They’ve been bringing their band of dub rock to Santa Barbara for two decades, playing at State Street joints like Baja Sharkeez, O’Malley’s, and Velvet Jones in their early years. Now, Kona-bred dub rock trio Pepper will perform at the Santa Barbara Bowl in support of headlining act Iration on Aug. 25. Other bands opening for Iration will include Fortunate Youth and Katastro.
During an interview with the News-Press on Wednesday afternoon, singer and guitarist Kaleo Wassman said he and the band have always loved spending time in Santa Barbara and are looking forward to returning next month to promote their latest album, “Local Motion.”
Consisting of Mr. Wassman, bassist and vocalist Bret Bollinger, and drummer Yesod Williams, Pepper’s lineup on “Local Motion” is the same one that first formed on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1997. It’s common for bands that have been around for decades to experience turnover, but Pepper has managed to retain its lineup throughout the years. The singer credits that to the values he and his bandmates learned growing up in Hawaii. Their early life in Kona taught them “respect” and “love for the land and all those who live on it.”
“The way we were able to learn life has led to the longevity of the band,” he said.
Lyrical callbacks to Hawaii are prevalent in their songs such as “Tradewinds,” a track on their 2002 debut album “Kona Town,” and “Back Home,” from their 2004 album “In With the Old.” Other than his band’s home state, Mr. Wassman’s primary lyrical focus is “the joy of being alive.” As examples he pointed to tracks from the new album, such as “Brand New Day,” which is about “hope and optimism,” and the album track “Carnaval,” his favorite from the new album, or at least his favorite on the day he spoke to the News-Press.
The latter song, he said, conveys “a destination.” He elaborated, “You’ve arrived at this place that’s exotic and you’re in a different situation you’re not used to, but you love it and you enjoy it.”
“Local Motion” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s reggae album charts. Mr. Wassman said he was pleased not only with that, but also the positive reception the album’s songs have received from fans at live shows.
“The response we’re getting from long-term Pepper fans and new fans has been incredible,” he said.
When asked about how he feels “Local Motion” compares to the band’s earlier output, the frontman replied that he doesn’t pay it any mind. Instead of thinking about how a new song compares to one he wrote years ago, he prefers to let his artistry go wherever it wants to in the moment.
“When you allow your craft to just expand where your craft is going, you don’t really compare,” he said.
However, the trio did take something of a different approach in the recording of “Local Motion.” Instead of each member getting hung up on their visions of how a particular song should sound, this time the band went with an “exercise in detachment.” That entailed allowing the band’s producers to take a “coloring book” approach with the recordings. While the band provided the producers with outlines of songs including melodies, harmonies and the base instrumentation, the producers were allowed to “color them in” with whatever they decided the songs required.
Mr. Wassman called this experiment “really liberating.”
Come the evening of Aug. 25, Mr. Wassman and his bandmates will deliver “an authentic, energized dub rock show, period.” Bringing the audience joy will of course be the band’s objective at hand, but the frontman doesn’t want it to be limited only to those who attend.
“Our hope is for everyone to leave with a smile and for that smile to pass on to someone else,” he said. Tickets for the concert are available on sbbowl.com. The concert will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N Milpas St.