This week marks a big week for husband-and-wife duo Jean-Philip Grobler and Patti Beranek, together known as St. Lucia, with the release of their long-awaited Utopia I EP coming on Friday. And yesterday, they announced their first North American tour in four years.
The new music follows a whirlwind few years for the pair, having made the leap from New York City back to Beranek's home country of Germany after having their second child—during a pandemic, of course.
"We had a pandemic baby! Getting pregnant during the pandemic because like, what else are you going to do," quips Grobler, himself originally from South Africa, speaking with Variance over Zoom ahead of the EP's release. "We had lived in New York for 14 years, but to be perfectly honest, financially it was really difficult for us because, you can't play shows, no concerts. It was tough."
He says the idea of leaving New York had crossed their minds even prior to Covid, but after enduring all of 2020 in the city, they finally packed up and left at the beginning of last year.
"We had been in New York for so long," he explains. "And we kept catching ourselves asking, 'Why are we here?' Especially once you have kids. You're not going out like you used to in the city. And you're still paying these crazy, inflated prices, which you're happy to do when you're young and doing the whole thing. But it was different for us now. The idea of being closer to family. Having the kids being closer to their cousins, trying to live a slower paced life."
As the pandemic put all too many lives on hold and altered life for so many as well, Grobler and Beranek were feeling a similar struggle, and writing music in between the madness, which led to the creation of what is now Utopia, a wealth of electro-pop goodness in the middle of a world on fire, a dance party at the edge of existence.
"'Utopia' is an ironic term, because it's like a heaven that's also a hell," says Grobler. "It's this idea that you can never truly achieve. Sometimes I feel, like as a society, that we're trying to create these utopias, whether it's a total socialist utopia or a free-market utopia, or whatever it might be, whereas to me, the magic of humanity and where the perfection lies is in the imperfection."
Grobler recalls making such observations especially during the pandemic. "I thought about how everyone became very germaphobic," he says. "Like we're somehow going to achieve this 'germ-free utopia.' Is that an achievable thing? Is that a healthy thing? I think sometimes we get caught up in these ideas, but ultimately I think it can be useful to have in the back of your mind, to be aiming for something good."
This welcome surge of new music from St. Lucia is only the start, as Grobler and Beranek have been busy writing and recording over the past two years. In fact, they had an album's worth of music written prior to 2020. But the shakeup around the globe and in their personal lives allowed them to reset. They've also parted ways with longtime label Columbia Records, having since joined Nettwerk.
"Packing up our apartment in the middle of Covid, and shipping it all to Germany, having our second kid, it was all so insane," says Grobler. "So to get here and to have our feet on solid ground a little bit, it was a relief. And we just felt positive about the future. And I think we made this decision to stop dwelling on all the negative of the year before and sort of look up, and make music that uplifts and makes people feel good."
He adds: "I know people who had a great pandemic though. Maybe they were working a job they didn't enjoy and they got to stay home or leave that job and do something better. And especially if you don't have kids, that's fucking amazing, to be able to take a break or just take stock of your life ... I will say, though, I don't know anyone who is doing the exact same thing or living the exact same way they were before the pandemic. I think a lot of us have evaluated our life and tried to make positive changes, and that's really great."
One thing St. Lucia hasn't changed is their inclination to "fly by the seat of our pants," says Grobler, noting their upcoming fall tour, which he says they're ecstatic about.
"This is what we do; it's our main gig, our livelihood," he says matter-of-factly. "And we always strive to make the best records that we can. But playing shows—being there with people who love your music and seeing their faces. There is nothing more powerful for us than that instant, immediate connection."
After the experience of the last few years, St. Lucia as a musical project as well as Grobler and Beranek as a real-life duo are in a great space, and Grobler credits their ability to come out on the other side partly to their ability to lean on each other, in good times and bad.
"When you don't know what the fuck is happening and you see the city you love having everything that's good about it ripped out from under it, wondering if this is how it'll always be," he says. "But I find myself so incredibly lucky to have someone like Patti by my side. I don't know how I would be able to do it if she wasn't doing it with me. We're very blessed."■
[Updated with music below.]