One of the leading bands of the second wave of New Zealand indie pop that emerged in the wake of the rise of the Flying Nun label, the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience began as a naive but tuneful alternative pop act and matured into an indie rock band with big guitars but the same sense of melodic adventure they had at the start. Formed in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1984, the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience were launched by bassist and lead singer Dave Yetton and drummer Gary Sullivan, who had begun working on songs together; the name was inspired by a roommate given to drug-addled discussions of the French existentialist's writings that could last for hours on end. The group expanded to a trio with the addition of guitarist David Mulcahy, and not long after they began playing out in 1985, a second guitarist, Jim Laing, filled out the JPSE's definitive lineup. The JPSE recorded a demo tape that they released in a cassette-only edition packed in re-purposed dog food cans; the tape earned them some college radio airplay as well as interest from New Zealand's legendary indie pop label Flying Nun Records, who signed the band in 1986 and shortly released a five-song EP (simply titled The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience), as well as the album Love Songs (featuring several songs from the tin can demo and other early recordings, including the single "I Like Rain"), which appeared before the year was out.
The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience sounded significantly tighter and more polished on their second full-length album, 1989's The Size of Food, which earned enthusiastic reviews, and the following year the group would add a keyboard player, Russell Baillie. But there would be delays leading up to the group's third album; the estate of Jean-Paul Sartre threatened legal action for use of his name, and for a while the band billed itself as the JPS Experience, and though the group cut several singles and EPs between 1991 and 1993, its next album was put on hold as Flying Nun sank into a financial crisis and attempted to strike a deal with a major label for a needed infusion of cash. In 1993, the JPS Experience, who were back to a quartet with the departure of keyboard man Baillie, finally debuted their third album, Bleeding Star, which was released in the United States by the respected indie Matador Records. Bleeding Star, which boasted a more professional production than anything the group had released to date, owed more to indie rock and the shoegaze movement than their previous work but still retained the JPSE's languid but engaging melodic sound, and seemed poised to break the band to a larger audience worldwide.
However, tensions within the group began to flare during the sessions for Bleeding Star, with guitarist Mulcahy resigning before the album was complete. A major international tour was scheduled in support of the album, with Matt Heine filling in for Mulcahy, but the long road trip only inflamed the unease within the group, and in 1994 the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience chose to call it quits. Yetton would go on to work with the Stereo Bus and the Mutton Birds, as well as cutting a solo album. James Laing would play with Yetton on one album with the Stereo Bus, and also recorded with the bands Dimmer and Lanky. Sullivan would join the band Solid Gold Hell (which also featured Matt Heine), and Mulcahy would form the group Superette and later cut solo material as well as working with Spider and Eskimo. In 2015, after years out of print, the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience's catalog was reissued in a deluxe box set from Fire Records titled I Like Rain: The Story of the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience. ~ Mark Deming