Pepper, a trio formed in 1997 and moved to the mainland from their hometown of Kailua Kona, Hawaii in 1999, pressed pause after the release of their fifth album, Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations, in 2008. There was a sense of fatigue and disunity amongst the three musicians, who took some time off from music both apart and together before rejoining to create an EP, Stiches, in late 2010. The songs on that release re-energized the group, revealing an urgent desire to make a new album that reflected where they are in their lives and career now. After some tour dates in support of the EP, Pepper sat down and focused on their sixth album, a self-titled released that swings open the door on this new chapter. Peer behind the scenes during our conversation at Vans Warped Tour.
— — —
Read the interview highlights below, or listen to SCP Radio’s full-length podcast:
— — —
Chris Remmers: So, why don’t we start off by telling us and the fans at home a little bit about where you are from?
Bret Bollinger: My name is Bret and I am from a band called Pepper, and we originate from Hawaii, actually Kona town. Have you ever heard of Kona Coffee before? It’s some real high end coffee. In the mid 2000’s Starbucks said, “Oh yeah, we’ve got 100% Kona Coffee.” They lied and it was like 90% Arabic coffee burned to [crisp]. They used our name and they got sued for it. That’s our main commodity out there, and Pepper, our band.
CR: So, coffee and surfing that’s the Hawaiian lifestyle?
BB: That is the vibe too, people always ask us these crazy things, “Oh wow, you guys sound like Sublime, Pennywise or NOFX” and were like, “Yeah, we didn’t get cable, MTV or any of those channels until the end of high school.” Tourist chicks would come over and want to meet us and surf with us. We’re like, “Perfect!” We’d steal their CD’s. That island sound is really the base. Where we came from there are really only three radio stations and that’s it. One’s classic rock, one’s contemporary Hawaiian and one’s top 40. So, we have that natural island vibe always, but we were always been looking out, whether it be grunge or punk or whatever we end up vibeing with.
CR: So, is this your first time here at Warped Tour?
BB: Absolutely not, 2001 was our first-national tour ever and it was with the Warped Tour. We were just so excited, our first album came out with Volcom Entertainment and [we were] the only ones of six bands who weren’t kinda gnarly, real skate core or punk from the late 90’s [early] 2000’s. It was absolutely crazy we had no idea what we were doing, right out of high school our first gig for me and our drummer at seventeen years old, and it’s all we’ve ever done. We’re original members, original three piece. It’s pretty wild.
CR: That is crazy, you really don’t get that lifelong childhood best friend type deal anymore. It is one thing to be in a garage practicing a few hours a week, but it’s another thing to be traveling with these guys and live together.
BB: Of course always being together sharing your life, your sandwich, van, life, girlfriends. I’ll even take it one step further, Hawaii is such a small place where we come from, we each have one parent that was a professional musician at one time. Each of our parents are divorced, and we each have one sibling which is a sister. It’s pretty wild. And, my drummer is now my step brother, because my mom and his dad are married.
CR: Are you kidding? Is that not destiny or is that not destiny? That’s unbelievable.
BB: I don’t even know what’s going on. But, it’s cool, because each one of the divorced parent that was the musician ended up being the more supporting of the two parents and were the ones that were our friends more than parents. It is just such an amazing thing to have that kind of support, next year is going to be our 20-year anniversary for this band if you can believe it, just truly blessed and amazing to be in this position.
CR: Well congratulations! Are you guys doing anything big to celebrate or anything else coming up that’s big besides Warped Tour?
BB: That is a great question, we really have a lot going on. We have our own record label that we inherited from our drummer’s dad years ago so we have been putting out artist for years. We finally got our own recording studio that we took over from Pennywise, the legendary Pennywise. I know they broke up for a little while. They weren’t enjoying it so we took it over and re did it. It used to be a legendary place with legendary musicians coming through. It used to be called Stall number 2 now it’s called Kona Inn Recording. We have our record label going in full effect. We have our brand new studio, we recorded our first full-length in it, which was our most-recent record, came out in April called “Ohana“. We literally just set up a guitar rig, bass rig, drums, mics, and just hit record.
It’s really exciting we got to write all of our music for that at home and just ride the inspiration of not being home for our first time in a long while. We were just high on being home a bunch of our friends who are musicians came by to see us we rented out a bunch of hotel rooms and just hit record and jammed out, it was amazing. We came back with 10 songs, officially recorded them and then put them out April 29th. The last cool thing about the story is we ended up getting our own day on April 29th of this year called Pepper Day in Hawaii. It means so much to us. They sent us the proclamation, our old high school honored us along with founding community members, it has just been a blessing. They made it the release day for our last album. I don’t think we’re going to stop and celebrate, we’re just going to keep on having fun.
CR: That is absolutely incredible it must feel so amazing to receive such high level of tributes! Segwaying into music and travel, which I feel are one in another you can’t have music without the ability to travel, would you say your inspiration comes from being on the road, or home with your family and friends?
BB: For this last record, it was literally being back home, 100 percent family and friends and being reminded about what you left. It is easy to look back, but it is hard to literally look back and be like, “Oh my god, I’ve been missing that, I’ve been away for almost 20 years.” Not that you don’t come back a few times a year, but when your away for long periods of time there is a nostalgia that builds up and you come home, the inspiration builds up and then it is hard to part with that again.
CR: Do you guys have anything coming up in the near future outside of Warped Tour? I know your next stop will be Hartford, Connecticut, but what comes next?
BB: This year was just huge for us. We are going to finish out the year with a bunch of larger festivals, of course Warped Tour is our staple. We are a part of the branding and the originality. We first started on the Volcom stage, there’s a Journey stage, there’s been all these different sponsors, so they said, “You can come and play, but you have to build the stage and have to be a working band.” So, that’s how Pepper got its start. We were just three coconut-punching Hawaiians. We borrowed a van no [air conditioning], so I guess you could say we were ready for the summer. We were lucky enough to take direction from Kevin Lyman and Lisa Brownlee, whom we love and they treat us like family. That is why Warped Tour is really important for us.
We are also going to be playing Firefly Festival. We did Hangout [Music] Festival for the first time. We are doing the last Version Wireless Center show in Orange County. They’re shutting it down. We’re going to play that with Dirty Heads. We get to play the last one. It was between us and No Doubt. You know to go back and do that is just kind of nostalgic. We’ve played with 311 there. We’ve done festivals with Tool there. I mean anything you can think of. We are doing a lot of fun, new festivals and some old ones to tie off the year. The record is still going. We’ve got ‘Vacation’ that’s the name of the single that’s out on the radio right now. Yeah, just gearing up and writing a bunch more music. We have a studio so that’s what we’re doing.
— — —
For more on Pepper and Warped Tour: