Over the course of many years of working in this profession, we in this field are lucky enough to be given the opportunity to meet countless musicians who have influenced us in so many ways. As fans, we create Paul Bunion like images in our minds of these people based off small snippets of themselves that they send out into the world, and can’t help but feel a bond with the version of themselves that they want to highlight, and sometimes even fabricate. In this era of celebrity culture and Instagram lifestyles, it is far too easy to become disenchanted when our expectations of these people fall short of reality. Once in a long while, we meet bands that we have listened to for years and see them more than live up to the Herculean images we have built up for them in our time following them, but the men of Pepper show character that lives up to any fan’s standards.
From noticing Yesod’s Ween tattoo under his sandal and speaking with him about Gene Ween’s recent transformations, to hearing about Kaleo’s recent vacation to and our mutual love of my home town of San Francisco, to seeing Bret’s niece walk into the room and seeing how deep his love for his family goes, it is near impossible to not make an instant connection and feel like longtime friends with these guys even the first time meeting them.
Their self-proclaimed accomplishment of being the only three-piece band that has reached their level of success over multiple decades while still retaining their original lineup speaks so much to the culture of “Ohana” they create. Their love for each other and all they do is undeniable, and convey so much passion when talking about their past, present, and future, that they even appease the old cliché of routinely finishing each other’s sentences.
Grateful Web: How does it feel to be at the 10th anniversary of Cali Roots? Where do you see it’s place in reggae history?
Yesod Williams: We started in this scene before there was really a scene here, it was just us and Slightly Stoopid, so Cali Roots is like the barometer for this whole genre. As this festival keeps blowing up and getting bigger and bigger, it’s an analogy for this whole amazing reggae-rock genre that that’s blown up that we’ve seen, because we’ve been a band for about 20 years now and over the past 10, we’ve started to see it really blossom and flourish, so it’s definitely been a front runner and full circle, right?
Kaleo Wassman: When was our first Cali Roots? Was it the first one?
YW: I’m confused about that because I thought it was the first one, but I think some people told me it was the second one the first time that we played.
KW: Eh, tomato; tomato.
Bret Bollinger: It was a real trip, Cali Roots before becoming what we call the Super Bowl of reggae, if you will.
YB: Well, reggae-rock
KW: The Jah Bowl.
KW: Gluten free
BB: It was just a sick California apparel line that everyone really dug, which is kind of fun line.
KW: Did you say a peril line?
BB: Apparel line. Ah-Parellé if you’re French. It's bourgie. But isn’t it crazy to take that concept and that kind of concept all the way? I mean this is the vibe; this is what we look forward to. New bands, old school bands, like you’re mentioning and ten years late, what’s it going to be in 20? I think other bands from other genres are going to notice because this (festival) blends so well, I think you’re going to see bigger, more established acts be like “I wanna play Cali Roots” and we’ll be like “you can.”
KW: You see that when you see acts like Atmosphere play this festival. Also, on what we were talking about, we also played the first year that it (Cali Roots) was in the bowl (stage) in 2014 or 2015 when it first grew big enough to be in the bowl, and I mean now obviously it’s just maxed out this whole campground.
YB: Think about it. We were the first ones to use the bowl… Get it? We’re packing this bowl for two. Thank you, Expendables.
GW: Speaking of music evolving. Musically, lyrically, and every way in between, you guys have gone through such a transformation from Kona Town to Ohana. What’s that journey been like and then to now?
YB: Fun. The first word that comes to my mind is fun, but it’s such a journey.
KW: Well, let’s go back a bit. We said earlier that we'd been a band for 20+ years, the three of us. By the way, original, and the last three piece known on earth.
YB: Since Lemmy went down, and Motörhead, God rest his soul, we’re the last three piece.
KW: Exactly. So, through all the friendship, and all the hardship, and all the love, and the brotherhood over 22 years, yeah. At the end of the day, not changing one thing and allowing it to be what it is, has been the funniest thing.
BB: Almost what Kaleo is saying, follow the lead of the band and the music, and seeing the process and respecting the process, that’s been so much fun, you know what I mean? And being involved as part of that process.
