Pepper’s Big Island Reggae-rock Heats Up the Mainland

Pulse Reporter
Oregon Daily Emerald
University of Oregon, Eugene

Hawaiian pride is something those from the “mainland” will never understand. The passion exuded in Hawaiian culture is difficult to match. Pepper, made up of Bret Bollinger, Kaleo Wassman and Yesod Williams, is one band from the Aloha state that showcases this pride. People sweat, groove and get lost in its music. Pepper’s live shows are famously loud and packed with dedicated fans, many of whom are from Hawaii and see the concerts as a chance to showcase their cultural pride.

Pepper’s Hawaiian roots, dedication to good music and playful lyrics keep fans intrigued. “Why don’t you have some dirty hot sex with me?/ It ain’t like I’m asking you to give it up for free” from their hit song “Give It Up,” is just one example of Pepper’s ability to write songs with a catchy and daring flavor.

The reggae-rock trio relocated in 1999 to Southern California when Volcom Entertainment showed interest its original music. Volcom Entertainment is a part of the surf/skate/snow company Volcom and focuses on music that furthers the brand’s lifestyle and image.

Pepper joined Warped Tour 2001 after the band recorded “Given It” in 2000 at Kailua-Kona studio for LAW Records. The trio was well-received and went back into the studio with Less Than Jake and MXPX producer Steve Kravac to try its luck with another album. In March of 2002, Pepper released “Kona Town,” which has sold more than 45,000 copies. The band spent 2003 and 2004 on tour to build a fan base, visiting and selling out shows in Phoenix, Orlando, Fla., New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and, of course, Eugene.

Pepper’s ability to make each and every fan feel special is unique to the band. The band members talk with fans between songs as best friends. The band invites fans to party with it after shows.

In 2004 Pepper’s “In With The Old” debuted at 35 on the Billboard Heat Seekers Chart.

“The band relinquished their nostalgic sentiment in saying they named their album ‘In With The Old’ as an ode to a time when music used to be collectively better, when bands like Metallica were still relevant,” according to Pepper’s official Web site. This album is more thoroughly developed than any other previous Pepper release. It has a wide range of influences, including ex-Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan’s guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, some ’80s sounds reminiscent of The Police and some songs that sound a lot like Sublime.

Riding on its independent success, Pepper created LAW Records, a label that embraces its love of good music. The band then re-released its first album, calling it “Give’n It.” Next came “Afta Party,” which includes tracks from local artists from Kailua-Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Not limiting itself in any way, Pepper released its first-ever movie, entitled “Searching for the Haj,” which takes fans along on a two-week Pepper tour trying to find the mythical character “The Haj.” Fans that have this DVD should cherish this unique piece of Pepper; the movie is currently out of production.

The best aspect of Pepper will always be its energizing and original sound. It’s a mixture of Sublime, some good punk and pop, and it still unfolds unlike anything that’s been previously produced. In today’s music scene, where bands often copycat or try to fit to a mold of what’s popular, Pepper refuses to give in to pressures to make it big.