For nearly 20 years, Pepper has been bringing their brand of dance-worthy rock-pop-reggae to fans all over the world. It's a type of mellow yet vividly powerful music that, even though it can be categorized as reggae, is more scintillating and sexy than any Nag Champa-scented act I've ever heard -- or seen.
The band consists of vocalist/guitarist Kaleo Wassman and vocalist/bassist Bret Bollinger, friends since middle school, and drummer Yesod Williams, who they found was a perfect fit after going through a "bottomless pit" of drummers. Influenced by such acts as Sublime and Hawaiian artist Three Plus, the trio headed to San Diego from Hawaii and has released five studio albums and one live album.
After a five year hiatus, Pepper released 2013's Pepper, which veers into new sonic territory while still offering up that vibe of surging optimism and energetic party anthems and beachy melodies--alongside lots of background laughter. The album is distinct in its sound primarily because Pepper went into the studio with Matt Wallace, a producer known for his work with Maroon 5 and Faith No More.
Up On the Sun talked with Bollinger about Pepper's new songwriting process, drunken outtakes, and new music for 2014.
So how long have you guys been on this current tour?
We're actually in the studio right now, and I'm just taking a break talking to you.
What're you up to in the studio today?
Today we are actually laughing really hard at an awesome outtake that we did at 3 in the morning a few nights ago. It's so funny because we were just mentally thrashed. We made our producer get up on the microphone and freestyle. It's creating quite the stir and he doesn't remember doing it so it's even funnier. It's a white guy rapping, I think I was playing a ukulele behind him. I think there were goat noises too. It's just how the studio should be.
So are you working on a new album or just messing around in the studio?
No, we never stop writing. We took that five-year hiatus with no albums, in between our last LP and our 2013 release. Since that time we've been shaking things up after all that personal time. So now it's back to recording and we're writing music and showing it to each other, and then comes the fun part of putting it together into Pepper music. We're going to release some new music this summer. Not a new album; but some new music. I'm not sure in what form or fashion we'll release it in though.
So the last album from 2013, I understand that the recording was quite the learning process for you guys, when Matt Wallace was helping the band expand its vision an re-define the music. Will that carry into this new music?
As far as redefining our image I don't know about that. We were finally willing to learn. The way we came up...I don't know if many bands come up like that any more, but on the cusp on records still being sold by major label, MTV, etc. Bands were still playing a show every night across the country so that they could start a fanbase, instead of doing the YouTube thing and a label finds them. We came up right in the middle of that. When we met up with Matt Wallace it was the perfect time for us, because we were very open to ideas and learning. That's his forte; he's like a real music-loving producer. He's old-school. He broke and wrote Faith No More, just a totally original band out of nowhere. He's responsible for getting them and getting their energy recorded in a studio properly and elaborating on their ideas. He did the same thing for us, 20 years later, and we were ready to listen and take responsibility to make a really good record. So now, after our extended stay at that musical college, we're really branching out and writing music with different people and for different people. I haven't stopped since I got back from Hawaii after Christmas.
That's always a good feeling. There's nothing like that; it doesn't feel like work it's exciting. You feel that power during the writing section. And understanding that whole process now through Matt is great too. Having a lyric go from your brain to paper to the stage where thousands of kids are bouncing up and down to it. It's amazing.
Well your music has always seemed to be somewhat consistent. I mean, In With The Old was a personal favorite of mine. It lines up well with the new stuff.
In With The Old; that's perfect. That just shows you that we've never been afraid to really write any kind of music, but now we really have the ability to take a song like "Ashes..." there are so many different things I would do if I was writing a song that had a similar message or energy to it like "Ashes." I can't wait for our next crack at it. You grow and realize how you could've told the story and elaborated more, thinking that you could've made the guitar sound a certain way that was different.
It's really a blessing; the growth. That's what keeps the band really vibrant. We all hold each other accountable, but at the same time, we realize that the three of us are what's the most important. I mean, you don't really see many bands still together with their original members. We will never be that way. We're such close friends; brothers really. Almost like each other's wives in away. It's more important for all of us to happy. If there was a moment where it was between being friends and being a band, we would pick being friends and shelve the band. So you're not currently on tour, but are you excited for the Arizona show?
Yes! That will be super fun. We do random shows here and there called one-offs, and that's what Arizona is. We played there before for St. Patty's day and it was super fun. We'll fly there, spend the weekend and hang with some friends. If you can't have a good time doing that you need to rethink you're life.
Since Peppers sound falls into that dynamic of rock, reggae and hip hop, it makes sense that you're playing with Rebelution, Iration, Katastro and Atmosphere. But what would be one of your dream acts to tour with, that people wouldn't automatically assume?
That's tough. I think you'd get widly different answers from every member. Oh man... well, like my favorite band in the whole world is probably Alice in Chains and like Jeff Buckley. Unfortunately both lead singers are trucking on. Long pause. To see one of those bands on a tour with them would be insane. Most of the bands we all really love have already left this earth though. So we don't get any clues from them; just go out and make them proud.
So do you have any favorite acts around today that are still on this Earth?
Oh absolutely. Queens of the Stone Age. They have such a great sense of humor and have been around forever of course. They do so many different projects too, like Josh Homme used to do Kyuss, which is one of our favorite bands, and The Desert Sessions. Of course, Dave Grohl. And Them Crooked Vultures. I just really like when people are able to go out and do different things because they really want to. Who else... Emily King? I don't know if you are familiar with her but she is--ah! She is so moving and you could be sitting in a café and she could be playing in a corner and all your dreams could come true.
I haven't heard of her.
You haven't? She has something called the 7 EP. I would go straight for that if I were you.
I'll do that. That's a pretty bold endorsement of an artist! On that note, if you could describe Pepper in three words, what would they be?
That's good..Pepper in three words.... Three words with Pepper. I'd say... loud. Sexy. Fun. When I look out over the crowd that's the easiest way to describe what I see.
Is there anything else you'd like fans to know?
Yes! You know, 2014 is going to be a really big year. We're jumping back in. We'll be doing a full tour, two national tours in the summer, and in the fall we'll be going back out internationally to South America or possibly Australia. But right now we're writing and recording a lot of new music. So the fans will see us a lot and hear a lot of new music in 2014.
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