YB: I’d say what’s fun and pure, just like you talked about original members, how rare that is, I know we’re like “how cool, give us a plaque or something” but it is rare, and at the end of the day it’s super special if you think about because the few bands that are together even then, it doesn’t necessarily mean, unfortunately, that they’re happy and they love what they’re doing when they’re up there. Like, last night, Scott from Stick Figure was up there and kind of getting emotional up there. We’ve toured with him so many times, he’s such a sweetheart, but he was looking in the crowd and going “I was in there, and now I’m up here doing this.” He was really grateful, and it was really authentic. Now, with us, it couldn’t happen that we’d still be together after all this time, started in ’97, over 22 years, and as far as the music goes, here’s the inside tip. We never knew, or still don’t really know what we’re doing, we’re just having fun with it, and no one’s here shutting it down or telling us “do this, do that.” We own our own label, we have our own record studio now, and we’ve done it our way, Sinatra style.
KW: Letting the music lead the way, and it's lead us to country songs and heavy metal songs, that range we were talking about before.
BB: Also, mega-produced sounding records to very stripped sounding records.
YB: Three guys in a room, like Ohana.
BB: Which might Segway us to our new album, Local Motion, that’s coming out on June 28th, is I think is coming back to that stripped down sounding vibe, like an album like our self-titled album from 2012 was hugely produced, a lot of bells and whistles for lack of better term.
KW: We’d never been signed to Island Records before, we were like “this is a good label, what do they got? Bob Marley? Never heard of him. U2? Who are they?”
BB: Exactly! I have their album on my iPhone for some reason, but who are they? But anyway, with Local Motion, we got the community together. Stick Figure, Dave from Dirty Heads, Ian Young, Noah Cronin from Sea Major Seven in Hawaii.
KW: And then, outside the box, we actually got Henry Fong.
BB: Yes, Henry Fong, a DJ friend of ours, so we enlisted this local community of ours to pull together and get their take on our music, and it’s brought us to this awesome, organic, spot that’s almost is full circle. It’s a lot of roots.
KW: All that, to say we’ve never done that before and been like “Here’s our music, all done, what do you think? Push it through your little blender there.”
YB: Ask me in five years, and you’ll get a different answer, but right now, Local Motion is my favorite Pepper record, and to say that 20 years after we started is exciting for me, I think it’s exciting for all of us.
GW: Stick Figure brought you onstage as a part of their headlining set. How does it feel to have this kind of acknowledgment from Scott, and how do you think this speaks to the family culture of the reggae community?
KW: A lot of bands, alluding back to what Ye was saying at the beginning, before there was a genre if you want to consider this a genre, there weren’t that many people being the banner flyers of that. Pepper, Slightly Stoopid, 311 was in there, Dirty Heads back in the day the Pillars, really. But originally, Bradly had passed, and people were going, “What is this?” There’s a need for this music.
BB: It hits so hard, and he (Bradly) wasn’t there after it hit.
KW: Exactly, and then Pepper and Slightly Stoopid were little babies when this hit and we were like “Hey!”
BB: We really like this music.
KW: We should get a van and do you guys (Slightly Stoopid) want to go with us in another van? Yeah, and we’ll try to kill each other on the way? Yeah, let’s do that for 20 years. So, from then all the way until now, I had heard Stick Figure but I you’re not like “Oh my God!” There’s so much new music, so that was new to us. So, we finally come ten years later after not touring with Stoopid, they bring and put together a package with us, Stick Figure, and Slightly Stoopid, which is something that hadn’t really been done before. Just three headliners, not a bunch of opening bands, which is cool. So that literally was instant chemistry. Old friends meeting a new friend and you can see what it’s been, we’ve had nothing but fun. Last year’s tour was one of the best, probably my favorite tour in our entire career and we’re already looking forward to doing it again, and that’s saying a lot because we’ve had so many fun tours.
BB: And currently the tour that we’re on is with Iration, another band that we’ve helped bring in, and now they’re just so large. And the cool thing is, during that show during our tour, we have them come up and play the single that Stick Figure wrote with us, so this is the interaction between our community, this truly is the “Local Motion” of it, and this is where we’re going with this concept.
KW: Yes, so that collaboration came from just “Hey, this is, ok, gimme that Cocoa, I’ll throw the Frisbee.” Into some of your best friends spending time at Great Stone, writing music up there, it was really, really fun, and that leads all the way now to Iration who we basically picked up.
BB: We like to say that we’re their dads.
KW: Yeah, we do. We pulled these orphans from the stream out of Santa Barbra. So, at the same time, Iration was almost like Pepper, and Rebelution was like Slightly Stoopid, you know like the brother band, little babies picked it up, they started doing it all these years to have Iration do a Stick Figure song with us. It’s pretty crazy.