Mile High Music Festival Q&A: Pepper

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Averaging 200 shows every year for the past eight years, the members of Pepper have earned a reputation for being as dedicated as they are hedonistic.  With five full-length albums under their belt and the development of their own record label, the Hawaiian-bred members have demonstrated an intense love for music that can only be rivaled by their love for surfboards and Jagermeister. Blending the organic harmonies of reggae with the melodic undertones of pop-rock, the outfit has produced a sound that has earned the admiration of people from across the globe, including an impressively-large following in Denver. This Sunday, the band will return to the Centennial State and take the stage at the Mile High Music Festival. Two days before arriving in Colorado, Pepper's drummer, Yesod Williams, spoke to us about the touring life, his pet peeves within the music industry and Pepper's history with Colorado.

Westword (Joshua Espinoza): You guys returned from playing in Japan a couple of weeks ago and have said it was a "life changing experience." Why is that?

Yesod Williams: Right. There are a couple of reasons: It's so respectful and clean. They just got their shit so together; it was a real enlightening experience in that sense. Also, putting two and two together, coming from Hawaii, there is so much Asian influence in our culture, and it was cool to kind of connect the dots and see where all the influence came from. Of course, we've been around it our whole life, but actually seeing where it originated from was just amazing.

WW: I also read you ate some interesting cuisine while in Japan. How does raw horse taste?

YW: Yup. It's called bugashi. It's kind of intimidating at first because it would probably be, for lack of a better term, a frowned upon thing in the U.S. But they raise horses over there like we raise cows over here. There are big farms of horses that are basically raised for food. You'd think it'd be a real tough kind of meat because horses are so muscular and what not, but it was actually really good; it was almost like a melt-in-your-mouth type of meat. It was pretty crazy.

They also serve things like chicken, but they serve the whole thing: the chicken stomach, the intestines and the skin, pretty much everything. It sounds weird, but at the end of the day it's cool because they're not wasting anything. You'd be surprised by all these weird things that are actually pretty tasty.

We also ate some poisonous blowfish called fugu. Basically, the chefs have to be licensed to fillet it, because if he fillets it wrong, he might puncture the poison sack, and if someone eats it, they're dead in about two hours. It sounds different, but we told ourselves we would try everything while we were over there.

WW: What propelled you guys to step away from the independent and major record labels and start your own label, Law Records?

YW: We just wanted to be in control. I think it's gonna attribute to more longevity in our career and more integrity in our career. Basically, we wanted to get more of the essence of who we are and what the band is in our music, you know, instead of some suits who don't know anything about music telling us what they think we should sound like, which is just a bunch of bullshit to me. I think it also attributes to a more pure form of music that's supposed to be presented. It's just super fun, too, you know; it's like being more involved in every little thing that is going on with your band, instead of just being part of this big machine where you're just a little wheel going through the motions. It's way more gratifying at the end of the day.

WW: How do you choose which bands get signed to Law Records? Is there a specific sound you look for?

YW: It's basically just bands that we're fans of and bands that we like. That's how it all starts. We'll meet bands on the road, like Supervillans and Passafire, who we'll think are just great. We'll start listening to them in our cars and in our iPods and what not, and it goes from there. We're all about music that deserves to be heard and not something that's a flash in the pan.

WW: You guys have been doing about 200 shows a year for the past eight years now, what is your favorite and least favorite aspect of touring?

YW: My favorite aspect is getting to see the world and go to places that I probably wouldn't have ever made it to if I wasn't in this band. My least favorite part is being away from home.

WW: Where is your favorite place to tour?

YW: That's a tough one. It's either... uh... I'll give you my top three outside of the United States: The South of France, Australia and, now, Japan. Japan just really felt like home because there are so many parallels between there and Hawaii; we didn't even feel like we were in a different country, besides the language barrier. And it's kind of the same reason why I like Australia. Its culture has a lot of similarities to Hawaii's: everyone lives on the coast and everything is based on a surf culture and beach culture, which we were all brought up with, and it's something we all love. And as for the South of France, when we're there it's not even like we're on tour; it's like being on vacation. We could stay there forever. And on top of that, we have a bunch of good friends from Volcom who all live in the South of France, so it's always a good time with some good friends.

