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James Supercave Craft Catchy, Psychedelic Pop

In Music
Super Group: The members of James Supercave know their craft.

Super Group: The members of James Supercave know their craft.

Joaquin Pastor is happy to report that he is able to stomach movies these days. It wasn’t always so easy for the singer, guitarist and lead songwriter for SoCal avant-pop trio James Supercave.

“When you spend a lot of time thinking about something from a critical point of view, you just sort of end up ruining the innocent enjoyment one can have when watching something without that critical framework or backstory or anything,” Pastor says, explaining that, for him, studying to be an actor at UCLA completely ruined the moviegoing experience for a time.

“If there is a dirty word in this band, It’s ‘actor,’” Pastor says with a laugh.

Thankfully, the days of overanalyzing French New Wave films and German Expressionist cinema are behind him. These days he can just sit back and enjoy a romcom or mindless action flick like the rest of us. Then again, unlike most of us, it’s unlikely that Pastor has forgotten all his schooling. It’s likely that a certain base coat of acting and filmmaking fundamentals inform his viewing experience.

It’s an apt metaphor for his band. While the sweetly psychedelic hooks and melodies of James Supercave’s latest album, Better Strange, most certainly have a fun-loving, groovy feel, there is something undeniably studied about the music.

And that makes sense. After all, Pastor, who grew up in Santa Cruz, and band co-founder Patrick Logothetti (keys and synthesizers), who grew up in San Jose, met each other in the UCLA theater department. While studying there, they learned a thing or two about what makes a compelling performance—information that Pastor admits must have some sort of impact on the music of James Supercave, a band with a name that sounds like something an superhuman speleologist might call himself.

“When you’re on stage, in front of people, obviously, the audience is faced in one direction, and that’s a new space,” he says. “That’s not normal life. There’s a character to engage in; there is a presence to take on. My favorite moments in acting are the moments where you lose sight of yourself because you are so absorbed in the moments that are going on.”

Also, while James Supercave is the name of this current project, Pastor, Logothetti and guitarist Andres Viallalobos have been playing together under a variety of monikers for about five years.

“We’re all songwriters,” Pastor says, attempting to deflect all the credit for the excellent Better Strange. Though he will allow that a majority of the record is his writing, he insists that every member of the band brings riffs and concepts to the table and that each potential peice gets considered. “There is kind of an ethos of ‘May the best part win,’” he says.

And that, in essence, is pop songwriting in a nutshell: collect a set of melodies, hooks and beats, sort the wheat from the chaff and then combine the remaining parts in a compelling way. It seems simple enough, and yet it’s not. The pop world’s top stars have an army of producers working at their back, sweating over each minute detail as they scientifically engineer chord progressions and vocal lines, which are often run by focus groups in an effort to determine their potential as the next big summer hit.

If anything makes James Supercave worth a listen, it’s that they manage to concoct those powerful earworms that everyone in the corporate music biz is chasing. And if anything makes James Supercave deserving of respect, it’s that they do this as a trio, on their own terms.

For Pastor, pop isn’t like acting. “Pop is not a dirty word in this band,” he says. “Not in the least.” And yet, he adds, “We’re not trying to do anything too bubblegummy, either. Our personal relationship with pop is we like stuff that makes us dance and feel good.”

James Supercave plays on Feb 25, 6pm, Free at Streetlight Records, San Jose.

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