Every taste of success Pepper have encountered has come with a grain of salt. Before their riffs hit the mainland's auricular sphere, lead singer Kaleo Wassman, bassist Brett Bollinger and drummer Yesod Williams stepped away from bussing tables to play semi-successful gigs on the Big Island. Unfortunately, it would take a re-issuing of their debut album, Give'n It, and three years for their debut single to hit after its initial release for Pepper to arrive.
No longer 19 and out of the sexual peak they were in when the lusty ska title track was recorded in 2001, Pepper are back with a mature flare that still encourages the horny stoner to phone his booty call for some late-night action. When the Kona, Hawaii, natives first hit the scene, comparisons to Sublime and 311 challenged the bifurcation of their island-Metallica sound with radio's other reggae-based favorites.
Today, it'd be foolish to confuse the combination of raunchy lyrics and Wassman's strong vocals with anyone else. Five LPs later, resting on the laurels of past hits and reputable tours (Vans Warped Tour and the group were once synonymous) would have been a decent way for the group to ride the rest of the wave that was their career, but a boyish radiance still oozes from all three original members, signaling the callowness they'll offer for years to come.
“Honestly, it was like college for us,” Williams says about the ambitious attitude they brought with them into the handful of SoCal studios where they recorded their self-titled album. The eponymous nature of the album is said to reflect the “relaunch of Pepper” from the aforementioned chasm.
After not vibing with past producers, Pepper went hands-on with their 2010 EP, Stitches, to ensure they could convey their self-projected sound. In what they deemed a pre-production to their upcoming record, the five-song EP, though lacking in acclaim and SoundScan numbers, did something much more to perpetuate the existence of the three amigos as a jolly, joke-spouting, melodic unit. Proving to industry professionals and themselves they could produce quality tunes sans the help of producers was an esteem boost for them.
Williams calls the solo effort "reinvigorating,” while Wassman likens their new recording style to a mainland American hero. "It was like the training montage in Rocky II,” he says. "We were running on the beach . . .”
Their self-help attitude extended beyond the studio to An Evening With Pepper, a small circuit of West Coast shows, including an appearance at the Troubadour. The group satirically detail the slew of responsibilities they took on to make the warm-up tour happen. "We were the opening act, the headliner . . . the DJ at the end,” Wassman says before Williams and Brett add they were also the janitor and strip-club owner next door to the venue.
"[We've had our] heads down, digging the ditch,” Bollinger says. They've been so busy in the days preceding the Sept. 3rd release of the new album, they were unaware of the prime position on alternative charts of the single “FKARND.”
Apart from the grind that has kept Pepper in the game, their ability to righteously goof off, or FKARND, appears to be the key to their longevity. Such antics as Wassman's nipple-rubbing flirt session with KROQ's Stryker during their performance at the Red Bull Sound Space makes for easy listening and an awesome performance.
Pepper perform with the Expendables, Fishbone, Tomorrow's Bad Seeds and more at the Shoreline Jam at the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 435-3511; www.queenmary.com. Sat. See website for show times. Tickets, $25-$100; parking, $15. All ages.