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Ohana: The Hawaiian word for family, which is used to convey the sense of togetherness that transcends blood ties.
For Pepper paying homage to their roots is essential over a decade in to their celebrated career. The Southern California trio, who formed in 1997 and moved to the mainland from the three musicians’ hometown of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in 1999, know that where they come from should always be infused in the music they create. On Ohana, the group’s seventh full-length album (4/29/16, LAW Records), Pepper embraces the feelings and sounds that encouraged them to become a band in the first place.
“Over our past few albums, we had been departing from our original sound and exploring new directions,” Bret notes. “On this album, we wanted to come back to our classic style and revisit our roots. The writing and recording process was a conscious effort to do that.”
“We wanted to strip the band down to its natural state,” Kaleo adds. “We’ve always been a three-piece band with good songs and energy and our goal was to showcase that. We’re all were really pleased with how the music came out and how it conveys the strengths of our band.”
It was important to the musicians to self-produce Ohana, which marks the first time Pepper has helmed the production of one of their albums. From their 2000 debut Give’n It to their 2006 standout album No Shame, which was recorded with 311’s Nick Hexum, No Doubt’s Tony Kanal and Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary, Pepper has explored various methods of recording, always hoping to embody not only their signature style of music but their lifestyle in the songs. Ohana was recorded last fall in the band’s own Kona Inn Recording Studio in Redondo Beach. The building is the former home of Pennywise’s Stall #2 studio and embodies a positive vibe for Pepper, who have recently begun recording other artists in the space.
“It was time for us to take the reins,” Bret says. “We’ve been through the process with several really cool producers in the past and we’ve learned a lot from them. We have the knowledge now and it’s about not being complacent anymore. We wanted to do it ourselves, so it’s from our family to yours.”
“I really wanted to simplify everything and not overthink things,” Yesod adds. “We wanted to go jam in a room and hit record. I think we found a great balance in the studio and the end result was pure Pepper, condensed down to its purest form. It was really gratifying to be in control of the process from start to finish and know that we created every aspect of the album.”
The resulting album features Pepper’s surf rock songs, showcasing the upbeat, positive vibe elements that make the band so beloved by their fans. There is, as usual, an ever-present sense of sunshine throughout the tracks, bolstering the music’s sense of optimism. The party anthems, the beach hang melodies, the boisterous rhythms are all there, each song carefully crafted to best express sunny moments by the ocean. “Vacation,” a fun, upbeat reggae-tinged number, was co-written by Bret and production duo Diji Parq and seems, to the band, like “the Beach Boys at their goofiest.” The soulful “Never Ending Summer” is about taking full advantage of something before it ends while “Wait” evolved throughout the writing process and eventually became a propulsive crooner that feels like signature Pepper.
“Every song on this album is a great example of what we wanted to do,” Kaleo says. “That’s why there are only ten of them. We wanted to give the music our concentrated, focused attention. It’s not about the singles, but about being a whole piece. That’s why we gave it the most powerful name we know.”
“Growing up in Hawaii your Ohana defines you,” Yesod says. “It is you. And it's not just family through blood – it's family through spirithood, brotherhood and sisterhood. Ohana is truly the strongest bond that can ever be made. It’s how we feel about each other as friends and as a band, and we wanted that spirit to come through in the music itself. These songs come together to create their own version of Ohana.”
Over the years, Pepper have toured extensively with groups like 311, Slightly Stoopid, Flogging Molly and Sublime With Rome, and spent several summers on Warped Tour – and this live sensibility shows on the album, released on the group’s own LAW Records. The band’s music – both live and on their releases – is really about enjoying life and being grateful for each experience. They want to give their all to every performance and share their passion with their fans and with younger artists.
“We’re still growing a lot,” Bret says. “Our live show continues to improve and evolve and we always give it our all onstage. We have so much fun playing, even all these years later. And we’ve gotten to work and tour with so many different artists. We’ve learned a lot from them. Everything we do is done from love. We feel good to all be sitting at a table, laughing, twenty years later. It’s the three of us, just like when we were kids. Because we were together long before we were a band and we’re still such good friends. We can’t stop doing this and we don’t want to ever stop enjoying it.”