RIOT FEST INTERVIEW: Pepper’s Bret Bollinger
By: Stacey Crawley
Photo Credit: Peter Bomberger
Pepper, an influence of reggae, rock and Hawaiian vibes, has been hitting it hard and flourishing for the past 20 years. It’s one of those groups you can’t wait to listen to when you’re in the mood for a laid-back party, the perfect backdrop to a summer night. I caught up with Pepper’s Bret Bollinger at Riot Fest in Chicago. For additional tour dates and more information visit pepperlive.com
(Stacey Crawley) You’ve got elements of Reggae and Ska, mixed with some Hip-Hop. What genre of music do you consider your work to be, and who are your major influences?
(Bret Bollinger) As soon as you say ‘genre’ bands go, ‘Well, we’re kind of like a funk, heavy metal, country band,’ but we’re so not good at that (laughs).
The reason I think people point that out on our resume, especially these days, is because the genres are so blended anyway. We were kind of into that early on in our inspirations, meaning like, when the new Rage Against the Machine came out, we went, ‘Oh my god, we’re doing this,’ and it’s not necessarily that song, but what we were inspired by. We’ve got songs like ‘Punk Rock Cowboy’, which is literally just a weird song. They’re all authentic, really. Remember that era when people were trying to blend things on purpose? We were, in the beginning, literally, just not very good musicians. I mean, we’ve been doing this for, let’s see, we started the band – next year will be 20 years. I was 17 years old when we started; our first show was our graduation party. So, weird it was that long ago. And, after all this time, I still have no idea because the genres are definitely blended.
(SC) What’s your process? Is it lyrics first or a little strum of something and you find the words, or is it both?
(BB) That’s the beautiful part, it’s definitely both and everything in between. I know a lot of bands that have their writers or write together. Sometimes you wake up in the morning – I wrote a song in the shower the other day. And it’s a song about this up-and-coming festival in Hawaii, which we didn’t get to play – “The MayJah RayJah”. It’s almost Jamaican vibe. That’s Hawaii, they love island music. In fact, there’s a genre called ‘Jawaiin,’ meaning ‘Hawaiian reggae,’ and it’s super warm, and kind of bubbly and fun. It’s not dark or anything.
So I wrote this ‘Jawaiin’ song – I kind of want it to be the intro song for the Mayjah Rayjah! Like a TV show almost. And I wrote it in the shower. I had Dr. Bronner’s soap in my eyes and I started singing, ”Come on everybody to the MayJah RayJah.” It’s supposed to be that kind of funny, stuck in the 80’s for a lack of a better term – almost dorky, hokey reggae at its best. Really fun, warm, bring the family. I really enjoyed it, and I haven’t put any music to it yet, but I put the recorder on and you can hear me kind of screaming in the background, ‘My eyes! My eyes! Peppermint!’ (laughs). So, literally, I don’t know – it comes every which way. Sometimes you’re jamming and you go, ‘that’s it.’ It’s all the way in-between, so long as it comes out, whatever your formula.
(SC) I saw you in 2006 at Lolapolloza at Grant Park. What has been the biggest transformation for Pepper in the last decade?
(BB) The last ten years, there are a couple of things. Musically, we hit the brakes on trying to crack every market and make it down to South American once a year, and make it up to Europe once a year, and make it Australia. Physically, that’s so taxing. At one point, we were known for being such grinders, we clocked in 252 shows in one year. Not travel, not tour days, not with days off. We’re talking actual show dates. So we were known for cracking those numbers and just going after it.
Almost 20 years, no real major commercial MTV success, so those times were gone before our time, so we just got out there and toured with bands we really liked. So, that we’ve kind of slowed, that role, and have enjoyed a lot of time off. Which has been very refreshing – just kind of doing different things. Our guitar player is really into yoga. He opened a yoga studio with his wife he loves. Our drummer’s really – he took our record label that we own, and he’s just, he signed like 3 acts this year, and he’s really excited about the music. I started an apparel line. We just go into Lulu’s the boutique. And we’ve only been around for 6 months, it super huge. I’ve got a new single coming out, so I’m doing extra music. So we’re doing all kinds of fun stuff.
(SC) Thank you for taking the time to hang out and chat, have a great show!
(BB) Anytime, we’ll see you up at the show –thanks!