Grateful Web Interview with Pepper - 2024

Article Contributed by Nick Gumas | Published on Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Few bands can claim to have had as profound an impact on the development of a genre as the reggae rock outfit Pepper. With a tenured career, the band has played stages together in four separate decades, but still manages to joke around with each other like brothers at every opportunity. Grateful Web got a chance to meet up with the trio at this year’s Cali Roots festival to speak with them about their connection with the festival, their roles as mentors and producers through their label “Law Records,” and the connections they have formed with other artists during their storied career.

Kaleo Wassman | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

Grateful Web: It's been a few years since you started touring with Jeff Nisen playing alongside you. How has it been introducing a new member to the group after more than 20 years of playing together?

Kaleo Wassman: Jeff? Who’s Jeff?

Yesod Williams: He's the guy that sells us weed.

KW: Oh! Jeff!

Bret Bollinger: Geef!

KW: No, it's more, it's more like Jeff. Jeff. Jeff. Jeff. More of a chat vibe.

BB: We invited him out for a guitar solo one time and he just hasn't gone home. We don't have the heart to tell him, he just keeps hanging out.

YW: It was, it was right after the pandemic and we just felt extra lonely, and, you know, we just brought him along and he's still here. And then we got the ultimate compliment from Miles from Slightly Stoopid. He was like, “God damn, I've never heard you guys sound better.” So we're like, shit, we gotta keep this guy.

BB: Well, when you hire someone who's really good at music and you make them play with you, things can happen.

YW: Yeah, I was skeptical though.

KW: He was forced into it.

BB: Yeah, he was.

KW: But it was better for us, and if you think about it, it's better for everyone with ears.

YW: 100 percent.

Jeff Nisen | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

GW: Kaleo, you started to incorporate your yoga studio into the festival this year and have been putting on clinics this weekend before the music starts playing. How did that happen and how did it go this weekend?

KW: It's been such a trippy, nice, organic kind of like opening up. Melanie and I have been using Rebel and Muse as our health and wellness platform for a long time, and then we just talked to a couple of really good friends like Dan Sheehan and he's like, hey, do you think you guys could come and teach at Cali Roots, and we said yeah, because it's the ultimate way to set the intention before the festival. And look, man, the last thing you want to do is, you've spent so much money, you've like taken care of so many things just to get here, and then when you do get here, you're stressed out about, ok, I can watch this band until this time and then I got to make sure that I leave at this time to go see that band and try to do everything that you possibly can, so it's just kind of like a nice reminder. First thing in the morning is when we do it before doors and go, hey, you already made it, you've already won. If you just wanna really enjoy yourself, close your eyes, bring yourself right back to it, and make sure that you're not stressed out at a festival, because basically you're just paying a lot of money to get crunched in that sense. And so it's been really, really nice to be able to see so many people coming earlier before doors and wanting a different kind of mindset going into it.

GW: And you’re happy with how it turned out this year?

KW:  Oh, absolutely. Two days of a really, really, incredible crowd, good people and just a nice way to remember it's really an honor to be here, whether we're performing, whether you're just here, so maximize that experience. And that's what it is by just being as present as you can.

GW: You’ve been involved with the Nowell Family Foundation in a philanthropic capacity for years now. How do you feel about Sublime getting back together with Jakob and do you have any plans to record with them in the future?

KW: Well, we get to see them at the next festival. The Point Break Festival. They're playing after us in Virginia Beach.

YW: It's funny because we were just talking about their new song, which is so rad to hear Brad again after 28 years, and especially reading all the comments of all the die-hard Sublime fans, which we are too, and just everyone saying things like, oh my God, I've been waiting so long for this, I never thought this would happen. It's so, so Rad to see someone like Scott pull this epic song together and the first time everyone's heard Brad for so long, and then of course, having Bud and Eric back together as a rhythm section is just so amazing to see always. And yeah, like Kaleo said, we're so psyched to see him and play with him next weekend in Virginia Beach, and we would love to do some work with them. Anytime we could dip in the soy sauce of that rhythm section would be nice.

KW: And also, what they just did in Oceanside. Ye, you were there for the Nowell Foundation, right?

