Building an aesthetic7/1/2015
St. Lucia is, at its core, the brainchild of South African-born Jean-Phillip Grobler. But it is difficult to create anything in a void, and St. Lucia’s music is no different. So while Grobler may have created most of the music on St. Lucia’s self-titled debut, it is the work of musicians Nick Brown, Nicky Paul, Patricia Beranek and Iowa native Ross Clark.
“I was actually on tour with another artist, and the drummer for that band was doing some session work with Jean,” Clark said in a phone interview, speaking of his first meeting with Grobler. “He showed me some songs, and I really loved what I heard. I ended up hanging out with Jean and Patricia, and he asked me if I’d consider coming in and playing some songs. That was back in 2011 before anyone was playing any gigs.”
“On that last album, I helped write one track and played guitar on another,” Clark continued. “When we signed with Columbia, we had become more of a tight-knit entity, but Jean had written most everything in advance. As we played together more and more, the live sound developed more of a raw, rock-inspired sound.”
It is that developing live sound, and Grobler’s growing confidence in that sound and the musicians who help create it, that has helped shape the direction of St. Lucia’s new album.
“We’ve been working on an album all spring, and how we’ve grown live as a band has changed how Jean produces,” Clark explained. “I’ve played guitar and bass on virtually every track now. Jean enjoys having this really big thing and carving away at it until it gets whittled down to what he wants. He definitely demands a lot from you in the studio. You have to be willing to give it to him and usually to do it on the first take because he’s notorious for taking that first play-through and saying, ‘Yup, we’ll use it.’
“Jean likes a really natural feeling in his music,” he continued. “I know that sounds glib — who doesn’t want a natural sound — but he’s really big about getting a sound that feels really easy and unrehearsed. That’s why he’ll use that first take so often. If it doesn’t feel perfect, he feels like that adds character and depth to the track.”
It is safe to say that Grobler’s whims are still steering the boat when it comes to St. Lucia as a musical act, but the other musicians are far from bit players or session musicians. Their personalities have effected Grobler’s musical direction, and their tastes and personal sensibilities have given St Lucia’s tracks a level of life and personality that Grobler could not possibly have instilled purely on his own.
“The next album is going to be pitched much more as a whole-band entity, but Jean is definitely the aesthetic,” Clark said. “I think that the interesting thing about being on the road with five people is that your influences rub off on one another. After all that time, there is this kind of common aesthetic that rubs off on one another. We might be in the studio, and he’ll be like, ‘Check this out, I was kind of thinking about going with this vibe,’ and I’ve worked with him so much at this point that I kind of know what he wants and can cater to that, but still add a vibe of my own. I don’t want to kind of take a track over, but I definitely want to put my stamp on things.” CV