PEPPER

PEPPER

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If you don’t already listen to Pepper, you’ve been doing music all wrong: Kaleo Wassman, Bret Bollinger and Yesod Williams
have been making people dance and feel good with their music since the 90’s. The three best friends from Kona, Hawaii, use
their talents (and unbreakable bond) to create their own genre of music, with touches of reggae, punk, ska and alternative
rock. Their many studio albums are diverse and unique, making their musical creations hard to label. Luckily, these goodnatured
and mellow guys don’t care to be put into an industry-driven ‘box’ – and that’s the beauty of Pepper. Their latest
album, Ohana, is a game-changer and shows their growth not only as musicians, but as tuned-in individuals whose only
goal is to spread good vibes with their art – and they always succeed.

I had a chance to speak with bassist and singer Bret Bollinger
after their show at The Wellmont Theater, and truthfully, I
left the conversation feeling more enlightened than when I
started. Here are some highlights of our conversation:
Pepper famously took off a few years from making music
and touring. What do you think that lapse in time did for
the band?
We enjoyed it. It was a breath of fresh air. It allowed us to live
the personal sides of our lives. It was really productive. When
we came back together, it was like we had so much to share
together and so much to vibe off and say, ‘we valued that
time’. It definitely recharged our batteries and gave us some
new concepts to go after together as Pepper.
What was the significance behind changing Pepper’s logo
with the self-titled album in 2013? Was there a turning
point there?
Here’s how I would answer that, if you took the logo out of the
equation, would you really think the music changed? We’ve
literally put out whatever came to mind. We’ve had pressure
before when you sign up with a major label and they want you
to re-create the wheel. They always want that next ”Give It
Up” or “F**k Around”. We’ve never depended on that. We’ve MUSIC NEWS
PEPPER
always been able to do what we want to do, when we want to
do it. If it sounds like the music changed, or the logo changed,
that’s par for the course for Pepper.
Ohana is an incredible album, from the melodies to the
lyrics. What’s the story behind it?
When we decided the name ‘ohana’ we were in such a great
space. We took over Pennywise’s old studio and we revamped
it, bought it out, gutted it, and changed it to our own studio
called Kona Recording. We said, ‘You know what, we have
this amazing studio, let’s make history and record the very
first album in this new studio and make it our own.’ Then
we’re all together in Hawaii at the time having dinner and we
said, ‘what do you want to call it, what do you want the art
to be?’ And everything just flowed so good, like, ‘what says
something about family in Hawaii?’, ‘well, a gathering when
you go to the door and you feel that warm feeling’ so that just
all snapped together. It was kind of like starting over in a way,
like we literally got in the studio and got to feel it out for about
a month. We played the songs as a 3-piece band: one guitar,
one bass rig, one drum set, and a couple of microphones, and
just recorded. Mostly everything is just three guys playing in
a new place, in their own personal studio. We didn’t change
any of the knobs, it literally couldn’t be more basic. That’s why
everything sounds cohesive, it’s all the same amp, the same guitar, the same bass, the same drum, just telling stories in a
black and white way. But there’s something beautiful about that
too. It came out in an organic way.
What I love most about Pepper is the clever wordplay, like
in “Big Mistake”, you sing, “Is it worth its weight in gold, or
should we melt it down to be sold?”
That’s one of my favorites, of all
the assets of my band. As far as my
guitar player goes, I’ve always loved
the way he reads so much. He’s
really passionate about learning
and philosophy. He’s one of the few
people to read the bible a few times
and he’s not religious. If you listen,
there’s a lot of biblical stuff on there.
Essentially those great writings from
all these great people, they’re just
matters and metaphors for different
truths. I’ve always liked that he
comes up with really interesting
lyrics in that way. That’s one of my
favorite things about him… and his
guitar solos. Our drummer is like a
range guy, he has a good sense of
how the song is starting off, where
it’s going, where it’s gonna take us
and how high do we have to pump
up the energy? Each guy brings his
own attributes. But we like clever
lyrics, we like a great story.
I was just about to ask you what
you thought each member of the
band brought to the table, but you
pretty much laid it out for me. What
do you think your band brothers
would say you contribute?
I don’t know. From my perspective,
I feel so free and open because I
don’t consider myself a musician, I
don’t consider myself an artist. It’s hard to say that in that way,
but I just like to create. It doesn’t have to be music. I love writing,
I like creating, I like filming. My strength is that I don’t believe
in any rules or foundation, if it feels good and it speaks to you,
then that’s all you really need. It doesn’t have to make sense. So
my strength would be freedom, just the freedom to be wrong.
What is it like being on this journey with your best friends?
I think it’s beautiful because we’ve grown and changed and done
things in a pretty healthy way. You’re gonna be hard-pressed to
find a band that has the original members 20 years later. Every
piece of every note that we’ve ever made or released has been
with the same guys, so I think it’s been cool to watch.
You’re kind of like soul mates.
We kind of are but it’s a very real
thing. I think we’re not afraid to step
on each other’s toes because we
all know we’re coming from a place
of ‘how can we make this the best
form’ or ‘how can I challenge these
guys’ or ‘how can they challenge
me to do my best’ or at least be
so happy with it or having fun that
we feel great about it. We’re never
bored, that’s the thing, so I think
there’s the right amount of trust.
We’re able to say, ‘you know what,
I don’t have the answer, this is my
best swing at it and if you guys like
it, or if you don’t like it, challenge
me’. We started off sharing the
same everything, the same stage,
the same garage. We share our
families. We’re still the same kids
in the same way except that we’ve
gotten to grow up and have been
protected and challenged by
each other internally. We’ve gone
through it: we’ve all been there
through incredibly hard times for
each other personally, we’ve been
through really tough times together
business-wise and passion-wise,
and checking ourselves for why
we’re doing it. We check each
other and make sure we’re all in
the same page.
When you’re in your 90s, you three will have a lot of
interesting stories to tell.
(laughs) I hope I can remember them!

Review:

There was no better way to end the summer than with a show at Montclair’s Wellmont Theater featuring Pepper, Tribal
Seeds, Fortunate Youth and the Darenots for the “Nice Dreams” Summer Tour. All four bands brought their A-games
and put on an impressive show for fans, including having an artist on stage who painted through each band’s set,
embodying the carefree spirit that these bands represent. The Darenots opened the concert with a burst of energy with
songs off of their album, Strange Love Vol 1. Fortunate Youth created the perfect party atmosphere with their songs,
“Love is The Most High”, “Peace Love & Unity”, ”No Place Above” and “Left My Love in CA”, while Tribal Seeds rocked
the audience with “Rude Girl”, ”Vampire”, ”Love Psalm” and “Empress”. Pepper, of course, slayed their set playing
classic hits like “B.O.O.T”, “Ashes” and “Stone Love” and newer songs, like “Start You Up” and “Never Ending Summer.”
What I appreciated most about this particular show was that even though the dreadful feeling of knowing the end of
summer was lingering in the air, all of the bands’ on the “Nice Dreams” tour are totally capable of offering fans their own
versions of a never-ending summer… all you have to do is listen.

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