YW: Yeah. All of the work they're doing with the rehab that they opened. So because what we did with our label, Law Records, we put together the compilation “The House that Bradley Built” where we got a shitload of bands from this genre and outside of the genre as well, about 56 artists, and we nearly got the whole Sublime catalog covered in an acoustic fashion, released it, and donated all the money from the streaming and from the vinyl sales and everything, all to the Nowell Foundation, and that was a huge jump start for them in opening Bradley's House, which is now open in Redlands, inland Orange County where it serves as a rehab for those struggling in the music industry and can't afford help, so to try and turn a positive from the tragedy that happened with Bradley. It's just rad, cause that compilation just keeps going and keeps going, and it's continuing to raise money for the foundation. Like what Kaleo was talking about, they did their big yearly fundraiser and had Jakob play, and a couple of bands from Law Records played; Tunnel Vision, Cydeways, and Eric Wilson were all there, it was like a big, a big jam of everyone and they raised that much money for the foundation. They had a really rad museum of all the Sublime memorabilia, all awards, the MTV, Moon Man, Brad's Guitars, all the magazine covers, just such rad history. And it was really cool.

KW: It was almost like a Hard Rock, and that was just such a cool thing to do.

BB Looking back on Law Records and hearing you talk about it in that way, and seeing what the, the Nowell Foundation has done, like they asked us about doing that album early on and that's like one of the crown jewels, in my opinion, for our label. We've done so many cool records with tons of artists, you know, we got to be the first to nurture the Irations and the Ballyhoos and the Passafire, you know, they didn't exist before. You know, Katastro goes on, but when they tasked us to do that, how much love and time we all put into it, especially you guys, that's a crown jewel. It's a cool thing because every stream, every dollar, is still benefiting these people. It's really a beautiful thing.

YW: So many cool Songs. It shows you how many different artists love and appreciate it, and are inspired by a Sublime.

BB: Do you remember Vana’s track?

YW: Yeah, Johnny Butt?

KW: Vana Liya, who's also on Law Records, That’s her track off the album. That's one of my favorites on the record.

YW: Yeah. Epic version of The Ballad of Johnny Butt.

KW: Which is also a secret hate song.

BB: Actually, we used to tour with them. We have a lot of history with Sublime, whether we even knew it, even beating Slightly Stoopid. One of the first bands ever that we were ever under their wing. They were our first touring brothers and to this day, they’re like our closest brothers in music. They took care of us when we came from Hawaii, and took us under their wing and helped mentor us and let us kind of grow up together. Another cool one we got to hear all summer when we were on tour with Slightly Stoopid and Common Kings, they would come out with us and do Garden Grove during one of our songs, it was so cool. So it was like another level of hearing that again, was that two summers ago?

KW:  It's an important project and we love it. That's what we're trying to say.

Yesod Williams | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

GW: Are there any other releases from Law Records you’re excited about?

KW: All of them. But I'm so I just heard Joe Samba's new track and I can't wait for everyone to hear this thing.

YW: He's got a new album coming out. I think it'll start to come out this year and it's gonna be awesome. Little Love is gonna be the first single. If you go on his Instagram, he's got a couple of snippets of it.

KW: Put it this way. We were there in the studio to rehearse and we just said no and decided to listen to that track over and over for days.

BB: It's hard to say it's his best work, but I think it might be his best work. He's got so much good music already.

YW: And then Cydeways has a new record too that they're coming out with soon.

KW: It seems like Cydeways is never not touring. They're like the constant tour band. Like us back in the day. Did you see the Ballyhoo post? Howie posted this thing old tour sheet from like 2010, 280-something days, and I'm just like, oh, I remember those. I remember those years. Yeah. It was pretty cool. Like, try to try to look it up on Instagram.

YW: They're at least 180 (days of the year on tour) right now, Cydeways is going higher and higher and higher.

Bret Bollinger | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

GW: Your video tribute to Andy Chavez two years ago the last time you played Cali Roots was arguably one of the most touching and sentimental moments in festival history. What went into planning that and why did you feel it was so important to dedicate that time for him?

KW: I mean, we're still in shock about it. When Andy left, it was so hard for not only the bands that knew Katastro, but the fans that loved Katastro, and we just had to come together to start grieving a little more. But man, this is a hard thing for me to accurately speak on. I just think it wasn't a huge plan. It was like us getting together and going “Hey, we're grieving right now. We need to grieve together” and that's why I remember all of us on the stage in an embrace watching the screen with the fans behind us because that was more for us than anything.

YW: And shout out to M. Rod, Mike Rodriguez, who put that together. Our buddy Mike Rodriguez put that edit together, and we actually met him through Katastro, so he was good friends with them too.

KW: And everybody dug it. It was kind of a risk because some people were like, why aren't you guys playing more music? It's like, no, we're grieving, we're celebrating this thing, and it's funny because we used to bring Andy up onstage all the time, and so in a way we got to bring him up onstage with us one more time.

Pepper | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca