ST. LUCIA - HYPERION BIO
by EVE BARLOW
Hyperion is the title of St. Lucia's third record. The process was as soul-searching as Grobler has found album writing to be - life had changed a lot. Firstly, Grobler and his wife and bandmate Patricia Beranek found out at the end of touring previous album Matter (2016) that they were pregnant. Patti miscarried, but the idea of parenthood had nestled itself deep within Grobler and he began to seek an evolved role for himself. The other change was that the professional stakes felt higher. In fact, there was a point at which Grobler faced the question of whether Hyperion might be St. Lucia's final offering…
Grobler had become disassociated with traditional songwriting paths, particularly the LA sessions scene. He pondered about his inspirations, and studied the craft of some of his most cherished albums. “When I think of all my favorite artists like Talk Talk, Kate Bush and Radiohead, their art is a pure expression of themselves,” he says. “They're not going to write with some person who has twenty #1 hits. They're digging as deep as they can to find something purely from their perspective and hoping that translates into success.”
He felt a strong need to be similarly self-sufficient. The solitary voyage he would go on was riddled with self-doubt, confusion and uncertainty. “I thought a lot about what kind of message I want to send to my kid,” he reflects. “In many ways, the things we create as individuals have nothing to do with what other people are creating, or trends.” As Grobler realized this he suddenly found himself unafraid of what everyone else was doing.
Grobler wanted to go old school with the album's manifestation: playing as a band in the room with his co-conspirators – Ross Clark, Nick Paul, Dustin Kaufman and Patti. First, however, there needed to be songs, and with Grobler (a self-professed “musical hoarder”) there were many thoughts to work through. It took the entirety of 2017 for the album to start congealing. There were moments of feeling lost, and for much of the process Grobler wondered why he was being pulled in two opposite directions.
On the one hand he was knee-deep in studying the unabashed rock'n'roll of albums like Dark Side Of The Moon and Rumours. On the other he was wrapping his head around the likes of PC Music and St. Lucia’s former tourmate Charli XCX, acts that are leading the futuristic pop game. “I was going for this organic man-in-the-woods direction, but also thinking: how fake can I make it?” Eventually he found a compromise by fighting to create the record with the band playing in a room together and creating the alive sensibility of a traditional rock album, but keeping the ambition modern. Once he had enough ideas, he threw caution to the wind and arranged the songs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard studios. “Every day we would tackle one song.” It was intimate and fun, but more guidance was required.
That's where legendary producer Rob Kirwan came in. The British maestro is responsible for records by PJ Harvey, Depeche Mode and U2. He's used to spending prolonged periods with people who like to take their time. Even more importantly here, he was a big fan of '80s English high-minded romantic pop. The pair went back into the studio and re-did all the band performances with that same high-minded pop in mind.
A perfect example is “Paradise Is Waiting,” featuring major piano chords, a clap-along rhythm and a mighty gospel choir. It captures a noble ambition Grobler has. His motivation is more than just songwriting, or performing live. Grobler seeks to generate a movement, a belief system, a religion almost. It's supposed to sound like church, it's supposed to make you feel joyous and purposeful. It seeks to bring light into your darkest hours.
On that song, Grobler was inspired by soul singer Minnie Riperton and the gospel choirs she sang with. “They weren't singing about Jesus, but they had an undefined spirituality,” he explains. “They had a reaching to them.” Grobler is South African and grew up in the Christian tradition, but his religion is music. The way he talks about his process is highly spiritual. “My favorite music rouses me in a way I can't define. I don't write songs with intentional lyrics. These words come out. I only realize what it's about further down the line.” “Paradise Is Waiting” was a piano loop in his head for months. “I've never done LSD or hallucinogenics,” he says. “But people's descriptions are the experience I feel when I come up with a song I love. The universe opens up, and there's this feeling of connectedness.”
The album’s opening track, “Bigger,” was actually the first song written for the album. “It's penned to my future child, and he wasn't conceived at that time,” says Grobler. (Indy, his and Patti’s son, was born in late 2017). The lyrical philosophy of the song sets the tone for a record that is in many respects about seeing the larger picture and your piece in the puzzle with clarity.
Hyperion’s themes feel vital and necessary for the times we live in. The song “Gun,” for instance, is a play on the gun control debate, but also sexual relations from the point of view of power positioning. “A man can feel this need to control a woman, but a woman has her own sexual power at the same time,” he says. “Walking Away” is also about this debate. “Are we really talking about the real issues or are there deeper issues at work that we don't want to talk about?” ponders Grobler.
The risk-taking he took has thrown up a truly unique album, in the sense that Hyperion is a record that's searching, inquisitive and culturally current while also sonically brimming with positivity, dance and funk. Imagine a politicized Daft Punk, or a theological Phoenix, and you're halfway there. It's an avant-garde pop album that makes you think. The title itself (suggested by Patti) comes from the Hyperion sci-fi books Grobler was reading. But upon researching the word, he learned that Hyperion was the Greek god of the sun and moon, which spoke to his search to balance his own inner light and darkness.
“I think that we need more positivity,” he concludes. “Not in a brain-dead way where we don't acknowledge problems, but rather to show there's a way to overcome them. You can make reactionary music that is negative and aggressive, but I gravitate towards the things that feel more inspirational. Social change has often come from a positive force, not an anarchistic one. How can you make your life the most enriched positive thing that it can possibly be?” If you're asking a similar question, St. Lucia would like to help guide your way.