Pepper’s landmark album “Kona Town” is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
The Hawaiian trio’s second album was a perfect blend of punk, reggae, and alternative rock, and blessed us with anthems like “Stone Love”, “B.O.O.T”, “Ho’s” and “Stormtrooper”.
Considered to be essential listening for the rock-reggae community, the impact and influence of “Kona Town” can still be felt to this day in the explosion of band’s trying to capture the magic of the album in their sound.
LAW Records and Pepper are celebrating the anniversary with their Twenty Years of Kona Town tour that starts February 14th, 2023 and runs through March 26th in Albuquerque, NM. “Kona Town” will also receive a limited edition 20th Anniversary vinyl pressing in rad red, gold, and green striped colors with tri-fold packaging.
The Pier.org sat down with drummer for Pepper Yesod Williams to dive deep into “Kona Town” two decades later as he looks back at the recording sessions, working with producer Steve Kravac, touring on Vans Warped Tour, and hearing Pepper on the radio for the first time.
ThePier: Kona Town is now turning 20-years old this year. Are you able to look back at that record objectively now or has your view changed at all after playing these songs on the record for two decades?
Yesod: I really think the rear view just becomes more clear, at the time of building we were so heads down so it was harder to look back objectively. These days with what a backbone the album has proven to be over an over again, clarity and gratitude comes with that. If the Pepper Ohana is the blood, Kona Town is the heart that pumps it!
ThePier: Walk us through the days in the studio recording “Kona Town ”. Any special moments you remember from those sessions?
Yesod: Oh man, it was a humbling roller coaster of emotions! We were blown away because we were going to record at West Beach Studio where some of our favorite albums to this day had been recorded. Pennywise, Bad Religion, NOFX, Sublime all recorded there. We were in awe, and we were gonna work with Steve Kravac who we knew from MXPX. But like most roller coasters they go up and down, the down came with the shock of being in a real recording situation, ie: first time I played to a click track, and just being under a microscope while trying to be creative was ab absolute shock to the system.
ThePier: How much of an impact did your Hawaii-roots play into the recording of Kona Town and the way the album came out sonically?
Yesod: I think like everything we do was all rooted in Hawaii, it’s what made us who we are. Literally going from recording Give n’ it in a coffee shack in Kona, to in our mind, one of the most famous studios in the world on its own had an impact both consciously and unconsciously! Also, that was around the time that pro tools was in its infancy so a lot of the record was straight to tape!
ThePier: What can you tell us about working with producer Steve Kravac during those recording sessions?
Yesod: He was predominantly known for producing bands like Blink-182, Less Than Jake, Slick Shoes and MXPX at that time. Sonically he brought an amazing ear, and just working with a producer for the first time was what we needed at the time. That said it was brutal. Kravac was a stickler for perfection. That mixed with our juvenile studio experience equated into a war of attrition, but you need pressure to make diamonds. For that, we salute you, Kravac!
ThePier: At what moment did you first realize that “Kona Town” had a significant impact on the scene?
Yesod: Actually, I remember the exact moment. We were playing on the Volcom stage, 2003 warped tour in Orlando, FL, and about 300 people showed up for our set. I was BLOWN AWAY!!!! Then, when we played “Give It Up”, everyone was clapping in sync with the whole song, I’ll never forget that moment in my head, it is very special to me.
ThePier: At the time of this album release, there wasn’t a whole lot that sounded like ‘Kona Town’ and it sort of stuck out like a sore thumb. What do you remember about that era and the musical climate at the time the album came out?
Yesod: At first, it was just us and Slightly Stoopid at that point, was the wild west for us, but it’s so funny cause I actually remember back then, getting a lot of flack for sounding too much like Sublime, some people were kind of angry, haha. Honestly, a massive compliment since they’re one of our, and the genre’s godfathers! But that’s what music does, it brings out the passion in people. I hope that we’ve contributed, and continue to contribute tons of passion with KT.
ThePier: Kona Town peaked at #2 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart when it launched. Can you take us back to the moment you adnd the band heard the news and your initial reaction?