WW: Do you have any rituals before performing on stage?

YW: Nothing too special. We don't make a set list. We just play roshambo to decide our first four songs, we call them our four horsemen, and that's just to get the juices flowing. And from then on, we just kind of fly by the seat of our pants as far as the set goes; spontaneity and what not definitely works out in our favor. But besides that, it's just really relaxed: hanging out, talking about the show from the night before, how we can make things better and, you know, a couple cocktails to loosen, maybe a little Jager, and that's about it, and away we go.

WW: In what ways does your music change when played live as opposed to being played in the studio?

YW: The live versions are always different from the recorded version, which I think is great because I hate going to see a band that sounds exactly how they sound on the CD. When we play live, whether they're mistakes or not, our songs tend to morph into something else, which is sometimes a bummer because you're like, 'Shit, I wished I would have recorded it like this on the CD.'  

WW: You guys have a reputation for being a band of party guys. Do you party with your fans?

YW: Absolutely. We try to hang out with them as much as possible and try to get them involved with our music as much as possible. You know, we always try to go out and have a beer with our fans, or at least go out and take pictures and what not; it's something that we make a point to do because at the end of the day, it wouldn't be possible without them.
Our next album is going to be a fan-produced album in a sense. We're going to record a handful of songs, twenty or thirty, and we're going to put them online, and all the fans will get to decide what twelve to fifteen songs they'll want on the CD. You know, because at the end of the day, we won't be listening to our own CD that much anyway. The fans are going to be the ones listening to it, so we want them to have first-pick of what they want to hear for years and years to come.

WW: You all seem like a pretty laid back group of guys. Is there anything about the industry that makes you lose your cool?

YW: Oh definitely. There are certain bands out there that take themselves too serious and kind of put themselves on this pedestal, which just drives us crazy. Anyone that's able to do this for a living and make a living out of doing it should be nothing but grateful and realize it's a blessing; people just take it for granted, and it's pretty dumb.

And as we were talking about earlier, the whole major label thing, where there are these machines and people telling bands what their music should sound like -- that whole aspect of the corporate machine is pretty irritating, too.

WW: What was it like growing up in Kona? I hear the music scene is somewhat limited there.

YW: Yeah. It's limited in the sense that you're stuck on an island. Even if you want to get to another island, you gotta fly; and with the amount of equipment a band has, it makes it pretty tough. But for us, when we realized that it was so limiting and so confined, we came to the realization that we had to move to the main land and buy a van and start touring all over the place. I think coming from a place that was so limited worked out for us because it forced us to get out and spread our wings.

WW: In April you released Kona Gold, which is a live performance of your 2002 debut album, Kona Town; how has the band evolved since the release of Kona Town?

YW: We've introduced more of a rock aspect to our music, and we've evolved as far as developing our own signature sound. But I think the biggest change is how we perform live. We really pride ourselves on our live shows, you know, and we're always looking to step it up and see how we can make it better, make the energy higher and bring more to the table, and I think that's the biggest evolution.  

WW: Kona Gold was recorded live at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, CO, was that a conscious decision to have it recorded here?

YW: I want to say yes because once it became an option, we jumped on it. Colorado has always hosted great shows for us, and it was one of the first states to really get behind us and support us so heavily. But the option came up kind of randomly. In August we played at Red Rocks, and it just so happened that we had the following day off, so that's when we thought we'd line up a small show where 600 people from the Red Rocks concert could buy tickets to the Fox Theatre show. We decided we'd also record it, and if it turned out good enough, we'd release. So, it was like all the planets aligned. The show went great, the recording sounded really good, and we were really happy about it. Everything worked out, and the rest is history.

WW: How would you describe your fans in Colorado compared to those throughout the world?

YW: They're just wonderful, open-minded, light-hearted, ready-to-party and ready-to-forget-about-their-troubles kind of people. We're not trying to portray any deep message; we just want people to have fun, have a good time and enjoy the pleasures of life, and the people of Colorado just totally embrace that. I think they have parallel thoughts to the way we're thinking and the way we like to carry out our live shows and the way we spend our free time.

Pepper performs at 7:30 p.m. this Sunday, July 19 at the Mile High Music Festival on the First Bank Stage.

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