Zervas & Pepper, Getting “Way more personal”

With the whole sunny SoCal folk pop sound of the late 60’s and early 70’s making a comeback in a pretty major way, it’s a bit surprising, if not...

With the whole sunny SoCal folk pop sound of the late 60’s and early 70’s making a comeback in a pretty major way, it’s a bit surprising, if not shocking, that Cardiff, Wales duo Zervas & Pepper are not yet a household name on this side of the pond… Although apparently they’re on their way to being just that… Kathryn, or Kath, Pepper and Paul Zervas first got together in 2007 and, ever since, have been appearing on some of the UK’s best-known TV platforms, radio stations, and mega festivals, and also achieved praise from many of the artists who likely inspired their aesthetic (including David Crosby).  Zervas & Pepper’s latest album, Abstract Heart, hit shelves this past April.  The album rings largely of the flowery, psychedelic rebels of the 70’s most elegant (and eloquent) Americana-indebted Southern Rock (Most of the tracks would actually perfectly fit the soundtrack of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, which juxtaposes hyper-violence with the beauty of the delicate emotional introspection of the working-class American South.)  Zervas & Pepper have a small handful of upcoming UK dates in September and November and are hoping to make their way to the US in the near future and Kath Pepper was kind enough to recently take some time to tell me about the high points of where the band has been and where they’re hoping and planning to go.

Izzy Cihak: Not to start with a huge question, but you’ve achieved a plethora of really great critical acclaim (and also from fellow musicians) and performed on a lot of really cool bills: What have been some of the highlights of the band so far, whether reactions to your work or particularly cool experiences you’ve had?

Kath Pepper: We’ve been really lucky over the years to have played some of the UK’s best festivals, And touring some iconic UK venues, such as Royal Festival Hall London and Glasgow Clyde Auditorium, all great experiences. We’ve met many of our heroes along the way from Robert Plant to David Crosby and John Martyn. Also, traveling to India to perform was incredible for us, to get to spend time in such a unique environment for songwriters is so vital and really pushed us into a new phase of writing.

Izzy: So this is sort of a personal question, but I see that you toured with Lindi Ortega in 2013 and she’s one of my favorite people in music.  How was that experience?  What do you think about her and her work?

Kath: Lindi is really cool and a great live performer, she’s quirky and fun in her shows and we actually did our first ever tour supporting her. It was only 10 days, but it nearly killed us. We were pretty inexperienced at the time, whereas Lindi had been touring a long time and is a powerhouse at making life on the road look easy. We then hooked up with Lindi for a second time at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in Scotland for a show also featuring bands/artists such as Dawes and Cory Chisel. It was a great show that celebrated the California Rock scene that kicked off in the 70’s. So it was right up our street.

Izzy: And how is the music scene in Wales at the moment?  I must admit that I’m pretty ignorant of it and still default to thinking about Stereophonics, who were one of my favorite bands as a teen, but obviously do something quite different from what you do.

Kath: Wales has always had a thriving Music scene. There’s still the more widely known bands, such as Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, Bullet For My Valentine, and Marina and The Diamonds, etc. But then there’s a ton of new and eclectic bands that reach from Folk to Psych to Electronica to Metal. There’s a thriving Welsh language scene which give Wales a unique sound on the station here.

Izzy: How would you characterize your process of writing and recording together… if there even is a particular “process?”  Or does it change with every recording?

Kath: We used to write material separately but now we collaborate fully from pretty early on as a song idea develops. We’ll let the songs take shape over several weeks and then start to introduce the band to the new material. By this point we’ll have a good idea of where we’re heading with it but we like to leave a little room for song to take twists and turns in the studio.  We love to build a big picture in the studio and we’ll often bring in additional session players to bring some alternate styling to the songs.

Izzy: You recently released Abstract Heart.  What were the album’s most significant influences, whether musical or otherwise?  How do you feel like it compares to previous releases?

Kath: The new album, Abstract Heart, is a way more personal than any of our previous releases, which have mostly centered around escapism. In recent years we’ve experienced the loss of young friends and we’ve been thinking a little deeper about our place in the world, personally and collectively. So the songs dig a little deeper and ask a lot more of the listener.  Musically, it’s a slicker, more refined effort where we tried to get the very best from all the musicians on board.

Izzy: I especially love “We Are One,” which reminds me of the perfect balance of sunny 60’s folk and 90’s alt balladry (likely paying homage to sunny 60’s folk).  How did that particular track come about?

Kath: Thank you. We wrote “We Are One” after we played a pretty heavy, heady festival. When you get to spend time with big crowds of people and everyone is into the music and there’s a feeling that you’re part of something bigger than just yourself. It’s really a song about a collective togetherness. The thing we love about the songwriters of the 60’s and 70’s is the idealism and social consciousness that runs throughout the music. We wanted a modern day “summer of love” anthem of sorts.

Izzy: You have a handful of upcoming shows scheduled in September and November.  What can be expected of the live experience on these dates?  I know some of them are full-band shows, while some are acoustic, so I’m guessing they’re not all going to look or sound the same.

Kath: Most of the upcoming shows will be a full-band affair. We like to make to most of having the band with us and so the sound is pretty upfront and in your face. For the duo shows we create more of a 60’s folk club experience. We play to the quietness of the audience. We tend to play a different set of songs for each show, so the fans will often come along to experience both the full band and the acoustic shows.

Izzy: What’s next for you, in addition to these shows?  Anything you’re especially excited about?

Kath: We’ll be touring our new record, Abstract Heart, throughout November and we’ve just started to distribute our albums throughout Germany, so we’re thinking the next step will be a run of shows in Europe sometime in early 2016. We’ll be heading the US to hopefully scope out some new opportunities at the end of the summer. We’ve been picking up a lot of college radio out in the US, so we’d like to start making plans to take our music out there. It’s been really exciting and encouraging receiving feedback from the US and Germany and we’re really hoping to take our music to new audiences throughout 2016.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.