Yesod: Aw man, we were so oblivious of charts back then, I can’t even remember or if we were aware. Overall, I do remember give it up first hit KROQ, we were on tour in Florida again, a lot of glory happens in Florida apparently. We were in an RV, kind of the midpoint between a bus and van. We started getting calls that our friends and fam back out west were hearing the song on KROQ. Every day the momentum would build, we were so confused cause we had already released “In With The Old”! Nonetheless, the momentum picked up quickly and a couple of weeks later on tour in NYC we were taking meetings with major labels. It was all super surreal and wild. We were watching our dreams start to bloom, again, very special memories.
ThePier: Do you remember the critical reaction when you released the record both from critics and fans?
Yesod: Overall, it was a small splash so we were literally selling them out of our van. The reaction musically was great though cause it was a MASSIVE step forward for us as a band all around!
ThePier: “Stone Love” has gone on to become arguably Pepper’s biggest hit. Was there any early indication when you recorded it that song would go on to become a monster song?
Yesod: Yes and no. Obviously, we always felt strongly about it cause we’d been playing it and grinding it against the stone for so long (no pun). We always had some solid confidence with that song, and lyric wise it represents a really special time for the band. But on the other hand, at that point we were just trying to pay our rent every month. I don’t think any thought of “this song is gonna make it” was circling our heads. Also, Stone Love is the epitome of “steady wins the race”. It was give it up that first propelled the album, then when digital streaming took over is when Stone Love really caught steam! Very blessed and grateful.
ThePier: Is it true that the song “Tounges” on “Kona Town” was written by Jack Johnson?
Yesod: You’d have to ask Jack about that, haha!
ThePier: After you released “Kona Town” you went out on the Vans Warped Tour, which was a pretty epic line-up. What do you remember about that tour specifically?
Yesod: I remember feeling like we were finally being “accepted into the circle”. Kevin Lyman have us a quick review of the album when he saw us the first day of that summer. I had no idea he knew who we were, let alone listened to our music and had an opinion on it. He actually commented on what potential Give it Up had. I guess that’s why he gets paid the big bucks, ha! We made really good friends with the Mad Caddies that year and got to reconnect with our Bargain Music family, Sean Whisner!
ThePier: What can fans expect on the upcoming Kona Town Tour celebrating this record?
Yesod: Overall, a lot. I’m sure you will hear some things from Kona Town you’ve never heard before, and of course there will be many cherries on top. Oh, and I’m bringing a gong!
PEPPER TWENTY YEARS OF KONA TOWN TOUR DATES:
2/14 – Orpheum Theatre – Flagstaff, AZ
2/15 – Marquee Theatre – Tempe, AZ
2/17 – Fremont Theater – San Luis Obispo, CA
2/19 – Cali Vibes Festival – Long Beach, CA
2/21 – Ace of Spades – Sacramento, CA
2/22 – Catalyst – Santa Cruz, CA
2/24 – The Crocodile – Seattle, WA
2/25 – Knitting Factory Spokane – Spokane, WA
2/26 – Knitting Factory Boise – Boise, ID
2/28 – Complex Grand – Salt Lake City, UT
3/1 – Boulder Theater – Boulder, CO
3/3 – Thalia Hall – Chicago, IL
3/4 – Elevation – Grand Rapids, MI
3/5 – Mr. Smalls – Pittsburgh, PA
3/7 – Higher Ground Ballroom – South Burlington, VT
3/9 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
3/10 – Mulcahy’s – Wantagh, NY
3/11 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY
3/13 – Union Stage – Washington, DC
3/14 – Theatre of Living Arts (TLA) – Philadelphia, PA
3/15 – Elevation 27 – Virginia Beach, VA
3/17 – Ponte Vedra Concert Hall – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
3/18 – Culture Room – Fort Lauderdale, FL
3/19 – Reggae Rise Up Florida – St. Petersburg, FL
3/21 – Vinyl Music Hall – Pensacola, FL
3/23 – Scoot Inn – Austin, TX
3/24 – Deep Ellum Art Co – Dallas, TX
3/26 – Sunshine Theater – Albuquerque, NM
Interview by James Wright