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Synthesizers power People Under the Sun, see them Friday

People Under the Sun are synth-powered. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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I've spent years watching James Jenkins grow and change as an artist. When I first met him, in 2006, he was fronting a band called Mama Loves Daddy, which was caught up in the torrent of psychedelic garage acts in Tacoma, operating under the umbrella of Team Unicorn. Jenkins fronted the loud, melodic garage band with a deadpan aloofness that was also reflected in late nights spent with him smoking rolled cigarettes, listening to records, and drinking Carlo Rossi.

Since those times, Jenkins has gone on to form People Under the Sun, which carries with it the same catchy sensibilities as his earlier project, while incorporating an Econoline van's worth of vintage synthesizers and drum machines. During these transitions, Jenkins has always had a fierce sense of justice and musical integrity, no matter what form his output eventually takes. After People Under the Sun's great debut LP, Jenkins turned around and released The Crystal Voyager, an album of spacy instrumentals that diverged considerably from the New Wave-indebted, The The-esque sound of the debut.

Backed by Jeff Southard (of Swoon Records renown) and his wife, Emily Jenkins, in addition to other contributors, People Under the Sun remains one of Tacoma's best bands - if infrequent performers. I caught up with Jenkins before People Under the Sun's upcoming performance at new venue 733.

How did the guitar-oriented sound of Mama Loves Daddy morph into People Under the Sun?

"As a teenager I started writing songs on the organ, which led me into synthesizers and soon I was writing nothing on the guitar," says Jenkins. "I pick it up and do my guitar tracks for the album and then it's put away, not to be brought out again until next time. Most songs have no guitar. I would say that my exposure to Stereolab would have been the most influential early on. They primed my ears for most of the music that I listen to today. ... I like the idea of there being no ‘proper' People Under the Sun album. Whether it is me by myself, with the live band, instrumental or otherwise, I would like to consider anything I do a proper representation of my artistic intentions with this project."

I mentioned The The, in my earlier attempt to describe the sound of People Under the Sun. Truthfully, this has always been a problem for me. When I first saw the incarnation of what would become the band, I described them as "roller rink rock." Later, their sound would refine, and I would be tempted to bring up late ‘60s psychedelia, mixed with ‘80s post-punk, crossed with ‘90s art rock, and well, it's an exercise in futility. Thankfully, Jenkins leaves me off the hook.

"After (we record), we will listen to it and somebody might think it sounds like something else," says Jenkins. "Never me, though. All songs are essentially the same and yet at the same time the comparisons people make are usually of little depth. When people say my music sounds like (another song), in my mind, it usually means they haven't really listened to either song closely."

Another LP is reportedly in the works for People Under the Sun, though Jenkins is a stickler for details, so there's no telling when the album will emerge. In the meantime, their show on Friday is a cavalcade of some of the Pacific Northwest's greatest acts, including the exuberant glam of Fruit Juice, the spazzy freakout of the Fabulous Downey Brothers, and the conceptual oddness of Ben von Wildenhaus. It'll be a night of mind-expansion and contorting of viscera, if that's something you're interested in.

733, w/ Fruit Juice, the Fabulous Downey Brothers, Ben von Wildenhaus with Professional Band, All ages, Friday, July 24, 733 Commerce St., Tacoma, $8, 253.344.3104

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