Interview: Pepper

The Hawaii-born trio Pepper is based in Southern California, played this year’s Warped Tour, and mix in Jamaican rhythms with a little punk rock ‘tude. But don’t call ‘em any variation of s-k-a. Rather, they look a little further later in the history of Caribbean beats, mixing in a classic Seventies/Eighties reggae sound influenced by greats like Barrington Levy and Steel Pulse.

Oh, and the band are also big metal fans. Huge. That might not come out in their chilled-out tunes, but the party-time vibe definitely comes through in their signature amped-up live shows.

Grinding it out for over 11 years since they formed in their hometown of Kona, HI, the band’s relentless touring and dogged, nice-guy persistence has won them a major buzz in the last few years. After appearing on a number of Volcom compilations, Pepper snagged tours with everyone from 311 to Snoop Dogg to Slightly Stoopid, as well as landing on this past summer’s edition of Warped. The band’s latest full-length, No Shame, was released last year on Atlantic. The followup is slated to drop early next year on the band’s own imprint, Law Records.

I spoke to drummer Yesod Williams last week while the band made its way through the Midwest. Pepper lands in South Florida November 7 at Club Cinema in Pompano Beach. After the jump, the full Q&A. – Arielle Castillo

Pepper performs with the Expendables, Passafire, and Whitestarr Wednesday, November 7 at Club Cinema, 3251 N Federal Hwy, Pompano Beach. Call 954-785-5524, or visit

Where are you right now?

I’m in Minneapolis on the way to the golf course to play golf.

Really? Golf? How long have you been playing?

Well, for a while, but we were just on the Warped Tour this summer, and there were so many bands that had a lot of people who golf, so I was getting out a lot.

And you travel with all your clubs and stuff on tour?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I recently got a hard case for them so I’m excited.

Who else on Warped played?

Mostly I golfed with Bad Religion -- the bass player Jay is an avid golfer. He’s very good too, he blows me out of the water. And a lot of the crew guys from New Found Glory and Pennywise and whatnot. You’d be surprised – there’s quite a few golfers in this industry, I’ll tell ya.

How’d you get into that?

My dad growing up would manage condos in Hawaii, and he’d manage some that were on golf courses. I got serious in the last couple of years taking a lesson, this and that. I dabbled back in Hawaii; it’s only now that I have time on tour. After we golf, I’ll go back and sound check. Touring is one of those hurry up and wait type of things. It’s a lot of sitting around, and playing Guitar Hero.

And we’re making a new album, coming up in January and February. On all our extra time to kill we’ll be working on new material.

Have you been on the road since Warped or have you gotten to take a break at all?

In between this tour and the last Warped Tour we took a month off, except we did one show in San Diego. We always like to take a little bit of time off between tours. It’s our time to “live,” quote unquote.

Where are you based right now on your off time?

We’re actually in Southern California, which is burning down right now. All of our friends and family are fine, and none of our places have burned down personally yet. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed. But a lot of people we work with who live up in Santa Monica have lost things.

How long have you been out on this tour so far?

It just started. We’re about a week into it right now. We’re doing Chicago and then working our way to the east coast. We’re really doing this in two parts, taking a week off for Thanksgiving, and then picking back up at the end of November. Then we go until the 13th of December, then fly back home to Kona to do our annual music festival there.

How often do you get back to Kona?

Probably about twice a year. One of the main things we miss there is, of course, the ocean and the food. We have to go get our fix for that.

When did the band move to California?

They [Kaleo Wasman, guitarist/vocalist, and Brett Bollinger, bassist/vocalist] started the band right after we graduated high school. The band did parties and, for lack of a better term, dicked around for a while on the big island and then moved over.

So you joined the band a little after it started. How did you meet the other two guys?

Growing up in the town we were from, everyone knows everyone; it’s such a small town. I actually had quit drums from the time I was 12 to the time I was 17 or 18 when we started the band. So then finally I just kind of got the bug and wanted to jam again. We started playing – I hadn’t played in a really long time. The rest is history. Finally just on a whim we quit our jobs, we just kind of jumped in the fire.

You actually quit at 12? How did you get into playing music so early?

My dad was in a hair metal band called the Law -- we have our record label called Law Records, and that’s where that sprouted from. All of us really have been kinda consumed in music all our lives because all our parents were really into music.

From the earliest time I remember, I remember my dad playing concerts in Hollywood. They were touring with Van Halen, and Anthrax was opening up for them at the time. They were really about to make it but then all the normal bullshit that plagued bands like that, they kind of fell into all those cliches so they ended up breaking up.

