St. Lucia are in front of our green screen jumping up and down and doing whatever ridiculous thing we ask them to do for MTV's Snapchat. A producer asks the musical couple -- Jean-Philip Grobler and Patti Beranek -- to act out their favorite emoji, so they roll their eyes upwards and drop their jaws in unison -- the ?emoji. "I like the poo," Patti says, and without missing a beat, they both raise their arms to create a teepee over their heads, slouching into character as they glare nerdily into camera with wide ?-like eyes.
Then we put them to the task of meowing their current favorite song. "What's the melody of that Bieber song?" Jean asks the room. He's wearing a gray sweatshirt with a sketch of Sade on it. Patti, in a navy lace dress Jean calls "goth," knows which Bieber joint he's talking about, "The 'Sorry' one," she declares and sings the chorus using sassy meows: "Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow." Jean stays silent, working out an arrangement in his head. Patti suggests she meows out the reggaeton rhythm underneath his melody, but Jean's too busy placing the notes in his head. He wants to meow out Bieber's melody while she adds the bubbly electronic voice that follows, so that's what they do. They never break eye contact as they perform their mew-sical masterpiece, chortling halfway through.
This is how St. Lucia works. Jean is the conductor of the bouncy-ball power-pop project, which releases its second album Matter, a marathon of sweat-band beats and '80s synths, on Friday. He writes and arranges the music, while leaning on his bandmates like Patti to collaborate with.
St. Lucia was born out of the guilty pleasures of Jean's childhood, the stuff "that you're not supposed to like but everyone secretly likes," Phil Collins being one of them. "I thought, if I'm influenced by that, I should allow that to come out and not try to stop it," he says. He quit his job composing music for commercials after saving up enough money for a space to record, and from there, St. Lucia began. While in his hometown in South Africa, he had sent Patti the demo for "All Eyes On You," which eventually appeared on 2012's eponymous EP and their first album, 2013's When The Night. "It had this tiny little guitar, African-y guitar sort of sound," Patti says, playing an invisible, miniature guitar as she speaks. "I was like, 'Oh my god, this is it.' For me, that was the moment when I was like, 'Ok there's something there.'"
Everything about Matter feels good. Sexy, even. And even though they're ditching the tropical, Hawaiian imagery of their first album cycle, when you listen to a track like "Love Somebody," you can almost feel a sultry breeze swirling under a purpley-pink sky. You can see bikinied babes running in slow motion on the beach during the smooth-tempoed crowd-sung chorus, palm trees swaying as a flute slithers in and out of sensual guitar riffs. But Matter isn't a day at the beach. It's actually about growing up and embracing more real-life concerns -- the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night.
"I feel like when you're in your late teens and early 20s, you just don't think about certain things in your life, and as you get older, you think about your parents getting older," Jean says. "Both of us actually live away from our families -- Patti's family lives in Germany, she grew up in Germany. I grew up in South Africa, and my family still lives there, and it's just difficult having that distance from the people that you love and being on the road all the time."
Throughout the songwriting process, he also questioned if music was right for him -- even though he knows he could never do anything else. He admits that those insecurities happened when he was struggling creatively. We've all been there.
"We know a lot of people our age that are making a lot more money than us," Jean says. "Even though we're really really happy with what we do, sometimes I think, as an adult, you think, 'Should I be more responsible with my life choices?'"
That question is rhetorical, of course. Because even when he had to give up his Williamsburg studio (the owner wanted to make an apartment out of it), he didn't stop making music. In between tour stops, he worked in a makeshift studio, a.k.a, a van filled with his equipment.
"I realized that if I wanted to take less than 10 years to make my next album, I would have to embrace not having the perfect situation and write on the road," Jean said. "So I created this laptop setup I could use, and for a couple of years, I was programming notes into my laptop and recording scratch demo vocals in some sketchy parking lot in Nebraska."
The demoes turned into songs like Matter's lead single, "Dancing On Glass," where he sings, "Better believe I keep my demons to myself/ Better believe it's getting harder but I'm/ Never gonna stop 'til it's broken." In the lyrics, he questions the invincibility that comes with youth and declares that he's going to ignore the nagging "demons" that tell him to settle down. The video for the song has each of the band members -- Jean, Patti, Ross Clark, Nick Paul and Dustin Kaufman -- obsessively passionate about spray tanning, fandom, botany, working out and folding paper. They all gather in an intervention group, where a doctor tells them to quit it. The doctor, being the "demon" inside all of us, doesn't succeed, and they all run wildly into the desert, never questioning if their crazy passions are actually dangerous. In the moment, that doesn't matter.
Jean was trapped inside a paper jacket for "Dancing On Glass," and it took half an hour to get him out of it. He probably won't be wearing it again, but he has a different plan for their new visual route. They're taking a new look on tour, which starts with their album release show in Brooklyn on Friday and ends in March.
"We love the idea of really putting on a show," Jean says. "It's not just a band playing on the stage. There's a theatrical element to what's going on. We love the idea of having a really great lighting production. ... For this one, it's kind of dry and not as brightly colored. We have a lot of cacti and there's some golden stuff."
At the end of our interview, Jean and Patti slip out of their seats and walk away from the green screen. Patti hoists an Opening Ceremony tote bag over her shoulder, meowing Justin Bieber as they leave the studio.