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How Kanye West, Bowie, and the Streets of New York Influenced St. Lucia’s ‘Matter’

While St. Lucia may have started out like any other indie act from Brooklyn, the band’s debut album, When the Night, took them down a path of mainstream success that set them apart from many of the artists who have cut their teeth in the city. The band — fronted by Jean Philip Grobler — went from playing gigs at Cameo Gallery and Santos Party House to performing the festival circuit, but New York really did play a significant part in St. Lucia’s story. “We were very much a resident New York band, and I think New York in the way it is and was has always influenced our sound a lot,” says Grobler. 

Following the second wave of electropop bands like Passion Pit and Neon Indian, St. Lucia surfaced with anthemic choruses, catchy pop hooks, and live shows tailor-made for dancing. Hailing from South Africa, Grobler grew up singing in a boys’ choir, something that contributed to the layered vocals on singles like “Elevate” and “Closer Than This.” “Basically, the last record was made in my studio in the almost perfect situation where I had all my instruments around me — my life was very domestic, in a way,” says Grobler. “I was in New York all the time, and my studio was three blocks away from my apartment.”

After releasing their first album, St. Lucia spent a lot of time on tour and had to give up their studio. “I realized if I didn’t want to take five years to write my next record, I had to embrace writing on the road,” Grobler explains. 

Though St. Lucia’s music thus far has been rooted in pop, their latest record, Matter, was influenced by St. Lucia’s time spent living in the States, exploring the country and American music. Grobler unexpectedly found inspiration in hip-hop this time around. “I’ve never been a massive hip-hop fan, just because it was just not a part of my culture growing up,” explains Grobler. “Living in the States has made me really grow into liking hip-hop. I think Kanye West was a huge influence on this record — how epic, huge, and uncompromising his music is.” Because he was unafraid of changing his sound, David Bowie had a profound influence on Grobler’s songwriting. “When we were on the road in our spare time, I thought we should listen to some artists’ catalogs that I haven’t spent listening to, and I listened to all of his records in order,” Grobler recalls. “At times when I was afraid of changing the sound or direction, [his music] helped take the fear away.”

With Matter, there were a lot of differences in the way St. Lucia approached making the record. For Grobler, it was a lyrically contemplative experience of growing older, watching his parents get older, and uprooting his life to spend a ton of time on the road. “I think as you get older those things start to weigh on your mind a bit more,” says Grobler. “I think when you’re in your twenties, you’re living in the moment all the time.”

The first single on Matter, “Dancing on Glass,” is an obvious pop track that fans of St. Lucia might expect from the band, but one of the standouts is a song called “Help Me Run Away,” which Grobler wrote with Jack Antonoff. “[The song] is a tribute to America and psychoanalyzing my reasons for being in this country,” he explains. “Like, I’m here running away from my responsibilities that I have back in South Africa and the secrets in my past, whatever they might be.”

For now, St. Lucia are staying put — at least for this week, when they play their upcoming NYC gigs, which take place at Baby’s All Right on January 29 and Webster Hall on January 30. They’re going back to some of the venues that helped them get on the map and amass a mainstream following. For Grobler and Co., music has been their livelihood, and the success is something they’re grateful for. “I’d like St. Lucia to be around for a really long time, but St. Lucia may evolve into something else or there might be a different musical project that comes along,” says Grobler. “Music is something I always wanted to do — for better or for worse, it’s my passion.”

St. Lucia play Baby’s All Right January 29 and Webster Hall January 30. Both shows are sold out, but check secondary markets for tickets.

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ALLIED FORCES

Lena Dunham and life partner Jack Antonoff made headlines last month when they swore not to get married until Dunham’s gay sister is legally able to. Now they’re taking their oath of solidarity steps further with this Talent Show for the Ally Coalition, an organization created by Antonoff and the band Fun to encourage entertainers to take a public stand for LGBTQ rights. Singer-songwriters Andrew McMahon and Ingrid Michaelson will perform along with Fun and other musical acts. Janeane Garofalo and Lena Dunham will also perform sets at this one-night-only variety show to promote awareness about bullying and violence toward gay teens.

Tue., Dec. 2, 8 p.m., 2014

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GOTHAM GIRL

Here’s one book tour performer it’s OK for Lena Dunham not to pay: Tonight, “life partner” Jack Antonoff will play with his band Bleachers at her reading. But that’s not all — friend, Girls co-star, and kick-ass chick prototype Jemima Kirke will join in for a Q&A sesh hosted by — and here’s the real kicker — literary heavyweight Zadie Smith. Take a step back; now breathe. It’s no secret that our local girl Lena has been associated with some questionable (read: dickish) management choices when it comes to this very tour, but that doesn’t take away from her status as a feminist mover and shaker, or the supreme relatability of the essay topics she covers in Not That Kind of Girl, from keeping an obsessive food log to guys who secretly rip off the condom mid-sex and hide it in your potted plant. She hits the same high mark of comedy and compassion that she dances around during the best moments of Girls, and reading this, you can just feel the future plotlines unfold.

Tue., Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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THE HIT MAN

What happens after your band releases a string of infectious and inescapable singles? Why, you attempt world domination with yet another band! Jack Antonoff, the multi-instrumentalist of Fun. and main man in Lena Dunham’s life, has headed up a side project called Bleachers, a band whose biggest competition in the indie pop department is Antonoff’s every other project. The world was introduced to Bleachers through “I Wanna Get Better,” the absurdly catchy first single off of their July debut album Strange Desire. With its ’80s new wave sound, Bleachers has given us a breezy soundtrack to the summer in the same way Fun.’s Some Nights did last year. Can’t wait to see which Antonoff project will keep us smiling come 2015, but for now, see them tonight.

Thu., Sept. 4, 8 p.m., 2014