Indy Rockers: St. Lucia Have Gone Acoustic

Six years after When the Night debuted, the husband-and-wife duo charts a different course.

Lately, Jean-Philip Grobler, a South Africa native and the frontman of Brooklyn’s St. Lucia, has been re-evaluating certain things.

“I’m going through a very Marie Kondo experience of decluttering, and really essentializing things right now,” he says.

The “decluttering” he’s referring to has less to do with an over-full closet or a stash of old CDs, and more to do with the musical direction of his band. St. Lucia burst onto the scene in 2013  with When The Night (following a self-titled EP in 2012), a highly infectious, danceable-yet-sophisticated synth-heavy tropical pop stunner, followed by Matter in 2016. Their ’80s vibes, positive messages, and energetic live shows — most recently in support of 2018’s Hyperion — earned them a dedicated following, leading to frequent, extensive tours around the U.S. and the world.

But their latest release, and current tour, shows a different side of the band: a stripped-down, simplified iteration. The Acoustic Vol.1 EP dropped April 26, featuring acoustic versions of tracks from St. Lucia’s three previous albums, with a fully acoustic U.S. tour to follow.

“It’s interesting, because we used to hate doing acoustic sessions!” Grobler admits. “It felt like a simplified, watered-down version of our sound. But over time, we’ve really grown to enjoy it. Our live shows have become such a beast. It’s been nice to strip it down a little.”

And rather than a lite version of St. Lucia, recording the EP became, for Grobler, “a totally freeing experience.”

“It was a kind of decluttering of St. Lucia,” he says. “We’re going back to the basics. … Really, it’s even more basic than when we first started out.”

This urge to strip things down may be due to getting older, Grobler muses. Or, perhaps it’s due to becoming a father. Grobler and Patti Beranek, his wife and bandmate, are now parents to one-year-old Indy, named for Indiana Jones.

“You’re realizing how little time you have!” he says. “You just want to make as much use of what you have and, right, really clear out the clutter.”

Indy may be the cause of a shift in perspective, but parenthood hasn’t slowed St. Lucia down. Grobler’s speaking from Constance, a small city in the south of Germany that’s also Beranek’s hometown. They’ve been here for a few months renewing their U.S. visas and enjoying the quiet beauty of the Alps. From there, Grobler is flying back to New York via Lisbon for a couple of days, playing a quick show in Dallas, then heading to Taiwan for a few weeks before kicking off the aforementioned acoustic tour.

“It’s kind of mental right now!” he says. “But we’re embracing the traveling lifestyle. This is the perfect time to do it with a little one, as he’s not in school yet.”

And while Indy has changed their travel somewhat — “It’s obviously a little more stressful!” — Grobler and Beranek don’t sweat parent duty too much. “This is the life we’ve chosen, so we just have to make it work. And as long as you realize it’s your new normal, it’s totally fine! We enjoy it.”

In many ways, their strategies for breaking up the drudgery of being on the road are similar to touring pre-baby.

“There’s this Bjork quote I always think of,” Grobler says. “Something along the lines of, ‘Wherever you go, make it your own personal paradise.’ Inject a bit of romance, or joie de vivre.”

For Grobler and Beranek, that often means going out to bars and restaurants, and trying to seek out places “beyond the hipster stuff. We really want to find the classic places that have stood the test of time,” he says. “Lately, it feels like there’s been this steamrolling of the good and classic to make way for the new thing. We’re seeing it in New York, and you guys have seen it in S.F.”

Fittingly, some of the duo’s favorite stops in the Bay Area include North Beach staple Mama’s for breakfast and the kitschy tiki classic The Tonga Room, along with Stookey’s Club Moderne — and the now-shuttered vegetarian restaurant Millennium. Grobler raved about a past meal there with his parents, and was heartened to hear that it had reopened in Oakland.

“None of us are even vegetarian, and it was just mind-blowing!!” he recalls.

Constant travel may well have its challenges, but Grobler wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus, he and Beranek seem destined for a life of international exploration — between seeing her family in Germany, his in South Africa, and frequent touring, they’re as much citizens of the world as they are based in Brooklyn. In addition to constantly opening them up to new adventures, Grobler notes that it helps put problems — particularly, those of national politics — in perspective.

“When you travel and see so many different things, it’s impossible not to be wowed by the diversity of the world. I think it’s important to celebrate that and realize how fortunate we really are,” he says.

This feeling of wonder-induced positivity plays heavily into his artistic process, too. 

“Sometimes I can get into this headspace where I feel like I have to write songs that are reactionary to what’s going on in the world, or whatever. But the more I go to different places, the more my songs become about elemental, core truths. That’s really what St. Lucia is about: being positive, and celebrating life.”

Get in on the life celebration Friday, May 10, at St. Lucia’s intimate show at The New Parish. But don’t let acoustic translate to quiet — Grobler promises as energetic a performance as their full, electric stage shows.

“It’s a really cool vibe! And it’s been so nice to have that freedom to jam with each other on stage again,” he says. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

St. Lucia, Friday, May 10, 9 p.m., at The New Parish, 1743 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. $39.50, thenewparish.com

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