Updated: Dec 4, 2020
By Will Yannacoulias
People Of The Sun is an exciting, ambitious new 8-piece R&B/Hip Hop group from Regina, Saskatchewan. Guitarist Erik Mehlsen, bassist Rob Lane, drummer Cyprian Henry and keyboardist Ethan Reoch combine to skillfully lay the musical foundation upon which vocalists Nini Jegz, Adeoluwa, Info Red, and Origin of Spin tell their individual stories. The group formed in the summer of 2020 and, after collectively workshopping new material, recorded a six track EP, Last Day Of Summer, in September. On the eve of the release of the album, we were able to speak with founder Erik Mehlsen about the formation of the band, the production of Last Day Of Summer and his indie label Sharp 5 Records.
Mehlsen spent the fall of 2019 teaching music in Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan. Mehlsen’s return to Regina saw him excited to embark on an ambitious new musical project. “I wanted to start up a band and label that would feature hip hop and R&B singers, all anchored by a live rhythm section. The first step was reaching out to some musicians I admired in the city to form a rhythm section.” Mehlsen started a three-piece group with bassist Rob Lane and drummer Cyprian Henry to showcase their chops and attract solo singers. That project, the Regina Transit Authority, recorded a five-song EP of instrumental jazz classics, the fittingly-titled Standards (2020).
As Mehlsen tells it, “Then COVID happened. During the lockdown I began to reach out to various singers who I admired in the city, seeing what the connection would be like with Regina Transit Authority and these amazing front people. During June and July we had some rehearsals testing out singers. I reached out to Info Red, Origin of Spin, and Adeoluwa.” The final addition of Nini Jegz as a fourth vocalist and Ethan Reoch on keyboards cemented the lineup and allowed the eight-piece group to begin creating music. “We all bring our own characteristics to the group” Mehlsen explained. “We come from diverse backgrounds, and so individually we have a wide net of inspirations. We really lean on each other’s energy that way.”
The origin of the name People Of The Sun is a poetic nod to the collective philosophy of the band. “Info suggested the name because we all have heritage to different parts of the world, but we’re all people under the same sun, so it’s symbolic to us too.”
In preparing songs for their debut album, People Of The Sun developed a unique, highly structured approach to the songwriting process, which Mehlsen explains “typically goes something like this: The rhythm section gets together an hour before the singers arrive. We cook a tune up, jam it out. Then the singers show up and make the magic happen, writing choruses and verses on top of the song. So, a song is birthed in 2 hours, every Monday, but then it takes weeks of work to perfect. I believe in the magic of deadlines and pressure and not over thinking it. It really works for us.”
Those songs became Last Day Of Summer, the band’s debut album, released November 27th. The group took an unusual approach to recording the album, doing it as a live take at the popular Regina live music venue The Exchange in the end of September. “Recording live is hard because you have to be on!” Mehlsen explained. “If you don’t get your part right, then you let everyone else down, or you just have to live with a bad take. The challenge is scary in ways but ultimately super fun.” The album was produced by Mehlsen, mixed by Justin Bender, and the accompanying film footage (which has been used for videos for the singles “Expectations”, “Sunday Cruise” and “Lift Ya Head”) was shot and edited by Frank Davalos.
The six track EP is stylistically unique yet highly listenable. The music moves seamlessly between light, smooth jazz grooves and energetic funky alt-rock, with the chemistry and connection between the four musicians unmistakeable. The vocalists are perfectly paired; Adeoluwa is passionate and energetic, a perfect counterpoint to Nini Jegz’s soft, sweet melodies. InfoRed’s relaxed delivery and Origin Of Spin’s high energy perfectly compliment each other. The lyrics are personal and romantic, and the overall vibe of the record is uplifting and positive. The musical give and take and the pass-the-mic flow of the vocal delivery feels like the individual members are creating music for each other’s enjoyment, with the audience being incidental. The listener can literally hear how much fun they are having together. “At the end of the day, it’s about spending time with friends making music.” Mehlsen mused. “What could be better?”
Last Day Of Summer is being released on Mehlsen’s label, Sharp 5 Records. Mehlsen summarized his vision for Sharp 5 neatly: “The Label is set on representing our community through anti-racist efforts, displaying multiculturalism, representing female voices, and doing our part towards reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.” A talented lineup creating unique, passionate music and a label committed to making the world a better place: less than a year since inception Mehlsen’s original vision has worked out exactly as he intended, and it will be exciting to see what the future holds for People Of The Sun and Sharp 5.
Erik Mehlsen recommends you check out all People Of The Sun’s solo & side projects! Info Red, Origin of Spin, Adeoluwa, Terraplane, Del Suelo, Hoodoo Mafia, Regina Transit Authority.