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The notion of DIY in musicdom usually starts with writing one's own songs: If a band is truly committed, its members record and produce their own albums. But DIY doesn't usually mean building, then deconstructing your own stage on a major tour, but that's exactly what Pepper, a perennially good-natured, sometimes self-effacing trio from Hawaii's Big Island, did.
"Hey, it was hell on earth. We had to put it all up and break it all down every day," recalls Pepper drummer and unofficial documentarian Yesod Williams (be sure to watch his video tour updates on their MySpace page). When Pepper—who include Bret Bollinger (bass, vocals) and Kaleo Wasman (guitar, vocals)—were offered a spot on a side stage for the 2001 Warped Tour, it was on the condition they bust their asses manually and laboriously, sandwiching their sets with construction duty. "At first, we thought, 'Of course we'll do it,' then it was more like, 'Oh, my God, this is so hard; maybe we need to rethink this.' It's all right—it was good dues paid."
That's the kind of grateful, hardworking attitude with which the three Hawaiian brothers-in-arms approach touring life and otherwise. They are warm, happy, and, when they go to bed at night, one suspects they are exhausted and without regret.
On this year's Warped Tour, the boys from Pepper, known for their pop-happy approach to reggae rock, are awash in a sea of tragically sad emo bands who sing tragically sad emo lyrics and look . . . tragically sad.
"We stick out like sore thumb; we're the half-hour emo break," says Williams, who along with the rest of the band, can typically be found onstage shirtless, shoeless and, if circumstances permit, pantsless. "It's been a perfect year for Pepper on Warped Tour; even the emo kids are getting pumped. We're not hating on 'em at all; we're the Sally Struthers for emo kids. Next year, they'll all be wearing trunks."
In the meantime, Pepper and the other sore thumbs have done their best to carve out a place away from Warped's les misérables. "It's called the City of Refuge," says Williams, "and it's named after a real place in Hawaii." The real place was an ancient sanctuary for outlaws and defeated soldiers, but the Warped Tour version is something different. "Well, we barbecue and dance sometimes."
The City of Refuge, according to Williams, is primarily made up of Pennywise, Bad Religion, Flogging Molly, New Found Glory and, of course, Pepper. "Our buses roll in, make a square, and that's the City of Refuge." It sounds simple, but in an endeavor as huge as Warped Tour, consisting of approximately a shitload of bands, it's easy to lose both yourself and your sanity in the fray. "This whole thing could easily be a clusterfuck, but it's been pretty cake so far. There are so many people, like 80 buses," says Williams. "I know it sounds typical, but it's really like being at camp every night. Every once in a while, I just stop and say to myself, 'I'm really happy I get to do this for a living.'"
Being raised in a tropical paradise, and then touring the world with your best friends will tend to make you humble. "Hawaii, we'll always be from Hawaii. It really reminds you of who you are," Williams says, adding that being a successful band has brought them no special attention back home. "Everyone knows everyone, even if you're a world-famous surfer, and there are a lot of those where we come from—[people aren't] that impressed. That's the beauty. It's a great way to remember where you came from."
A sense of humor and generosity come across in a big way with these guys, as if they are clothed in the Aloha Spirit, even when clothed in little else (which is to say, most of the time). They are genuinely unconcerned with style and certainly concerned with substance. They aren't after money, not after fame, nor do they carry themselves with a sense of entitlement or pride. They seem to be only after a good time, and they want only to bring everyone along with them. As Williams says, "If you're not having a good time, Pepper's not having a good time."