Pep rally. No shirts allowed.

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Shirts are a liability to guys like Yesod Williams. He’s the drummer for Pepper, a trio from Kona, Hawaii who’ve enjoyed some modest success over the past few years with Sublime and Bloodhound Gang-inspired singles like 2002’s “Give it Up” (“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

”), and who are currently a support act on 311’s latest tour. It’s a little weird sitting in a cramped, opening-band-sized green room in DTE’s backstage area, interviewing two shirtless guys and another dude who never removes his oversized silver-framed glasses. But Williams, bassist/vocalist Bret Bollinger (shirtless guy #2), and guitarist/vocalist Kaleo Wassman (shades) are perfectly at home in the little room, their body language swept back and relaxed, like guys who’d probably be surfing all day if they weren’t in a band. And shirts would be a liability to that activity too.

Cold Coronas are passed out, and the conversation turns to Pepper’s influences. There’s the Sublime thing, obviously — on record Bollinger sounds almost exactly like Brad Nowell, and the trio’s songwriting doesn’t travel too far past boozing, partying and hitting on girls. They’re never going to write a ballad. But Pepper also has a pretty significant reggae influence, particularly the 1970s and ‘80s stuff that got regular airplay on big island FM when they were growing up. Williams explains that there’s a huge reggae scene in Hawaii, and how artists like Bounty Killer and Steel Pulse were Top 40 stars over there. And while Pepper’s power trio setup roughens the rhythms and often relies on punk-inspired shoutalong choruses, there’s a definite thread of reggae underneath all the posturing. They keep glancing up at the wall-mounted monitor during the interview. The Wailers are the other support act on the tour, and every time the camera catches the drummer or guitarist, one of the guys in Pepper stops everything for a shout-out. Say what you want about their own music, but these guys know their history.

They also know they’re not yet at the level of 311. (Good — 311 went on later and delivered a lukewarm mix of album tracks and radio hits that seemed like an excuse to jump up and down in the air. They even stopped the show for a Stomp-inspired percussion display. The diehards seemed to love it, but that shit was just plain hokey.) A few minutes before we met in the backstage area, Williams, Bollinger, and Wassman had responded to the respectable opening band crowd with a mixture of excitement and amazement, and that a few people knew the words to their songs sort of blew them away. Detailing their regular MO of playing over 200 shows a year, Pepper chalks up the reaction to its own hard work, and of course its good-time spirit. It doesn’t seem to bother them their sound sometimes seems stuck in the mid-1990s, when California-based groups like Sublime, The Flys (remember “Got You [Where I Want You]?”), and Sugar Ray were regularly exporting a West Coast amalgam of punk, groove, laconic humor, and recreational drug use. Pepper are looking forward to the October release of No Shame, their first for major label Lava-Atlantic after two albums spent with skate culture outgrowth Volcom, and they can’t say enough about how exciting it is to tour. They’re so engaging that’s it’s a wonder everyone in the green room wasn’t shirtless by the end of the interview.

JTL

SublimeBloodhound GangBret BollingerKaleo WassmanBrad Nowell

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