All That and a Shot of Jäger
Hailing from Hawaii’s Big Island, California-based reggae/punk band Pepper has shown that they can ride the waves to a new shore. Since forming in 1997, the band has been able to make a name for itself with its 2005 radio hit, “Give It Up,” has performed countless sold-out shows, and has sold more than 400,000 records independently. In July 2008, Pepper released its most recent studio album, Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations, on its own record label, LAW Records. One month later, the band recorded Kona Gold, a live album which encompasses songs from its 2002 release, Kona Town. Kona Gold hit stores this past April.
Pepper is currently on its first co-headlining tour with legendary punk band Pennywise as part of the spring Jägermeister Music Tour. At a recent live show, Ink 19 caught up with Pepper drummer Yesod Williams to talk about touring with Pennywise, Kona Gold, and what’s kept the band going after all these years.
The band’s been out on the road with Pennywise since April. What’s it been like co-headlining with them on this tour?
It’s going excellent. We’ve done a few Warped Tours with them before, so we’ve known them. But it’s one of those things where we’ve been listening to them since we were like 13. So it’s almost surreal to be on tour with them right now. It’d be like the soundtrack every time we’d be driving to the beach to go surfing; we’d put on Pennywise and get amped up to get out in the water. If someone would have told me back then when we were listening to them, “Hey, you’re gonna tour with them someday,” I’d be like, “No way. Are you kidding me?” So it’s really like a dream come true, pretty much.
Pepper has also toured with some other big names in the past (The Wailers, 311, Snoop Dogg). What have you taken away from those experiences?
Every tour is just a learning experience, whether it be musically or just business-wise or whatever. Every time I go on tour with any band, I’m always watching the other drummers and picking up things here and there because everyone’s got their own take on approaching music. And then on top of it, going out with the bigger bands, that’s been a crucial element to building our band ’cause you just try to get up on stage and try to be a sponge and soak up as many new fans as you can. There’s so many positive elements of it. And we’ve been lucky, too. All the bands we’ve toured with have been just the nicest people and super good to be with. When you’re out here on the road, you’re in close quarters. You don’t have a lot of your own private time. So, when someone’s cool it just makes it that much easier and makes the tour go that much smoother.
Last summer, Pepper released Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations. For this album you got a chance to work with producer Paul Leary of The Butthole Surfers. What was that experience like?
Oh, it was awesome. It was the second time we worked with him because the album before that, No Shame, he [produced] maybe half of that album. He’s actually the first guy we’ve ever worked with more than once. It’s kind of been a long road with us and producers. Your art is such a personal thing, in a sense, that sometimes if you’re not seeing eye-to-eye with a producer it kind of makes it a bit harder. But, working with Paul, he’s just fun to be around and we have fun in the studio. It’s not like a chore making an album [with him]. So, it was definitely awesome and that’s why we brought him back for a second time. He’s just a good person and he knows so much and he’s been around for so long and done so much in the music business that to have him gravitate towards our music is definitely an honor for us.
Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations was released on your own label, LAW Records. What are the advantages of making albums on your own record label?
Just being in control of everything and not having to jump through these hoops that are thrown at you. Especially when we were on Atlantic Records, being on a major record label, it’s like so corporate and there’s just so many opinions involved and you don’t necessarily agree with them. And they’re telling you that they don’t think your album’s done and you’re like, “Well, we think it is done, and it’s our band and it’s our music, so who’s to say it’s not done.” And then also, of course, you’re taking a risk because it’s your money you’re spending, but in the same sense, I think it’s more of the essence of the band that’s put forth. Because, basically, it’s exactly what the band wants to put out and it’s not like the band and all these other people’s input and then the record comes out. It’s just the essence of the band and that’s what you get.
Your most recent release was the live album, Kona Gold. What was it like recording that album? Do you feel like it captured what a Pepper live show is all about?
Yeah, totally. We’re really happy with it. We recorded it in Boulder, CO, at the Fox Theatre, which is a cool, small place. The sound’s really good [there]. And Colorado has always been one of our hot spots as far as markets go for us. It just turned out really well and we definitely captured the moment, I think.
What makes the band’s live show so fresh and original?
Well, I think just the whole spontaneity of the whole thing. We don’t make a set list. We just plan the first four songs and then kind of go from there. We really get the crowd involved and let the crowd pick most of the songs. We let the fans into our world as much as possible and get them involved with the live show and with our music and what they want to hear. Because, at the end of the day, it’s all about them anyway and that’s the only thing that makes any of this possible — being able to be on a bus, being able to be on tour, being able to make a living doing this — it’s ’cause of the fans. So, we owe it all to them.
Pepper seems to have a lot of fun, both on stage and off. How do you manage to keep things so lighthearted and fun?
It’s just the kind of people we are. Life’s so short and there’s really no reason to be any other way, in my opinion. It’s like, make the best out of it and look on the bright side of every situation. And, you know, of course, shit happens. But at the end of the day, I think we’re just happy people and we’re stoked on life and we really appreciate that we get to do this for a living.
Pepper’s been together 12 years now. What’s kept the band going and how does the band manage to keep things fresh?
Just the fact that we appreciate so much that we can actually do this, and we’re so thankful that it keeps us going. And then also the progress we make. There’s never a point where we’re like, “OK, cool. We’ve done it. We’re all good now.” We’re always looking for the next thing. Like, “OK, what can we do [now]? How can we do things, not necessarily different, but … to turn over new leaves?” And every time you do make those steps and you see the progress, you’re like, “Wow. We wanted to do that and we did it, so what can we do [now]? Let’s think of something and we’ll do it.”
How has the band’s sound evolved over the years?
We’ve kind of embraced more of like a rock element. When we started out, we were kind of more on the reggae and ska tip and we grew up on rock music and metal and just that whole energy that comes with it, [which] I think we’ve embraced more. Not just with the music, but with the vibe of our live show and the performance we put on.
Do you feel like you’ve all grown as musicians?
Yeah, absolutely. We never consider ourselves, technically, good musicians. It’s more about the vibe that we get between the three of us. I think if the three of us were in a band with any other people, it really wouldn’t have worked as well. But as far as songwriting goes and just the level of musicianship, I think we definitely have progressed. And thank God we do, ’cause we do this so much and we’re on tour so much and we play so much, if we weren’t progressing I’d have to question myself.
What do you see in Pepper’s future?
We’re doing the international thing a lot more nowadays. We’re going to Europe for the fourth time this summer and we’re going to Japan for the first time. And so we’re doing that, kind of trying to get all over the place in those different countries. And then we will be kind of slowly starting to record a new album this year. So, hopefully that’ll come out by the summer of 2010.