St. Lucia plays catchy, shimmering synth pop 

click to enlarge St. Lucia
  • Jean-Philip Grobler’s St. Lucia will play cuts from “When the Night” two days this week.
Undulating beneath the cascading synthesizer of “When the Night” — the delightful St. Lucia debut, multi-instrumentalist and singer-producer Jean-Philip Grobler’s project with his vocal and keyboardist wife Patricia Beranek — are huge shimmering hooks worthy of vintage E.L.O. and “Arrival”-era ABBA.

It’s no surprise considering the quirky employment history of the musician, who brings St. Lucia to The City this week for two shows before heading on national tour with Foster the People.

After acquiring basic songwriting skills for three years in Britain at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, he was offered freelance work before landing a full-time job composing commercial jingles for a Brooklyn agency called The Lodge. There he learned how to grab a listener’s ear within 30 seconds.

How he got the gig was serendipitous, too. Beranek’s sister, who settled in New York and was dating a Lodge exec, suggested her brother-in-law when a junior writer position opened up.

“When I moved to New York, I was really into indie rock,” he says. “It was all guitar music, and if there was a synthesizer in there, it was just a textural background thing. I had no context of a synth in my music at all.”

Grobler was a quick study, though. He discovered several old analog keyboards sitting idle in the Lodge studios, and put them to work recreating the diverse styles his assignments demanded — including metal, orchestral, hip-hop and spaghetti-Western sounds.

“I just remember arriving and still not having any technical idea what I was doing,” he says. “And there were all sorts of crazy things like tampon commercials, cruise line commercials, where I had to write in genres that I had no experience in. But I just had to fake it somehow.”

How, exactly, does one pen music for a tampon commercial? “When people ask for stuff like that, you get a lot of pointers,” he says, laughing. “The client or the advertising agency will give you a fairly vague description of what they want, like ‘Light, with a feminine touch,’ which could mean glockenspiel with acoustic guitar, and some piano tinkling away.”

His proudest advertising achievement was a rollicking song for Sealy Posturepedic mattresses, with his wife on lead vocals.

When Grobler finally quit, he invested all of his earnings in a one-room Williamsburg studio he named Shongololo Music, after a South African centipede, where almost all of “When the Night” was recorded.

“I write and produce and arrange, all at the same time,” he says. “For me, its very important to keep the process as intuitive as possible, for as long as possible.”


St. Lucia

Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday

Tickets: $15 (sold out)

Contact: (415) 771-1421,

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Tom Lanham

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