X backstage: Pepper
Adolescence is a rollercoaster, and there's no exception for bands -- even for trios like Pepper, who'll bring the (house) party to X Games Los Angeles 2013. Now in their 16th year, the Sublime-adjacent fun-rockers had to put the band on ice after the release of their fifth album, "Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations," five years ago.
They needed some time apart. They needed some time in one place. And they definitely needed a lot of surf. Touring the majority of the year made all of those things impossible. So the longtime buddies who started the band in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii -- Kaleo Wassman (vocals/guitar), Bret Bollinger (bass/vocals) and Yesod Williams (drums) -- took a couple years away from each other before rejoining to create an EP, "Stiches," in late 2010.
The new songs re-energized the group and they hit the road for a short tour before settling into various studios to record their sixth record, which is slated for release this fall. The result is a coming of age for the band. They still bring the party, but they deliver it with a little more maturity and sophistication.
We chatted with Wassman about the new song, how relationships change between buddies when you're in a band and why the group moved away from Hawaii's perfect waves.
XGames.com: So let's go back a bit. The band formed in 1997; can you talk about the biggest change? I mean, that's such a huge chunk of time to be working with two other guys. You're all original members?
All three of us are original members. [We're all] from the Big Island of Hawaii, in a small town called Kona, and we all grew up together ... At the time, Kona was extremely small and everyone knew everyone. It was a great community -- very, very family-oriented. And so we all got to know each [other] there and we just decided ... back in '97 ... to play music at, like, house parties for our friends, because we really wanted to do something. We didn't know what we wanted to do quite yet, but there was definitely something we wanted.
All of us have completely gone through metamorphoses -- caterpillars to butterflies to caterpillars again.Kaleo Wassman
So we started playing house parties and whatever bars that we could get into, since we were all underage, and the rest is history. We've just been that band that's been really pounding pavement and really exploring this entire experience and everything that it actually has to offer. And the best thing about it is the longer you're a band, the more you're going to live through.
It's really a testament to the people that you're with in this musical operation. ... I don't think I've really grown up around two other people more in my entire life, and the other two would say the same thing. ... [W]e've been around for years and ... the ride's still going, so it's one of the things that makes me enjoy it completely.
I just heard a WTF interview yesterday with Cheech and Chong, and they talked about being best friends initially, but after a certain amount of years they became almost family, and that has a whole different set of luggage. You're almost blood when you get really deep into a working/performing/creative relationship like that. Is that something the band has experienced?
[I]t's very profound, what Cheech and Chong said. ... [I]t does get to a point where your friendship does cross over into bloodline, and it gets to be this different relationship. But the key is to actually, during the changes of the relationship, to ... change yourself, you know? And try not to be attached to the older you, or everything that you ever held so steadfast before. Because everything changes, including yourself. And to think that that's not the deal, then you're kind of setting yourself up for more of a difficult time in the future.
All of us have completely gone through metamorphoses -- caterpillars to butterflies to caterpillars again. But it's one of the things where it's just, like, your understanding of the people around you and their true intentions. That's what people need to hone in on.
After the release of the fifth record you guys took some time off from music and each other. Can you tell me a little bit about what was going on back then?
When we hit 2008, that was kind of a very difficult year. I mean, all the years prior to that, we had been doing about two [hundred] to 250 shows a year.
[It] basically got to the point where you go on tour and you come home for three weeks and make a record and then you go back on tour while it gets mixed. ... It was just this constant conveyor belt of work: to the studio, back to work, to the studio, back to work. So in 2005 we actually hit a wall ... and we stopped. And that's why this album was the most difficult, because we hit that wall and then we had to ask ourselves, "Well, what do we want to do? Do we want to make another album? What do we really want to do?"
That brings me to my next question. You reunited in 2010; what was that like? It seems like it was a pretty hard break.
We just needed to get off the conveyor belt for a little bit, you know? ... We all just went away and did our own things, and then when we got back together, it was like, "Yeah, I still want to do this," and the other two were exactly the same way.
And so you guys made that big decision of "Yeah, hell yeah -- let's do another record!" How was the approach different than the previous five records?
We wanted to actually say what we've always wanted to say at the time that we wanted to say it at. And we finally did it on this record.
The upcoming album was produced by Matt Wallace. One band-mate compared it to being in college. What did Wallace do, exactly?
It was definitely a learning experience. ... [I]t's one of the situations where it takes an outside opinion to let you know what you're going through. It's funny, but it's just a different point of view, and Matt has that.
So when he joined us and he was listening to all the demos and everything that we were creating ... he liked to let us really have a different approach to recording and music. ... [P]ersonally [he taught me] that it's not the amount of words that you use, it's the message that you're trying to relay ... [T]hat to me was just incredibly enlightening, because my era of music was, like, the mid-'90s. So I had 2Pac and others who used a lot of words to convey their message. I love that.
... [I]f you just really craft your words carefully and you say exactly what you want to say with no filler, oh my God -- the line has just so much more impact. On this album, I approach my writing a little differently to experiment with "less is more."
You've toured with 311, Slightly Stoopid, Flogging Molly and a bunch of other bands. You've also spent several summers on the Warped Tour. If you could do one show and write the whole thing, what would that look like?
Interesting question. The perfect show ... is just one that everyone is at and everyone, and I'm talking on stage, off stage, behind stage, backstage, whatever ... is just feeling so incredible that there's just no denying that this is a great place to be.
The upcoming single, "F--- Around (All Night)," is a great jam and different from a lot of the rest of your catalog. Can you tell me about that song?
We worked with Tim Pagnotta [who co-wrote the song]; he is a producer now in L.A., but he used to be in a band called Sugarcult. ... It does have a different feel, but the greatest thing about the song is the way it translates and how we're using it as a bridge. It has a lot of the classic Pepper/Miracle content to it with a new kind of more streamlined playability with the instruments. And it's really just a nice bridge, and that's what this album kind of was for us. ... It was the best of Pepper and the best of what we've ever done, and trying to just make it as streamlined and just another version of growing up. It's just such a great representation of what we want to say when we want to say it.
You surf, but do you guys do any other kind of X Games sort of activities -- skateboard or anything like that?
Well, the best thing about being on tour, man, is that you go to these festivals, and there is just nothing but acres of open parking lot. So you can take your Sector 9 [longboard] … Sector 9 and Pepper have been longtime friends.
... All of the boys love to ride Electra bikes -- [an] amazing bike company that we're starting a very good relationship with. And to tell you the most part, man, when it's summer and the water's warm in California, we're always in it.