Yesod Williams Interview (Pepper)

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In case you hadn’t noticed, Evolving Music has been a little smitten with the band Pepper lately. We brought you their remix contest (if you haven’t made a remix yet, do yourself a favor and have a go at it) and a previously unreleased live recording of their song “Too Much” during the Tra.kz Artist Spotlight. Still can’t get enough of these guys? Good. How about a little insider information straight from the horse’s mouth? I had a chance to catch up with Yesod Williams, the drummer. Here’s what he had to say:

Sandra Possing: Tell us about Pepper. Who is in the band? Where did you guys meet?

Yesod Williams: I play drums. Kaleo [Wassman] sings and plays guitar and then Brett [Bollinger] also sings and plays guitar. They kind of switch off the lead vocal role. We are from Kona, Hawaii originally, the big island of Hawaii. We all went to school together. It’s a super small town, so everyone knows everyone. We’ve pretty much known each other our whole lives and they’d been playing music all through high school. I started playing drums when I was really young and got burned out and pretty much quit altogether through high school and then right after me and Brett graduated, which was in ’97, we were at a party hanging out and me and Kaleo started talking and just thought it’d be cool to see if we could get something going and see if we vibed off of each other and that’s when we started the band in like June of 1997 and then moved to Southern California in May of ’99.

SP: Did you have any idea it was gonna become a serious thing or were you just messing around?

YW: We were just messing around at first, but I came to California on vacation after I graduated high school and I kind of got an inkling – I saw some bands over here – and I was like “Man, it might be something serious, if we actually take it seriously and make the jump over the Pacific and try and do something with it.” At first we were just playing parties and just playing around, but we always had faith and had the vision that we could do something with it. It’s so funny, cause I mean I listen to our first CD we ever recorded and in retrospect I’m like “Wow, we thought we were actually gonna go somewhere with that CD? We were crazy.”

SP: What do you do when you’re not playing music?

YW: Um, pretty much just golf and surf for me personally and try to live a “normal life” cause it’s such a different life being on the road all the time and not being at home, so we just kinda do the every day normal life thing. We do a lot of business too because we own our own record label, LAW Records. So we’re pretty much always working. We’ve always got our mind on music and what not.

SP: Do you hang out with a lot of musicians? Hawaiian or Californian in particular?

YW: There’s a band called Iration that lives up in Santa Barbara. They’re always coming down here to play and what not so we hang out with them. We also have a bunch of friends that moved over here from Hawaii so we still have a close knit group of friends that we grew up with.

SP: Have you ever surfed with Jack Johnson?

YW: No, I haven’t. We’ve actually never even played with him. Funny story… We had a chance to play with him a long time ago, back when we still had our 1976 Dodge Sportsman van [probably looked something like this] that we bought when we first moved over here and we were on our way up – this is in 2001 – we were on our way up to play with him and the transmission fully gave out and the van would only go in reverse. That was our one time that we were gonna play with him and needless to say it didn’t work out.

SP: So you didn’t drive backwards all the way up?

YW: No. No, we thought about it, but driving backwards just to get home was hard enough.

SP: Tell us about your music. What’s it about? Who are your influences? How do you describe your style?

YW: We grew up listening to so many different kinds of music and Hawaii is such a melting pot of pretty much everything. Music, culture and everything. I think that’s kind of what shines through. We dabble in many different genres, so really you can say it’s a bunch of different stuff put together, but in a nutshell I always just say we’re just a rock band with a reggae influence, pretty much.

SP: What kind of connection do you have with your fans? It’s very different when you’re playing live and when you’re not, but how do you keep that vibe and relationship going when you’re not performing?

YW: The main way to keep connected with your fans is touring, like you’re saying, but that’s why we’re doing this remix contest and everything. When you’re not touring you still gotta show your appreciation and keep them interested. You gotta give back. It’s the only reason any of this is possible, is cause of the fans. So, any way that we can get them involved – this being one of them – we’re super excited about… Kind of get them involved in the creative process and have them put their own flavor on our music and what not.

SP: So, the internet plays a pretty big role in that process for you guys?

YS: Ya, it’s so cool because it just gives you that much more connection with your fans, whereas back in the day it was like “Ok, buy the CD and then once a year you’ll get to see the band.”

SP: What first got you interested in having fans remix your music?

YS: I’d heard about someone doing it before and it just seemed like such a cool idea, you know? It seemed like something I wanted to do to my favorite band. Like, Red Hot Chili Peppers, for instance, is one of our favorite bands for the whole band as a whole. Given that opportunity and opening that door for music fans like ourselves – it’s just the most amazing thing ever. And why not? Art is the ultimate communicator. Anyway you can connect, bands should take complete advantage of it.