So you were living in California at that time, or Hawaii, and your dad would just fly over for shows?

Yeah, he used to fly over there all the time. My parents first moved to Hawaii essentially to start growing weed, because they had friends over there and it was basically socially acceptable back then. Originally they’re from, like, West Covina.

So when I was a kid I used to set up pots and pans and bang on them, and I always wanted to be a drummer. I ended up playing in a band with my dad on the big island, with all these older guys twice my age. But after a while I just wanted to play with my friends, so I kinda ended up getting burned out.

So I started surfing, and hanging out with my friends until I was 17 and graduated. For some reason I told the other guys we should jam sometime. It was actually kind of a funny story – I went up to Brett’s house and we started jamming. Brett had told Kaleo what a great drummer I was, but I hadn’t played in so long, I guess I was pretty terrible. And Brett said right after I left that he told Kaloe, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who that guy was!” But I had had tons of fun, it was epic! So I said, let’s do it again and they agreed. But the next time we jammed, it was fine. So we started playing parties, mostly, because there’s not a lot of places to play over there.

Yeah, what’s the music scene like there? Are there many venues for young bands?

There are millions of talented artists, and the most beautiful voices. But there aren’t a lot of places to play. You can make it big in the state, but to break through out of the state you have to go physically beyond it.

So how did you guys wind up with your sound?

At that time I was going through my real huge reggae kick. First I started listening to Sublime and then started listening to all their influences, and it was all the old reggae like Barrington Levy, Dennis Brown. At the time that we hooked up, it was a lot of reggae and a lot of that kind of semi-ska age with bands like No Doubt.

And then being Pepper, we’re always huge metal fans. We grew up on Slayer and Metallica and Testament. Some of the new bands we like are Killswitch Engage – we got to watch them play every day on Warped Tour – Mastodon, and I’d say Lamb of God. But there are also some smaller bands like Two Cents, and a band called ASG, that are both kind of the new wave of really good metal, but almost a throwback to old school metal.

Metal? Really? I wouldn’t really guess by just hearing your band..

I always tell everyone the one concert that kinda changed my life was when my mom took me to see the Metallica on the …And Justice for All tour in 1989. My mom was working for the promoter and I got to meet all the guys in the band and whatnot. It put things in perspective that they were real people, and maybe I could do this someday. Granted, Metallica is one of the biggest bands in the world, but maybe I could do something like that.

But so then where did the reggae slant come from?

It was just being from Hawaii in general. Reggae is by far the biggest genre of music in Hawaii; it plays on the radio all day. It’s the most heard music, to the point where Hawaiians have come up with their own version called Jawaiian music. You talk about some of the bands that we’re always listening to and influenced us, UB40 – they’re one of the biggest bands out in Hawaii.

When you guys started out in the mid-Nineties, like you mentioned that whole kind of “third wave ska” thing was going on. Do you think that hurt or helped you?

I guess I could say it helped us because we got to play with some of those bands. It definitely didn’t hurt us. As far as whatever’s hot at the moment – I don’t know if we’ve carved it yet, but we’re in the middle of carving our own niche. We’re not relying on what’s on the radio.

Is it harder getting your music across to crowds from maybe the northeast, or especially the Midwest?

Well, no, definitely, especially over the last couple of years. But sure, it’s definitely been a heavily outweighed situation on the coasts as compared to the Midwest. But I think everyone who likes to have fun and has a good sense of humor is going to like Pepper, for sure. Like you say, it definitely caught on the coasts because our kind of music pertains to the water or more to a beach kind of lifestyle. But like I said, we just like to spread a good vibe of having fun and not having problems, such a party atmosphere that it doesn’t matter where you are.

So after this tour, what are your plans for the near future?

It’s gonna be recorded in January/February and released on our own label this summer. Then we’re doing a small ampitheater tour with our friends Slightly Stoopid.

Where are you recording?

We’re recording in a studio in Redondo Beach. We did it with a guy who produced about half of our last album, No Shame, named Paul Leary, originally from the Butthole Surfers. He produced the Meat Puppets, Sublime, you name it. He’s a living legend.

Why did you decide to self-release your album this time?

Basically cause we’ve always wanted to do it. We’ve always looked up to bands like NOFX, where they have their own record label and whatnot. We’re finally doing it now because we’re at the point where we can. A couple albums ago, I don’t think it would have been the smartest thing. But we’re ecstatic to be doing it.

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo