St. Lucia chat with Happy about ‘Utopia’, their latest album

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St. Lucia exit the apocalyptic world through their latest album, Utopia, a collection of songs that are soaked in electro-pop atmospheres.

South Africa-born Jean-Phillip Grobler, and Germany-born Patti Beranek, make up the husband-and-wife powerhouse, futurist duo, St. Lucia. Coming out of the dystopian era that we’ve all been stuck in for the past few years, St. Lucia breaks from the tethers of trauma and glows up with their album, Utopia. With synth-infused electro-pop that intertwines euphoria and despair, their latest record feels like a rave happening as the world’s ending.

“What we went through was one of the most extreme periods of our lives: extreme isolation, extreme intimacy, extreme sadness and, at times, moments of extreme elation and joy when reunited with loved ones,” says Jean-Phillip on the birth of Utopia. “We needed to somehow process the ambiguity of that experience, and the making of ‘Utopia’ was our therapist.”

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In Utopia, throbbing synths project into space-like raving light, blinking between moments. Fluro feels are met with guitar sounds that vibrate and shiver, making it an authentic body experience for listeners and dancers. The album begs you to let go and gain a sense of control and freedom, as the sounds flow through your mind and body. The leading track, Touch floats up and out of any sense of restraint and is taken by the band of the bass that’s travelling towards blissful yacht rock vibes, a genre St. Lucia often flirt with.

The cinematic atmosphere that is curated through a push for rebellion melted in high-spirited pop euphoria continues through the rest of the album, as bops with falsetto, trip-hop energy and haunting textures swirl around. Concluding the album, St. Lucia give us Hey Now, which shifts into a bittersweet tone, wrapped in the emotional core of St. Lucia, the concept of keeping on, even after falling hard. Colourful visions of pop fusion bounce through authentic expressions of mental disarrays. Jean-Phillip expresses, I’m pulled between pop and alternative. I’ve realized Utopia is in the middle ground.”

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HAPPY: Thanks for chatting with us, how’s your week been?

ST. LUCIA: We’re finally in California on our Utopia tour! It feels so good to be here on the West Coast because we have so many friends who live out here, so we’re pumped to see them all at the show. Also, tacos!

HAPPY: Tell us about your suburb, what do you love/not love about where you live?

ST. LUCIA: Right now, we’re living in a place called Konstanz in Germany after living in New York for 14 years. It’s the town where Patti grew up, and we moved back there after having our second kid Charlie to be closer to family during the pandemic. We love it because it’s super close to nature, it’s on a huge lake and right next to the alps on the northern border of Switzerland. It’s super great for kids and the quality of life is awesome. What’s not so great is we’re really far from most of our friends we made while living in the US for the last 14 years, but we get to see them on tour. We’re toying with moving back stateside for a while but don’t quite know where yet. 

HAPPY: Tell us about your favourite experience performing live.

ST. LUCIA: Phew, I mean, honestly this tour we’re on right now might be my favourite tour ever. All the shows have felt really good, and the audiences have been super pumped and energetic. That being said, I do love playing an outdoor festival during the summer. 

HAPPY: Describe your writing and recording process. What comes first, the lyrics or the music? How does the band work together to write?

ST. LUCIA: I (Jean) write most of the music, but also collaborate with the band on some of the tracks. Walking Away from our last album, Hyperion was written by me and two of our band members, Nicky Paul and Ross Clark, and Patti (my wife who’s also in the band) writes quite a lot with me. For me, I like to allow the process to be as intuitive as possible. I almost never ‘try’ to write a song, but rather I attempt to create the conditions where inspiration or ideas might arise. For me, this normally happens when I’m most in balance and happy, so if I’m exercising well, eating well etc. ideas will tend to flow in. The way that it most often happens is I’ll just hear an idea in my head when it’s sorta empty and focusing on some other tasks, like washing dishes or going for a run etc., and it’ll normally come pretty fully formed. So, it’s neither lyric nor music first, it’s normally a bit of both. 

HAPPY: Tell us about the making of the music video, Gimme The Night.

ST. LUCIA: I honestly give full credit for the music video to Nicole Lipp who directed it. All we told her was that it should have some kind of commentary on fame/influencer culture and how it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and the rest is history. We got Ireland (Basinger Baldwin) involved because she’s a friend of ours and we realized when we were casting it that it would be awesome to have someone play that character who actually intimately knows what being in that position, being famous, is like.

HAPPY: If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

ST. LUCIA: I’d probably go home to South Africa to visit my family. 

HAPPY: What would your ultimate day involve?

ST. LUCIA: Well, having two kids, the best days normally involve them being able to do some kind of good outdoor physical activity, like swimming or riding their bikes, and then me and Patti being able to do some exercise and then eating some good food or grilling outside etc., simple stuff. I also am a huge fan of the sauna/cold plunge thing. Any day I get to do that, I feel like a gazillion dollars.

HAPPY: Which book or TV show are you currently enjoying?

ST. LUCIA: We don’t get to watch that much TV, just because of family life and being on tour, but maybe once a week right now we’ll get to watch an episode of something. Our current show is The Rings of Power, which despite getting a lot of bad reviews, we’re actually enjoying a lot. 

HAPPY: What did you read last that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective?

ST. LUCIA: I actually read quite a lot, so I experience this pretty often. I think it’s so important to get different perspectives in this way. The White Tiger was a pretty perspective-altering and dark book. But I’m a huge sci-fi fan, and my fav sci-fi book ever had been the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons. His imagination is just insane, and you just feel your mind expanding as you read the book. 

HAPPY: What’s something someone has said about your music that you hold close to you?

ST. LUCIA: During the pandemic, there were many long moments where I considered that I might never get to tour or play shows again, and maybe my music career was over just because of the realities of the world. But I got so many supportive messages during that time of people saying that such and such song means so much to them and gave them hope during that hard time that I felt it was my duty to keep making that music, not only for myself to have hope for the future, but for others too.

HAPPY: Which artist do you look up to the most for inspiration and motivation in the music scene?

ST. LUCIA: I mainly look to the past, TBH, even though there are great artists making music right now. I am inspired by artists who just seemed to do their own thing no matter what was happening in the world around them. They never bowed to the pressure to fit neatly into a certain mould, which all of us musical artists feel. People like Prince, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Radiohead, U2, REM etc. etc. It can be hard to be an artist that straddles the line between pop and something more experimental or anti-pop, but that’s the musical zone that I find the most interesting because it seems the truest to being a human. None of us are just purely glossy pop-like beings, and most likely very few of us are just dark gothic cave dwellers. We all have bits of both things in us, and so I try to include as much of all of those things in my music as possible, in an attempt to be honest through my music.

HAPPY: Thanks so much for your time!

Stream Utopia via Spotify below.

Interviewed by Olivia Adams.

Photos supplied.