SP: Not everyone is open to the idea of people messing with their music – some of them are like “I wrote it, it’s my stuff, don’t touch it”, but that’s becoming so much less common and people are really embracing this whole remix movement. Do you think this movement is going to keep growing?

YW: I think it absolutely will. Like you said, it’s just a win-win situation for everyone. I mean, I do understand when people feel like their songs are their babies. You don’t want someone intruding on them and what not. But, at the end of the day, you’ve already released your songs on an album how you want them and this is icing on the cake and I don’t think it’s going to hurt anyone. I don’t think it’s going to ruin anyone’s band or ruin anyone’s music. It’s just gonna get people more excited and more passionate about the band.

SP: It allows fans to have a more emotional connection with each song if they can actually get involved.

YW: Absolutely.

SP: What’s the story with the song you’re using in the remix contest? What’s it about? When was it recorded? Why did you pick this one?

YW: It’s a song called “Freeze” and it’s the first song on our last album, which was Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations. It’s basically all about being at a show and, in a sense, claiming your sound. Not in a cocky way, just in a confident way… Just that you know what you are doing and you can blow people away. It’s not in an arrogant way at all. The song was recorded in Redondo Beach at a studio called Total Access and it was produced by Paul Leary from the Butthole Surfers – the original guitar player.

SP: What do you expect to happen with this experiment?

YW: I don’t know. There’s no telling, you know! We could get a version that’s even better than the one that’s on our CD, you know what I mean?

SP: Does that scare you?

YW: No, not even. I think the possibilities are endless and I’m really excited to see what the fans come up with. It’s super cool too cause we’re gonna… whoever wins the contest we’re gonna release their version on our label in some format, whether it be a single or on a compilation or something like that. On the other end of it, you know, some 16 year old kid could do this, could learn how to do mixing through the contest and then, you never know, he goes to school for music, ends up working in the industry… It could plant seeds for people. That would be super gratifying in my eyes.

SP: That’s quite a prize – certainly good motivation to participate. What do you see happening in the music industry in the next 5 to 10 years? What with the industry crumbling, the internet etc?

YW: I see the independent world becoming really the main epicenter for music and people releasing their own records. Getting the fans more involved too. One of the things we want to do with our next record is we want to record maybe 16-40 songs, and put rough versions of them up on the internet and basically have the fans pick which songs they want on the CD and then release the CD the way they want it. I think the DIY and the independent world is really gonna boom and take the front seat to the industry and the major record labels are going to take the back seat.

SP: When you guys make a song, how does it work? Does one person write the lyrics and everyone else figures out there part, or what?

YW: The majority of the ideas come from Brett and Kaleo and then we get together. I’ll have a couple ideas here and there, whether it be a chorus, a verse, or a whole song or just the guitar part or something. That’s how it kind of works between the three of us and then we get together. Then that’s when it becomes a Pepper song is when we all get together and we put our twist on it and we come to a common ground and then we go from there.

SP: Does that take a long time usually?

YW: Not really, especially Brett and Kaleo. Those guys are like vaults of music. They’re constantly writing and they have so many great ideas. It’s usually a pretty quick process. The thing we don’t want to do is kinda over think it. Some things get lost in translation and you lose some of the essence if you sit there and over think and rethink and rethink it. You’ve kinda gotta go with your first instinct.

SP: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

YW: We’d all be waiters at a restaurant, cause that’s what we were doing before we started the band. It’s not that bad of a gig in Hawaii. You work in a nice restaurant, make $100-200/night in tips and you just gotta work at night and you can surf in the daytime. It’s pretty gravy.

SP: But, you’re pretty happy with what you’re doing now?

YW: Ya, I still pinch myself sometimes. We’re actually getting paid to do something we’d do anyway and that’s the way we’re living the dream. I want to enjoy it to the fullest for as long as I can.

SP: Have you had any crazy fan interactions, people throwing underwear on the stage, psycho stalkers etc?

YW: There have been a lot of underwear and bras thrown up on stage and people jumping on stage. That kind of stuff happens all the time… it comes with the territory. No real crazy stalker stories or anything… It’s more just, you know, when a show is sold out there is always a ton of people waiting outside the bus and trying to get tickets to the show. We try to help them out as much as we can and hook everyone up but, you know, there’s only so much you can do.

SP: Any last words of wisdom for our Evolving Music readers?

YW: Ya, definitely. I think the biggest advice for anyone that wants to be in a band or start a band is you gotta realize how much hard work it is and touring is the key to everything. You gotta get out there and you gotta go see the people that are supporting you and shake their hand and really show that appreciation and never take those people for granted.

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