I imagine what the world would think of it, instead I try to use the most high-quality “ingredients” (gear, instruments) that I can as well and making sure that pretty much everything we put on a record comes from a place of pure inspiration.
I’ve been at those LA songwriting sessions that feel like a focus group, and while they can be fun the bands and artistes I revere made their music from a place of pure imagination and joy, and that’s how I choose to drive St. Lucia.
What is your proudest moment as an artiste since you started 10 years ago, and why?
This is a very difficult question to answer because so much has happened. I am of course extremely proud when we finish a new record because we pour everything into it, and when we go on tour because it’s the same.
We take this thing seriously but of course with a lightness of heart and a lot of love.
But I can’t deny that when we do something like playing the main stage at Coachella or some late night television show and it’s broadcast all over the world and people are Instagramming about it, that I feel an extra level of pride because my parents can share clips of it and it’s meaningful to their friends.
Most of what we do is invisible, and I just feel a sense of pride in myself and with our team. But the few times when we’ve achieved some highly visible thing it’s felt nice because of the investment and risk my parents took with me by allowing me to follow my dreams.
What would you say are the easiest and most challenging parts of working together as a married couple?
Phew, I wish I had Patti here to answer this with me, but I feel like I know what she would say. Although maybe not (laughs).
I think we work really well together in general, we complement each other in a lot of ways and there’s a reason we’ve been together for 20 years (yes, really).
The hardest part is just when we’re fully in the thick of things and a lot of stuff is happening, finding the time to spend quality moments together, especially now that we have kids.
We’ve mostly been living in Patti’s hometown Konstanz in Germany the last year and a half, and because most of our stuff happens in the US, when our kids go to bed we’re normally having meetings and calls until we go to bed.
We maybe watch one episode of a television show per month at most. We just don’t have that kind of disposable time. That’s the hardest part.
If you were to introduce St. Lucia with one song only, what would it be and why?
This is also a tough question because it really depends on the type of person we’re talking about. I think our most popular song “Elevate” is popular for a reason, it really takes a lot of what we’re about and distils it into a pop song that has a lot of different aspects.
In terms of our new music, I’d probably say “The Golden Age” because it’s funky, and positive but with a bit of melancholy, has a widescreen production vision and takes you on a journey.
What’s one thing you want people to take away from your music?
I want people to feel inspired. Of course, artistes are multi-faceted and I’m no different. Not all my songs are positive and inspirational, some touch on things that I find ridiculous or annoying and I have songs that are a little bit sad and melancholy.
I never try and write a certain kind of song or play up to some imagined St. Lucia aesthetic, I try to just get out of the way and let the inspiration flow. But what I’ve found is the songs that connect the most with people are the ones that have a certain inspirational, kind of epic quality to them but mixed with a sort of hazy melancholy.
To me, that’s life. Life is never fully happy or fully sad.
We live always in relation to happiness and sadness, and when we’re at our happiest, sadness is always around the corner.
I try to sorta capture as much of the rainbow of those feelings in my songs, because that’s life. It’s weird, it’s hard, it’s sad, but it’s also beautiful, epic and inspiring.
What else can we expect from St. Lucia before the year ends and 2023 even?
Well, we have a lot of new music in store. We’ve been working hard for years now, before the pandemic and during and now after on a ton of material that feels like it’s all coming to its’ full ripeness now, and I feel in a really good flow and I feel confident about it.
There’s even a bunch of songs from some of our earlier record that are great songs but that we just never really had the time to finish that we now finally had the time to really explore and all of these are part of the pie.
So, we’re excited to be bringing out new music but also to be touring and playing shows in general. It just feels really good to be back overall and to share our music with the world.
Tell us a little bit more about this playlist you have curated for us.
It’s a list of a bunch of songs off the top of my head that are some of my favourite songs ever that I keep coming back to over and over again.
Many of them are stone cold classics and probably not surprising, but I’m not trying to be cool here, just honest. I love all of these songs and all of them make me happy and had some kind of big effect on me when I heard them for the first time.
A lot of them are by my favourite artistes, and I love a lot of that artiste’s catalog but I had to pick one song.
Not a lot from the last ten years to be honest, but I’m a little bit older and there’s not that many songs that have stood that test of time yet for me, but of course I love a lot of songs from the last ten years too.
So yeah, put this all together and you probably have some semblance of what St. Lucia is.
But of course there’s a lot more. I also snuck a couple of my own tunes on there as well as a couple songs I produced that I’m very proud of, Haerts “Wings” and Airparks “Under The Light”.
All Images: Gabrielle Kannemeyer
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.