Gathered around a table tucked in the back of a downtown coffee shop, four members of Person People (less than half of the hip-hop collective's total enrollment) are contemplating what it means to be what many people consider Bend's most exciting band. After all, they are the only local act with a known name for its devoted following: PP Heads. Also, they've recorded what very well might be Central Oregon's most well constructed hip-hop record to date.
"It feels good to get some recognition for making music for so long," says founding member KP, one of the act's MCs, after a few beats of thought.
In the past year and a half, Person People have come to build a fan base that's far more expansive than the following they accrued during the group's first four-plus years. What was once a rapper-and-DJ act is now a fully functioning band, complete with an instrumental section that is an all-star lineup in its own right. The shift has given Person People an appeal that's drawn not only increasing numbers of devoted hip-hop fans into the fold, but also the roots music fans that make up the core of Bend's musical fandom to give them crowds that often amount to 200 or more people.
"We've got this crossover fan base that when Yonder Mountain is in town they'll go to that show, but they also come to our shows," says drummer Jared Forqueran of the almost bafflingly wide scope of Bendites who've become PP Heads.
This crossover appeal was most evident at an outdoor show in late August at Parrilla Grill when Moon Mountain Rambler's fiddler Jenny Harada hopped on stage for a few cuts, including "Smoke" which rode Harada's fiddle from hip-hop romp to bluegrass jam and back again in a truly genre-busting moment. Harada isn't merely a guest musician with the band - she's heard on four tracks on the new record and is present at most rehearsals.
"We've been friends with her forever and it's so cool that she comes and hangs out with 10 drunk guys and plays," says a laughing Forqueran.
Person People is a band playing in a genre largely devoid of actual bands, but during an hour sitting with all three instrumentalists and one MC, it's clear this is not a rap group with a backing band - it's a true hip-hop band.
After getting my ears on a stealth copy of the yet-to-be-released record, tentatively titled Heartbeats, and expected to be released sometime this winter, the transformation of Person People comes into view. On the title track, Person People seems to be documenting the evolution that the band has gone through over the past year or so - the track has hearty, well-wrought rhymes laid over poppy piano and the product is a juxtaposition of Jurassic 5's vocals with Ben Fold Five's jazzy pop as the instrumentation. All of this was caught skillfully by fellow hip-hop artist, Cloaked Character's Rory Oneders over at Rage Studios.
"It doesn't seem like we're playing hip-hop music, it just seems like we're playing whatever comes natural," says newly added bassist Shane Thomas, who's also known as the bass player for another much buzzed-about Bend band, Empty Space Orchestra, which is also on the bill with Person People for the Silver Moon/Tulen Center Halloween spectacular.
The lyrics on Heartbeats delivered by Person People's vocal crew of KP, Mosley Wotta, Sorski, Fish, Mez and A-Bomb are refreshingly positive and deftly poetic, with only a few moments of brag and boast rhetoric. The highlight of the 12-track record for longtime fans, aside from the supremely danceable "Heartbeats," is likely "Oregonize" - which has probably been heard live by anyone who's seen a PP show.
Ostensibly, the juxtaposition of the vocals to the instrumentation is a weird mix, but it's a combination that appeals to the nature of Bend's music scene - a landscape of which Person People is quickly taking the reins. But the band's future looks to expand outside of city limits - maybe even sooner than later as Person People plots a spring tour, a task that isn't all that simple.
"You're talking about 10 or 11 cats getting on the same schedule and getting on the road together," says KP of the challenges of taking such a populated group on the road.
But Person People definitely has the talent to spread its unique take on hip-hop throughout the Northwest. And the best part is that Person People seems to know this, yet proceed without falling victim to hip-hop's most deadly virus: the bloated ego.
"We're all here at the same time and we all have enough experience to do this knowledgeably and confidently and we all happen to get along. It's a series of coincidences that go into making a fantastic group," says Forqueran.
Person People, Empty Space Orchestra
Doors open at 8pm. Friday, October 31. Silver Moon Brewing Co. and Tulen Center. 24 NW Greenwood Ave. $10 with costume, $12 without costume. Admission is good for both venues.
Photo by: Paulina Kurylonek