Ten years ago, a then-17-year-old Jonathan Deschamps started recording songs at home, experimenting as he went along, pushing himself to learn a variety of instruments. In a move worthy of L.A. weirdo Ariel Pink, he let the unreleased material pile up, resulting in a vast back-catalog of unheard compositions.
"For years, I'd record almost every time I picked up my guitar," Deschamps says. "I'd just press record and make up a song on the spot. It was a way of generating ideas, a way of getting things out."
But whereas Pink (né Ariel Rosenberg) used his years' worth of sonic experimentation to build up a mystique around his musical persona, Deschamps has been content to labor in deep obscurity.
"(During) 7 years of isolation (is) when I really learned the basis of whatever it is I know about music - I had no concept of how to play anything other than a trumpet until about the same time I started writing and recording music. It's like trying to reinvent a piece of furniture (that) you can see inside yourself but have no idea where to begin or how these tools work."
For his exploratory, highly-prolific pet project, Deschamps chose the name "I Believe in Sunshine."
"The phrase ‘I believe in sunshine' was introduced to me by this '60s Toronto garage band called A Passing Fancy which only released one album. But its meaning is infinite to me," Deschamps says. "For anyone living in the Pacific Northwest the power of sunshine is pretty obvious. During the long, dark winters people get seasonal depression and that makes life harder for everyone - especially when you're living in a city - but during the summer when the sun is shining it's the complete opposite, everyone is optimistic and happy."
Apart from gigging periodically, Deschamps has, in recent years, deejayed for the University of Washington's student-run radio station Rainy Dawg Radio, hosting a psychedelic specialty show called "Pataphysical Vibrations." Subtitled "a childs (sic) journey to the psychedelic unknown," the show was an immersive, often ambitiously exploratory program, punctuated by lovingly-rendered homespun show spots and between-song "bumps." Nothing about it was explicitly pataphysical per se, but one can sense - in both Deschamps' musical taste and in the songs he records and performs as I Believe in Sunshine - a preoccupation with unanswerable questions and concepts that test the limits of human understanding. It's deep stuff. And while a cynic might scoff at the reductive philosophy behind songs like "Love, Peace & Hope," in which Deschamps sings, "Love connects us with the world/ it gives and then returns/ it makes us all feel better," idealists would likely respond to its earnestness and fundamental truthfulness.
"I suppose ‘Love, Peace & Hope' is a bit of a mantra ... Love is appreciation of the good and bad of everything, Peace is having healthy relationships with ourselves, our families and friends, our community and our natural environment, and hope is what gives us purpose. I live my life based on these three elements," Deschamps explains.
Ostensibly, Deschamps is a folk musician, but his tracks are laced with experimental touches that prevent them from coming across as too coddling or naïve - his music is childlike, but not childish, and clearly in touch with the "psychedelic unknown." He's also got a finely-tuned ear for hooky pop melodies. "Spending Time With You" rolls along breezily with the kind of assured cool typified by mid-period British Invasion acts, then spins off into weirder, sample-infused territory (Deschamp's last band, the Auburn-based Zebulldada, were aggressively experimental and "dadaists of a sort"). The main constant in Deschamps' music is gently strummed acoustic guitar, recorded in gritty lo-fi. At times, I Believe in Sunshine sounds like an inspired mash-up of Woody Guthrie and primitive Animal Collective, particularly on the splendid "Swedish Whore."
Guthrie is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a musical touchstone for Deschamps, who also cites Pete Seeger, Brian Eno, Kevin Ayers, John Cale, John Cage and early Krautrock artists as inspirations. "The '60s and '70s were a time of great musical exploration. I don't believe in the value of defining music and that's what [those artists] were all about."
While Deschamps mostly records alone, he'll be performing at the Java Jive with accompaniment from Chris Segawa (of Seattle freak-folk outfit Geist & the Sacred Ensemble) and his live-in girlfriend Jessica Gring. Previously, he's assembled a rotating cast for the "All Night Sunshine Band," a smattering of backing musicians with varying levels of musical proficiency - sometimes as many as fifteen at a time - that help to round out his songs and keep things free-spirited and unpredictable.
"Maybe it sounds strange but I think anyone can play my songs," Deschamps says. "(When I've performed with other musicians) it was like having everything I hear in my head ... manifest itself spontaneously. That's magic."
I Believe In Sunshine
with The Neoplastics
Saturday, Aug. 21, 8 p.m., Price TBA
Bob's Java Jive, 2102 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma